In this article, I'm going to reveal my predictions of who the "winners and losers" will be once the full slate of changes have been released. Bear in mind - this is one person's prediction of the coming meta based on the most recent version of the test server. In other words, don't blame me if you lose a bunch of money on the market shorting Rapid Missiles and they turn out to still be good.
So without further ado...
Any time an MMO gets balanced, someone gets shafted. Here are the ships, playstyles and strategies that I think take the biggest hit with this new update:
The most obvious nerf in this patch targeted the unending hordes of Caracals clogging every inch of highsec since the game's launch. While the nerf that Rapid Missiles received was relatively mild, it is enough that these likely aren't the automatic best choice for every ship that can fit them.
Instead, we can expect to see ships beginning to fit the longer-ranged Medium Missiles, whose damage now exceeds Medium Rapids by about 20%. While this by no means will be the end of the Caracal - Medium Missiles are a excellent weapon system now, and arguably better for mission running than the Medium Rapids were before - Medium Missiles' poor performance against small, fast ships means that turrets and drones are now considerably more competitive.
Bubbles have come to Echoes, and they have already had a profound effect on Nullsec. A single bubble can completely cover a gate - leaving anyone who jumps into a system or warps to the gate easy prey to campers they have no effective way of combating. Lacking the tools EVE Online has to deal with these camps - heatmaps, dscan, bookmarks, etc - nullsec pilots will be forced to resort to scouting, sharing intel with their corp and alliance mates or, increasingly, leaving nullsec for low sec ratting and mining and highsec mission running.
In addition to enabling much more effective gatecamps, the new Interdiction Bubbles are a powerful tool for hunting PvE pilots in belts and anomalies. Before the patch, a Retriever or Vexor Navy with a couple Aura Warp Stabilizers could mine or rat in nullsec with considerable confidence that, as long as they paid SOME attention to local, they could ply their trade safely since they were immune to individual pilots warp disruptors. The addition of bubbles - which can cover a wide area in an infinite-strength warp field and be launched faster than a locking onto a ship - means that those days are likely over.
No doubt well-coordinated alliances will manage to deal with these issues without too much disruption. But the days of lone pilots ratting in nullsec - or fields of bots working the belts with only their AI for protection - are likely at an end for now.
During testing, it was revealed that NetEase is planning a massive increase to mission difficulty. While it is possible NetEase may scale those changes back, if not they will make missions - especially the high-value story missions - considerably more deadly. In test, T8 and T10 missions could spawn swarms with dozens of points worth of warp disruption, as well as numerous buffed-up elites with high HP, damage, permanent MWD and serious EWAR potential..
This will likely result in T10 missions being exceptionally hard to solo. That means a big decrease in isk/hour for mission runners, driving many players to mining, ratting or other activities to earn isk.
EWAR Cruisers that aren't the Bellicose
As detailed in one of my previous posts, the new EWAR modules have been released with the Halloween update and, with the exception of Target Painters, they are all fairly underwhelming. As a result, we now know the true value of the Cov Ops and EWAR ships that are built around these modules. With the exception of the Bellicose line, which is built to use the exceptionally-useful Target Painters, I suspect we will see very little of these ships. Without their EWAR bonuses, they are all simply more expensive versions of Fleet/Navy Issue cruisers, and bonuses to Guidance Disruptors, Turret Disruptors and/or Sensor Dampeners just aren't enough to make them worth the price.
While some players will undoubtedly suffer with the balance changes, others will benefit. Here are the ships, tactics and playstyles I think will receive the biggest buff in the new meta:
The sheer power and affordability of the new bubble mechanics are a windfall for nullsec gatecampers across new Eden. A single interdictor is able to completely shut down a gate with the sheer size of the Interdiction Sphere Launcher's effect - and the fuel cost is cheap enough to allow them to be run indefinitely for chump change. Love it or hate it, gate camps will be a fixture of nullsec life for the foreseeable future. Which brings us to...
With nullsec struggling under the tyranny of the interdictors and highsec mission running taking a significant hit, lowsec may become a more attractive option for many pilots looking to make some isk. While lowsec has its hazards, compared to flying in bubble-dominated nullsec without the backing of a strong alliance it is a cakewalk - and the T5 and T6 anomalies are manageable with an inexpensive fit and the mining is considerably more profitable than highsec.
Turrets & Drones
With the much-anticipated nerf to Rapid Medium missiles and a variety of buffs to turret and drone ships, it is likely that the skies of New Eden will be filled with more than Caracals and Caracal Navy Issues as we enter the Christmas season. Now that there isn't a "best weapon" in the medium weapon category, we will hopefully see a greater variety of fits.
PvE will likely be even more dominated by drones - their range, high damage, ability to select damage type and effectiveness against all ship classes are simply ideal for ratting and mission running. In PvP, I expect to see some more drone ships - the 50% increase to medium drone EHP goes a long way to making them viable - but I also expect to see more Thoraxes, Omens and (especially) Stabbers roaming through space.
AB-fitted frigates had two problems in the old meta: Rapid Mediums were devastatingly effective against them and MWD cruisers were often faster than they were. The nerf to the ultra-precise, high DPS medium rapids - and the addition of Warp Scramblers - is a huge boon to speed-tanking frigates. Now that their natural predator has been given a time out and they have the tackling tool they need to do their job, I suspect to see more PvP pilots blinging out their Interceptors, Assault Frigates and Succubi.
Stealth Bombers were in a bad spot coming into these balance changes. While their cloaking gimmick made them appealing, Medium Torpedoes were too unwieldy to deal effective damage to anything smaller than a battlecruiser and their relatively few midslots made it difficult to fit enough tackle to pin down most targets in a Warp Core Stabilizer-dominated meta.
Now, Stealth Bombers have been given some real gifts. Most importantly, they have a new form of tackle - Warp Scramblers - that is perfectly suited to their unique abilities. While switching to a scrambler means that most ships will have a longer approach before they can lock down their target, Stealth Bombers can make their approach stealthily and then decloak at the ideal range. On top of that, they have also been given a significant boost to the DPS of their Torpedoes as well as the addition of Target Painters - which promise to maximize their DPS against smaller targets.
Gangs of stealth bombers will now pose a real threat, causing PvE pilots throughout null- and lowsec to watch local with trepidation.
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