EVE Evolved: EVE Online’s March balance update has players excited

The EVE Online community came down pretty hard on CCP Games at the start of the year, with podcasts, blogs, and the Council of Stellar Management all highlighting a recent lack of balance changes and iterations. CCP responded with a renewed wave of updates, and it’s safe to say that the studio is absolutely knocking it out of the park. The upcoming March patch will include surprise buffs for the Muninn and Eagle, damage increases for the Cyclone and Drake Navy Issue, and an unexpected change to Attack Battlecruisers that could turn the fleet PvP meta completely on its head. The Orthrus is also finally getting its long-awaited nerf, and some careful tweaks will end the dominance of Ferox and Machariel fleets.

As if that wasn’t enough good news for one month, developers also plan to release a completely new class of ship designed exclusively for fleet commanders, are finally adding blueprint-locking to citadels and engineering complexes, and have some big territorial warfare improvements in the pipeline. The horrible but often necessary Jump Fatigue mechanic is finally being re-evaluated, and players will no longer be able to use citadel tethering mechanics to easily move capital ships in absolute safety. The territorial capture gameplay and the Entosis Link module used in nullsec sovereignty warfare are also being improved based on player feedback. The community hasn’t been this positive about upcoming changes for quite some time!

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I lay out the details of the upcoming ship balance overhaul, the new Monitor fleet command ship, and other changes coming in the March update.

A few much-needed tweaks

After what seems like an eternity of players throwing Ferox fleets and Machariel blobs at each other, CCP is now making a balance pass to keep the fleet meta from getting stale. The Machariel trades a low slot for another mid slot, loses a little bit of projectile falloff to force it into closer range, and gains 30 signature radius to make it easier to hit at speed. The extra mid slot makes this a strong buff to the Machariel’s role as a close-range damage dealer for gang warfare, and means there are a variety of ship choices if you want to field a tanky battleship.

The Ferox loses 15 CPU and 100 power grid to make players have to choose more carefully between tank and damage, which is a small change but might make a difference. The Orthrus is finally getting a much-needed nerf, but it’s hard to tell if these changes will make much of a difference. It loses 100 power grid to make some of the more overpowered setups no longer fit as easily, and a small nerf to its speed and signature radius should make it a little more vulnerable in combat. The popular X-Large Ancillary Shield Booster fit will still work with small adjustments, but hopefully these changes are enough to reduce the ship’s ridiculous engagement profile.

Huge buffs incoming!

On the positive side, the Cyclone is getting about a 20% increase to its missile damage output and the Drake Navy Issue trades its shield resistance bonus for an effective 31.25% net missile damage boost, so we may see more of these ships in PvP. The Eagle heavy assault cruiser is also getting a drone bay and a small speed boost to give it some more utility, and the Muninn is being absolutely buffed into the stratosphere with a series of changes that will make it faster, harder to catch, and hit harder. We may see the Eagle and Muninn replace the Ferox and Loki in a variety of fleet roles, especially with the strategic options opened up by the new Assault Damage Controls.

All tech 1 and faction Battleships will be getting longer maximum lock ranges to help them maintain target lock when activating a micro jump drive, which is a nice quality of life change. They’ll also be getting 25% extra cargo space, which will make cap-injected setups last longer and may be a big deal for some solo and small gang PvP setups. All attack battlecruisers will also now be able to fit the Medium Micro-Jump Drive, opening a whole new style of fleet combat for these ships and making a wider variety of setups viable. It’ll be interesting to see how these changes affect both the fleet meta in nullsec and the small gang compositions in lowsec.

A dedicated FC ship?!

The biggest surprise from the recent announcements has to be the Monitor, the first of a new Flag Cruiser ship class designed to be dedicated fleet command ships for fleet warfare. This new ship class has absolutely no offensive capabilities but will be extremely hard to kill, and is designed to counter a common strategy in which fleets will ‘headshot’ the enemy’s fleet commander at the start of a battle to immediately take him out of the fight at all costs. Fleet commanders who need to avoid the risk of being headshot would currently have to use cloaked ships, which means they can’t lock enemies to pick targets as effectively and are at risk of being decloaked any time the fleet warps somewhere.

CCP’s solution is to give the Monitor 92% resistances across the board, a 70% resistance to most electronic warfare, and a tiny signature radius that will make it difficult to hit. The high resistances multiply out the effective repair rate of remote shield boosters or armour repairers on the ship, making it a poor choice to attack if the enemy has any logistics ships on the field. A large enough fleet may still be able to alpha the ship off the field, but it should let the commander survive much longer than any other sub-capital ship.

In order to make sure that the Monitor doesn’t become overpowered in other areas of the game, CCP has heavily restricted the ship’s fittings. It only has three mid slots and one high slot to work with, and can only fit propulsion modules, target painters, and one scan probe launcher in them. Its target painters also suffer from a 99% effectiveness penalty, and are literally only there so the fleet commander can tag enemy ships to get in on killmails. Both the probe launcher and target painter were not part of the original plan for the ship, but compromises CCP made in response to feedback from real fleet commanders.

Territorial warfare balance tweaks

The recent Upwell Structures 2.0 release has significantly improved citadel warfare, but a few problems have emerged with both citadel tethering mechanic and the territorial capture gameplay that are now getting some attention. Players can currently move capital ships risk-free by setting up a series of medium Astrahus structures and jumping between then, as the citadel tether will make them invulnerable between jumps.

CCP will be changing this by adding a delay after jumping before the tether will activate, so your capital ship will be vulnerable for a short time after jumping to a citadel unless it docks immediately. Since capital ships can’t dock in the cheap medium structures, this forces players to invest in larger infrastructure if they want that safety net.

Capital pilots will be happy to hear that Jump Fatigue is being reduced by an insane 95%. Jump Fatigue was introduced in 2014 as a way to prevent large alliances from moving large fleets across the map to fight wars far from home without committing. It’s certainly accomplished this but has added a lot of frustration to capital ship gameplay and is a horribly unpopular game mechanic. Now that CCP has admitted it’s not ideal and is rolling it back by 95%, we can hope there are plans in the works for a replacement mechanic. There are also significant changes on the way for the Entosis Link module and the capture node gameplay for nullsec sovereignty warfare, which most of the alliances seem happy with.

All of these balance changes have been very well received by the EVE community so far, in particular by the Council of Stellar Management who helped raise many of these issues with CCP. The Machariel will be a very good choice for some tactics without being the only viable choice, and the Muninn and Eagle will definitely see more use in PvP with these buffs in combination with the new Assault Damage Control module. The Orthus and Ferox nerfs may help make more ships viable in small gang and solo PvP and shake up the stale lowsec meta for a few months, and we may even get more Cyclone and Navy Drakes roaming lowsec with those huge damage boosts.

The Monitor Flag Cruiser will be an interesting addition, though the EVE player in me is desperately trying to come up with ways to abuse its insane defensive stats. The harsh fitting restrictions will prevent all of the obvious abuse cases, but it might end up being useful for transporting high-value blueprints through highsec, grabbing aggro in tough missions or other PvE content, or baiting pirates in lowsec. We’ll find out more when all of these updates go live later this month, and will have an opportunity to follow up on any future balance plans next month at EVE Fanfest 2018.

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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