New Carriers Have Raised the Bar, the Ceiling, and the FloorChance Ravinne
The CSM has heard a lot about the new fighter squadron mechanics for carriers and supercarriers, but with such radical design changes it was hard to tell anything about them from meetings and numbers alone.
So during the summit, CCP spawned us into supercarriers for a live demonstration of the squadron system. We were fleeted up as a third party parked a few hundred km outside a defending citadel and an offending mixed capital fleet.
It’s no secret I haven’t flown a capital ship before, but the intimidation there was small compared to the depth of the fighter squadron system. Behind my Hel’s modules (yes, behind) was a second set of controls that corresponded to my deployed fighter squadrons. A toggle let me switch between Hel controls and fighter controls, though I was told this setup was for small monitors only, and that the fighter window would (hopefully) be unpinnable and/or a hotkey could be set for module access swapping.
Each fighter squadron had two or three abilities (an auto-fire F1 attack, a defensive/evasive F2 movement, and a long cooldown/low ammo F3 super attack) that differed by fighter type. The Hel supercarrier could launch a maximum five squadrons, with a no more than 3/2/3 each of light/support/heavy fighters, respectively.
Launch Attacks Like it’s Kharak
“There is a sense of scale – and a familiar micro-triggered anxiety – that comes with essentially piloting six ships at once in real time.”
As I said before, I’ve never flown a capital, though drones were my favored weapon system early on in EVE. That said, controlling fighter squadrons is nothing like controlling drones. Instead, it is much more like controlling a small fleet of ships in an RTS game like StarCraft 2 or Homeworld. There is a sense of scale – and a familiar micro-triggered anxiety – that comes with essentially piloting six ships at once in real time.
Using the new Tactical Camera, you’re playing EVE at a level that feels more removed and more powerful than anything a single ship can deliver. You can of course just select all your fighters and spam attack (F1) commands at various targets, but you’d be doing yourself a grave disservice. I instead found myself positioning squadrons with Homeworld-stye movement commands in 3D space, then activating navigation maneuvers to help them survive as they reached their final targets. I launched capital-sized torpedo attacks on impulse, but that’s mainly because they were super overpowered in this particular test build.
And, you know, it’s kinda my job to deliver torpedoes.
There were, of course difficulties. Among the CSM, we saw bugs in graphics, controls, and damage application. CCP, of course, took notes and reminded us there’s still some polish to apply. With a release date of just “Spring” there are 1 to 3 more months to smooth out bad code and rebalance fighter abilities.
Whatever the final numbers look like, I can say without reservation that the fighter squadron system felt very, very cool. It’s deep, engaging, and delivers tons of wow-factor.
And oh yeah… it’s gonna take a lot of skill.
“Before you join corp, tell us…. what’s your APM?”
This is where I see the most potential problems arising. Controlling fighter squadrons unquestionably requires more skill and more frequent input than current drones and fighters. What CCP has done here is dramatically raise both the skill floor (minimum skill needed to use the system competently) and the skill ceiling (how much individual player skill determines system effectiveness).
Why is that a problem? In my opinion, it isn’t, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be perceived as one, especially by existing carrier and supercarrier pilots. On day 1 of Citadel’s release, they’re going to be really really bad at flying their own ships. They’re going to fumble with dual-mode controls. They’ll accidentally torpedo their own ships. They’re going to leave fighters stranded in launch tubes while enemy fleets smash them with impunity.
These issues won’t just affect them. The entire EVE community will be judging how good of a job CCP did with their new carrier paradigm, and with these ships tanking left and right at the hands of unpracticed owners, the initial sentiment will most likely be “these new carriers and supers suck.” It’s going to take time and patience for pilots to master fighter squadrons by internalizing the deep control now available to them.
Eventually, we’ll see the true power of fighter squadrons unlocked. Maybe it will be a natural progression of cumulative player skill. Maybe some Korean StarCraft pros will be conscripted into EVE by rich alliances and handed the reigns to a supercap fleet. Maybe Chessur will down 100 dreadnaughts with a solo (read: linked) nano-Nyx setup. Who knows?
Regardless of the who, the how is looking extremely promising. If CCP can implement fighter squadrons into EVE Online correctly, they will have created a new paradigm for not just what a capital ship is, but what a capital pilot needs to be.