Inside the Tactical Destroyer Focus GroupSuitonia
Tactical destroyers have been the subject of much joy, or much misery, depending on which side of the business end of them you have been during the year they have been in EVE. It is generally thought that they are significantly above the power-curve for a ship their size. CCP nerfed the Confessor and Svipul in April 2015, but that still didn’t stop their dominance. In early October they created a focus group, inviting players who are experienced in their use to discuss aspects of their balance.
Tactical destroyers had insurance payout nerfs and were banned from small complexes in the recent Christmas patch in December, they still run rampant however. I’ve been a member of the tactical destroyer focus group, however, communications have almost ground to a halt due to CCP Fozzie and other developers having to focus on the important Citadel expansion. That is not to say that they do not care about T3D balance and CCP Fozzie is a really hard-working man who does a great deal of work for the game, so please no pitchforks. I understand why people might be upset about a focus group that was formed and then put somewhat aside though.
I would like to thank everyone in the focus group as really good discussion took place there and even when holding conflicting points of views, it was a really civil and reasonable channel. I came to formulate a lot of these points through discussion with the group. I also want to make it clear that these are my opinions on balance and don’t necessarily represent the T3D focus group as a whole. It was my impression, however, that most of the group had a very similar view on balance as me.
The goal CCP Fozzie set for the focus group was to ideally increase the skill cap of T3Ds, so there is more opportunities to display player skill, while reducing the troublesome aspects. I think that CCP actually achieved this with the Hecate and Jackdaw. The Confessor still has somewhat of a higher skill cap, while the Svipul is the exact opposite of this, with RR Svipuls, arty Svipuls and AC Svipuls almost always just being in the same mode the entire time, with little to no strategic swapping of modes and requiring very little player input to be successful.
I’ve written a good deal about the Svipul and why I think it is the most oppressive ship in the current small gang and solo PVP meta. You can read more about that here. I also recommend you check out my other article regarding T3D balance which ties into one of the main balancing points I think CCP should address.
So what makes the Svipul so overpowered?
1) The Svipul and the Confessor have incredibly high base speeds while in Speed mode. This is problematic because it makes them very strong at scram kiting, mitigating traversal or creating it while scrammed, and good at mitigating damage. Because the they both have higher base velocity values than every combat frigate in the game, it means they have perfect tracking versus them. In contrast, the Jackdaw and Hecate have much lower base speed values, but very low mass values also, which makes them much weaker to cruiser fire when they are warp scrambled. It also means that frigates can better exploit a tracking weakness in the case of the Rail-Hecate, range kite in the case of a Blaster-Hecate, or simply leave the field since they will have range control, assuming they can survive the high DPS while in scram range. I would recommend you check out my article that I linked earlier for more insight into this point.
The huge base speed means the tracking bonus on the Sharpshooter mode of the Svipul in particular is somewhat obsolete. Here is a pretty typical scenario: Let’s say an arty Svipul makes a huge piloting error and a scram/web frigate starts a fight on top of him at 0 km, let’s say it’s a Incursus for sake of this example. The arty long point Svipul with 280mm II’s will still track it absolutely perfectly even though the Incursus out-played it and caught it out of position, because it can just defensively web the Incursus, double click in space, and drop traversal to zero in Speed mode and achieve perfect tracking despite being outplayed. The Speed mode, unless you are under the effects of a Serpentis web, will always provide a much more significant tracking bonus than the Sharpshooter mode, limiting the value of the mode, and limiting the value of smart piloting choice of mode-swapping.
Base Prop Mode
I would really like to see the 66% base speed bonus on the Svipul and Confessor hulls changed to a propulsion module bonus instead, and base velocity dropped from the ship hull in favour of a lower mass, making it weaker to being scrammed or capacitor warfare preventing activation of propulsion modules. I don’t think it necessarily has to be limited to microwarpdrives like the Hecate, but it presents a very healthy balance between having frigate agility and mobility, while being incredibly vulnerable to cruisers and battlecruisers when it has been caught with a scrambler or committed into a fight.
One of the concerns brought up was that a MWD-only bonus would make the Confessor weaker at PVE as it’s used to farm Shattered frigate wormholes. I still think even if the Confessor got a afterburner bonus it would be much more healthy for the game than the current standard base speed bonus. I still think a MWD-only bonus would be very decent balancing mechanic though.
Another concern was that lowering mass would mean that plated Confessors would get hit harder. I think that CCP could just add a role bonus to the Confessor which reduced the mass penalty of plates by 50%, or some other value (much like the Armor Layering skill, which is already in the game so this attribute should be possible).
I also think that giving the Confessor/Svipul the ability to warp sub <2s (If it’s decided this is a good thing) without having to mode swap to “instawarp” would also help newer players out a lot, since the instawarp mode switch trick is a really convoluted mechanic.
2) The base signature on the Svipul and the Confessor are really problematic.
The Svipul and the Confessor are the only T3Ds to have lower signature radius than the T1 attack destroyer options. Strategic Cruisers have higher signature radius than their T2 and T1 counterparts, but still mitigate damage really well. I think increasing the T3D sigs slightly to in-between the T1 destroyer values would help a lot with cruiser application. The Svipul and the Confessor in particular mitigate so much medium missile and turret DPS thanks to their intrinsically low signatures, but this doesn’t apply as much to the Hecate and Jackdaw.
Moving the Hecate up to 65m and the Svipul up to 58m~ I think would go a long way to helping cruisers apply to them.
3) The Sharpshooter mode is currently really undervalued. On the Svipul the base speed bonus is a much more powerful effective tracking bonus, and brawling Confessors don’t care too much about Sharpshooter mode. There currently is little reason to not be in Defensive when brawling in a T3D or flying in a RR fit.
I think that reducing the damage role bonus on all T3Ds from 50% to 25%, but then providing a 20% DPS boost on Sharpshooter would be a really interesting way to solve this, and would create better gameplay for both sides, especially in small-medium gangs vs RR T3Ds.
This retains the exact same damage as now while in Sharpshooter mode because 1.25 x 1.2 = 1.5, or the same 50% bonus as it stands currently, while lowering the DPS output for those that just stay in Defensive mode the entire time. This helps weaken the Svipul pilots that just hit approach, F1 and go AFK. Good players in fleets will try and maximise the amount of time they can remain in Sharpshooter mode to get the most DPS possible out of the ship, while enemy players can try and target T3D’s switching to Sharpshooter mode in order to take them out before reps land, possibly catching them off guard if they swapped out of Defensive recently, and giving T3Ds with sharp reaction times better opportunities to shine. Those that just stay in Defensive mode lose some power. It also provides more strategic decisions for T3D pilots in brawls. Do I go to Defensive mode to mitigate more damage and improve my effective hitpoints, or do I go to Sharpshooter mode to remove an enemy ship from the field faster, improving my tank that way?
Speaking of the Sharpshooter mode, there was a lot of discussion on the scan resolution bonus. I think that it is generally problematic, especially on the Svipul and Confessor as it allows instalocking fits too easily, both can lock most frigates without any modules improving scan resolution. The lock range and ECCM buff make sense to counter enemy electronic warfare and provides good decision-making for a T3D pilot, but the scan resolution bonus doesn’t really help out too much here. Scan resolution damps are pretty rare, especially in small to medium gang, and in any event they aren’t very effective against T3Ds. Most use of scan resolution damping comes from damping target callers and logistic ships in larger battles. So I feel like removing the scan resolution boost, and just buffing the base scan resolution of the T3Ds to just below T1 destroyers would be a good solution. This would allow greater freedom for non-buffer frigates roaming.
It was also mentioned by focus group members and CCP Fozzie that it’s possible that they could replace the lock range, scan resolution and ECCM strength with a resistance bonus to weaker EWAR, similar to what super capitals and titans are slated to receive in the Citadel expansion. This would be a great alternative.
Finally, there was a lot of discussion on the balance between artillery and autocannons for the Svipul. The ship has a huge amount of CPU and powergrid if fit with autocannons, which is one of the reasons why it’s so rampant – you can get double small neuts and double MSE’s with a single MAPC. Gimping the grid would make artillery fits much weaker however. Autocannons and artillery have a huge fitting discrepancy, especially on the frigate level where a 280mm Howitzer Artillery II literally uses 4x the grid of a 200mm Autocannon II, and 16x the grid of the smaller tier autocannon.
I feel that CCP really needs to address this discrepancy since it is incredibly noticeable on the frigate level, and probably contributes the most to the dominance of the Autocannon Svipul. However, it may end up out of the scope of a T3D balancing pass, as it could potentially require the rebalancing of every small projectile hull in the game.