Since Retribution, I've spent at least a few hours per day being an armchair EFT warrior. Now, it's one thing to concept-fit ships on EFT with Officer mods, T2 rigs, max level boosts and high grade implant sets to see what they're truly capable of. But my latest pet project has been putting together T1 cruisers on a budget.
How far does 25 million get you? Let's ask the Stabber:
While it doesn't do all the things perfectly - it's bound to get alphaed by Tornadoes, it will lose in a brawl versus a Cynabal, and the lack of drones is somewhat discomforting - for 25 million ISK you get a taste of what it's like to be a Cynabal. That's less than an Assault Frigate hull, far less than a Dramiel, and about 1/8th of a similarly fit Vagabond:
Before I go into a comparison, I'd like to note that I would prefer to fit a C-type MWD and a faction point, but since we're talking about working on a budget, I went cheap. The Vagabond does some things better, some worse, and some relatively the same. For example, the buffer on the Stabber would be much less than the Vagabond except that the Stabber has double the structure, a fact that most would write off as unimportant if not for the Damage Control. As a result, both hulls have similar buffer - or roughly the same odds of surviving a large alpha.
Where does the Stabber exceed the Vagabond? The second utility high serves to fit a medium neut, which is most useful against brawling frigates since there's not enough capacitor to run it indefinitely. It also has more capacitor, a smaller base signature radius and more cargo.
The Vagabond exceeds the Stabber in nearly all other relevant metrics, however. The XLASB gives the Vagabond a massive active tank for no capacitor which doesn't increase signature radius - nearly 750 DPS overheated - and the extra Autocannon combined with an extra damage bonus plus drones gives it nearly twice the Stabber's DPS. The Vagabond goes over 4km/second with an overheated MWD, about 15% faster than the Stabber, and has a much better align time. It also has slightly better damage projection, scan resolution, and sensor strength, but only by a small degree. Unlike the Stabber, the Vagabond has a chance of surviving an encounter with a BC, possibly even a Drake.
The Power of Numbers
But even though the Vagabond is unambiguously better than the Stabber, is it baller enough to take on two Stabbers? Probably not. Yet in terms of ISK, we're talking 50 million versus 190 million.
The same appears to apply to every T1 cruiser and its HAC counterpart. While the difference is still there, as Ripard Teg observed, the gap is narrowed to the point that quantity trumps quality. Few nullsec entities have problems filling up their fleets with T2 cruisers, but reducing the SP and ISK burden of flying a particular fleet comp means new recruits can fly sooner and more often.
A valid example of this is the Rupture. Since the Retribution buffs, the Rupture can be fit almost identically to an Arty Muninn, the flagship of Black Legion. Sure, it's an inferior facsimile in terms of range, tank and alpha, but not by a great deal; meanwhile, a brand-new character can be ready to fly a T1 Arty Rupture in a matter of days. If a player can be taught to add an anchor to watchlist, orbit this anchor, lock up broadcasts and hit F1, they are roughly as valuable as 75% of a T2 Muninn for 25% of the price.
But Will It Blend?
I haven't presented this as a 'good' or 'bad' thing yet. That's mostly because I'm undecided. On one hand, I'm excited that I can go out and PVP with relatively reckless abandon. And if T1 cruisers are almost functionally identical to HACs, why bother losing several hundred mil in one go when I could lose eight or ten Stabbers for the same price? I also like that the T1 cruisers feel well-rounded. Most of them have utility highs and enough fitting for medium neuts and/or smartbombs. Having a plethora of options gives each hull what video game critics would call 'Replay Value' - if one fit didn't work, there's bound to be a dozen others worth trying with entirely different strategies in mind.
But on the other hand, I believe these buffs are drawing out the shortcomings of T2 cruisers. Muninns and Zealots are seen in nullsec fleets, but what about the other six HACs? Virtually never. The Ishtar and Deimos are sometimes seen in 'concept' AHAC fleets; the Sacrilege and Vagabond are nice for solo but aren't made for the alpha meta; the Cerberus and Eagle need a lot of reworking to be viable for anything.
It's not enough that HACs have better fitting space and extra bonuses anymore, especially those with useless bonuses (the Eagle's second Optimal Range bonus is fairly pointless, for example.) What they need is superior base stats. Why would the Stabber have a lower signature radius than the Vagabond? Why would it have more cargo, more capacitor, and an extra utility high? Shouldn't the Vagabond have all these things and more?
What I want to see in the next iteration of Tiericide is for T2 cruisers to at least be identical to T1 in every way and better in some if not most ways. This means the Vagabond should have two utility highs, the Muninn should have four mids, the Zealot should have a drone bay, and all of the HACs should be faster than their T1 models. Will this make T1 cruisers weaker by comparison? Certainly. But having 3/4ths of the power for 1/4th of the cost is obviously a balancing choice that favors those dirty blobbers and doesn't reward the additional risk of flying bling; in fact, flying a T2 cruiser attracts more attention and draws more resistance from people hungry to pad their killboards while ensuring more potential targets avoid a fight altogether.
It has also been suggested that HACs receive a role bonus similar to that enjoyed by AFs, namely to reduce the signature bloom associated with an active MWD. I wouldn't be opposed to this, but I also don't think it should necessarily be combined with an across-the-board attribute buff to HACs. If T2 Cruisers are too good, then we'll end up right where we started.
Mostly though, I want to fly an Eagle that has enough powergrid to fit Heavy Neutrons and a tank. Is that too much to ask?