Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Misses the target

There's been a lot of chit-chat about four changes to the Drake that CCP proposed to CSM6 during the December summit:
  • it would lose the shield resistance bonus and the 5% Kinetic damage bonus; and instead,
  • gain a rate of fire bonus and a missile velocity bonus.
We're told that such a change would re-balance the Drake which currently "does everything too well".  We're also told it would potentially add more uniqueness to the Nighthawk, which is presently overshadowed entirely by the Drake.

Let's get that last point out of the way first: there's currently not really any good reason to fly a Nighthawk, other than how cool it looks.  A Drake can do the same job nearly as well, for one fifth the cost.  In PvE, a well-fit end-game Drake does about 370 DPS without drones; the Nighthawk does 435.  The 65 DPS is not really worth the extra ISK put at risk for ratting; get a Tengu instead; just as much DPS at far lower risk.  For missioning, while you might start L4 missions with a Drake, you'll soon be drawn to other platforms than the Nighthawk.  All in all, these proposed changes to the Drake aren't going to change that.  You can't buff the Nighthawk by re-balancing the Drake.  The Nighthawk needs someone to look at it, please.  Onward.

So... is this a nerf?  Kirith Kodachi thinks soSo does Seleene.

I'm not so sure.

First, let's make things really clear: this change is intentionally aimed at PvP Drakes.  We'll get to why in a second.  Drakes are hugely common in PvP because they do consistent, reliable DPS, their fitting is really hard to get too terribly wrong, and they're easy ships to put newbies into with little effort.  Enemy FCs ignore them until last because the Drake is the very epitome of a defensive ship.  Almost no other ship in EVE can match it on defense.

However, that defensive nature means that Drakes have long been regarded as well-balanced PvE platforms.  CCP now proposes to strip that defensive nature away.

What's that resistance nerf going to do to the Drake?  Well, EHP for a max skilled pilot of a Drake with no fittings is going to drop from 24.6k EHP to just over 21k EHP if my math is accurate.  A fairly typical heavy tank PvP Drake (double-Invul, double-LSE, double-CDFE, single anti-EM rig) will drop from 81k EHP to about 76k.  More significantly, the PvE triple-Purger Drake will go from being able to omni-tank about 300 DPS with passive recharge to about 175 DPS.

Yeah.  This is a pretty big change, and -- ironically -- it'll hit PvE Drakes a lot harder than their PvP brethren.

Why is the change so significant?  The Drake is all about the resists.  Today, a double-Invul PvE Drake with no Damage Control has an average resist of 72%.  The resist-nerfed Drake's average will be 62%.  I wrote about how important even a few percentage points of resistance are a couple of months ago.  Those percentage points are even more important when the ship in question isn't active tanking.  To quickly summarize the point I made in that post, 62% resists means that 100 points of shield recharge becomes 263 effective shield hit points.  72% resists means that same 100 points of shield recharge becomes 357.

On a Drake, depending on your fit, that 100 shield points recharges every six or seven seconds.  Let's say it's 6.5 seconds.  That means the higher resist Drake picks up almost a thousand more EHP per minute, meaning it can passively tank some combination of two or three more rat battleships, six more rat cruisers, or 12 more rat frigates.  The difference adds up fast!  We wouldn't see a lot of Drakes in L4 missions after this change; they wouldn't be able to survive them.  Their ability to tank L3s will have to be adjusted with a lot more mission-specific tanking and careful flying.

The PvP Drakes are not going to be impacted as much.  PvP Drakes close the EM hole and fit Damage Controls by and large, so the resist nerf won't hit them as hard: their resists, on average, will drop from 73 to 65.  It's a 7-point change instead of a 10-point one, still big but not disastrous.

The big impact on the PvP Drakes is going to be on the flip-side... all those offensive changes.  The kinetic damage change looks like a nerf, but it really isn't.  Today, you can look at a Drake and think "kinetic damage".  A lot of PvP ship classes out there right now that often fight Drakes -- AHACs, for instance -- go out of their way to close their kinetic resistance hole.  With Drakes able to vary their damage to whatever type of damage is required, their effective DPS is going to go up a fair bit.  And the missile speed and rate of fire buffs are going to make brawling HAM Drakes -- currently relatively uncommon -- absolute close-range monsters.

But let's be clear, here: CCP isn't looking at these change for the good of the ship.  They're looking these changes for the good of their servers.  They've had a strong desire to punch the Drake in the mouth for about a year now and are just looking for the right time to deliver that punch.  CCP claims that Drake missile volleys -- particularly in large numbers -- are a big cause of server lag.  These changes really effectively do two things to the Drake:
  • make them easier to kill and more likely to be killed, so they'll die faster and fire fewer missiles; and,
  • make those missiles that they do fire hit their targets faster, lessening server load from calculating missile tracks.
It's clever.  But will it back-fire?

After all, there's another way to use that range bonus.  Right now, FCs across New Eden know that HML Drakes -- the most common type -- can engage defensively at about 70-75km, and offensively (while chasing a target) at 55-60km.  The missile speed boost is going to increase those ranges by 25%.  Energy Locus Hellcats will no longer be able to hit Drakes for good damage at 70km the way they can today because the Drakes aren't going to be there any more... the Drakes will be at 80 or 85km, outside of Locus Hellcat range.  AHACs, meanwhile, can no longer count on their 80 or 85% kinetic resist to save them; those Drakes are going to be firing EM missiles at them instead.(1)

Lots and lots of people are looking at these potential Drake changes... and getting excited about them.  As a result, we might see more Drakes on the PvP battlefield out of this kind of change, not fewer.  And we might see them just emphasizing the skirmishing role they were never intended to take in the first place.  Do these changes constitute a Drake nerf?  Do they really?

Well, yes: they sure are for the PvE Drakes!  But that wasn't the intent.  While this proposed change to the Drake is sure interesting, I think it misses the target.

(1) I almost typed "Thunderbolts", but they're not gonna be Thunderbolts after tomorrow; they're gonna be Mjolnirs.


  1. I'm glad to see these changes. I feel it brings them more in line with the rest of the ships in their class, though that range buff will make them an uncannily effective sniping platform...but, missiles will be missiles. In any case, you rarely see a Myrmidon or especially a Harbinger or Hurricane in a L4, I don't see why there should be a Drake in one.
    (Also, anything to encourage heavy ships into close range makes me happy...maybe one day I'll actually hit a target with blasters!)

  2. Keep in mind that BCs are *not* supposed to be able to solo L4 missions. You are supposed to use at least a BS for L4s. Part of the original PVE mission game design, which the Drake was breaking:

    L1 -> frig, dessie
    L2 -> cruiser
    L3 -> BC
    L4 -> BS

    Glad to see this is finally getting fixed.

    1. If every ship/fit/pilot skill was identical in EVE, would you still play it?

    2. Meh, if you want you can solo an L4 in a myrmidon, using much the same techniques as you do with a drake. It's possibly more hideously slow in the myrm than the drake, due to shorter weapon range (arty vs HML) and reliance on drones.

      One could make the same argument at any level: do you really want to argue that the pre-crucible cormorant was overpowered because I could solo level 2s with it?

  3. "I almost typed "Thunderbolts", but they're not gonna be Thunderbolts after tomorrow; they're gonna be Mjolnirs."

    Torrent is the EM damage HAM.

    1. Look again tomorrow. Tomorrow, all EM missiles are Mjolnirs.

    2. Oh right, well fair enough. It'll make the Thor fans happy at least.

    3. Where does it say that? CCP promised a devblog but I've not seen it.

    4. It was buried in the Crucible 1.1 patch notes.

  4. Where is it written that BCs are not "supposed" to solo L4 missions? There's certainly no evidence of that claim in the mission design: rats that just stupidly shoot at you with very little in the way of EWAR.

    As for other battlecruisers, I've seen my fair share of Myrmidons, Harbingers and Hurricanes in missions: it's just that people running missions have a nice controlled environment which encourages minmaxing. When it comes to defensive capability (i.e.: 'feeling safe'), none of the other BCs can trump the Drake: it has a frelling passive tank for crying out loud. Train up in a couple of shield skills, whack those modules on your Drake, there's your tank. No messing about with capacitor skills (missiles don't need cap, passive tank doesn't need booster), no messing about with fitting skills (just shield extenders, no booster), and all the modules are fairly easy to understand.

    The reason you don't see more of the other BCs in missions is simply because the Drake is the champion for the under skilled pilot. Once they have the skills to fly the other ships properly, the pilot will be in a battleship such as a Megathron, Apocalypse, Dominix, Raven, etc.

    With this nerf, I expect to see a great deal more passive shield tank 'canes and Myrms. Noob pilots seem to have an overwhelming desire to "feel safe". Passive shield tanks provide that illusion for very little cost.

    As to why Drakes are so popular in PVP: again it's the feeling of "being safe" due to the massive tank of that craft, despite a low SP count. To get Drakes off the field in PvP, CCP will need to buff something else to be more attractive to low SP pilots (and specifically low SP pilots). Very little training in missiles is required to compete with turret boats in terms of DPS (even though the same doesn't apply to applied damage on KMs). One suitable change would be, for example, producing a non-cloaking variant of the stealth bomber. More damage from fewer missiles, no extensive skill set required. Just a T1/T2/T3 frigate that can fit torpedo launchers. Give it a bonus to AB speed and capacitor. Noobs can fly those cheaply, deal lots of damage, and be wiped off the field. Skill set required: torpedoes (and thus HM 3, Missile Op 4), racial frigate, afterburner. End of story.

    Or switch Drakes to using Cruise/Torps from a smaller number of launchers for the same DPS.

    Perhaps if CCP and the CSM were to open up and provide their reasoning for that proposed change, we might have a better understanding of where they're coming from. It's a bizarre change to want to make, given the reasons we've heard so far.

    1. I seem to recall from either the New Player Experience in one of the tutorials or on the wiki where it said that the intended ship progression was L1 = frigates/destroyers, L2 = cruisers, L3 = battle cruisers, and L4 = battleships.

  5. Why not just triple everything missile - triple damage, triple the amount of firing time, and triple their build cost and time?

    Sure, you have a larger alpha, but if CCP's intent is to have fewer missiles in the air to save their servers, then why not get at the heart of the problem and make missiles more of a nuke type of weapon with high damage and high casting time?

  6. Very good and informing post Jester. Loved reading it, love the depth you go into and most of all: learned a lot :)

    Somewhere along this post you talk about how a few % of resistance can make a huge difference, and you link to another blogpost. After reading that one, it triggered me to wonder about EFT. Are there more of those practical facts that I'm missing? Which kinda leads to an idea for another blogpost. Maybe a write-up of EFT? There's much 'slang' that can be quite confusing for new(er) players.

    What does EHP mean exactly? Is more always better?

    Is the DPS number the real DPS? Does it take fall-off in account? Is 75 DPS and shooting @ optimal better than 100 DPS with shooting @ falloff, or does the second situation result in 50 'actual' DPS?

    How much effect does the signature have? For example, what would be better: 10k EHP and 400m sig or 5k EHP and 200m sig?

    Speed versus signature: I have a Maelstrom which I can fit with either a 100mn AB II or a 100mn MWD II. AB means 270m/s with a sig of 460m, MWD means 690 m/s with a sig of 2760m.
    Does the speed make up for the increased sig? Another adventage of the MWD would be dictating range. Optimal + falloff is 4 + 38. With the AB I often shoot @ falloff or even 1,5 x falloff. With the MWD I can more easily fight @ 0,5 x falloff. What would you prefer?

    Another (for me) vague stat is tracking. Tracking is nowhere showed in the EFT stats (except of course at Module Info of an equipped weapon), so replacing a Tracking Enhancer with a Gyrostabilizer visibly increases the DPS, while decreasing the opt+falloff but also decreasing the (sort of hidden) tracking. How much tracking do I need? For example: would 0.059 be sufficient? Is 0.064 so much better to beat a DPS decrease of 37? Of course it depends on the enemies, their speed, their distance, my speed etc. But I'm quite sure you have something useful to say about it :D

    I assume it's not as black/white as I'm asking, but I would love to read your opinions on it and/or any facts I'm not aware of.

    Oh and sidenote: everything above is PvE-related. PvP would involve a lot of different stats I'm sure, many of which I'm not aware of at this very moment. PvP for me is a cheap frig, sometimes a (cheap) cruiser and have cheap fun. Cheap being the keyword there.

    Fly safe o/

    1. You might wanna try Pyfa (http://www.evefit.org/Pyfa)
      Not perfect but supposedly more precise than EFT, since it's been designed to calculate everything the same exact way you EVE client does - and it displays interesting things such as tracking, drone range etc.

  7. Honestly, I think what makes the drake so popular is not just the tank, it's the range for the DPS.

    No other tier 2 BC can easily shoot out to ranges of 60km (*) and still do fair damage. The extra resists are a nice bonus, but really, as jester pointed out a change there won't make a huge difference.

    That said, I'm actually happy for the drake to lose the resist bonus because that will likely buff the Ferox.

    * Sure the myrm can get there with drones but the delay is worse than missiles and it can only use up to 3 sentries.

    Incidentally, a drake with an AB will probably still be quite capable of running level 4s, HMs will also now do more damage to smaller targets.

  8. Was the guy who liked certain ships to be overpowered fired? I recall earlier calls for a Drake nerd being met by, "We like shifting imbalance; Drake is fine."

  9. I really worry about this change - and to me it highlighted just how much the CSM has total nullsec tunnel vision. How many of us after all made the Drake L3 --> Raven L4 --> CNR L4/5 transition? It is a great way to learn about the game and it all starts with the drake. For most players it is their first 'serious' affordable ship, that can even knock the wind out of a veteran player if they slip up.

    Part of what makes it so great is that its a titanium-BB gun. Its DPS was once described by a great blogger as 'anaemic' which sums it up quite nicely. However its passive shield recharge makes it an absolute monstor to wipe out. So as a total n00b I knew I could fly around in my Drake and take a few risks to learn the game - it might take me half an hour to kill a BC/battleship BUT I knew the chance of me loosing my ~30mil ISK ship was very slim (something I could scare afford to lose!).

    It is embarassing that they talk about getting the Drake to compete with the Nighthawk... how about making a Ferox that isn't a total joke next to a Raven?! Perhaps even make the Ferox into the n00b friendly anaemic tank and make the drake into a HAM-only glass cannon?

  10. Seems I posted a version of this comment on the wrong post originally. Please delete the one I left on the resistances post.

    If CCP want to reduce the number of missiles their servers have to handle, isn't a logical conclusion to remove them from the game entirely? Or possibly have full damage type ammo available for all of the turret platforms?

  11. They have needed to do something with the Drake for a while- it all but outclasses most other Caldari ships, or it does most of the same job for so much cheaper that Caldari pilots would rather fly Drake most of the time. To make it worse, the skill curve for drake seems really fast compared to other BCs, and also it is a very easy ship to fly compared to other BCs.

    I think the changes are going to be a bigger nerf for the PVE Drakes moreso than the PVP ones- like you mention, the changes really seem like an improvement for PVP Drakes....but then again most of the people that fly them in PVP do so for the high safety factor, so hard to tell exactly how that will really play out.

  12. While this would be an interesting change, PvP wise I wince at the thought of what this will do for the PvE Drake. Even the most die-hard PvP'er has to make isk sometime and the drake has always been one of my favorite ships for that task because it not only did the job well, but it did it cheaply so I didn't have to put a lot into one of my least favorite EvE activities.

    If you ask me, CCP isn't solving this 'lag' problem correctly. If missiles are too much of a server load, make them all a lot faster. I mean, really, we're flying spaceships, why cant our missiles travel a measly 80km in less than 10 seconds?

  13. I agree with Jester here:
    The pvp-drake is getting a minor defensenerf and a major offesive buff.

    Are these changes good? No, they should have kept the drakes role = tanking, but they should have lowered the dps imo.



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.