EVE Evolved: Lowsec isn't impenetrable

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When EVE Online was created, one of its core design philosophies was the idea of risk vs. reward -- that higher-value activities should expose the player to greater risk of loss. This rule naturally follows from how the world of business and competition works in real life, and I think it will always arise organically from sandbox MMOs with limited resources. If something's risk-free and easy to do, you can bet there are countless other people already doing it and squeezing the profit margins. This idea was also built into EVE at a fundamental level, with the galaxy split into police-protected high-security systems, the pirate-infested low-security borders between nations, and the chaotic uncolonised wilderness of nullsec.

The steep step up in risk when transitioning from high- to low-security space has always been a major point of contention with gamers, as those who don't know any better often charge straight into deep space to their deaths. The story of the newbie working his way up to get his first cruiser or battlecruiser and then losing it to pirates is repeated so often on forums and in the comments sections of articles that it's almost become a cliche. While the idea that pirates wait around every corner lingers on, this impenetrable barrier hiding all the best content from new players no longer really exists. Through the addition of wormholes and the changes made in Rubicon, no star system is now off limits to a pilot with just a few months of skill training under his belt.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at what you can do to safely travel and operate in EVE's dangerous areas, why the barrier into low-security space needs to remain low for new players, and how CCP has expanded the EVE universe through the introduction of riskier areas of space.

Game side imageWhy should lowsec be safe?

The original setup for lowsec was that the space outside the stations and stargates would be relatively safe but that pirates could hunt you in the asteroid belts. New ships and tech 2 modules introduced in the years following launch made it a lot easier to tank the sentry guns at stations and gates, and the sentry damage didn't increase to compensate.

Gatecamps at the entry points into lowsec became commonplace in EVE's early years, putting up a very real barrier that new players just couldn't penetrate. The problem was amplified doubly for nullsec thanks to warp disruption bubbles stopping you dead in your tracks, and every alliance worth its salt had an intelligence channel to report on and track unknown pilots crossing the borders into its territory. In the years following EVE's launch, the stargates out of highsec quickly became walls into which new players would smash their shiny new toys in the pursuit of progress.

Part of EVE's progression system is naturally in training for larger and better ships and using that to acquire even more ISK, but a lot of the most valuable content is purposely confined to dangerous areas of space. To a new player who doesn't know how to stay safe or doesn't have the skills to use the appropriate ships and modules, most of the universe may as well be marked "off limits" and sat behind an impenetrable wall of bad guys. I've spoken to far too many solo players over the years who believed that the wall was real and never dared leave highsec for fear that pirates lurk around every corner, but today the tools required to stay safe are readily available.

Game side imageSpace is safer than you think

Despite the horror stories ex-players still repeat to this day, it's never been safer to visit low-security space and nullsec than it is now. Many of the stargates that used to be chokepoints have been replaced with massive region gates that are far too large for a small group to reliably camp, and Rubicon's interceptor overhaul has made them the perfect tool for scouting ahead and checking if the coast is clear. They now have the warp acceleration to outrun and evade any other ship class in the game, the agility to avoid being locked by almost anything before entering warp, and immunity to warp disruption bubbles.

You could travel from one end of nullsec to the other in an interceptor and there's very little anyone can do to stop you. But for those with more skill training under their belts and a little ISK to hand, tech 3 strategic cruisers are now extremely practical exploration ships. Fit one with the Interdiction Nullifier and Covert Reconfiguration subsystems and it'll be able to warp while cloaked with a Covert Ops Cloaking Device II and also ignore warp disruption bubbles. The trick to staying safe while travelling in this ship is to hit the cloak button immediately after issuing the command to warp to the next stargate. You'll be visible for only a split second, which isn't long enough for anyone to target you.

This ship is virtually unstoppable in lowsec, but some hunters in nullsec have trained themselves to spot your ship in that split second it's visible and ram you to decloak you. A few warp core stabilisers and inertia stabilisers in the low slots will usually take care of that problem, but that fitting won't be viable on a combat ship you plan to use to take to exploration sites. That's where the new Mobile Depot comes in, as you can actually now refit a tech 3 ship's subsystems at a Mobile Depot. When you get to a nice empty system, simply plonk your depot down somewhere out of sight and refit into a combat setup, then switch back when it's time to move on.

Game side imageExpanding space and bypassing the gatecamps

Most of the current galaxy was created back when EVE's citizens numbered only 40,000, and today over 10 times that number squeezed into New Eden. CCP has tried several strategies for expanding space in its quest to give more players access to high-end content, but they haven't all worked as planned. When the Drone regions were first opened back in 2006, for example, existing nullsec alliances just rushed in to fill the void and very little else changed. For the average joe plodding along in high-security space, the galaxy didn't appear to get any bigger.

It wasn't until 2009's Apocrypha expansion that we saw a really successful expansion of space, with 1,499 new Sleeper solar systems opening to players from all across the galaxy. Accessible only through temporary and ever-shifting wormholes, Sleeper space has the same lawless ruleset as nullsec but the added risk of hidden threats appearing from nowhere. Player names don't show up in the local channel until a pilot talks, so cloaked ships can appear right on top of you without warning, and new wormholes can open into your system from aggressive neighbours at any time. Rather than expand the game horizontally by adding more solar systems to the game's existing security levels, CCP added an entirely new and more dangerous security level beyond nullsec.

At the same time as this frightening new world to explore became available, wormholes opened up the rest of the galaxy to players who ordinarily wouldn't leave highsec. For the first time, anyone in a covert ops frigate could safely find a path deep into lowsec or nullsec that bypassed all the chokepoints and gatecamps. You could slip in and out of a system almost unnoticed, and pursuers couldn't follow you back unless they'd taken the time to scan down the same wormholes. That advantage persists to this day, and all it requires is a core probe launcher and a little patience.

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EVE's most valuable PvE content is located in low-security space, nullsec, and wormhole space, but the vast majority of players still cling to the safety of highsec. The past few years of expansions have slowly eroded the previously impenetrable barrier between security levels, offering new ways to move through previously dangerous areas with impunity or sneak in and out undetected through wormholes.

Rubicon has made long-term exploration of lowsec and nullsec even easier with the Interceptor overhaul and the new Mobile Depot that allows refitting in space. If you've quit EVE before because you got bored of life in highsec or lost an important ship to piracy, now might be a good opportunity to give it another go and explore in relative safety.

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.