The latest dev-blog from the ship re-balancing team is simultaneously surprising and routine.
Let's start with the routine bit. In terms of the information presented, there's actually almost nothing new here that we didn't know from CCP Ytterbium's dev-blog of November 2012. In that one, in the section titled "I love it when a plan comes together", we see the skeleton of the plan to break the Battlecruisers and Destroyers skills into racial variants, and the intent to reshape what is needed to fly the upper echelon ships such as battleships and capital ships. The only thing this new dev-blog does is put some flesh on the bones written about in November. In actual fact, there's very little that's actually new here.
When I read about these changes in November, it struck me as likely that the changes would be implemented in Retribution 1.1 this month and so I recommended that players get busy training as many racial frigate and cruiser skills as they could to level III before this change was implemented. I redouble that recommendation today: this is quite frankly another "EVE IQ test". If you have Battlecruisers V trained and you do not train all four racial cruiser skills to level III, you flunk it. If you have Destroyers V and you do not train all four racial frigate skills to level III, you flunk it.
Don't make excuses. Get busy. Get it done. If you don't do it, you're leaving up to six million skill points on the table. Sooner or later, I guarantee you will wish you had those skill points. Even if for no other reason than to make the character you're selling more valuable to its next owner.
All that said, let's look at the surprising bits, and there are three major ones. The first hits more generalist characters. The second hits more specialized characters. The third is just interesting, at least to me.
If you have Battlecruisers V and/or Destroyers V and you follow my advice above, you are going to gain as much as six million additional skill points. If you've been busily training your Sensor Compensation skills, the Micro Jump Drive skill, and some of the other new skills that have been added to the game, that's going to add even more SP. Granted, this makes the character more broadly skilled, more valuable, and more nerf-proof.
But it also makes those characters more expensive to lose pods for.
If you are training a generalist sort of character like Ripard, we're quickly going to reach the point where such a character could easily have 100 million SP, never train any too-specialized skill to level V (Medium Autocannon Specialization V, anyone?), and yet not have a single skill point devoted to capital ships. That's where Ripard's going to be this summer and it's going to cost me 30 million ISK or more every time Ripard gets podded as a result. Fortunately for me, I don't get podded very often but part of that is because I take deliberate steps not to be: I tend to fly faster, skirmishy ships that don't spend a lot of time in bubbles; the ships I fly tend to be tankier and harder to kill, and I rarely fly ships that can be popped in a single volley like T1 frigs.
This change is going to subtly create an incentive for other experienced pilots to fly in the same way and perhaps in the process to become even more risk-averse and less likely to fly throw-away ships, something the game hardly needs. Even generalist pilots with lower SP will start to feel the pinch when every podding costs 10 or 15 million ISK. That amount starts adding up! It's a perhaps unintended side effect of all of these new skills that CCP is adding.
But players are always richer than you expect, amirite? ;-) We'll see how this plays out.
The second bit that surprises me is how CCP is subtly encouraging EVE players not to be generalists. Quite the opposite, in fact: we're being subtly incentivized to be specialists instead.
This one occurs to me because one of my PvP characters is a "big ship" specialist, and in fact until recently was a "big Amarr ship" specialist: battleships and the Revelation, with a side business in Amarr HACs and the Devoter Heavy Interdictor. His skills in smaller platforms and non-Amarr platforms were more limited or non-existent. Yet he was still forced to train Assault Ships (which he never flies) to train Heavy Assault Ships (which he does). For newer players coming up, these requirements are being relaxed or removed entirely, but replaced with other skills. More on that in a moment.
A similar thing hits for heavy ship specialists. As I learned how poor a dread the Revelation is when compared with the mighty Moros, suddenly I had to train my Amarr heavy ship specialist to be a Gallente heavy ship specialist as well. That necessitated training him into Gallente Battleship V over a 40-day period even though the character has literally never sat in a Gallente Battleship of any type and may never do so. This requirement is also being relaxed or removed, and character specializing in heavier platforms will no longer be forced to train high levels of skills in ships they may not want or need.
The real question that goes unanswered in the dev-blog: will CCP be putting their money where their mouth is where this policy is concerned? I also had to train Large Hybrid Turret V even though this character has never fired a large hybrid gun. But he needed it for capital hybrid turrets. Will the minimum requirement for these largest guns also be reduced to Level III? The dev-blog doesn't say.
Net result: a lot more pilots that are capable of flying capital ships much earlier in their careers. This may result in inflation in capital ship costs due to more frequent purchases and losses. We'll see about that one, too.
Most surprising at all on this front (at least to me), the elitism of the highest end industrial ships (notably the Iteron Mark V) is also being removed and as far as I can see, anyone with Gallente Industrial skill at Level I will immediately be able to sit in and use the best hauler in the game. Granted, a good bit of the "Itty V" mystique comes from the bonuses gained from a high skill level, but certainly not all! All those low slots play their part. All of us are going to have to reshuffle our expectations about which haulers are going to be best to use and the Amarr and Caldari ones in particular won't be coming out on top when that's over!
According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, in fact, the Itty V with Gallente Industrial I skill will be superior in capacity to any other racial hauler flown with racial industrial skill at Level V...
Most amusing of all, a few hours after these changes drop, Ripard will be able to fly an Orca even though he has no mining skills whatsoever. Shut up. It's a useful ship. ;-)
Finally, the bit that may be interesting only to me. A lot of weight is put in this dev-blog to the relationship between a brand new player with no skills at all and the time it will take to get into each class of ship. In fact, look at all those little graphics closely and you'll find that the number of days into each ship class has either not changed at all or has changed by only a few percent.(1) Much like ship balancing being far too focused on the total number of slots each ship has, I think the team here is too focused on this arbitrary number of days needed to get into each ship class.
This has resulted in a lot of rather hysterical changes to the skill requirements for certain classes of ships. The thought process seems to have been "When we take away the need for Logistics IV to fly some types of Command Ships, we need to throw other skills in to make up that time difference before new players can sit in them. Which skills should we throw in?" This results in the rather hysterical requirement that one must train Siege Warfare V in order to fly the Damnation or Armored Warfare V to fly the Vulture.
I'll grant you, I jumped straight to the edge case on this one, but other higher-end ships show similar clever little adjustments with a similar lack of logic. For instance, to adjust for the loss of the 40 days needed to train racial battleship V, one must now train Jump Fuel Conservation IV and Jump Drive Calibration III to even sit in a carrier. These were considered pre-reqs for a serious carrier pilot, of course, but one gets the impression that these skills and these levels were chosen because of the number of days they take to train rather than any logic underlying the needs of capital ship pilots. Else why aren't the same or similar requirements put on dread or titan pilots? Don't they need JFC and JDC too?
It does make me wonder if a few years down the line, another ship balancing team might come along and say "Guys, we decided that having all these weird skills and requirements to sit in the ship were a little strange, so we've decided to change them..." Guess we'll see. ;-)
In the aggregate, though? The changes in this dev-blog are, overall, good changes. They make the various skill trees more logical and easier for new players to understand. And reducing the complexity of the game -- particularly the early game -- is always to be desired. But I still can't help but think about the plight of brand new players to the game that join medium or large null-sec alliances. Nothing in this dev-blog is going to make FOTMs disappear, which means that a lot of new players out there are going to be sentenced to training four racial BC skills to high levels...
(1) The Orca is the major exception.