Another weekend, another quick impression of EVE PvE. This is a continuing series of posts in which I record my impressions in support of my overall opinion that EVE PvE is sub-par compared to other MMOs and why that might be. Again, I chose a scanned down site in 0.0, this one called "Serpentis Military Complex".
Before I begin, I want to address a couple of comments that came up in my last post in this series. First, I was accused of being a bit hypocritical when I described the content as "easy" despite the fact that I first looked up the content on Google. And sure, this does sound rather hypocritical when viewed at face value... but that isn't what I meant. In a lot of other PvE for a variety of games, it doesn't much matter whether you look up what to expect on Google or not. As examples, consider the player guides to the various Halo or Elder Scrolls games, for instance. These guides let you know what's coming in much the same way an EVE guide lets you know what's coming. But fore-knowledge of what's approaching generally does not make the content of these games easier.
When I would run Global Agenda's PvE, I got to the point where I had the overall flow of each site more or less memorized. But that didn't make those sites less difficult. They were still fun and challenging thanks to the game's AI. Each run-through was just different enough that even if you ran the same site twice in a row, you could expect differences in the AI's actions and player counter-actions to make each run different and challenging.
I'll grant you that it's a subtle distinction but I think it's an important one, particularly for an MMO where by design to make any significant money you need to repeat the process of running a site, spawn, dungeon, or whatever. When I said the site I ran last time was "easy", then, I didn't mean that the difficulty was reduced by the fact I knew what was coming. I meant that the site was easy because it did not in any way tax my abilities or put me in danger of losing a ship.
Second, a couple of people gave me a hard time because I described a site in null-sec as risk-free and was told that I was discounting the risk of travel to null-sec. Know what? I am... because the risk incured traveling to null in most ships can be substantially reduced or eliminated these days. The simplest way to get even the heaviest ratting ship into null-sec is of course a carrier. If you use this option, it is quite easy to slip even the largest slowest battleship into a quiet low-sec system, load it into a carrier, and then jump it as deep into null-sec as you like. The only risk you take is to very inexpensive (or free!) cyno frigates along the way. Alternately, it's child's play to get a cloaky T3 ship into null-sec carrying all of the fittings that it needs to convert to a combat T3 once its reached a target system. Don't try to jump directly from high-sec into null: those gates are always camped. But if you use a quieter high-sec to low-sec entry, followed by a low-sec to null-sec jump, you'll often find those routes deserted.
So, I stick with the position in my first post that many of these sites are easy to run, risk-free PvE despite them taking place in null-sec. Certainly, my first experiment with the Radiance site was far easier than most high-sec L4 missions, carried higher rewards, and was less risky.
This tradition carried into my second experiment with null-sec PvE, the "Serpentis Military Complex".
Initially, I was going to write about another scannable site, the "Serpentis Fortress". But that site turned out to be short, easy, and boring. I was told that the Military Complex was the Fortress's big brother (irony) so I read about it, and decided to find one and try it out. I was rather intrigued because every bit of writing I could find about it described the site as much more difficult than it initially appeared. Knowing that Serpentis rats are generally either short-range blaster boats or highly inaccurate rail boats, I decided to stick with kiting the site in a Tengu. I then wandered Syndicate in search of one. And to my surprise, I found two in a single system.
I'd judge the difficulty of scanning the site down as moderately difficult to difficult. Call it an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. Again, this site is gated with two rooms. The second room ends with a structure shoot, this time a "Control Tower" at the center of the second room. In the second room would be only one missile battery but there would also be a large number of spawns of new rat ships that would come in on a timer rather than as a result of actions of the player. The information on the site also indicated that Serpentis rats would make heavy use of damping.
I therefore went in expecting more of a challenge from this site than the last one and was unfortunately disappointed. The first room reminded me even more of a low-difficulty L4 mission... The Score, perhaps, which requires you to travel from one gate to another as two groups of ships plink away at you. The most difficult part of the first room was -- again -- a large number of missile batteries that comprised much of the reliable DPS of the room. Once cleared, my Tengu was in absolutely no danger but its somewhat low DPS against elite damping cruisers meant that it was slow going.
That also described the second room accurately. True to the information on the web, initially the room looked extremely easy. Still, over a surprisingly short period of time, six new spawns were generated by the site regardless of my actions. Each spawn was made up of three or so battleships and a moderate number of support ships. Still, I was in even less danger in this room than I was in the first room. None of the rat battleships were equipped with webs or MicroWarpdrives and as a result I had absolutely no difficulty kiting them. As a matter of fact, I could spend the entire site aligned to a safe-spot while I turned three grey bars into three red bars. The rats obligingly lined up in a long row for slaughter.
Fearing boredom, I brought in a second Tengu to add more DPS which proved a smart move. The cruiser rats were the dampers, so I could use one Tengu (the non-damped one) to quickly destroy them while the second Tengu cleared frigates and then started on the battleships. At no point did the shields of either Tengu (both cap-stable active fits) drop below 95% in the second room. At only one point in the first room did it happen: very early in the first room while I was clearing missile batteries.
Of the two sites, one escalated. I maintain my position that all null-sec complexes should escalate at least once to encourage more null-sec travel by PvEers. The other did not escalate at all. The one that did escalate did so for only two steps before failing to escalate the third time. The follow-on sites were of a comparative difficulty with the first room: quite easy.
Once I committed my second Tengu, I was able to clear both sites rather quickly. The Control Tower to complete the site took only six volleys split between the two missile boats. Over a period of about 75 minutes, I made about 110 million ISK. About 15 minutes of that was travel time for the escalations. As I could kite the sites while I was in them, I was in no danger of being caught by the two roaming gangs I saw during this time. Neither gang found either site or any escalation site. The most dangerous part of the operation was four jumps of traveling to pick up the escalation location.
In short, I made far more ISK than I would have made from running L4 missions in high-sec, and was at far less risk.
Out of curiosity, I salvaged the sites and came away from that experience deciding that it's not worth the bother. The spawns, particularly in the second room, come out at such widely divergent locations that, combined with my kiting, I ended up with wrecks scattered across a 85km area. A Noctis (I didn't have one) would probably make short work of it, but even if I'd had one I don't think it was worth the trouble in the end. I finished salvaging one of the sites with a destroyer after about 15 minutes with an game-estimated value of about 20 million ISK. I probably could have made better use of the time.
I think the original intent of this site was to bring in that large number of spawns to make it a group effort to run it. And certainly, if you stick with close range ships to take on this site, a group will be what you need. But a Tengu, Raven, Nighthawk, Drake, or other missile ship, or a quick drone ship like an Ishtar should be able to run this site solo with no problems whatever. Still, a second ship to take out the Sensor Dampeners active on the first ship will more than double the speed at which you can run the site. So either bring one friend, or bring a second account to run this site.