2018: The State of WormholesAshley Traynor
It has been a year since my last real article where I spoke about a number of issues wormhole space was facing at the time. Since then, I’ve managed to run a corp, swiftly run it into the ground through the Alliance Tournament, join ShekelSquad and have since spent the rest of my days complaining about Vippy. Nowadays I’m in the process of rebooting Foxholers and boy am I glad to be using Tripwire again.
What I want to talk about here isn’t necessarily the intricacies of corp politics, economics, why wormholers brawl, or how often groups get a fight. This is more related to how CCP’s balance affects our little corner of space, bugs/exploits notwithstanding. So without further ado, let’s take some time to look at the changes over the past year or so.
Keepstars and such
Yep, I’ll say it. I was wrong. I never thought we’d see a properly defended Keepstar taken down in wormhole space. It would take too much logistical effort just to get things seeded in the first place. But hey, that’s what determination, 63 carriers, 51 dreads and a sprinkling of subcaps will get you. Props to Hawks and HK for that one.
Much of the rest of what I spoke about back then went through just how powerful Keepstars are as fortresses from which to project your own defences. I think nowadays, that still applies for the most part, even down to their smaller cousins. A properly fit citadel can be a severe annoyance for many prospective invasion fleets. The neuting power, application modules, and sheer anti-capital DPS mean attackers need to think carefully about fleet composition.
That being said, I’d say citadel balance is in a pretty alright place right now. What isn’t in a great place though is how, since prices have come down, it’s so easy to spam them everywhere at almost no cost. You could say this is the same as moonlocking back in the day, but with the ability to set your own timers and have so many of them, you can make it an absolute nightmare to take them down. If set up right, just three or four Astrahus’ will mean the invaders spend a good week doing little other than watching wormholes and the occasional bash. Worse still, none of these citadels require fuel to exist in the first place, making it an easy 800m ISK investment for more security at little cost.
Perhaps some of this is my rose-tinted view of the POS system
What I’m saying here isn’t at all that it’s impossible. It’s not difficult to take down an Astra or ten – especially with shorter wh-space timers – it’s honestly just boring. This sort of system works very well out in k-space where alarm-clocking for a titan bridge into target is fine, but in wormholes, you know some of you are going to be pulling all-nighters doing little but yawning. You can say there is at least the benefit of loot though. Killing off a group’s citadel in wh-space often yields much more than the SMA loot of old. Take the recent-ish Operation Wormbear eviction we did in Shekel, the loot ran into the triple digit billions. Since writing this, the POS Party eviction has been completed which is obviously a much larger event. Loot numbers haven’t been released yet though.
Perhaps some of this is my rose-tinted view of the POS system. Fueling it was hell and setting up in the first place was painful, but it at least felt fair. Back then, there wasn’t a whole lot of room for exploitation and I’d say is really where we need to aim to be. We need a system which allows defenders flexibility without just taking the piss. Locking down timers to “nice” windows would be a too rigid and very brute force-like approach. Instead, we could build some sort of elegant solution that actually fits into the lore. The recent changes are certainly a step in the right direction, but they don’t deal with the structure spam element.
I’d personally like to see the star of a system determine citadel capacity. Perhaps through some lore-based method (if one exists then tell me), the citadels would fuel defensive systems using the sun. At a technical level, you could treat it like a system having a powergrid defined by the star’s temperature. Doing this, “offline” citadels would act similarly to deadsticks, popping after one attack. It would go hand in hand with the recent update to attack initially at any time, providing a cap so that defenders can’t just go overboard with structures. Another interesting effect would be from the attackers POV where a beachhead is now more difficult to create at max system capacity; it could even make room for some sort of forward operating base structure?
The FAX Problem
Last year I concluded that Force Auxiliaries were pretty OP, but perhaps players would find ways around it. Fast forward a year and I can’t honestly say things have changed at all. There haven’t been any FAX balance passes as I had hoped and at this point, CCP is probably very happy with how things have turned out. The reason for that being that out in null and lowsec these logistic leviathans do work out as intended. Their sheer amount of repping power or attainable buffer makes withstanding dreads possible (to an extent). Of course in wormhole space, where the “meta” is often on a smaller scale, things go a little awry.
If you’re a wormholer yourself then I don’t need to ask you how many times you’ve run into a nigh-unkillable Ninazu being fed a steady supply of fuel trucks. If you aren’t a wormholer then I can tell you that the answer is “too many”. It isn’t fun or emergent gameplay – to use popular terms – to sit orbiting one of these goliaths at 1am waiting on that batphone for more DPS or Bhaals. Often times you can see a FAX go on tanking an hour or two past the actual fight when EUTZ is begging to find an exit to go to bed. This is assuming however that you’ve already won the fight and cleared grid of everything else; not a small feat itself. To win a fight in the first place against triage means either mistakes were made, you’ve got an alpha comp, or your fleet pulled some trickery.
out in null and lowsec these logistic leviathans do work out as intended
So the question really is what can we as wormholers do about this? The first way is to just do what we’ve always done, to solve it with alternate tactics and fleet comps. For starters you have the ones that everyone knows about: You can bump the FAX away from its fleet, you can peel certain ships away from the FAX, or you can set up as an alpha doctrine from the start. They’re all decent options and they can all work, at least on the mainline fleet. Other than those, you can stress the pilot with split DPS or use WAY too many neuts; I’ve even heard a suggestion to throw your own bumping capital at it, a bit like the old drebuchet. We’re assuming for the most part though, that this is in low-class wormhole space where you can really be a dick by bringing Force Auxiliaries since the opposing fleet has no caps of their own.
Last year I also suggested a number of little ideas that could be put in place in order to solve the issue directly. Looking back, most of them seem a little heavy handed if I’m honest. Since then I’ve heard more suggestions, including a decent idea in the comments for triage capacitor to go negative from neuting. That one seems pretty fun, I can see CCP saying no though because the art team is too busy fixing servers! No, what we probably need to do is figure these things out on our own. Either that or go all ebushido on corps abusing low-class triage and such #threeCaps.
They actually did it! We cried CCPls enough and actually got moon mining. Now I’m not really a miner so I’m going to assume this is a very good thing and be happy about it. Having spoken to a number of industrialists though, the general consensus is very positive. Having a consistent method of obtaining ore belts is a lifesaver for anyone who usually manufacturers in wormhole space. Most had to import their ore bit-by-bit thanks to a lack of ore sites (seriously, you can go weeks without a belt).
Now this right here is where I had planned to write a section listing all the fun new stuff we can produce self-sufficiently. CCP, however, have gone and given us only the most common goo, meaning T2 production still requires importing a good chunk of material. At the very least though, this is a boon to capital ship construction. Constant belts allow industrialists to keep their stocks full more easily, pumping out Nags and Phoenixes as soon as the slots are free. That’s either going to mean that people are less wary about risking caps in brawls, or that cap blobs in home are going to become a whole lot more common, probably both.
Regardless of what we can build though, having more access to ores in the first place is something I’ve wanted for a while. With miners having access to a consistent supply of ore, it’s entirely possible that not only Rorqual usage could spike, so could barge mining in general. Not only will that boost the economy a little, but it should open up the potential for ganks more. Here’s hoping that means less empty chains and not having to settle for a T1 Venture kill in a gas cloud.
Back in early 2016 when I was with Lazerhawks, I had a farm corp called ‘Krab Bucket’. It didn’t go well at all. I remember forgetting to bring tracking drugs or Titanium Sabot and my alts weren’t even trained to use the T2 painters that I had brought. We got stuck in site several times with two full waves of Sleepless Guardians orbiting at max range.
For reference, old capital escalations were such that bringing in various types of cap (carrier/dread) would cause up to 4 waves of Sleepless Guardians. Each would spawn nearby then attempt to burn and orbit out at 35km from your dreads. The key was the kill them off quick before tracking became difficult, collect the loot then warp core stab out of site. Since Guardians dropped a good chunk of ISK each, you would farm just for them each day until the site despawned four days later.
So yeah, it really didn’t go well for Krab Bucket. By the end, though, we had all managed to earn back our original investment and a pretty penny more given how easy ISK it was. In today’s wormhole space sites aren’t quite as lucrative for the everyman but they’re certainly much safer. Grinding out combat sites with MJD Rattlesnakes then securing the “capital escalation” Drifter using your Astrahus puts almost no risk at all on grid. It unfortunately also results in an experience not too dissimilar to AFK nullsec ratting, both in safety and level of excitement. The key problem here being the safety. With CCP’s general balance brush being “less ISK, but safer”, things got a whole lot staler back when the changes first came out.
Grinding out combat sites with MJD Rattlesnakes [..] puts almost no risk at all on grid
However, despite C5 space being Rattlesnakes Online, things do look to be moving back towards that heyday now that more people know what they’re doing with the newer sites. It definitely is possible to make a lot more ISK by making good use of Dreads and HAWs so it does happen and I can’t complain too much. What’s worth mentioning though is that with Fortizars soon becoming the only good Dread storage option and the old ‘hero dread’ being mostly dead, the barrier for entry is going way up. For now at least, 2018 isn’t like 2015 where everyone and their nan had a capital farm, but it’s better.
The main point of this section last year was to discuss how we need “a healthy ecosystem in which both the predator and the prey exist”. After all, that’s the major “risk” component which makes up risk vs reward in any Eve Online environment. Anecdotally from the people I’ve spoken to, there’s a consensus that we’re back in that sort of healthy place again, but for the hell of it I’ve drawn up a graph to try and illustrate this, too. It’s worth noting that these figures are for caps killed by wormhole space groups, regardless of locale.
On first inspection, our three main caps (being Dreads, Faxes and Carriers) are on the rise in losses and therefore utilisation. It’s a good sign and is one which aligns with what I hear from other wormholers in their experience ganking and brawling. Whether this means a specific rise in ganks as a result of farming is uncertain, but more activity is always a nice sign. While I was at it, I took the liberty of producing another graph with Jan/Feb omitted. This isn’t quite a representative with fewer data points. What it does remove however, is the outlying dip at the start of 2017 to better show activity trend across the year. In this version we still see lovely dread increase, but with a drop in carrier kills. Given that carrier kills are for the most part a nullsec activity, we can still stick to an increase in cap usage across wormhole space (or wormhole groups at least).
Despite the data though, I’d honestly rather lean towards what my fellow corpmates are saying and how the community feels in general. In the end it’s ‘feeling’ that counts. It doesn’t matter if the statistics say everything is fine if nobody is actually having fun; that counts for all areas of space actually, it’s a side effect of this being a game. For now, at least, I’ll say things are in a good a position as they can be until CCP can bring out something new and exciting. I’ve thought for a while now that Eve needs a big expansion to flip tables and breathe some life back in, god knows that SKINs aren’t doing it. That however is an article in itself so we’ll leave it there for now. o/
Footnote: The POSPY eviction is a different matter entirely and warrants more than a small section here. Check out the rest of CZ for that!