Most of EVE's combat PvE content can be completed solo with the right set of equipment and skills. Level 1 and 2 missions are usually soloable in a frigate or destroyer, level 3 missions in a well-fit cruiser or battlecruiser, and level 4 missions in a well-fit battleship, tech 2 heavy assault cruiser, or command ship. Similarly, all exploration sites in high- or low-security space can be completed solo in a battlecruiser, and many nullsec sites are soloable in a well-fit battleship.
The soloability of so much of EVE's PvE content is due to a few fundamental differences between it and the MMO norm. Traditionally, difficult PvE content in MMOs compels players to take on the specialised roles of tank, healer and damage-dealer. EVE is a little different in that ships can be set up to perform all three roles at the same time. A ship's low or mid slots can be used for resistance gear and armour repairers or shield boosters, to reduce the incoming damage and heal whatever damage gets through. With high power slots being used for weapons, a ship can easily tank, repair and deal significant damage at the same time.
Group up for level 4 missions
While a lot of EVE's combat PvE encounters can be completed solo, they tend to take significantly less time in a group. With an older player tanking in an appropriately sized ship for the encounter, all other pilots in the group are free to fit high-damage setups to speed things up. Working as a team, a good group can fit many more level 4 missions into the space of an hour than all the pilots involved could do on their own. The added ability to take newer players along in damage-dealing cruisers or battlecruisers makes this a profitable and enjoyable group bonding exercise for corporations.
With one player needing to act as the group's main tank, coordination is essential. In EVE, aggro management is a very simple affair. Apart from the advanced Sleeper AI found in wormhole systems, NPCs in EVE never switch targets once they've picked one. For this reason, it's desirable to have the tank attack one NPC out of each group in the mission before any other ships warp in to assist. In the case of missions where extra waves of NPCs spawn, it may be beneficial to warp all damage-dealers out until the tank has re-secured aggression.
Level 5 missions
The current endgame for combat PvE in EVE would be the tough level 5 missions found in low-security space, exploration complexes in nullsec, and Sleeper sites in hidden wormhole systems. Exploration and sleeper sites are entire topics in themselves, ones that I've covered in previous articles. Some players boast the ability to complete level 5 missions solo in impressive passively tanked command ships, and a few allow capital ships to be used. Most, however, are best completed with a group composed of battleships, heavy assault ships or command ships.
Each pilot should ideally specialise his ship setup for one particular role. By fitting no armour repairer or shield booster, for example, the tank ship can fit extra resistance and hitpoint modules. Another ship can fit a few remote armour repairers or shield transfers in its high slots to take on a healer-style remote repair role. As long as the tank is the only one being attacked, the healer and damage-dealer ships can forgo a tank entirely, using their mid and low slots for modules to boost their capacitor recharge rate, damage, or other useful attributes. Since level 5 missions are only available in low-security space, it may also be helpful to post a cloaked guard in a neighbouring system to watch for possible incoming attacks.
The future soon
One of the big draws of EVE is the fact that putting so many players together in one big sandbox environment inevitably leads to some pretty interesting emergent gameplay. CCP made a good point of showing this emergent, unscripted gameplay in the two popular trailers The Butterfly Effect and Causality. The unscripted story that players create for themselves isn't something that's restricted to PvP or alliance politics. As I found out myself several years ago when running missions in the static COSMOS constellations, you make some interesting friends when forced to group with random pilots to get a job done.
This is something CCP seems to have noticed too. The Incursion expansion, scheduled to hit this Winter, will be introducing a new group PvE feature designed to encourage pilots to group up with strangers. The feature centres on the Sansha invasions that began several months ago, prompting pilots to coordinate efforts to repel the attacks. Depending on how the feature is implemented, these incursions could be a great way for PvE pilots to meet each other and a good endgame goal for them to work at together.
In a game as highly focused on PvP as EVE, it's easy to forget about the game's many PvE options. With ships able to specialise in different roles and no limit to the number of friends you can bring into an encounter, PvE is an area of EVE that's well-suited to group play. Although rewards are usually split between group members, the additional speed with which encounters can be completed often makes it more profitable to bring a few friends along. With continuing work on epic mission arcs and the upcoming Incursion expansion, it's clear CCP hasn't forgotten about PvE.
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.