One of the changes that we were supposed to see in Crucible was the long-promised Assault Ship rebalancing. "Assault frigs" have always had their fans -- I consider myself one of them -- but they've always been a bit of a joke, and sometimes that joke was quite overt. Until the recent rocket buff, for instance, the Hawk was laughably, ludicrously bad. AFs were generally considered somewhat more useful for PvE and for small-gang in low-sec, but for larger gangs, they were considered a liability. They became the favored prey of HACs, and were also quite vulnerable to cheap, common BCs.
The major problems are speed and sig. An AB-fitted AF, while retaining its small sig radius, was too slow to catch the commonly MWD-fitted PvP ships. A MWD-fitted AF has a major sig problem. The sig radius of my favorite pre-Crucible Enyo fit, for instance, goes from 37 to 222 under MWD... a six-fold increase. That's more than sufficient for the largest cruiser and BC guns to hit for full damage and even under MWD, the AFs couldn't maintain that speed and still track their targets for any kind of DPS.
Interceptors like the Ranis and heavier-hitting pirate frigs like the Daredevil and Slicer stepped into the AF's role, and they've never looked back. I've been bitching about this for a long time, long before this blog came along.
During beta testing for Dominion in 2009, there was about a two week period on the Singularity test server where all of that was gloriously looking like it was going to change. During that period on Sisi, the AFs were given a fourth bonus: a large speed increase when operating under an afterburner. Virtually every T2 ship has four or more bonuses, usually separated into two bonuses for the base T1 hull skill, a bonus or two for the T2 ship skill, and a role bonus. In this case, the AFs were given the AB bonus as a ship class role bonus: every AF had them. And for those two or so weeks on Sisi, AFs were fun to fly again.
Then... catastrophe. The AF bonuses were removed during one of the Sisi patches.(1) CCP let it be known that they were concerned that the AF fourth bonus was over-powered and they would revisit the issue at a later date. Incarna and :18months: came along, and AFs have sucked since then. Sure, as I said, they have their fans. I would fly my Enyos with Gentlemen's Club and LAWN, who did occasional T2 frig gangs, and I lost an Ishkur a couple of months ago in a Rote theme gang. But other than that Ishkur theme roam, I haven't flown any of my AFs with the intent of firing their weapons in months... maybe years.
When Crucible was supposed to give us both a blaster buff and a AF rebalance, I unpacked two of my old Enyos and shipped them to null on a lark. I've been tweaking my Enyo fit and waiting for good news. Only half the good news arrived, though, so despite a refit, the Enyos still haven't undocked.
Looks like the other half of the good news is arriving. The same source that peeled back the Sisi database changes that heralded the arrival of the tier 3 BCs and other ship rebalancing changes has found some AF changes in the database code. You can read all about them in his reddit post. There's lots and lots of good news!
First, AFs are getting a role bonus: a 50% reduction in MWD sig radius penalty. That means my Enyo's sig is going from 222 to 111. Not as good as an Inty, but at least it'll be below the sig radius of most cruiser guns. The better news is that on top of this role bonus, all of the AFs are also getting ship-specific fourth bonuses, and some of the first three bonuses are getting tweaked slightly. On top of that, every AF is getting +1 slot somewhere and about half of them are getting increased CPU fitting headroom (CPU has always been a problem with many AFs).
Some of the changes don't make a lot of sense to me. The Wolf, for instance, is getting +10 CPU that I don't think it needs or can use. The Vengeance is getting a utility high slot... LOL. The Ishkur is getting +10 CPU, when I think the post-Crucible Ishkur has a grid problem, not a CPU problem.
Other changes, though, make great sense. The Harpy is getting an outstanding tank upgrade and the Jag is getting a much-needed CPU boost. Yes, the Retribution is getting another mid slot, and the CPU it needs to make use of it. ;-) My Enyo, though, might be getting the best buffs of all. Another 5% per level of direct damage, an armor buff, an additional mid-slot, and enough CPU to make that mid-slot useful. I said some months back that I thought the Enyo was the best AF, and once these changes go in (assuming they do), I think it's going to prove it to some people...
I'm looking forward to seeing some AFs in combat again! We'll see if it happens.
(1) Ironically, the very same Sisi patch gave super-carriers the buffs that they would carry from Dominion to Crucible.