My fellow capsuleers,
Once again, it falls to me - as the unelected representative of the pirate community, to opine on the current State of the Meta and recommend to your consideration such measures as I shall judge necessary and expedient.
Much has happened since I last stood before you to address the State of the Meta in September. Balance changes, T8 ships and encounters, the addition of EWAR, bubble mechanics, and an ever-evolving player base have led us to a much different place than we were in those heady days at the start of a new game.
Just like last time, I will primarily discussing the meta as it relates to PvP, both because that's what this site is about and because that's where the competitive advantage between ships and weapons systems really matters. However, since our primary targets are PvE pilots, I will grouse about such matters as I deem appropriate. Also, I'm not interested in discussing "solutions" to "problems." I'm not on the design team and no one pays me to balance Echoes - I'm just here to get kills.
ENCOUNTERS UBER ALLES
Yes, I know I just said that I'll be focusing on PvP, but the most significant change to the game as a whole has been the rise of encounters as the primary source of isk coming into the game. That affects PvP pilots as much or more than anyone else!
With pilots hitting T8 and various changes to the encounter system in November, a well-equipped pilot can easily earn 15mil isk per hour (or more!) running encounters. This blows away the amount of money that can be made mining anywhere in space, easily tops lowsec ratting and is in stiff competition with nullsec ratting for the most efficient way to get wealthy in game.
This is a problem for a game that fundamentally depends on PvP. Encounters are a completely safe, PvP-free way to generate isk. When they become (almost) as lucrative as ratting in the most dangerous areas of space (where you are certain to lose ships now and then), why would anyone risk operating in lowsec or nullsec?
As you would expect this had led to lower populations in lowsec and, increasingly, in nullsec as pilots head to highsec to make their money. Thus PvP pilots find less and less content, and sadly many of them move on to other games.
While I doubt anyone at NetEase will read this, I would urge them to prioritize this issue: make lowsec and nullsec more profitable! No matter how elaborate your sovereignty systems, they will be irrelevant if nullsec isn't worth fighting over.
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As predicted in my last State of the Meta, drones have truly become the undisputed "God-tier" weapon of Echoes. The mighty Prophecy battlecruiser is the default encounter-running and ratting ship in the Galaxy, while Vexors have replaced the Caracal as the low-tier ship of choice for beginning pilots.
Partly, this change was inevitable - drones were always strong - and once the main impediments to their use (the ruinously high cost at launch and the original inability to replace them in the field) were removed, the juggernaut was unchained. However, the balance changes also actively fueled the rise of drones by buffing their effectiveness (mainly increasing their EHP) while simultaneously providing counters to the other weapons systems in the form of EWAR.
As a result, drones have a several decision advantages over any other weapon system:
1. No Tracking Required - Like the Rapid Missile Launchers whose throne they usurped, drones are able to effectively hit small, fast moving targets with little difficulty. While medium cannons and lasers are useless against speedy interceptors without numerous webs to slow them down, medium drones have little difficulty killing small targets. Whether in an encounter fighting buzzing interceptor NPCs or ratting in nullsec, large drone ships like the Prophecy have little to fear from frigates which are the bane of turret ships' existence.
2. EWAR Immunity - The release of EWAR modules should have helped to prevent any one weapon system from becoming too dominant in the meta. If every ratter starts using missiles, then pirates will start fitting Guidance Disruptors to counter. However, NetEase did not release a "Drone Disruptor." As a result, drones' effective immunity to EWAR has only increased their popularity with PvE pilots - especially now that every anomaly and encounter includes ships that use EWAR modules.
3. No Powergrid Cost - Unique among the weapons in the game, drones do not require any powergrid to fit. Despite this, most drone ships have powergrid that is in line with other ships of their class. This allows these ships to fit modules like large neutralizers or multiple armor repairers that other ships would struggle to equip.
FACTION CRUISERS ABOUND
As players become more wealthy and established, the elite pilots in EVE Echoes have upgraded their faction frigates for faction cruisers. It is now common to see Phantasms, Vigilants and Cynabals roaming the skies both in highsec (where they are expensive but effective at running encounters) and in lowsec/nullsec (where they're utility in clearing high level anomalies - or hostile players - is undisputed).
While they will likely never be available in the sort of large numbers that will turn the tide of fleet battles, faction cruisers currently reign supreme in small gang PvP where their high DPS, speed and toughness make them effective force multipliers in all manner of engagements.
LET'S GO FLY A KITE
While much of the attention with the release of T8 was focused on Interceptors, Interdictors and new encounter mechanics, the sleeper hit of the release may well prove to be Assault Battlecruisers. This new class of ships are the first to be able to fit large turrets - allowing more damage at longer ranges than previously possible. Additionally, many of these ships come with impressive powergrids, enabling them to fit other modules intended for their larger, battleship-class cousins.
This has brought on the rise of the "Kite Ship" - battlecruisers fit for extreme ranges (100-200km) with oversized microwarp drives that enable them to achieve blistering speeds that rival even the fastest frigates (albeit with very poor turning and acceleration). The current favorite of the class seems to be the Tornado - a Minmatar ship whose six strike cannons can instantly erase a frigate from more than 150km, and in fleets can pose a real problem to FCs looking to engage a target that both outranges and outdamages any ship they can field.
While these have largely been treated as novelties, I anticipate that more and more pilots in both PvE and PvP will begin fielding these premiere snipers, and that they will dramatically alter the face of fleet combat until the release of battleships next year.
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