In the latest episode of EVE Online‘s livestreamed o7 Show, game designers CCP Fozzie and CCP Larrikin revealed some controversial changes that are on the way for the game’s fleet warp mechanics. A fleet commander can currently warp his entire fleet to the same location with one button press, but July’s Aegis patch will be severely limit this feature. We’ll still be able to fleet warp to other fleet members or celestial objects like planets and stargates, but we’ll no longer be able to fleet warp to things like bookmarks, missions, deadspace complexes, or scan probe results. Response to the news has been mixed, with some expecting it to breathe new life in PvP fleets and others bemoaning the loss of convenience. The only thing that seems certain right now is that this change will have far-reaching consequences for all group-based gameplay in EVE Online.
Wormhole citizens are rightly concerned about the proposal as wormholes and valuable sleeper sites aren’t on the approved fleet-warping list, though thankfully cosmic anomalies are. The inability to fleet warp to missions and bookmarks will also be an inconvenience to miners and PvE-focused players, while incursions and faction warfare farming should be relatively unaffected. The biggest impact will obviously be in PvP, where the nerf reduces the ability of fleet commanders to directly control their troops during a battle. Fleets will now need to issue more orders over voice chat, get cloaked ships next to the enemy before warping on top of them, and maybe even prepare tactical bookmark sets ahead of major engagements.
In this edition of EVE Evolved, I examine the incoming fleet warp nerf and ask whether the benefits outweigh the inconvenience.
In order to maximise fleet participation, many alliances have adopted strategies that don’t require much attention or skill from pilots. There’s a great deal of automation in today’s warfare, with the fleet commander automatically warping hundreds of ships around a star system and broadcasting target calls to his entire fleet at once. Logistics ships orbit a dedicated “anchor” ship that essentially takes over their positioning and keeps them out of enemy range so that they can focus on responding to repair broadcasts. Ishtar and Dominix fleets even used to assign all their drones to a single individual who acted as a trigger for the entire fleet, allowing fleet members to contribute their full damage while being almost completely AFK.
Commanders leading fleets of mixed ship sizes usually call for pilots to pre-align to each station or object before warping so that nobody gets left behind, a safe strategy that requires good communication and actively engaged pilots. In practice, most PvP corps now use standardised fleet doctrines that require all players to fly the exact same ship, so the fleet commander can warp everyone at once without any stragglers being left behind to be picked off. Large battles have become huge games of strategy played by opposing commanders, and individual fleet members are simply there to be dragged around and used as voice activated guns. This automation is a problem that developers have been tackling over the past few years with specific changes like Rubicon 1.3’s drone control limit, so it was only a matter of time before fleet warping was put under the microscope.
One of the big problems the nerf is set to fix is the uncounterable nature of combat probes, which a good scout can use to get a fix on any enemy fleet roughly once every 10 seconds. Any fleet that stays put at a safespot for over 10 seconds could have a squad of tacklers already in warp to its location, and the recent warp speed changes mean an interdictor or pack of interceptors can be there in no time at all. Since the whole fleet can currently be warped with a single click as soon as a scan finishes, there’s no organisational challenge or skill in it, and large fleets are just as responsive and mobile as a single individual. After the patch, the fleet’s mobility will decided by how quickly the scanner can get into position, whether players have pre-aligned to the target, the warp speed of the ships being used, and efficient communication between fleet members.
Fast probing is also why we rarely see sniper battleship gangs any more. If you’re over 150km from your targets, then they could probe you down and warp their entire fleet on top of you. Imagine the famous “I was there” EVE trailer below (or the hilarious NSFW parody version), except replace the interceptor zipping through a wall of enemy fire with the fleet commander clicking a few buttons on a cloaked prober alt. When this change goes through, a ship will have to be potentially put in harm’s way to set up the warp-in on an enemy fleet, and it’ll take a bit longer for a fleet to jump on someone after a combat scan. Both of these are good for PvP, as scouts will have a more active part in the carnage, and we may even see the return of a few old strategies when probing isn’t so safe and instant. We’ll likely see cloaked tech 3 cruisers filling this role as they can tackle at least one target and take a bit of a beating.
Since players can bookmark scan results, removing the ability to fleet-warp to scan results means we also have to lose fleet warps to bookmarks. Being able to bookmark arbitrary locations in space is a very powerful sandbox tool, and it kind of feels like collateral damage in this nerf. Fleets may now have to manually pre-share tactical bookmark sets before major ops, adding an unnecessary logistical hoop to jump through. Bookmarks also can’t be easily changed or re-distributed mid-battle, and this would give spies full access to an information resource that used to be for the FC’s eyes only. Using communal corporation bookmarks could help take some of the headache out of sharing tactical sets, but there is no such system for alliances and fleets are sometimes composed of many alliances working together.
The only realistic alternative is to use cloaked alts as warp-in beacons, giving fleet commanders yet another job to do and another advantage to multi-boxing. CCP is obviously hoping that the role of warp-in beacon ship will become a PvP staple, but for coordination purposes it will usually be best if the fleet commander assumes that role on an alt. It’s not just big fleets that are hit by this nerf either, as tacklers and small frigate gangs make great use of tactical bookmarks placed all around a stargate or other object at 100km or so increments. This lets them rapidly warp around the grid and pin down slippery targets without the need to use scan probes, but doing it while sticking together on-grid could prove difficult after the nerf. The story is worse for wormhole space, which will be hit hardest by this part of the nerf as basically everything there is done through bookmarks.
EVE blog Crossing Zebras hosted an interesting discussion on the fleet warp nerf from the perspective of active fleet commanders and produced the recording below (NSFW).
Taken in isolation, the fleet warp nerf seems easy to bypass using alts and seems as if it will leave needless collateral damage across the board. I have to keep reminding myself, however, that these changes are designed to be paired with the sov overhaul. The new sovereignty system gives fleets multiple objectives to tackle and shorter capture times, and the constellation-wide capture point mechanic will see fleets moving from system to system more. This will turn territorial warfare into more of a game of cat and mouse within a constellation, and that means a large fleet might need a whole team of cloaked scouts to follow the enemy ships, probe them down, and create opportunities to strike.
While most fleet commanders will probably use alts for warp-ins to starbases and safespots, keeping track of enemy fleets and watching objectives across a constellation would be far too much work for any one individual. As we once did in faction warfare back in 2008, fleets will probably send several scouts off in different directions to find opportunities for combat or objectives to hit and feed that intel back to the fleet commander, who will make the decision on whom to engage once the scout is in place for an ambush. The heavier reliance on multiple scouts might even change the dynamic between scout and FC, perhaps with more alliances using third-party tools to feed information to the FC or livestreaming their games for the FC to visually verify whether they’re in place for a good warp-in.
The ability to warp an entire fleet with a single command is one of the many sandbox tools we’ve been given over the years to help groups co-ordinate, just like the broadcast system that lets us send and receive commands without calling them out on voice chat. In giving us these tools and making EVE more accessible, CCP has inadvertently streamlined out a lot of the active participation in fleet warfare. We’ve somehow reached a point at which players are getting bored while taking part in what should be EVE‘s ultimate endgame of massive-scale territorial warfare. The Aegis release seems to be all about changing that broken model into one in which every fleet member has a specific active role to play.
CCP confirmed that it is looking into changes it can make to accomodate wormhole citizens, but otherwise it looks as if the nerf will go ahead as planned. The community is still divided on whether this is good or bad news, but if this summer’s Aegis release is intended to re-ignite territorial warfare in nullsec then perhaps changes like this are necessary. Organising and running a fleet under the new system might be a bit more complicated and require new ways of doing things, but it’ll be a hell of a lot more engaging. It might even be enough to coax me back into the nullsec game.