EVE Evolved title image
Recently we heard the glorious news that CCP will be overhauling EVE Online's entire roster of tech 1 ships as part of the Inferno expansion. The overhaul will start with changes to the skill requirements for destroyers and battlecruisers and culminate in the complete removal of ship tiers and the introduction of new structured ship lines. Countless new ship types have been released since EVE launched in 2003, but there has never really been a unifying design policy on ship skills and combat roles. Now, eight years down the line, adding new ships has become a struggle in avoiding making older ones obsolete. Drastic change is needed, and when the Inferno expansion hits, that's exactly what we'll get.

When a new EVE player is ready to get into something larger than a frigate, he's currently faced with the choice of training for a destroyer or skipping it and heading straight to cruisers. Similarly, players often skip from cruisers straight to slow, bulky battleships even though battlecruisers are probably the most effective ship class for new pilots. A new system is on the way this summer, one that aims to fix this problem by introducing new racial versions of the destroyer and battlecruiser skills that must be trained on the way to bigger ships. This change should make training progression much clearer for new pilots and is just the tip of the iceberg of awesome plans in the works for the summer expansion.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I examine EVE Online's upcoming ship revamp and tell you how you may be able to get free skillpoints when the patch goes live.

EVE Evolved side imageGetting rid of tiers

When EVE was young, having progression within the frigate, cruiser, and battleship ship classes made a lot of sense. Higher tier ships have more module slots, more hitpoints and all-round better stats than their lower tier counterparts but also cost significantly more ISK to build and lose. Nowadays, that cost trade-off has largely disappeared in small ships due to ISK inflation, and the difference in cost between the various tiers of larger ships still won't be a major consideration. People now select tech 1 ships almost exclusively based on the ship's competence in specific roles, like the blackbird for electronic warfare or the Dominix for energy neutraliser support.

Unfortunately, this leaves quite a few ships that are simply sub-par choices in most situations. The Incursus makes the Atron practically obsolete, for example, and when's the last time you saw a Ferox, Bellicose, or Exequror in PvP? It makes far more sense to completely remove the tier system and instead specialise ships into particular roles, which is exactly what CCP has in mind. It's likely that all ships will be brought up to the same rough power level as others of the same class; for example, the Gallente Exequror and Celestis will probably end up with similar stats to the Thorax but be differentiated according to role.

EVE Evolved side imageNew ship lines

The removal of tiers presents a small problem for ships that will have overlapping roles after the change. The Slasher's only job in EVE is to be a cheap-as-hell combat frigate, and if tiers are removed, then it will share roles with the Rifter and one of the two ships will be the mathematically sub-par choice in almost every situation. To solve this problem, CCP plans tailor each to a specific combat role. The Slasher might end up being a specialised tackler, for example, while the Rifter could remain a heavy-hitting combat ship.

Ship lines will likely be based on natural PvP roles that players currently select ships for, such as sniper battleships, electronic warfare cruisers, or gank cruisers. This opens up some interesting possibilities, as there would be gaps to fill in each race's portfolio of ships. The Scorpion is currently the only electronic warfare battleship, and the Dominix is the only drone-focused battleship. There's no reason every race couldn't have its own specialist support battleship like the Scorpion, and the Amarr should definitely have a drone battleship like the Dominix.

We could even get a missile-based Minmatar battlecruiser or an Amarr energy neutraliser support battlecruiser. Most importantly, identifying specific roles for ships means each ship can get the bonuses it desperately needs to be useful in PvP. The Brutix might finally get the speed it needs to close in to blaster range, and the Ferox might finally get enough damage or range out of hybrids to be a viable blaster boat or sniper.

EVE Evolved side imageNew skills

In his devblog, CCP Ytterbium hinted that once ships have been assigned to ship lines, we might get additional skills that affect only a specific line of ships. Attack ships might have new skills to increase stats like base speed, damage output, turret tracking, or missile explosion velocity. Support vessel skills might focus on electronic warfare and energy neutralisation or reduce the powergrid and CPU requirements of energy transfers, remote armour repairers, and shield transporters. This would certainly let people specialise more easily and give clearer training paths for new players who enjoy a particular playstyle.

This new system would come with one hell of a down-side, though, as ships operating in roles outside the one assigned by CCP would be at a disadvantage. That would be a real shame, as it would take away a little bit of EVE's sandbox freedom. EVE is full of examples of people using ships for purposes other than their intended uses, such as the remote repair Dominix or the infamous Battle-Rorqual. I'm not sure I'd want to give that up for the intangible benefits of slightly improved specialisation.

EVE Evolved title image
This huge ship shakedown is something EVE has needed for several years, and I'm glad it's finally coming. Under the current tiered system, it's difficult to add new ships without making older ships obsolete. With ships split into categories based on combat role, there will finally be room to develop additional ships of any class without upsetting game balance. Hopefully we'll see some new ships this summer; we might even get new destroyers and cruisers for the first time in over seven years.

Interestingly, it may be possible to actually get some free skillpoints when the first Inferno patch hits Tranquility. As a new racial skill will be required to fly any battlecruiser or destroyer, players expressed concerns about losing access to ships they could already fly. CCP Soundwave countered concerns with a promise that that players wouldn't lose access to their ships, and CCP Ytterbium later confirmed that having Battlecruisers at level 5 before the patch "would mean you get all four variations at 5" on patch day. In response, players have begun training the Battlecruisers and Destroyers skills to level 5 and all racial frigate and cruiser skills to level 3.

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 brendan@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.