Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Drone Buff-Debuff Idiocy

The upcoming rebalance to small projectiles is hopefully just the tip of the iceberg in rebalancing of projectile weapons in general, but this will go no way towards refactoring the balance between drones, turrets (of all kinds) and missiles.

The problem with drones is that their weaknesses (abandonment of sentries, delayed damage application of mobile drones) are insignificant compared to their strengths at the moment in a post drone buff modules EVE.

You remember that time, a few years ago, when the only drone buff modules were the Omnidirectional Tracking Computer and the Drone Link Augmenter (DLA)? Yeah, good times, it was all Hurricanes, Harbingers and Drakes, the odd Brutix (hybrids sucked) and HACs were Zealots, Munnins and Vagabonds. Ahhh....nostalgia for an era when it wasn't Gilas, Ishtars, Myrms, Rattlers, Domis, Worms....Deimos, Eagles, etc.

The problem isn't, as CCP Fozzie keeps saying with his 'metrics', that there are no drawbacks to drone boats from their use of drones. There are, the drawbacks exist, but they are outweighed by the buffs to drones to such an extent that drone power creep...well it hasn't crept, it has rocketed forward.

The three major mistakes which have allowed this power creep are primarily a game mechanic one you may not have realised, and two ship based ones.

Firstly, the Guristas ships got uber drones. Not only are their drones 500% more powerful in the DPS department, but also in the tank department. The ships themselves are also incredibly powerful, with stonking shield tanks countermanded (slightly) by somewhat limited fitting capacity. Limited by comparison to, eg, a Deimos which is the most luxobarge fitting out there. But suffice to sayyou can get 65K EHP and 820 DPS out of a Gila. Is this a cruiser or a battleship?

The supposed drawback of the drones is completely eliminated by the EHP buff given to them. Killing a Rattlesnake's Geckos is almost an exercise in futility. When we've engaged them, the whole gang can be consumed with an attempt to blap the Gecko and wipe out 1000 DPS of threat, and often fails. Trying to blap a Gila's hammerheads is even more futile, and we won't even get into the Worm.

So that's the Guristas ship problem - uber drones which are (practically) unkillable and (practically) immune to EWAR. More on this later.

The second ship based problem is obviously the Ishtar, and you should all be familiar with why - uber range, uber tracking sentries coupled with a perma-MWD cruiser hull with a low sig and 2300m/s maneuverability creates a huge problem. You can't attack a gang of Ishtars drones, you can't EWAR the ship (it's drones are likely assigned), you can't easily catch the ship, it can perfectly hit you across any field of engagement at reasonable range (Lachesis point range, basically)  and you can't run the ishtar down (practically speaking) because if you MWD around in range of the sentries, you're toast. Fun times!

The third, but most important problem relates to drones and their practical immunity to EWAR. They can be affected by it, but to all intents and purposes the only one vulnerable to ECM is the Gecko because so few can be fielded. For example, a sole Rattler gets one Gecko which has a lower sensor strength than the controlling ship, so you ECM the drone and it is in fact better than ECMing the Rattler itself, because even if the Rattler's lock is broken it's Gecko keeps shooting.

beyond this edge case, the power of drone meta comes back to the immunity of the drones to any EWAR directed onto the ship. This stands opposed to the fact you put rigs on your ship, put modules on your ship in low, high and mid slots all of which remotely buff your drones (and in the case of Skynet carriers, drones assigned to other people!).

The problem with this from a balance perspective is that this is a measure with no practical countermeasure (especially Skynet). There has been a proliferation of drone buff modules and no debuff module. The buff modules work on the drones even when the host ship is ECM'd, off grid, out of control range of it's own drones, everything. This means the power of drones only ever goes up, be it tracking, optimal, DPS, speed, hitpoints, etcetera. This is the basic but generally unacknowledged theoretical basis behind the drone doctrine - that you get a solid one way bet on drones and your power cannot be pegged back.

Let's take a ship known to be a useless punching bag unless you really pick and choose your targets, one you almost never see - the Pilgrim. It gets horrendously powerful neuts, a middling tank (lol by today's meta), and tracking disruptors (remote debuff). Against turret ships with active (non-ASB) tanks, it is lethal. Like, say, nothing flown today.

Against anything flown today, which generally are ASB shield ships, missile-tossing Tengus, and drone boats, it is a victim waiting to happen. Lets say it gets ahold of a Gila. Its neuts do not turn off the drones, it's DPS is unspectacular (enough, certainly to wear an opponent down one it's neuted out) and it's TD's generally useless versus the Hammerheads.

I argue we will not see the death of Drone meta until there is a way to break a ship's connection with it's drones, or until there is a way of applying the debuff to the hull and have that spread to the drones, or until there's a projected drone debuff module itself.

In a way it's ridiculous that debuffs projected against the hull do not affect the drones already. You have midslot tracking computers to buff turrets, and TD's to debuff them. You then get Omni links to buff drones, but nothing to debuff them. The Omnis are an active midslot module which magically project tracking to the drones but somehow nothing can be done to interrupt that tenuous telecommunication link to the drones - including ECMing the mothership?

CCP needs to look at this problem. As i said, it's a one way bet and it's always going to win, so why wouldn't you go for drone meta? Good luck, Fozzie, with trying to make projectiles look sexy with 25% more optimal added to 1.5km for medium AC's when cruiser hulls like the Gila and Ishtar exist.


  1. Good post and I agree we need options to debuff or interfere with drones. An E-war module that causes a ship to lose connection to it's drones, something to interfere with their use or a debuff module.

  2. The drones situation I haven't noticed much except in the odd fight when someone brought out a gecko or two.
    I guess its CCP wanting to give drone users some love after all the years when drone users where like uggly and ineffiecent ducklings in eve.
    So revenge of the drones? :))

    Trick is with pilgrim is to pick your targets and if you going after drone boats dont solo.
    I heard people say the arty sleip will be glorious after the projectile patch.
    Would asb sleip or Xl shield boost sleip be best?

    1. They are only buffing small projectiles at the moment, but the arty sleipnir is already good.

      The thing about CCP giving love to drone users? Well, even before the buffs of the last 18-24 months, AFK Ishtars were a thing....though generally used mostly in Gurista Nullsec due to their already high kinetic resists which you could get to 98% cheaply and permatank Sanctums.

      Ishtars used to be more brawlers, using ogres (though I preferred Berserkers due to Ogres being horridly slow). You could still crank 620 DPS out of them even before the DDA arrived. There were a few people trying sentry doctrines as per today, but without the murderously good tracking and optimals available, and given the fact the ships themselves were slower, and capped out easily, this never properly took off.

      As I said, it's as much the ships as the drones. in fact, drones themselves haven't changed much at all, or at all. CCP has just kept adding drone buff modules to a game with no regard to a debuff. This would be like adding a highslot web or a lowslot TP module. It seems like a good idea till you realise that an Orthrus might become a bit OP with a spare highslot (as all have) filled with a web, or a Raven with it's generally useless last lowslot devoted to a TP.

    2. Interesting. As a young (1.5 years old) drone-boat player, I've only seen drone nerfs. Maybe mine it's a different perpective. First the Domi big-nerf of Odyssey. Then the nerf and the turning of Omnis into active modules, whose cycle is so long that it's faster to deply a depot and switch a module than to switch a script in a Omni. The two combined killed any domi based doctrine, and made the domi a sub-par platform even for missioning. Oh, and they upgraded the NPC AI, now drones are first-class targets no matter how much ewar you deploy from the boat as a 'distraction'.

      T2 drones are way bugged now, skill requirements of any T2 weapon system, but no advantages over faction drones (same skill requirements of T1, much higher resilence). You may argue that faction turrets and launchers exist, but they usually cost 10x more than T2s and don't give access to T2 ammo. There is no T2 'ammo' advantage for T2 drones, and faction drones are very cost-effective (totally a viable option even for newbies).

      Plus, the Gallente T2 cruiser lineup is so bad, that the Isthar was already the only reason to train Gallente Cruiser V, and barely enough. As a Gallente pilot, I moved to Amarr T2 ships even before the Ishtar nerf. Well, with T2 cruisers you get also the very versatile T3 strategic... wait versatilty? Proteus? you can't put those two words in the same sentence, can you?

      I love how eve players like to comment on stuff they don't use in game. I laugh everytime I read that sentries can track frigates... I can have 5 gardes shooting a single NPC frigate orbiting me at 300m/s (not 3000) for like half an hour... and that's with 2 omnis with tracking scripts, in a Dominix.

      But yes, let's talk of what happens in fleets of 1000+ Ishtars, because you know, that's the only thing that eve players do.

    3. Given i don't PVE much with Domis, I'll have to take your wrd that omnis are too slow of cycle to be useful. But that was the same with the target painters as well, not long ago.

      Your point about the faction drones is valid; but the popularity of those and the Augmented (...kinda the deadspace drone, I suppose) and integrated drones, is a new thing. this seems to be tied into the hull bonuses, as there's no cost/benefit reason to deploy augmented hammerheads or faction drones on anything except a Gila or Rattlesnake or ishtar (c.f. navy Wardens, Wasps in AFKtars). For all other ships the marginal benefits and differences between Augmented and Faction drones and T2 drones is minimal, but with a 500% bonus even a small benefit is amplified significantly.

      Thirdly, I think you fall into the Faction = T2 argument too easily. T2 drones are close, but slightly, better than Faction drones. But what sets them apart besides the cost, is that you don't need to dunk 3 months into drone skills to rock Navy sentries. T2 sentires are a step above because you have spent the 21 days getting Sentry V and the 21 days getting drone interfacing 5. Etc. Etc.

      The cost of faction drones is dominated by FW LP cnversion arbitrage. Faction guns are available from LP stores but because people pay 2.8M per Navy Ogre, that dictates the ISK/LP rate, and when you go to the LP store to build faction ACs or Blasters, you find out you're cutting off your nose to spite your face and losing money. Thus, if you do foolishly build a navy AC it has to sell for 30M ISK even though it's slightly worse than the T2. Unlike drones, the skill training into T2 guns isn't that onerous, hence there's little reason to blow 240M on a rack of faction guns. better to blow 240M on faction lows and plod around for 2 weeks till T2 mediums.

      As for the Deimos vs ishtar thing, you obviously misapprehend the Deimos as a fleet vessel. it is a brawler, and short optimals exclude you from fleet combat. So that's the end of that. But the Deimos, as a brawler, can fit a stupid tank, cap stable, with luxury. The deimos is a much better solo ship than the ishtar because (barring being blobbed) whatever it can catch it can tank, and whatever it can tank it can kill. Right up to and including battleships.

      Your final sentence is also erroneous. I am not talking solely 100 man ishtar blobs here. The power of drone boats has increased such that they are viable from solo, to small gang, to fleet work. A Gila is a powerful cruiser alone, in numbers from 2-10, and in gangs >10. ishtars are painful to fight if they drop their drones and kite away. This is apparent to anyone who has fought a competent ishtar pilot. Maybe it's not you, but I have to consider all situations, not just blob warfare.


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