EVE Evolved: The Citadel conundrum

The hot topic on everyone’s lips in EVE Online right now is Citadel proliferation: The galaxy is rapidly filling up with an uncountable number of citadels and other Upwell structures that are cheap to build, difficult to destroy, and powerful force multipliers in combat. There have been some amazing battles over the structures in nullsec since they were first introduced, but some star systems are now littered with them and a number of serious gameplay issues have bubbled to the surface.

CCP announced plans for a total structure warfare overhaul to an excited crowd back at EVE Vegas 2017, and this week we got the final details of what’s coming in February 13th’s extensive Upwell 2.0 update. The patch will introduce moon mining in highsec and wormhole space, rebalances structure combat, and aims to resolve many of the most pressing structure problems with a set of sweeping changes to the vulnerability and reinforcement mechanics. It all sounds great in theory, but some players have expressed serious concerns with several parts of CCP’s plan.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I delve into some of the problems with structure warfare in EVE today, how Upwell 2.0 plans to pull things back from the brink, and some of the changes that players are speaking out against.

The core problem with citadels

I’ve written about the various problems with citadels and Upwell structure warfare so many times over the years that you’re all probably sick of reading about them, but some of these problems are really starting to come to a head. The conflict-limiting vulnerability windows and reinforcement timers make attacking structures difficult and time-consuming, the asset safety system removes a lot of the incentive to destroy structures, and it’s still a hell of a lot easier to deploy a structure than to destroy it. Medium and Large citadels that were designed to be accessible to small groups have become frustrating to deal with at the largest scales.

Upwell structures are relatively cheap, don’t consume fuel unless you add any special service modules to them, and don’t decay if abandoned. It takes three successful battles over the course of several days to destroy one even if nobody shows up to defend it, and the structure is only vulnerable for a few hours per week at a time the defender selects. The intent was that alliances would pick their peak activity periods so they can respond to attacks, but practically everyone sets their timers to the middle of the night just to make attacking the structure more frustrating.


Preventing citadel proliferation

The biggest improvement in Upwell 2.0 is that now you’ll be able to start the first fight against a structure any time you like, just like the way you can attack a player-built Customs Office at any time. The other major change that will help prevent citadel spam is that structures with no service modules added will now operate in a “low power mode,” which decreases their defensive stats and removes one of the reinforcement timers entirely. Now if someone plants an Astrahus in your back yard and doesn’t spend the ISK to install a station service and fuel it up, you’ll be able to take it down a lot more easily and in just two fights.

Citadels in “high power mode” will get an initial reinforcement battle between 24 and 48 hours after the first attack at a time selected by the owner. Both low and high power structures will then move on to the final “last stand” reinforcement timer at a time and day of the week selected by the owner, and that’s where things get tricky. An attacker who tries to steamroll the enemy by knocking down a large number of their citadels over the course of several days could find themselves with lots of last stand timers all within a single 4-hour period on the exact same day, and those timers are not slowed down by time dilation due to technical limitations. The attacker won’t be able to commit to finishing off more than one or two targets per week, and the rest will have been wasted effort. This may be an intentional move by CCP to slow down wars or an unanticipated side-effect, but either way it’ll change how wars are conducted.

Structure combat rework

Upwell 2.0 will also add a pile of new structure weapons and modules, revamp Standup Fighters, and introduce a number of new tactical superweapons with a variety of area-effect electronic warfare effects. The Standup Guided Void Bomb that was making fights miserable and severely restricting fleet diversity is also being replaced with a different energy neutralising superweapon. A structure version of the Titan’s Gravitational Transportation Field Oscillator superweapon (or GTFO for short) was originally proposed as well but is now being rethought thanks to some impassioned feedback from players.

Other changes include tackle modules getting long cooldowns to prevent structures from permanently tackling enemies but keep them useful in a fleet situation, and capitals no longer being able to safely tether with fighters deployed. Citadel lock ranges are being increased to 400km, or 490km with rigs and modules, but their firing ranges still won’t overlap as they must be a minimum of 1000km from each other. These all seem like reasonable changes and the new modules and weapons will certainly provide more tactical options, but there’s a real worry of power creep that could make people reluctant to engage at a citadel. I think we’ll have to see how an actual battle plays out on the test server before calling this one.

Refitting and the defender advantage

Among the more controversial proposed changes is a short 5 minute module-fitting period before a structure comes online. CCP Fozzie noted that the company’s internal metrics show the survival rates of structures in the “onlining” phase to be very low, while structures that make it past this phase are too hard to kill. The ability to fit weapons and use them in that first battle when the structure is coming online is intended to address the former problem, while the new vulnerability system and combat changes are designed to address the latter.

TEST alliance representative Vily recently hinted at a different explanation for CCP’s metrics, explaining that they attack citadels during the “onlining” phase because that’s “the only time it is vulnerable without its massive defensive advantages” and that “people rarely take fights that are mismatched.” He seems to be worried that the ability to immediately plant fully weaponised structures anywhere in EVE could be so much of a force multiplier that nobody will attack them. By the same argument, however, letting an attacker easily establish a defensible beachhead on-grid with any enemy structure could help level the playing field and so reduce mismatched force application in wars. They could also become so essential for fleet combat that anyone fighting without citadel support will be at a massive disadvantage.

CCP Falcon and CCP Guard met with the player-elected Council of Stellar Management last week to gather feedback on Upwell 2.0 and other plans for the future, and it looks like CCP is listening. In a follow-up post on the EVE forum, it was confirmed that the structure GTFO superweapon will be significantly redesigned or even removed from the plan and the 5 minute refitting timer will be evaluated on the test server before it goes live.

There are still concerns from players to be addressed, such as the effect of time dilation on timers and the impact of being able to select a day of the week for the “last stand” battle. People already exploit reinforcement timers by setting them to inconvenient timezones, so you can just imagine a dozen citadels all set to come out of reinforced mode in the middle of the work day on a Monday. Upwell 2.0 should be a big step forward for active corporations if those concerns can be addressed, and the ability to mine moons in highsec and wormhole space is certain to be a welcome addition to the game.

EVE Online expert Brendan ‘Nyphur’ Drain has been playing EVE for over a decade and writing the regular EVE Evolved column since 2008. The column covers everything from in-depth EVE guides and news breakdowns to game design discussions and opinion pieces. If there’s a topic you’d love to see covered, drop him a comment or send mail to brendan@massivelyop.com!
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