My fellow capsuleers,
Seeing that I am (at least in my own mind) a voice for the PvP-oriented segment of the EVE Echoes population, I feel that it is my duty from time to time to give to the community information on the State of the Meta, and recommend to your consideration such measures as I shall judge necessary and expedient.
Translation: Yeah, let's talk about where weapons are at currently and why missiles make everything else look like crap.
A couple notes before I start - yes, I'm exclusively talking about 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. 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.
So, with that in mind, I'm going to give my thoughts on each weapon system in the game and their viability in the current meta. I'm focusing on weapons because they are currently the most significant difference between ship types.
MISSILES, MISSILES EVERYWHERE
Anyone who has gotten stuck in a cloud of Caracals outside of Jita can easily see that missiles are (for now) the dominant weapon system in EVE Echoes - not only in PvE but also in PvP.
If you came here after playing EVE Online, that may have come as a surprise to you. After all, while Drakes and Ravens have long been the popular ships for mission runners in Echoes' predecessor, missile ships were never the dominant force in PvP combat. Why are Caracals so dominant in Echoes but largely worthless in EVE Online?
The simple answer is that missiles were always good in EVE Online. It's just that they were attached to shield-tanked ships, and shield-tanking was not PvP viable. In EO, shield modules, webs, MWD, afterburners and disruptors are all midslot modules. This meant that a shield-tanked PvP ship had to decide between having effective HP and actually being able to snare a target.
But Echoes did away with that. All ships use lowslots for tanking and maneuvering while midslots are for tackle. As a result, all weapons systems compete on an even footing, without regard to the type of tanking of their base ship. Missiles have come out on top because of three clear advantages:
1. No Tracking Required - Turreted weapon systems become less accurate the higher the transverse velocity between the aggressor and the target. Without getting into complicated math, in effect this means that the faster either ship travels the lower DPS the turret deals (yes, I'm oversimplifying - this isn't a guide)
In contrast, missiles and drones deal reduced damage based on your target's speed, but don't care how fast the you are going. This is a huge advantage, since missile- and drone-ships can go as fast as they like without hurting their effective DPS, while turret ships cannot - and as I've said before, in PvP speed is life.
2. Rapid Medium Missiles are overpowered - #1 would be enough to make missiles powerful, but they have another advantage - Rapid Medium Missiles. Rapid Mediums are, simply put, broken. They have considerable range (on a Caracal Navy they reach almost to the max range of warp disruptors), deal superior damage and have low enough explosion radius to be effective against frigates and destroyers. They have no weaknesses.
3. Omni-damage - While less important than the other two factors, the fact that missiles spread their damage across every damage type means that they are effective against both shield and armor tanked ships. This means that missiles give very consistent results against all targets.
Fortunately (for those who don't like "all-Caracals, all-the-time"), NetEase has already stated that they will be making changes to reduce the overpowered-ness of missile ships - likely in November. This brings us to...
THE RISE OF THE DRONES
Careful readers will no doubt have noticed that drones share two of the three advantages I just attributed to missiles. Like missiles, they are unaffected by the speed of the ship that employs them, allowing Vexors to boost their speed as much as they are able without reducing their drones' DPS. Furthermore, they actually do missiles one better in the damage-type department: while missiles spread their damage to all types, drones can target a ship's weaknesses by deploying EM-drones against shield tankers and explosion-drones against armor.
However, drones do suffer from a couple disadvantages that keep them from usurping the throne from King Missile:
1. COST - Due to the scarcity of drone blueprints and the fact that drones don't drop from NPC pirates, drones remain the most expensive weapon system even as the cost of missiles soars. Buying even a single flight of Mk7 drones for a T5 Vexor can cost more than the ship itself, to say nothing of buying enough to fill the drone bay with spares.
To make matters worse, drones can be targeted and destroyed in PvP combat, meaning that every fight might cost you one of your 6mil-isk drones. As a result, flying a drone boat is simply not cost effective - you can expect to lose more isk in drones killing that Talwar Sniper than you will earn by looting its corpse.
2. SKILL REQUIREMENTS - In contrast to every other weapon system, drones require a much higher skill investment. To ensure that you can deal with both small, speedy frigates and battlecruisers, a drone pilot needs to carry both small and medium drones - that means that, in order to maximize DPS, a drone pilot needs to train Small Drone Op, Small Drone Upgrade, Medium Drone Op, Medium Drone Upgrade, as well as the Drones V in order to fly their full complement of drones. And let's not forget that they ALSO need to train the skills for their secondary weapons.
Thankfully for all those would-be Arbitrator pilots, NetEase has promised a coming fix to the cost of drones, likely to coincide with the nerf to missiles. My prediction is that this will result in drones overtaking missiles as the top meta weapon once the November balance changes come into effect. As a result, I'm already training up my drone skills - after all, it'll take a while
TURRETS - JUST CAN'T KEEP TRACK
Now we are down to the turrets. All of the turreted weapons systems - railguns, lasers and cannons - share one critical issue in current implementation of the game: tracking.
As mentioned above, the ability of a turret to track, and therefore hit, a target suffers as the relative speed between its target and host ship increases. That means that - all things being equal - the faster the firing ship OR its target goes, the harder it is to hit the target. Since PvP ships like to go fast, that means that turrets have a hard time getting their full DPS without being flown by an ace pilot.
In EVE Online, this problem is solved by the existence of numerous skills, modules, rigs and ship bonuses that - at high skillpoint levels - make tracking a manageable issue even on ultra-fast ships. However, in Echoes the tools available simply aren't sufficient to the task. A Stabber Fleet going at MWD speeds of 2500m/s struggles to hit a stationary target even with max skills and tracking computers active. Turret ships must choose between speed and DPS - a choice that their missile- and drone-based competitors simply don't have to make.
That said, just because they aren't optimal doesn't mean that turret boats are unplayable, nor that they are all equally bad...
LASERS - COUNTERING THE META
Of the turrets, lasers are currently leading the pack. While they require more energy to run than any other weapon system, this is more than compensated by their unique advantages:
- Great against shields - In a meta where shield-tanked missile ships run rampant, EM-damage lasers are the cure. Flying my favorite CNI build, the only ships that are able to consistently make me turn and run are the Maller and (occasionally) Omen Navy Issue.
- Good range - While the excessive range of medium beam lasers is largely wasted in PvP, the comparatively long-range and high DPS of pulse lasers make them excellent PvP weapons.
- Solid capacitors - The high energy cost of lasers is more than made up for by the generous capacitor banks given to Amarr ships in Echoes. In addition to running your weapons, you should have plenty to keep the MWD running for minutes - even indefinitely - as well as activating armor plates to boost your EHP.
CANNONS - GREAT DAMAGE IF YOU CAN HIT
Minmatar ships - particularly the speed-demon Stabber Fleet Issue - are the most affected by the "Speed v Tracking" dilemma. With the ability to soar at nearly 3000m/s, the Stabber Fleet can keep up with nearly anything in the game... but if it wants to hit, it has to give up its phenomenal speed and slug it out.
That said, the sprinting ability of Minmatar ships like the Stabber and Stabber Fleet do make them great brawlers. Fitted with autocannons, they can blaze into point-blank range of nearly any ship and dump huge amounts of damage in withering broadsides. This is a risky strategy of course - once you've come to bumping range with your target, you'll have a hard time getting away if things go wrong. Thankfully, their high DPS means that they can win a damage race against most of the ships they encounter. A brawling Stabber Fleet is just about the only thing that can both catch and kill my Caracal Navy.
RAILGUNS - AT LEAST THEY HAVE THE THORAX
Picking up last place, we have the oft-neglected railguns. Railguns have had it rough going back to the early days of EVE Online - their "half-optimal, half-falloff" range profile makes it hard to fit and rig the ships for range. As a result, railgun boats have to choose between great damage, terrible range by going with snub-nosed rails or mediocre-ranged, terrible-damage rifled railguns.
Thankfully, the Caldari and Gallente races have two things going for them:
- They can always pick a better weapon type than rails (missiles or drones)
- They have a couple great ships (like the Thorax) that make rails look, if not good, at least tolerable.
Currently, about the only place you will see experienced PvP pilots use rails is on ships like the Thorax which turns into a deadly brawler when fitted with snub-nosed rails. However, be warned - if you roll up in a Thorax, everyone knows what you're capable of and good pilots know how to counter it (namely, fly faster than you).
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