In my customary role of Logistics, I've spent the last several days -- both before and after the Escalation patch -- running incursions. It was my first time running incursions in at least six months. I was primarily curious if there had been any marked changes right before the patch. I was then curious what impact the patch itself would have. Here are my impressions.
First, incursions themselves and the culture of incursion-runners seems essentially unchanged from when I wrote about them six months ago. It continues to be a very tight-knit community, and it appears to remain a community that is pretty stable from a personnel stand-point. Many of the same faces I saw six months ago are still heavily involved, and most of them are in the same sorts of roles. So there's a nice stability there that speaks well of incursions to remain a social option for PvE players into the future. Definite net positive.
There has been a bit more Balkanization of the incursion channels since I last wrote about them. There are far more "private" channels, and the "public" channels (BTL Pub, The Ditanian Fleet) are held in somewhat lower esteem among the professional incursion runners. The professionals also seem a bit more insular than they were last year. That said, it's still relatively easy to achieve invitations to these private channels if you know what you're doing.
Ship fitting has not changed all that much. Shield ships now fairly routinely run with dead-space Adaptive Invulnerability Fields, but that was the only major change I encountered. There is scorn directed at CCP for the lack of changes to the faction Invuls. I encountered several conversations about this, and everyone agrees that keeping the faction Invuls tag-limited is a dumb idea, and that C-Type dead-space Invuls will soon be cheaper than their less-effective faction counter-parts. I don't see any call to argue with that reasoning. That said, dead-space and faction Invuls remain a "shiny" option and are not seen as required. There was apparently a dip in incursion participation over the winter when any non-shiny ship was shunned due to a glut of shiny ships. However, this phase seems to have passed and I encountered many standard T1 battleships in the sites over the last several days.
Armor fleets continue to surpass shield fleets at Vanguard sites, most likely because of the common use of Remote Sensor Boosters and Remote Tracking Links, options generally unavailable for shield fleets. Shield fleets continue to far surpass armor fleets at Assault and HQ sites, due to superior fleet leadership and skill. It's time for another injection of skill from BTL into TDF's leadership. Alternately, the TDF leadership needs to man up and take the BTL FC classes, anonymously if they have to. The Valhalla Project, a new channel devoted to running HQ sites, has a clearly outstanding process in place for training HQ FCs, something TDF needs to take advantage of.
Post-Escalation, Vanguard profits are much decreased. Prior to the patch, I would estimate that a really top-skilled shiny VG fleet could bring in 125 million ISK per hour per member on a consistent basis. Based on the reduction of pay-outs and the alteration of the spawns, particularly in the OTA and NCO sites, I would estimate this to be reduced to about 75 million ISK per hour. This is now almost directly in line with skilled HQ fleets. Assault sites continue to lag slightly.
Unskilled VG and HQ fleets will be reduced to about 70% of that number, I suspect.
Some people will continue to unfairly blame incursions for all of EVE's economic troubles despite this. It will continue to be as untrue as it was prior to the Escalation patch.
Logistics ships are now much more common than they used to be. Lokis used in both shield and armor fleets are much less common than they used to be. Machariels and Nightmares are most prized, Nightmares in shield fleets most of all. I suspect the Nightmare will become the "go to" ship for shield incursion fleets, preferred above all others. Legions, Paladins, and Armageddon Navy Issues will likely be the preferred armor ships. The sniper role is also going to be much more important, I expect. Many of the HQ rats spawn at 120 to 140 kilometers and that's where they stay. It's often no longer possible to nail them before they motor out of range.
The spawn changes that will so disrupt OTA blitzing also seem to have affected the Nation Rebirth Facility HQ site as well, perhaps as a side effect. It is no longer possible to semi-blitz NRFs. That makes TCRCs the fastest HQ site, but also the most dangerous, particularly when pre-spawned. The first three minutes of a pre-spawned TCRC continues to be the hardest, deadliest time in EVE PvE (and yes, that counts WH sites of all classes).
Here's an interesting one: post-patch, the influence bar indicating Sansha control over a constellation moves much more quickly toward the "red" than it used to. Not running sites for even a few minutes will cause Sansha control over the constellation to start to rise, and if there isn't an active HQ fleet working in a constellation, it will rise rather quickly. This makes running sites more difficult by proxy since the Sansha influence reduces both player DPS and resists. I approve of this change, though I'm sure I'm in the minority of incursion runners that do!
Another change that I'm less sure about is how "twitchy" incursion rats seem to be post-patch. They seem to lock player ships more quickly, apply DPS more quickly, and change targets much more quickly. This makes running Logistics in an incursion site far more difficult than it used to be. This is particularly true if the fleet leadership isn't top notch about managing incursion rat aggression. It's much easier for an HQ site to spiral out of the FC's control, for instance, and is going to make HQ FC training that much more important. I expect we're going to see more lost ships out of this change, which isn't bad, per se. But it's going to tend to be the less tanky Logistics ships which are lost (or who simply refuse to X up for fleets), which is going to make things slightly more difficult for everyone.
And I think that's it for now. I don't intend to get back into incursions full time -- I'm having far too much fun in Rote -- but it was nice to spend a few days doing them to see how the landscape has changed since last year. My incursion guides continue to be more or less up to date, though I might tweak them here and there to account for the site changes.
Have fun out there!