|On interceptors, and the role of Tech Two in EVE Online
||[Feb. 13th, 2014|09:10 pm]
I seem to keep getting in arguments about the new interceptor changes in EVE Online, because I think they're pretty cool, and I seem to be in the minority on this, so I figured I should get my thoughts in order and written down somewhere. This turned out to be a lot more general than just about interceptors, in order to come back to an idea about these particular ships.|
In EVE Online, tech two, or T2, as it is usually called, generally does one of two things. Either it is a better, stronger, faster version of standard stuff (T1), sort of like faction modules, or else it opens up new usage options. The primary value of the first kind of T2 is that it provides a reward beyond the basic skill bonus for committing to a skill, and meanwhile it alleviates pressure on meta (dropped by NPCs, rather than manufactured) gear prices, because the cost of producing T2 modules is unrelated to the rarity of the highly-sought meta-4 modules. The latter purpose of opening up new options, however, provides much better possibilities for new and interesting gameplay. Since ships do not have meta versions the way modules do, T2 ships need to open up new options, because there not is a supply of randomly-provided ships that run on a scale from strictly-worse to strictly-better.
As we have them today, there are three categories of T2 ships. In the first category, there are ships that do things no other ship can do, like steath bombers, interdictors, and and black ops battleships. When you see one of these ships, you know that what is going to happen next is going to be fundamentally different from a normal T1 shin-kicking match. The second category contains ships which do things that are more or less similar to what T1 ships do, but, since they do it in a way that T1 ships can't, they change the parameters of an engagement. I would put jump freighters, command ships, and some recons in this second category. Finally, there are T2 ships which are simply better, stronger, faster versions of T1 ships. The poster children for this are assault frigates and heavy assault cruisers. Before tiericide reached cruisers, I would have put logistics ships in the second category or possibly even the first one, because the T1 versions of the ships were so incredibly terrible. By making T1 logistics ships usable, they have moved into the third category. Meanwhile, I believe the interceptor rebalance moved them from the third category to the first, or, at worst, second category.
In my opinion, the first two categories of T2 ships which I described are good, but the third one should be avoided if at all possible. The reason for this is niche protection. There are only so many ways that you can make a faster, tankier, more damaging ship. With tiericide, we have already seen this problem some, even between T1 ships, which is why the attack/combat/special categorization was created, and this split needs to be emphasized, not fought against, for T2. If we're going to have as many T2 ships as we do, which is to say more different T2 hulls than T1 hulls for both frigates and cruisers, the vast majority of the ships involved will therefore have to do special things. Unfortunately, good special capabilities are much easier to identify in retrospect than they are to come up with in the first place.
Transport ships provide what is probably the most dramatic example of the difference between the third category of T2 ships and the first two categories. On the one hand, we have the blockade runner. Ever since it was changed to be covert, (and thus able to fit covert cloaks and cynos, as well as to take black ops bridges) it has had a distinctive niche. If you want to carry a small quantity of stuff (from the perspective of freight hauling) of arbitrary value somewhere safely, you can't do better than a blockade runner, because its special ability sidesteps the usual accounting that surrounds suicide ganking. On top of that, there are more creative uses to do with being able to send it through a black ops bridge. The blockade runner actually has less cargohold than most of the rebalanced T1 haulers, but it does something that no other ship can do, so it is in demand. On the other hand, we have the deep space transport. The DST is, in essence, a bigger, stronger T1 industrial. Unfortunately, there are only so many ways that you can implement "a ship that carries stuff", without much in the way of special features, so it ends up in direct competition with not only its own T1 versions, but everything else that has a large cargo hold. As it turns out, this direct comparison finds any number of alternatives, and, since it lacks any enormously relevant niche-protecting features, it goes straight to "useless" as soon as it fails a cost-benefit analysis. Just being able to warp cloaked bumps the blockade runner up to the middle category, and the new possibilities provided by being able to send it through a covert ops bridge opens up all kinds of new possibilities for what is considered feasible, making a strong case for it to be in the top category.
The change to make interceptors immune to warp disruption bubbles similarly changes interceptors from being simply better, stronger, faster frigates, sort of like faster assault frigates, into something which, by its presence, alters the way an engagement will be fought. Furthermore, its mere existence has implications on how defenders secure systems. Instead of, essentially, being fast frigates that turn T2 warp disruptors into the equivalent of (expensive) faction warp disruptors, and (if you're willing to pay for it on such a flimsy ship) further enhancing those same faction warp disruptors, interceptors are now a platform that cannot be stopped by static impediments, thus requiring that anyone trying to escape them either fully engage the ship or else fake out the pilot. After these changes, the new interceptor is the final word in tactical mobility, rather than a better tackle frigate. With only a few exceptions, the threat from an interceptor is the implied fleet it that is following behind, rather than the damage it does on its own.
So, why do so many people seem to be angry about the interceptor changes? It is because almost everybody feels robbed. People who camp gates to kill anyone who is wandering through at the time feel robbed because they need to work extra hard to nail an interceptor. People who hellbubble their dead-end systems to buy an extra 30 seconds to get their ratting ships safe feel robbed of their safety. People who flew interceptors before the change feel like they were robbed of ship performance, because some of the interceptors are now less agile than they were before any changes happenned. Finally, people who are only just looking at interceptors after flying the T1 hulls feel robbed because interceptors are both harder to fit and less agile than their T1 couterparts, with no increase in fitting slots or EHP. The most obvious attributes that have been improved are speed and sig tanking, and some interceptors aren't even faster than their T1 counterparts. People who expected a better tackle frigate from the name will go home disapointed, because it isn't much better at tackling than the T1 hull; its advantage is in getting places faster than anyone else, something which can, however, be parleyed into a better tackler. And, in the end, immunity to non-targeted warp disruption is cool, but it is extremely hard to determine how much hypothetical capability it is actually worth.
In my final accounting, the new interceptors are valuable because they provide a level of mobility that is not available from any other class of hull. It didn't have to be interceptors, but it had to be something like them: something that a defender could reasonably attempt to escape by more conventional means like destroying the ship that had tackled it, while still giving that ship a reasonable chance of achieving its mission. The mission required the ship be fast on-grid, as well as when warping around, because something that can get into places you don't expect is not much of a threat if it is easy to not be there when it gets there. I'm not entirely happy with interceptors, since I wish they weren't harder to fit than their T1 counterparts, but I'm definitely pleased with their existence.