Nullsec: A Detailed Examination

With this, the EVE of the CSM voting period, pun intended, it’s a pretty good time to release the next in my detailed examination series. I intend to release the final two, Highsec and Wormholes, during the voting period, in a blatant attempt to keep my name in people’s minds. There have been some changes since I wrote this, so I reserve the right to make any adjustments I missed. That being said, let’s dive on in.

What Is Nullsec

So one of the things I feel is important to do right off the bat is define what null is to me. Because of the nature of the region, it’s many different things to many different people. For starters, when I say null here, I’m talking about sov null specifically. NPC null is certainly an important part, especially when balancing krabbing and security, but the two are essentially different security bands on their own, given the total variance in meta.

Null is one of, if not the, most defining features of EVE. There was very little like it when it was released, and while some games have been similar, it remains incredibly unique. It’s the ultimate representation of the sandbox, though wormholes do have a strong case given that people weren’t even supposed to live in them in the first place. Null is where you see the massive fights that get into the news all the time, where many of the great heists have occurred, and where the largest player organizations are formed and reside. People who live in null tend to like empire building, organizing something greater than themselves.

Note that I say live, not roam. One of the great things about null is that it acts as a sort of player created NPC area. Rather than going into a raid in WOW to kill a boss, many people get their challenge from going into a null stronghold and beating the shit out of everyone they can find. Just as the empire building aspect is important, so too is the content that results from it. It’s a very careful balance, and a shift towards one end or the other can totally destabilize one of the key features of EVE.

It’s the Economy, Stupid

One of the things most visibly broken in null right now is the economy. This is due to a few factors, which will be explained later, but I first want to note why the economy is so important, not just to null residents, but to EVE as a whole. EVE has a player run economy, which means that everything intertwines. Shifts in ore in null result in shifts in ore prices everywhere. A T3 producer with a massive market share getting evicted means T3s suddenly skyrocket. When the moons get changed, T2 prices go mental. It’s in everyone’s best interest that EVE have a proper null economy, because everyone is affected by it. Some of the causes even directly affect other playstyles.

Rorquals are obviously the elephant in the room here. I want to preface this by saying that the Rorqual gameplay is something I think is very valuable. Having rorquals out mining creates something that people can target to generate a fight with a reasonable fleet, instead of random ratting VNIs. Being able to target the excavators without needing to go after the rorqual is also a genius move, as it gives individual guys the ability to affect massive null blocs. In TEST space, there is a guy named Kintzel who hounds our rorqual miners and their drones on and off, and that is the exact kind of asymmetric warfare that is so valuable. So it’s important to avoid nerfing rorquals so hard that no one is willing to undock them and put them in the belt.

However, Rorquals are fairly broken right now. Individually, especially after the umpteen yield nerfs, Rorquals aren’t really that bad. The issue stems more from the scalability of them. One human can multi box a shitload, sometimes double digits, of Rorquals, and still have less micro needs than someone super ratting. It is very important that Rorquals still have that lower-micro gameplay, but at the same time, the multiboxability needs to be cut down. 3-4 rorqs seems like a fairly feasible number to multibox. The other side of scaling is the number of rorqs that can be stuffed in a belt. Right now, it’s pretty easy to shove dozens of Rorquals into any given system, giving them safety in numbers. When Rorquals are spread out, it means you can bounce between a couple and fatigue the umbrella, a topic we’ll speak about in the PVP section. I struggled initially to come up with an elegant solution to this that would not have too much of an unintended effect on the rest of the game, however, at a town hall with Brand Newbros, someone mentioned just making the rocks bigger. So you’d essentially combine the rocks, so that any individual rock has more content, but there are fewer rocks in the belt. This places a lower limit on how many rorquals can safely mine, as depots can’t be anchored near each other.

Ratting bounties are also a topic of concern in many MERs. A healthy portion of this, I feel, can be attributed to botting, and you can read more about that here. However, a lot of it just comes from good old fashioned carrier, super, VNI, ishkurs in sanctums, etc ratting. Recently, CCP has been nerfing spawn times on anoms, and given that a few of those nerfs have been reverted, they appear to be iterating on them quite fast. It appears they’re attempting to reduce the total influx of bounties into the isk pool without destroying individual income. I’m a big fan of this kind of iterative balance change, as you might expect from my Our Goal section, so I have high hopes for this in the future.

Rollin With Da Big Boys

One feature of null over and over is large empires and even larger fleet fights. Much like anything else, this has a whole meta on its own. Not just at the tactical scale of ‘throw more muninns at the problem’ but at the strategic scale of ‘if we just drop 50 keepstars and connect them with ansiblexes we can defend everything.’ I’ll first be looking at the strategic side, then working over to the tactical side, as it’ll flow nicely into the small gang section.

Back in 2014 and 2015, CCP released Phoebe, which redid the way capital travel and sov warfare work, respectively. While both of these certainly required quite a lot of iteration, and still aren’t perfect today, they have had an overall positive effect. Instead of two coalitions, Goons and Panfam, dividing the sov map almost perfectly in half excluding Provi, we now have a fair few reasonably distinct groups, with GOTG split from Panfam in the North, Goons in the southwest, Legacy in the south, WinterCo in the southeast, and Skill in the east, not to mention a ton of balkanized regions. It’s significantly more viable to have a small alliance hold space in sov without getting immediately rolled over by one of the two coalitions.

However, there have been some recent changes that significantly buffed power projection, which aren’t too bad on their own, but when taken together, demonstrate a worrying trend. In particular, the 30 minute red timer cap and the Ansiblex gates make it very very easy to move large quantities of people all over an empire. The main reason we have the current sov meta is because it was no longer viable for these coalitions to defend literally half of nulls, because they couldn’t move back and forth in time. Ansiblexes in particular have suddenly made this much easier. It takes 12 fatigue-free jumps using the Ansiblex system to go from TEST’s krabbing staging in D-P to the TEST PVP staging in 08-. At that point, you’re looking at a ten minute burn in an inty, which means you rarely need to burn a JC unless it’s a flash form. This has the potential to dramatically expand the amount of space it’s viable to hold, and is something to watch closely.

On a related note, cyno jammers are absolutely insane currently, given the fact that they, for some reason, have a damage cap, and therefore take ages to kill, while simultaneously the online timer is pretty much nothing. This means the old meta of sneaking in some dreads to one cycle a jammer is effectively dead, while jammers have had an enormous buff.

Turning now to the more tactical side of the large combat meta, supercaps, are, as always, prevalent. CCP recently released a massive balance patch, which dramatically shifted the meta, and fixed a lot of longstanding issues. In the interest of time, and your brain, I will not go into this, though I recommend checking out my platform, as well as my specific review of the balance patch. What I will talk about, however, is the segments they missed. One of the big oversights is titan long range guns. While HAWs certainly were strong, long range guns are dominant in the meta for their flexibility, as the mechanics of transversal means that non-Levi titans can apply fairly well to subcaps when they’re a couple hundred km out, as they generally are during citadel bashes because of PDS and the model radius. Simultaneously, they also do proper damage to capitals, making them the default choice in most scenarios, as they do all things reasonably well. In an ideal world, there’s an actual debate when choosing titan guns, as opposed to going, yep I’d like some long range guns please. Support fighters were also missed for the most part, as one of the most deadly parts of a super drop is the fact that each super can rock 3x LR/LF fighters plus 1x web 1x point, allowing them to lock down and kill many things. While this is not so bad in large scale combat, it drives the small gang meta into very specific comps to avoid getting annihilated.

Dreads have had some big buffs with the recent patch, other than insurance, but they still miss out on one key role. Right now, other than some gimmick fits, dreads are pretty much useless for bashing, due to a combination of high citadel damage and the damage caps, which means you don’t gain much by using the dreads, and citadels kill them really fast when you do. I’d love to see dreads be able to ignore the damage cap with diminishing returns when their siege module is active, as well as a further nerf to anti-cap capabilities on citadels and a corresponding buff to anti-subcap capabilities. Even after the balance patch, dreads simply to not have enough to do.

Small Man Big Fist

Finally, for those of you who have made it this far, let’s talk about small gangs. Right now, roaming in null is in a bad state for a variety of reasons. It’s very tough to catch people, and when you do, you often get an umbrella dropped on your head. If you don’t catch people, quite a lot of the time it’s because they have very good intel on your movements, and a JB network that lets them move all over the place. This has accelerated the decline of small gang roaming, which is a sad state of affairs. Blops as well is turning more and more to cloaky campers as opposed to active hunting, as it’s the only real option out there in many cases.

First off, let’s talk umbrellas. Currently, there’s a big disparity between groups with a strong umbrella, and groups without. You’re an order of magnitude safer when there are enough supers in the area to drop on anything that moves, as can be seen by the sheer number of people who die when that umbrella is removed, often due to the alliance deploying. This is a very effective player organization method, and proper organization should be rewarded, however the current system is simply too strong. Many of the previously mentioned nerfs would help here, but one of the most effective ways to fight an umbrella is by ensuring it never gets on grid.

As mentioned earlier, having rorquals spread out allows you to dart between them, giving the super pilots fatigue, and meaning they aren’t able to drop when you settle on a final target. This is not always viable, especially with the current number of rorquals per system, so there’s also a more direct alternative. Inhibs right now make the success rate of a drop or tackle go up dramatically if they online. However, they still have a 60 second online time, meaning all but the most blind individual can often cyno up before it onlines. On an unrelated note, Marauders are decidedly lacking in PVP usage. What I’d like to see is a price decrease Marauders, as well as making their bastion mode project an inhib effect while active. This would make it so that while Rorquals can still cyno up if they see a Marauder warp in, there’s a lot more opportunity for them to mess up. It also has the benefit of not destroying the economy via eliminating Jump Freighter usage, and nuking the general meta by making it nearly impossible to bridge or jump anywhere with any degree of safety that certain other proposals have. Instead, it’s pretty much useless outside a small gang scenario, because you can’t receive external reps, and will therefore just be primaried and destroyed if you show up to a fleet fight.

Jump gates have issues in this world too, as they allow people to, at will, go back and forth, trapping gangs in pockets, with no counterplay option because you can pretty much always take a jump gate, compared to how JBs were. I’d like to see a polarization timer on jump gates to prevent these shenanigans without interfering in the general functionality too much.

Targets are also an issue, as mentioned before, because tackling things is so difficult in the optimized krabbing world. Having something that can be poked by a small gang for a fight is key, and I think JB's would be excellent for that if their time to rf was shorter and damage required was lower. This would allow you to viably threaten something and get a fight out of it, especially if it means you can’t put JBs on keepstars anymore.

Lastly in this section is blops. I’ve got a love for blops, in particular the much maligned battleships, which really need a proper run through of the whole class, but that’s outside the scope of this post. More relevant is the fact that getting tackle is much harder now that most things have PANIC mods, or warp off when you show up on intel, or are bots. This drives people towards cloaky camping instead of more traditional hunting, as it negates the advantages of intel networks. This is a bad state for everyone involved, because cloaky camping is pretty boring for both the hunter and the hunted. One of the best proposals I’ve seen for fixing this is giving specific hunters a delayed local appearance, in which they can’t see local for the first x seconds they’re in system, but they also don’t appear in local for that time. While this is still vulnerable to popping up on intel maps, it a lot more likely that you’re able to catch something, because they won’t just go ‘oh neutral in local warp away.’ And it makes bot hunting easier which is always a plus in my book.

Naturally, the issue of hunting is something that is likely to need constant iteration. However, once it’s restored to a reasonable state for active hunting, to the point where you can viably conduct ADM warfare via purely active hunting, I’d like to see a corresponding nerf to cloaky camping, either via the need for an LO cost for cloak usage, thus limiting the time spent cloaked, or by implementing the observatory structure, that would be able to send a decloak ping once a day, or every few days. That way it has minimal effect on anyone actively around and cloaked, as they can simply recloak, but people nowhere near the keyboard are penalized.

Conclusion

Despite its length, this is obviously by no means comprehensive. It should, however, suffice to give an indication on my feelings on the key points of null, and explain my reasoning on those feelings. I highly recommend you check out the other pieces of info on this site for more detail. I also want to remind you that the voting period starts at 1200 EVE Time on Monday, so get ready to vote for Cornak. I’m always happy to take any questions on any form of media, so if you have any questions/comments/concerns regarding this post, or anything in my platform, just hit me up.

Cornak Firefist