Everyone who engages in PvP regularly will have stories to tell of some of the awesome fights he's had, but in truth they're few and far between. For every fight so spectacular that its story is retold for years, there are hundreds of quiet nights, failed roams, and encounters that end in disaster. Lowsec is particularly troublesome as the lack of warp disruption fields can make it hard to deprive enemies of an escape route and get them to actually fight. Warp bubbles bring their own problems, so what can be done to add more PvP opportunities to lowsec without allowing players to use area-effect warp disruption?
In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at some of the factors that prevent good fights and stifle PvP in lowsec.
Warping to zero
In EVE's early years, players automatically dropped out of warp 12km to 15km away from objects like stations and stargates. You had to cross that gap in order to jump to the next system, and the enemy could either slow you down enough to stop you reaching the gate or catch you on the other side. Players eventually started bypassing this mechanic by making "instajump" bookmarks 10km to 15km past the object they wanted to warp to so that they'd come out of warp right on top of it. Bookmarks were created for important trade routes at first, but eventually entire regions were mapped out and sold as sets.
In response, CCP introduced the ability to warp straight to any object without bookmarks, reducing travel times significantly and removing some opportunity for PvP. Since players are untargettable during warp and for a short time afterward, catching someone at a lowsec stargate now exclusively relies on warp scrambling him before he aligns to warp. Even now years later, I can't help feeling that warp-to-zero was an ill-conceived hack that robs us of a lot of combat opportunities. It's probably too late to change this back as attitudes toward the feature have changed over the years, but I think something should still be done to slow ships down and give more opportunities for PvP.
Jump drives and logistics
Originally, if you needed something moved from one system to another, you had to haul it through the stargates in a standard industrial ship or freighter. I used to spend hours per week hauling starbase fuel and advanced materials through the dangerous nullsec pipe into Querious, not because it was easy or cost effective but because it was literally the only option available. I remember when nullsec alliances would organise freighter convoys with fleet escorts to ward off pirates. Rival alliances would figure out each other's freighter run times and stage counter-fleets to destroy the freighter or just get a good fight.
In 2005, CCP released the first ship with a jump drive and all that started to change. Players used Dreadnoughts to haul valuable cargo with far less risk by bypassing stargates altogether, gradually putting a damper on piracy as the most expensive hauls took place in the background and could never be intercepted. Players will overwhelmingly choose an option that makes them safer from PvP, and jump drives ensured that important hauls no longer needed to travel via stargates. It may be too late to put this djinn back in its bottle as jump freighters and jump bridges are now integral parts of the game, but I can't help lamenting lost PvP opportunities in freighter convoys and escort fleets.
Staying in one place
If you've been on small gang roams in lowsec as a pirate or as part of faction warfare, you'll notice that you just barely miss a lot of potential targets. They'll narrowly manage to warp out before you can target them, or they'll jump into a system as you're jumping out. You could tell yourself that it's just unlucky timing, but it's actually because you and your enemy don't stay in one place long enough to engage each other. If you're roaming around lowsec looking for targets, most of the time you're invulnerable in a warp tunnel. You're only actually vulnerable to attack while aligning to warp to the next gate, which is a tiny percentage of the time.
For two players or fleets to clash, their few seconds of vulnerability every couple of minutes have to overlap. Add in the time it takes to target, approach, and warp scramble a ship, and you can see why fights are hard to force on stargates in lowsec. Unless the time spent being vulnerable at each stargate is increased, it's always going to be rare to catch someone without waiting for him or camping. Reverting the warp-to-zero change or increasing ship align times would help with this, but neither solution is particularly palatable.
The obvious solution is to give players focal points to PvP over, but there's yet to be a good implementation of that idea in lowsec. CCP tried to use faction warfare complexes as flashpoints for PvP and even built different sizes of complex to limit the size of ships that could enter, but it didn't work as players just warp out and abandon the site as soon as enemies appear. Asteroid belts and cosmic anomalies could serve a similar purpose, but there's nothing stopping people from warping out when neutrals or hostiles enter the system. As long as players can warp out before their task is complete without passing their pursuers, PvP focal points will never work. Perhaps complexes should warp disrupt everyone inside and force them to leave via an acceleration gate.
It's ultimately up to CCP to decide what steps to take on the game design level, but what can we do ourselves to get more of those memorable fights that make EVE PvP so special? In next week's EVE Evolved article, I'll continue this thought with some practical advice on ways to get people to commit to a good fight in spite of the game mechanics, from the good old-fashioned bait-and-switch to an interesting cloak trick for pirates.
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.