EVE Evolved: EVE Online’s comms blackout will lead to absolute anarchy

    
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All hell is about to break loose in EVE Online for the territorial alliances waging wars in the depths of space following some the craziest weeks in the game’s long history. A series of events that kicked off late last month with NPC fleets attacking player-built structures throughout nullsec is about to escalate into all-out anarchy. The game’s creator CCP Games is about to perform a major shakeup of how safe the nullsec regions are by triggering a blackout of the local chat channels – starting tomorrow.

One of the core concepts in EVE from the moment of its creation was the idea that more lucrative areas of space to live in should be more dangerous, but today players have tamed the wilderness of null-security space and made it effectively safe. The local chat channel currently provides an instant list of every single player in a star system, allowing organised alliances to keep track of enemy and neutral ships in their space. When the blackout begins tomorrow at 11 a.m. GMT (7 a.m. EDT), this perfect intel-gathering tool will no longer function in alliance-held territories across nullsec, throwing them into chaos.

But what does that mean and how will it affect the game? In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at recent developments in nullsec, what the impact of the blackout may be, and how you can prepare for it.

Breaking the blue donut

One of the big problems experienced throughout EVE‘s lifetime is that often major alliances will simply make deals to leave each other alone so they can farm their territories in peace. At several points in EVE‘s history, the game has been in a state of effective cold war in which all the alliances are trying to build up resources and all major players in nullsec have agreed not to capture each other’s territory — creating something players call “The Blue Donut.”

Last month CCP added a wrinkle to the nullsec defense equation when they activated NPC Drifter fleets throughout nullsec and let them run rampant. The fleets will hunt down and kill players in a system and will even attack structures left unguarded, creating some extra opportunities for rival alliances to move in and attack strategic structures. This caused some of the largest nullsec alliances to rage at being forced into “non-consensual PvE” in order to defend their space and even pull back ships from wars further afield.

The difference between player and NPC attacks is that you can’t sign a non-aggression pact with NPCs to get them to leave you alone; the Drifters can’t be bribed or manipulated, and they won’t join any blue donut that forms or political coalition. CCP has been experimenting with Drifter behaviour to help shake things up in nullsec, and it’s clear that they’ve caused some real chaos already. The local channel blackout seems to be the next big step in CCP’s plan to give the sandbox a bloody good shake and see what happens.

Why is nullsec so damn safe?

When EVE was first created, there were three types of space players could inhabit: Relatively safe high-security systems patrolled by CONCORD police; pirate-infested low-security systems with no police and minor consequences for attacking players; and the lawless nullsec regions with no penalty for aggression. The idea was that players who exposed themselves to higher levels of danger would reap higher rewards, but this was only true for the briefest few years at the start of EVE‘s life.

Once players could colonise nullsec and it became feasible to live there long-term, they set about making it the safest place in the game to grind and farm resources. Today’s alliances have not only non-aggression pacts with major neighbours but also dedicated intel channels and even their own custom applications to monitor neutral and enemy ships in their space. If you lead a small stealth fleet into the space owned by a large alliance to hunt miners or NPC farmers, you can now expect your targets to flee before you arrive or an overwhelming military response to get dropped on you.

The addition of the Drifter threat has made nullsec more dangerous for those living there, with the attacks most recently targeting those in combat anomalies in addition to hitting structures. While many of those killed in these attacks have been flying ships typically used for AFK farming such as the Gila and Vexor Navy Issue, the Drifters can strike without warning and use overwhelming force that could definitely feel unfair. If you want to get up to date on this issue, check out Jin’taan’s fantastic video on the topic below:

Nerfing local is a huge deal!

The local chat channel is the cornerstone of most intel systems in EVE, providing a perfect list of everyone in a particular star system at all times.

Miners and farmers will watch the local channel and immediately warp to safety as soon as someone they don’t know appears in it, so you won’t catch someone unless they’re seriously asleep at the wheel. Botters can also use this same system to farm in absolute safety, as there’s no way to get in range of a botter to warp scramble them before they warp out even if you know exactly where they are in system.

This is in stark contrast to wormhole space, which operates on a “delayed mode” system in which people only show up in local chat if they chat in it. Wormhole space is a legitimately dangerous place to live in, and those living there have learned to cope with it using a variety of tools and strategies that ultimately require people to play it safe and in defensible groups. When the blackout hits nullsec, it too will be operating on this delayed mode system and will become an incredibly dangerous place to live.

Surviving the blackout

While some nullsec citizens and even alliance leaders have been denouncing the blackout as an end to their way of life and loudly threatening to cancel their accounts over it, the tools do exist in EVE to stay safe without local perfect channel intel. Wormhole corporations have had to live in this kind of environment for years, and use a variety of tools and techniques to stay safe, many of which will prove just as useful in nullsec during the blackout:

  • Directional Scanner: The directional scanner is absolutely the most important PvP tool in all of EVE Online, allowing you to scan for any ships and other objects within 14.3AU. This can be filtered using any of your overview categories, so create a filter just for things you need warning about (ships, scan probes, structures etc) and keep the scanner open on your screen at all times. Press ‘V’ every few seconds to keep it updated and you’ll have plenty of warning of most incoming ships. Combat Recon cruisers and cloaked ships don’t appear on the directional scanner, however, so don’t rely on it as your sole form of intel.
  • Use Scouts: In the absence of instant intel about enemy and neutral movements in nullsec, it’s more important than ever to have scouts actively out in the field. I predict that many pilots will simply deploy cloaked alts on key stargates and keep note of everything that comes through, and that they will keep a close watch on any wormholes spawning in a system.
  • Stay Aligned: By aligning your ship to a safe spot such as a friendly Upwell structure and moving at 75% of maximum speed or more, you can instantly enter warp by clicking the warp button. Since EVE‘s grids were expanded in radius to thousands of kilometres a few years ago, you can now see incoming ships on your overview a few seconds before they can target you and should always have enough time to warp out if you’re aligned and paying attention (assuming they don’t manage to set up a bump). Miners might want to consider looking into the Higgs Anchor rig to make it easier to stay aligned while staying in range of asteroids
  • Warp Bubbles: Anchorable warp disruption bubbles can be used to effectively lock down a stargate and slow down the speed that enemies (cloaked or otherwise) can travel through the gate. They can also be placed in asteroid fields and structures to catch people warping from certain common vectors like stargates, while local players can set up bookmarks to get around them. Keep in mind though that certain tech 3 cruiser configurations and interceptors are immune to bubbles, but these will show up on the directional scanner if not cloaked.
  • Defense Fleets: Roaming gangs and cloaked ships looking for fights will be everywhere this weekend during the blackout, and that presents an opportunity for some fun fights. If you’re in a big bad nullsec alliance, get a couple of friends together and bait out some kills. The blackout works in your favour too as you can have friends waiting cloaked and ready to strike or light a cyno to call in reinforcements.

For most of EVE Online‘s lifetime, player-owned nullsec space has been functionally safer to live in than anywhere else in the game as long as you’re in the right alliance. EVE‘s upcoming local channel blackout will give nullsec a taste of the danger and PvP opportunity that delayed local has provided in wormhole space for years, but there are still a lot of unknowns about how players will react.

The blackout is due to go live tomorrow at 11AM GMT to coincide with the daily downtime, and we don’t yet know how long it will last. Alliances have had just 48 hours to prepare for the chaos that is sure to ensue, and it remains to be seen which alliances will be able to successfully adapt to the new dynamics and come out on top. New strategies are sure to emerge, new opportunities for PvP will present themselves, and some epic stories will undoubtedly play out as people get to grips with this monumental change to EVE Online.

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 himĀ a comment or send mail to brendan@massivelyop.com!
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