Retribution has now been out for several days, the new destroyers are finally at a reasonable price, and EFT warriors have pumped out some nice analyses of the rebalancing changes. All in all we have settled into the new era of EVE and can finally look at how people are taking it. As far as PVP is concerned, the resounding response I have seen in blogs, Twitter, and in game is that Retribution is amazing. There are naturally those who complain about the new UI, some hilarious bounty initiated tears, and a few people having to get used to the new crime watch, but overall the response has been overwhelmingly positive. However, I am not here to report THAT the changes have been well liked; I would rather analyze a few reasons that I think are major contributors to why PVP has been so fun since the expansion.
An expansion of options
The goal of the balancing and tiericide that has gained full steam in Retribution was to make EVE ships more about roles than just scaling power. However, this balancing did more than just help out a few ships that never got used. It gave nearly every T1 cruiser and below purpose and identity. It was largely understood by the player base that Thrashers were good, and Coercers were bad. People just accepted that the Augoror had no place in a real fleet. Most fleet fights compositions were fairly straight forward, and imagination or unorthodox designs were mostly laughed at by the community at large.
But EVE Online caters to more than just our drive to smash ships into one another. We have a drive to explore, create, and most importantly, to figure out. Simply being told how to build our ships like they are stamped out at the factory breaks the point of the fitting system. EVE shouldn’t be simply about knowing which choice is right and which is wrong, but about which of the above fits for you. A kiting Omen? You betcha. A all drone frigate? Go get ‘im Tristan! Concepts that were never given a moments thought by gang FCs are not only viable, but practical. This is the reason EFT warriors exist, and drive people to fly ships not because they are powerful, but because they aren’t. Unorthodox ideas are what drive player ingenuity, and diversifying not only the ships that are viable, but the TYPES of ships that are viable plays directly into this aesthetic. Now not only can you try out some insane new idea, it just might work.
Lowering the pain threshold
Along with this comes the reducing of the pain of defeat. There isn’t a need to bling every ship, because T1 ships are competitive now. If you want to try kiting, you don’t need a Dramiel, just a Merlin. If you want to try logistics, you can learn with cheap frigates and T1 logistics ships. Instead of learning about cap warfare in an expensive Curse, you can now enjoy your Dragoon and learn the ropes. Most importantly, because the “lesser varieties” are much closer to their more powerful counterparts now, the decision to go with the cheaper one doesn’t inherently feel like you are cheating yourself, or your FC. This allows people to try on new strategies, without feeling the giant hit to their wallet. Cheap no longer means “suicide tackler”, almost every combat role in the game can be tried out without breaking your bank. This has allowed many to try out things they always wanted to, but were too afraid to.
Prolonging the fight
With the rebalancing we have seen a logistics explosion. Gone are the days of the people too scared to bring reps because the fleet wasn’t big enough to warrant it. Small gangs are using logi frigates and shipping up into T1s. This is making fights last longer in a way that previously rebalancing tried (and largely failed) to do, thus making more interesting choices on and off the battlefield. Pilots are given more time to calculate and perform clutch maneuvers. Fights are becoming far more than simply calling primary. Combine this with increased intuitiveness of the on screen information, and you have a recipe for epic, tactical warfare from small gang on up.
Putting the pieces together
These three factors combine together to allow something to emerge. FCs and pilots are trying new things, and enjoying them. Success is feeling even more rewarding, and failure’s sting is not quite as harsh. Players who have little or no FC experience are gaining new confidence and stepping up to try their hand at command. New ideas are coming out as players find increasingly more ingenious ways to piece together the tools that we have been given, confident that they can slough off failure and tried again. Fights last long enough for players to understand the situation and make tactical choices and see those choices play out in victory or defeat. Players of all skill levels and experiences are feeling more empowered by the changes, and empowerment feels good.
Keeping the ball rolling
CCP Fozzie’s success in Retribution’s rebalance is a double edged sword. On the one hand he has been victorious in his design so far, but arguably the worst is yet to come, and the bar is set high. Not only will this level of balance and interesting design become increasingly more difficult as he moves to Battlecruisers and Battleships (and one can only speculate how capitals/supercapitals will go), but rebalancing T2/faction/pirate frigates through cruisers against this new paradigm could be a nightmare. On the one hand the risk is that the “more powerful” ships will not be good enough, and thus not be worth the money (already we are seeing a dramatic decline in the use of those ships), but alternatively they could be overpowering to the T1’s and put the balance right back where we started.