Exploration is one of those things that spans players of all skill levels, with new players able to make a useful contribution and group up with older veterans. Within a week of starting the game, new players can be locating hidden complexes, doing battle with the local NPCs and hopefully finding some valuable loot. Although exploration sites use the same deadspace dungeon and combat mechanics as missions, there are a few key differences. While missions can be created at will by going to an agent NPC, exploration sites spawn randomly in space and have to be manually scanned down using probes.
In this week's first part of the EVE Evolved guide to exploration, I look at the ships and equipment you'll need, and the scanning techniques typically used to find hidden exploration sites.
From newbie to complex-hunter
Exploration is something that any player can do, regardless of skill level. Of all the casual PvE elements in EVE that I've introduced new players to, exploration has consistently been the one they've found the most fun. It's particularly good for very new players who want to join in with an older veteran. The new player can focus on scanning for exploration sites while the veteran player can complete them. Although it doesn't provide a steady stream of ISK the way missions do, the chance of finding a rare site and scoring some expensive deadspace loot makes up for the downfall.
Sites spawn in all security levels of space, with easier challenges for players in high-security space and tougher sites in lowsec and nullsec. The tougher sites will have more valuable loot and higher NPC bounties, making it worth your while to venture into the unknown. Any ship with a spare high slot can be used for exploration, as all that's required is a "Core Probe Launcher I" loaded with "Core Scanner Probe I"s. Although this means you can scan using your combat ship, some of the best sites will be difficult to pinpoint. A much more viable alternative is to set up a specialist scanning ship with which to find sites, then switch to your combat ship to complete them.
Each race has a specialised astrometrics frigate, which represents the entry-level ship for scanning. The Amarr Magnate, Caldari Heron, Gallente Imicus and Minmatar Probe each receive a 5% bonus to the strength of scan probes per level of its racial frigate skill. As frigates use small rigs, you can also kit out an astrometrics frigate with two "Gravity Capacitor Upgrade I"s for only a few hundred thousand ISK. Each one adds another 10% bonus to scan strength. Add an "Expanded Probe Launcher I" or "Core Probe Launcher I" to a spare high slot and you're ready to get scanning!
Exploration sites spawn randomly at points no further than 5AU from any planet in a system. Because planets tend to bunch together into a smaller area toward the centre of a solar system, sites tend to do the same. On entering a new system, launch a few probes and open the system map to move them into position. Set them to a very wide range and try to get coverage over every planet in the system out to a distance of at least 5AU. This initial scan will produce a list of every site in the system and their corresponding signal ID tags. The number of unique signal ID numbers indicates how many cosmic signatures and cosmic anomalies are in the system.
Minor cosmic anomalies full of NPC ships will always appear with a 100% signal strength, so you can warp to them right away or bookmark them from the scanner interface. Potentially more lucrative sites fall under the category of "cosmic signature" and will require extra effort to locate. Among all the different scanning techniques players use, the most common and effective method is to arrange four or five probes in a simple overlapping plus-shaped layout. Set the range of all your probes to 8AU and scan each planet in turn, working your way from the centre of the solar system to the outer-most planet.
When a signature appears as a red dot, move all of your probes at once by holding shift and dragging them on top of it. The dot indicates the best-known position of the signature, which contains a margin of error. To decrease the margin of error, your scan strength needs to be increased. After each scan, decrease the range of your probes and re-arrange them to ensure at least three or four of them overlap the signature's new location. With each drop in probe range, you'll see a corresponding increase in the strength of the signal you're scanning. Once you get a 100% signal lock, the site can be bookmarked or warped to.
While the entry-level astrometrics frigates are a good choice for exploration, each one has a corresponding tech 2 covert ops version. In addition to getting a 10% bonus to scan strength per level instead of 5%, they're able to fit covert ops cloaks and so can warp while cloaked. They're ideal for sneaking around low-security space in almost complete safety, while you look for valuable exploration sites. A popular alternative for richer players is a tech 3 strategic cruiser with the "Emergent Locus Analyzer" subsystem, which gives the same 10% bonus per level as the covert ops frigate.
A further 10% increase in scan strength can be obtained quite cheaply by buying a few "Sisters Core Scanner Probes," which cost less than a million ISK a piece. Pilots with a little more ISK might want also to shell out for a "Sisters Core Probe Launcher" or "Sisters Expanded Probe Launcher," either of which will increase scan strength by a further 5% for around 40 million ISK.
Dedicated scanners will benefit from adding a few hardwiring implants to their characters. The slot 6 "Poteque Pharmaceuticals 'Prospector' PPF" reduces scan deviation by 2%, 6% or 10% depending on which version you get. The slot 7 "Poteque Pharmaceuticals 'Prospector' PPG" is much less useful, reducing the already-short scan duration by 2%, 6% or 10%. Perhaps most useful is the slot 8 "Poteque Pharmaceuticals 'Prospector' PPH," which gives a straight 2%, 6% or 10% bonus to scan strength. For each implant, the cheap 2% variant costs only 3-5 million ISK, the 6% version will hit you for a more expensive 30-40 million and the 10% version will cost up to 200 million ISK. Those with a lot of ISK to burn might choose to invest in a full set of low-grade "Virtue" modified attribute implants. The full set will give a 33.83% bonus to scan strength, but at a whopping 2 billion ISK it may be a bit of a waste if all you plan to do is exploration.
Right from day one, new players can get into an astrometrics frigate and begin their exploration careers. While some pilots prefer the steady, reliable ISK-making potential of mission-running or nullsec ratting, nothing matches making a big find while exploring. In next week's second part of this guide to exploration, I'll look at the different types of hidden site you can find, and the challenges and loot that awaits you in each of them.
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.