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.
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Monday, September 17, 2012

Serpentis Military Complex

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.

29 comments:

  1. Just FYI you can blitz the first site - AB/MWD straight to the gate in the first room, you can take it without killing anything, then kill the control tower and get out - it's all you need to do to get the escalation. Although escalation plexes are completely awful isk/hour compared to DED plexes (Fleet Staging Points excepted), the Serpentis Military Complex is the least awful of them because you can blitz the first site so easily.

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    1. Yeah, given the luck I had with the escalations, I think I'd rather take the time to do the actual site. ;-)

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  2. Your results are not so surprising, given that the old mission/complex PVE mechanics have never been updated. Sure, CCP filled in some missing complex levels recently, but they based the new complexes on the old existing complexes, and interpolated the difficulty, ie. number of spawns, without changing any of the underlying mechanics.

    The old stock NPC AI hasn't changed since day one and is just plain dumb, to say the least. CCP was supposed to update all the NPC AI to the Sleeper AI, but this just became another thing that fell off of CCP's plate, in favor of more PVP.

    Ships have also become more powerful. In the futile and ongoing process of trying to balance ships for PVP, gank and tank took turns mostly getting buffed, and rarely getting nerfed, over the years. The latest round of "rebalancing" is making this situation even worse. Today's Incursus has better than twice the effective gank/tank of the original, due to changes to buffed ship stats, new modules and new ammo. The stock NPCs, however, have never seen a buff and thus are relatively much weaker. Needless to say, T3 cruisers weren't on the drawing board, way back when the stock NPCs were released.

    Net result - Eve PVE, outside of Incursions and WHs, is a joke, that people run only to grind ISK. Most sites can be run either AFK or semi-AFK, and some can even be effectively mined 23/7 - as CCP only recently discovered.

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    1. Which of course begs the question of how "true bears" can stand to just...grind away the same incessant boring content over and over (and over again!), let alone derive any "enjoyment" from that experience?? But they do, and they pays their money, which CCP gladly rakes in...

      And on the other hand, "srs" PvPers who've just had enough of the shitty grinding (or who think anything but PvP is "beneath" them) resort to PLEX-sales to fund their habit, thus paying MOAR money, which CCP gladly rakes in....

      So, in short, I'm failing to see any particular impetus for CCP to change the shitty grindy PvE. :-/

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    2. Those 'true bears' don't actually pay CCP, though. They buy those same PLEXes the PVPers sell on the market.

      So in the end it's the same amount of money CCP would've made anyway.

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    3. Honestly, new player retention. Probably even more than mining, missions are the first bit of the game new players get stuck into. I know that all of my RL friends who've tried the game simply quit after playing a day or two of the absolutely horrible mission content in Eve. CCP does a lot of work doing and redoing the tutorial, but after that players are dumped into level 1 missions or the (only slightly) more bearable Sisters arc.

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  3. Its amazing to me that CCP cannot think past guns - missiles and drones might as well be alien hand healing.

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  4. Well death is permanent in EVE, those games you mentioned can be saved, or you don't lose the stuff when you die. So it would be challenging to make eve pve as hard as those pve.

    That is why I liked WoW for awhile, if its on big deal to die, you can turn the challenge up even more. But here its hard to turn it up, since you will lose everything and that is it.

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  5. Maybe I'm missing the point of these articles, but as far as I'm concerned 100 million isk per hour is pretty darn good. I've now been playing this game on and off for about a year and even with a raven halfway fitted towards the end level mission raven you decribe here on this blog I make perhaps 25- 30 million per hour in a good session. Earning a plex in 5 hours of casual/easy play time seems almost wrong to me, calling 80 million per hour worth of salvaging a waste of time is definately wrong to me, but that's just my noobish perspective i guess.

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    1. If you ran lvl4 missions in null, you would make even more money- multiple hundreds of millions of ISK after loyalty points.

      The amounts of ISK players can make later in the game always amazes newer players, I was no exception to that rule- one of the points Jester is trying to make, is that the more dangerous parts of space aren't so dangerous if you know what you are doing. (I would add that High sec is much less safe than many think- but that's another story for another time)

      The second part of what he is trying to point out, is that though the sites he is describing are as "high end" as sites of this type get- that he finds them somewhat disappointing- the reason it's confusing is because he doesn't see how his experience with the game erases a lot of the difficulty for him and he also is kinda erasing the difficulty he is yearning for by taking a Tengu, which turns virtually all PVE content into child's play. (You mentioned you are a Raven pilot? Yeeeaaaaah....ditch that turd for a Tengu ASAP and you will never ever look back....except to look back and wonder how you ever had the patience to mission in a Raven.)

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    2. I'm not complaining about the ISK. I'm complaining about the fact that it's a GAME and it should be FUN.

      100 million was for two sites and you're unlikely to be able to find these fast enough to make a PLEX in five hours. Just the fact that I found two in one system was probably very unlikely.

      There was one positive about this site: unlike Radiance, which I will never do again, at least if I see one of these I'll probably run it. But only because I can make that 50 million ISK. But the ISK will be the motivator, not any particular enjoyment.

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    3. Mhm yeah, I see your point, though I do not really see an easy way to make these sort of things more fun. They probably feel easy and boring ffor you in part bdeecause you are so "overgeared" for the encounters. You talk about bringing in a second tengu as if it's the most normal thing in the world. I still dream of flying one at some day in the future.

      Today I was doing the boring lvl 4 missions in my Raven and just past 375 million on my bank roll, finally enough to get the Navy issue Raven. All excited I hand in the quest and a special mission pops up to increase standing. It had lowish amounts of isk as reward, so! i figured it should be easy, just go kill some admiral and any extra ships. I fly the 5 jumps, kill the first ships at the gate and activate it. I land in a group of 15-20 assorted ships within 20 km range and am almost instantly pointed and webbed. My shields went down very fast, even at 70%+ resists and the medium drones i had released were not breaking the pointing frigates. In panic, i recalled the drones and sent out a flight of hobgoblin II while my armor melts. Capacitor is now empty as I align to a station and my Raven nears structure. The first frigate pops, but I remain pointed, I manage to get off one overheated cycle of the shieldbooster, but hear the scream of entering stucture. At 50% structure the second frig popped and the point disappears with it. I press warp and pray. I got out with 25% structure remaining... boring missions, perhaps. This one, not so much

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  6. Dear Jester on many points I have to agree with you, though I must point out that your entire post is slightly biased due to:
    - selection of rats - serpentis are the easiest rats to fight, especially they are the perfect foe for tengus. In comparison Sansha Military Complex could be far more challenging.
    - selection of pve content - the combat sites are supposed to be easy (well maybe aside from Provincial HQ, though still easy in Serpentis version). You should try a DED plex, for example Sansha Prison Camp - your Tengu would be dead 1 minute after warping into final room. Not once have I encountered player wrecks in a unfinished DED complexes.

    However I agree with you that once you master eve PVE it is easy and repeatable, but on other hand isn't it so in other MMORPGs - for example WoW - once you know the drill in instances you just steamroll them;

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    1. I find Sansha rats to be easier than Serpentis rats once you get out of their range. Blood rats scare me a bit, though.

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    2. This Anon-bro hits the nail directly on the head. Its just a fact of life in the world of MMOGs. Eventually, everything PVE is easy, given time. GW2 is my current favorite besides EVE. Its been out three weeks and people already blitz end game content which week one they were crying about being too hard. (and in all seriousness, it was really difficult... until you got geared) I agree that it should be fun, but for me the way you make PVE fun is by adding in storyline, which GW2 does fairly effectively but can never be the case in my favorite sandbox. Or at least when they do add storyline, it'll be blocks of text that are a literal pain to read and are terribly boring and repetitive even if you do take the time to read them. Basically, PVE sucks as a gameplay type until you add friends in, in my opinion. It is the conversations on Ventrillo and Mumble that make dungeon/site running fun after the sixth time through, not the dungeon or site itself.

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  7. Eve PvE I can say with pretty much 100% certainty is the fault of the players.

    Eve's PvE system started back in 2003-2004. Back then the system everyone knew and loved was the Everquest way of doing things, and our system is much better than that was. Unfortunately 2004 also saw WoW, which fundamentally changed the entire nature of PvE in MMO's. CCP continued to churn out PvE based on the system they launched back in 2003 all the way up until 2008.

    In 2008 CCP saw the writing on the wall, and Sleeper AI went up on the drawing board. To this day that is the most intense debate I've ever seen on the forums. It was made up of more or less two camps. One side wanted to burn the mutha down and replace it with a better and more modern PvE system built on the back of the modular sleeper AI system used throughout the entire thing from start to finish. The other side was made up of people who wanted status quo, who said at this point Eve's economy was built on the backs level 4's and to not mess with it.

    There was a tiny third group who said do both, phase out the current PvE experience slowly by adding in what the first group wanted while leaving stuff alone for the second. In a way, that's what CCP did, since the next expansion after Apocrypha saw Epic missions introduced, and a year and a half latter Incursions.

    The problem is the players complained about both of those destroying how lucrative lvl 4s were. CCP kept their stuff intact after Apocrypha, launched two new entire systems that were more modern and straight out better than anything Eve had before in every respect from a PvE standpoint, and the playerbase complained that it was replacing the very thing it was meant to replace in the first place as a PvE and income generating system.

    So to me, this says complaining about PvE is fruitless. When a true fix was up on the drawing board we said no. CCP tried to meet us half way, and we said no twice more.

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  8. The trouble with your argument, is you seem to want a good percentage chance of loseing you Tengu in every plex you visit.
    You cannot compare Eve to games that have no real death penalty. It compares apples to oranges.

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    1. No, that's not it at all. It's a game and I want it to be fun: mentally interesting or challenging in some way. The site doesn't have to threaten to blow me up to do that.

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  9. I don't understand your salvaging comment 20M in 15 mins itself isn't that bad (80M/hour is better than highsec) and you did it in a destroyer. A noctis could have done it in like 10 mins, providing 120M/hour.

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  10. "The rats obligingly lined up in a long row for slaughter."

    That is so sad. It is the sadest of all EVE PvE AI behaviours.

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  11. How much would simple variability help? If spawns for missions / beltrats / etc weren't a specific pattern that could so easily be written down on the eve-survival guide. If there was a 5% chance per minute that a trio of Serpentis tacklers would warp in at close range to the tackler, for instance, or that there was a 25% per hour that a "roaming" group of 10-20 belt rats would swing through a 0.2 asteroid belt. Give these rats a bonus level of bounty if you want to give more reward. Those are things that probably shouldn't require much more programming, compared to what I think a lot of people would like to see (better AI that uses all of the tools available on players).

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    1. Variability would be a good start. Giving blaster ships WEBS would be a better one.

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  12. It does seem a little disingenuous to take one of the most overpowered ships in the game (particularly for PvE content), bring a second one for backup, and then conclude that, surprise surprise, PvE is broken. Perhaps if you really want to give the PvE content a realistic spin you should try flying something less overpowered in a 6-mo old character and see if the PvE content is at all challenging. There is an inevitable power creep in EvE as characters gain skills and isk, and continuing to provide PvE challenges for extremely high-SP characters, (and provide the isk incentive you seem to want as well) is going to be (a) very difficult and (b) will probably unbalance the gameplay even worse than it is.

    I've been in EvE for more than 3 years now, and I've gotten to the point that PvE is indeed worthless to me as a source of ISK. Like you, I make a ton of isk semi-passively through T2 production. So I don't look to PvE for isk. When I run missions or plex or whatever I'd do it for fun, and if it's too boring, try setting yourself a challenge. Run with a low skilled alt, or try to run in smaller, less powerful ships. Don't go deer hunting with an assault rifle and then complain that the forest needs to evolve more dangerous animals to keep your interest.

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    1. Well, the second Tengu was to stave off boredom, not really as backup, but overall you make a fair complaint.

      As I said in the post though, just about any missile ship could have cleared this site with no trouble including a Drake.

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  13. You keep mentioning that this or that nullsec activity is "less risky then higsec L4". What is the risk there? Unless you fly an officer-fit ship, which will be suicide-ganked, or have an offwar (which your L4 alt in 1-man tax-dodging corp is unlikely to have) the risk is exactly zero there - nobody is going to attack your battleship, ever.

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    1. Fair question. Virtually everyone who runs L4s in any numbers fits faction or dead-space mods to do it. And virtually everyone who runs L4s in any numbers gets their ship scanned to check if they're worth ganking or not. So I don't rate the risk as zero.

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    2. Sorry, Jester, but I'll disagree with you here.

      As someone who has been running L4s for ISK for the past 3 years, I can assure you that only a small number of morons actually fit faction and deadspace mods. Most high-sec PVE players fit T2 mods and T1 rigs to a BS, to grind L4s. You simply don't need more than that to tank & gank any of the L4s.

      The ninjas who gank high-sec mission runners can confirm. They need to scan a fair number of mission runners, before finding someone worth ganking. Rarely do they find more than 1-2 viable targets in a single night, even in systems where a dozen or more players are running L4 missions.

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    3. I will concur here. I have deliberately avoided bling for missions. meta4 and tech2 works just fine. What's the point of a 3-5% performance gain and 200% risk increase? The only time I have used faction was prior to the release of the tech2 drone modules.

      Even in a low watt area of empire - I am locked at least once a week for possible "content generation".

      Maybe the re-fitting yurt might make it interesting to be able to re-equip bling at a safe. But you'd only have to forget once - and it would the same odds you're scanned and ganked.

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  14. On salvaging - just salvage/loot the elite/commander wrecks. Those are the ones that generate the more-valuable "T2" salvage, and also have the valuable drops.

    When I used to regularly do exploration (usually a small group), for expeditions we just used to make sure that we had one salvager available on a high (utility slot on a BC?) somewhere in the group. We'd clean up the "good" wrecks, and leave the rest behind.

    Also an interesting note regarding the safety of escalations for any readers without experience of them. These don't appear in the system (eg are unscannable) until the person with the bookmark warps in. The site then works exactly like any other exploration site.

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