EVE Evolved: Retribution 1.1 and armour tanking

EVE Evolved title image
While MMO characters typically fall into specialised tank, healer, and damage-dealing roles, most ships in EVE Online are a combination of all three. Fitting a ship for PvP is a careful balancing act between survivability and damage, as it doesn't matter how much damage you can deal if you don't stay alive long enough to apply it. Active tanking setups that focus on repairing damage have unfortunately seen very limited use in PvP, being effective only in solo fights and very small-scale gang warfare. In most fights, a passive buffer tank that just maximises effective hitpoints will last longer than any active setup.

The Inferno expansion helped to solve this problem with its new Ancillary Shield Boosters that consume cap booster charges for a huge burst of shield hitpoints. Tuesday's Retribution 1.1 patch now aims to level the playing field for armour users with the introduction of new Ancillary Armor Repairers and a series of balance changes to armour plates, rigs, and standard repairers. The patch should hopefully give gank battlecruisers and tech 2 cruisers the speed they need to compete in PvP and may even make some interesting active armour tanking setups viable.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at the role of tanking in PvP today and the tanking changes coming in Tuesday's Retribution 1.1 patch.

EVE Evolved side imageWhy is passive tanking preferred in PvP?

Active tanking setups with shield boosters and armour repairers are popular with mission-runners who need to run a sustainable tank for a long duration, but the same doesn't really work in PvP. Player ships deal a lot more damage than NPCs, and there's nothing to stop an entire fleet of ships from focusing its attacks on one target at a time, so most ships last only a few seconds or minutes in a firefight. A good fleet commander will capitalise on this by selecting high-priority targets in the enemy fleet that will easily die to focus fire.

All but the smallest PvP battles are fought as wars of attrition or employ more efficient remote repair strategies to keep targeted ships alive. There's a finite limit to the amount of damage any ship can repair per second on its own, and armour repairers are much too slow-acting to repair large bursts of damage. The more damage a ship takesover its repair limit, the more quickly the ship will die and the less time it'll be able to spend repairing over the course of the battle. The fact that ships don't usually last long under fire makes active tanks significantly less effective in PvP and is also the reason that PvP setups don't really need to be capacitor-stable.

Hitpoints repaired during a battle can be thought of as extra hitpoints on top of the ship's maximum as they must be depleted again before the ship will be destroyed, so we can directly compare the effectiveness of active and passive tanks for a given fight by adding the amount repaired over the fight to your starting hitpoints. Active tanking usually comes out on top in this calculation against only one or two enemies as the amount you repair is a significant portion of the incoming damage. Most battles are large enough that a passive buffer tank that ignores repairing in favour of frontloading a fixed amount of extra effective hitpoints will come out on top.

EVE Evolved side imageActive tanking in PvP

Active tanking has traditionally been limited to solo and extremely small gang warfare, but even on those scales most ships aren't up to the task. Specialised fits like the dual-rep Dominix and triple-rep Myrmidon have proven highly effective against small groups, and the tank Incursus is a tough little frigate, but for most ships a buffer tank is currently the only realistic option.

Before the introduction of Ancillary Shield Boosters, Caldari and Minmatar ships were usually set up with shield extenders and hardeners to maximise effective shield hitpoints. The idea behind the ASB was to provide a huge burst tank that allowed ships to stay alive against larger groups of enemies but only for a few minutes until its cap booster charges ran out. The module was extremely popular with pirates, faction warfare militiamen, and wormhole corporations facing small-scale PvP, making active shield tanking viable against an increased number of enemies.

The new Ancillary Armor Repairers will use a similar mechanic, consuming nanite repair paste to dramatically increase the repair amount. You can run only one of these modules per ship, and it takes a whopping 30 seconds to reload new nanite paste once it runs out, but you can pair it with a normal repairer or armour plate to help keep you alive until the reload is complete.

EVE Evolved side imageArmour plate and rig buffs

One of the big problems with armour tanks in PvP today is that armour plates add extra mass to the ship, and armour rigs decrease ship speed by a percentage. The ships that rely on armour tanks most in PvP are typically Gallente, Amarr, and some Minmatar vessels that use close-range weapons and so need good speed and agility to quickly close into optimal weapons range. Retribution 1.1 aims to solve both of these problems with mass reductions on armour plates and some interesting buffs to armour repairers and active armour rigs.

The mass on 800mm, 200mm, and 50mm plates will be reduced by a flat 20%, and a new Armor Honeycombing skill will decrease all armour plate mass by an additional 5% per level. Cruiser and battlecruiser setups with an 800mm plate and a microwarpdrive will be significantly faster and more agile post-patch, which is good news for the humble Thorax and gank Brutix! To make active tanks more viable on gank ships, CCP is also reducing the powergrid requirements on medium armour repairers by 20% and swapping the speed penalty on the Auxiliary Nano Pump and Nanobot Accelerator rigs for an increase in repairer powergrid requirements.

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Tanking in PvP has always meant cramming as many effective hitpoints into your ship as you could without dropping too much damage. Even if your fleet is using logistics ships and carriers to keep ships alive, each ship still has to fit enough buffer tank to survive until remote repairers can be applied. A few active tanking setups have carved out niche roles in piracy and small-gang warfare, but very few battles were small enough to make them feasible.

The new Ancillary Armor Repairers seem set to change all that by offering an effective active armour tanking option for much larger fights. They'll undoubtedly be most useful in faction warfare, wormhole PvP, and corporate wars, which all tend naturally toward smaller scale fights. The changes to armour plate mass and rigs will benefit battlecruisers and cruisers the most, helping close-range setups get into range and making active tanking setups a lot more feasible.

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.