As implied by the previous post, I spent some more time in New Eden over the weekend, but I wasn't anywhere near Deklein. ;-)
Instead, I wanted to spend some more time playing around with the incursions feature in EVE. Specifically, I wanted to join an armor fleet, since I had spent all of my incursion time the previous week in shield fleets. I was also hoping to try out some Assaults, the middle level of incursion site between Vanguards on the low-end and HQs on the high-end.
The first thing that I discovered is that the armor fleet side of incursions isn't quite as well-organized as the shield fleet side is. They do have an in-game channel to organize fleets: "The Ditanian Fleet". However, it was neither so well-populated nor as well set up as the shield channel. It didn't identify the "focus" area for armor fleets, for one thing. Active incursions were happening in Amarr and Khanid space, so I guessed (correctly, as it turned out) that most of the armor fleets would be in Khanid space and based there. I decided to stick with playing Logistics, since they were clearly in every bit as much demand for armor fleets as for shield fleets.
That led me to start with my favorite 1600mm plate Guardian. But I figured the single medium repper wouldn't go over well, so I said "what the hell" and built myself a Medium Ancillary Current Router II. Fitting this rather expensive piece of hardware onto one of my PvP Guardians solved the grid problem preventing me from using a fourth large repper, so I made the swap. Trading the Hornet ECs for T2 rep drones and the ECCM for a Tracking Link gave me additional flexibility and a combat role. So refitted, I decided to bide my time a bit, wait, and see if I could spot an active Assault fleet rather than randomly advertising and perhaps ending up in a Vanguard.
My patience soon paid off. An active Assault fleet advertised for a replacement logi. I dropped my fitting into channel and was in fleet ten seconds later.
I again neglected to mention that this was my first Assault ever and my first incursion ever in an armor fleet. ;-) Still, I'm just as experienced in a Guardian as I am in a Scimi, so the transition was pretty easy. I got into the logi channel, declared myself as having Logi 5 skill, picked up a primary and back-up cap partner, and I was all set. Assault fleets receive their maximum bonus at 20 pilots, and I guessed (again, correctly) that six of them would be Logistics pilots like myself. Unsurprisingly, all six were Guardians (will the poor Oneiros ever get some love?). I received a compliment on my fit and some advice on how to make it even better for future incursions, which I filed away.
First up, a Nation Commander Stronghold.
I'm not sure what I was expecting, but my first NCS was not it. I'd heard that Assaults were not as profitable as Vanguards, but hadn't heard why. But overall, I think I was expecting something somewhat less difficult than the fast-moving Vanguards. What I got was the hardest incursion site I'd experienced to date: more than 20 ships in the initial wave throwing an absolutely terrifying amount of DPS. The first ship aggressed, even with 24 large reppers working on him full-bore, quickly dipped into deep armor. It was like the Guardians weren't repping him at all! I peeled the logi drones off my cap partner and threw them into the fray, finger hovering over the overheat button, just in case. Our fleet's DPS ships, containing T2 and faction Apocs in what seemed like every color of the rainbow (with a few non-Apoc hulls here and there for variety), started working on the rats.
And slowly... the aggroed member of the fleet stabilized, then started to recover, and I started to breathe again.
After the site, I learned that a couple of logis and a couple of DPS ships had been slow entering the field, so what I saw that first NCS wasn't quite typical. Still, I can only assume there's some kind of spawning bug in the Nation Commander Stronghold that hasn't been addressed yet, because the initial alpha that site throws is tough! Trust EVE players to learn how to manage it, though.
Later that weekend, this time as part of a shield fleet, I got to experience that initial NCS alpha first-hand in my Scimi... and very nearly lost the ship for my trouble. The number of battleships in that initial wave is scary enough, but the initial spawn also includes heavy neuts and a silly number of webs. My Scimi was doing fine until those webs hit. That dropped my speed and transversal to near-nothing, the neuts all but killed my hardeners, and the battleships then very nearly ate me alive. Thanks to my fellow logis and a strategic bit of hardener overheating at the right moment, I escaped in 33% armor... not where you want to be in a Scimi.
So, when you go into a Nation Commander Stronghold, keep it in mind: those first 60 seconds are the worst. After that, player DPS takes hold, reducing the amount of damage the site can produce. Happily, though there is a second wave to the NCS, you can skip it by killing the correct target. The remaining ships in the second wave then warp off.
That's the good news. Even better, a fleet that's on the ball can complete the NCS in about 15 minutes with a pay-out of a little over 18 million ISK for a high-sec incursion. This makes 75 million ISK/hour routine if you can find a steady flow of NCSs.
The bad news is that you probably can't. ;-) I quickly discovered why Assaults are regarded as inferior to Vanguards. Of the three Assault sites, only the NCS is considered worth blitzing. Another Assault site, the Nation Consolidation Network, is not considered worth doing at all. The site splits the fleet in half for most of the site. This requires a great deal of coordination between the two halves of the fleet and a careful balance of DPS, Logistics, and attack orders. It's a cute idea in theory, but in practice soon becomes a giant pain in the tail. The remaining site, the Overwhelmed Civilian Facility, is considered somewhat sub-par, particularly for armor fleets.
As a result, the Assault fleet I was in ended up doing a bit more traveling around than the HQ and Vanguard fleets, since it was considered worthwhile to do NCSs as much as possible even if the fleet had to occasionally change systems to find them. So, in practice, the pay for Assaults turned out to be somewhat less than the easier Vanguards.
After about two hours, the armor fleet that I was in lost enough members that the FC decided to downshift to Vanguards. This gave me the opportunity to see the armor fleet in action against these frigate- and cruiser-heavy sites. Surprisingly, it did quite well! By that time, we were down to a pair of Paladins, a pair of Amarr faction battleships, and a trio of Legions, plus our Logis. The longish-range, fast-tracking pulse lasers -- all using faction crystals, of course -- fit by these ships absolutely devastated the Vanguard sites, with the large Amarr drone bays taking up any slack created by our four battleships and their large guns. We completed ten Vanguards in a bit under 85 minutes, somewhat faster than a comparable shield fleet.
I was able to participate in a couple of other armor fleets over the weekend, and their performance was similar. However, getting into an armor fleet was a bit tougher; there were fewer of them roaming around. Part of this was the lack of use of the official armor channel; I later learned that it averages about 3/5 the number of players of the shield channel. The rest can probably be attributed to the lower popularity of armor-tanked ships for PvE compared to their shield-tanked brethren.
So, overall, an interesting couple of days! I learned a lot. Thanks to the guys that let me fly with them!