At FanFest 2018, CCP announced Into the Abyss, featuring the Triglavian Collective and their Entropic weaponry, the first shipline to be released since Command Destroyers, back in December 2015. At the keynote, Abyssal deadspace, and Mutaplasmids were also announced. This keynote presentation has resulted in the most discussion and controversy of any patch in recent memory, with most of the controversy focusing on two aspects of the expansion.
The first is that Abyssal sites are ran in instanced deadspace. This is controversial because part of core ethos of Eve was that players were always at risk of hostile action while in space. Even in highsec, players can be ganked either for profit, or simply just to be griefed. “Don’t undock what you’re not prepared to lose,” is among the first advice that new players receive when entering Eve. What’s implied here is that a player should always be at risk of being killed by a third party while in space. The second issue is that for a number of reasons, the power creep that mutaplasmids bring is severely detrimental to both the long and short term health of the game. Mutaplasmids also make it now nearly impossible for CCP’s developers to effectively balance ships and modules in a meaningful way, and break a number of existing mechanics and interactions.
It’s important to understand why it is that CCP decided to create Abyssal deadspace. One of the motivating factors is that players will re-subscribe or continue to play to fly the new ships, and many players will use skill injectors to train Precursor hulls and their respective entropic disruptors. Additionally, an excellent tool to attract new users and retain existing players is to introduce new graphical environments. The primary reason however, is that Eve needs new forms of PvE to remain relevant.
The Current PvE Problem
One of the common complaints about the accessibility of Eve is that it’s difficult for players, especially newer players that CCP is trying to retain, to play casually in shorts stints with fairly low commitment. This is exacerbated by the fact that the PvE sites that the bulk of the playerbase interacts with such as missions, ratting and incursions are extremely dated content and are relatively low in terms of both interactivity and player agency compared to the rest of the MMO market. As is, missions and ratting content boils down to deploying drones and turning on a propulsion module, which is a major turn off not only for a large segment of existing players, but newer players who can find much more interesting and engaging PvE in other games.
Into the Abyss is a patch that is clearly the result of market research and design implementation whose goal it is to address certain player activity/usage metrics and solve the current PvE problem. The combination of procedurally generated sites alongside the 20 minute timer ensures that the user experience is varied and can be ran with a fairly low level of time commitment from the player. Additionally, these sites can be ran in any type of space, something that’s fairly unique. As a result, the Abyss is accessible to the entire player base in a way that no other form of PvE content is. The concept of accessible sites that scale in difficulty is something that the player base is excited about, as evidenced by the level of engagement with the new feature, but there’s some serious problems with the current implementation.
The optimal way to run Abyssal sites is in a wormhole with critical mass, a dead end system in nullsec with a bubble camp, or a low traffic system in high or low security space. In other words, by minimizing your chances of actually having to interact with another player. On top of this, these sites also allow players to escape danger for 20 minutes by activating a filament and waiting for support to arrive, or for capitals to reach a midpoint.
One of the issues that Eve has always has is that it’s incredibly difficult to design against the n+1 problem. In an open world sandbox, a player can always bring allies or alts to assist. By way of addressing this, Abyssal sites prevent anyone else from entering the deadspace site, as having support inside the site would make it far too easy to complete. While instancing can function in open world full loot games, such as Hellgates in Albion Online, it’s problematic in Eve, as there’s next to no counterplay or meaningful interaction for a would-be aggressor.
CCP has invested heavily in creating both the environments that host Abyssal deadspace, as well as the core AI branch that Abyssal NPCs run off of. As indicated in CCP’s recent AMA, the current sites are the first step in CCP’s vision for Abyssal space, and they plan on allowing for hostile action in future content. CCP has invested far too much development time and effort to not expand upon Abyssal space. Group play is desirable because individuals who make friends and build relationships are far more likely to remain interested and continue to play Eve. I mentioned Albion’s Hellgates because they’re the logical conclusion for CCP to take, and because it’s much easier to justify investing development time when another MMO has already demonstrated that the proof of concept works. For those of you who were wondering “what ever happened to the new type of space and player built stargates that were brought up at Fanfest half a decade ago or Dojos” this is possibly it.
Hellgates are 2 or 5 man instanced dungeons that are accessed by killing a demon who guards a portal to “Hell”. These dungeons take a significant amount of time to clear, and as soon as one is activated, the next team to kill a portal demon is sent into the same “Hell.” Teams are forced to kill each other if they wish to clear the dungeon and kill the boss. Upon killing the boss, the winning team is returned to the location that they entered from. While I’ve been critical of Albion in the past, there are some crucial mechanical implementations that allow this to exist in a sandbox full loot MMO.
First, these portal demons are in fixed locations, as opposed to Abyssal space being accessible from any location in Eve. Secondly, these locations are marked via a portal on the minimap and upon killing the demon, the portal icon disappears, indicating that a team is inside. Hellgate runners are at risk of being attacked upon exiting “Hell” in a way that Abyssal runners are not. I’m not in favor of instancing in Eve as a design philosophy, but if it’s the direction that CCP is taking, I’d prefer that there be PvP encounters inside of these sites, and that meaningful counterplay exists when players leave these sites. Rewards should involve a corresponding level of risk.
A Different Kind of Hell
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Mutaplasmids are the most deleterious mechanic to be introduced in the last half decade. This is because the degree to which modules can be modified introduces significant power creep and fundamentally breaks gameplay on nearly every scale from solo PvP roaming up until bloc level warfare, and because it’s now nearly impossible to balance ships and modules in a meaningful way. This is why this type of attribute rerolling is typically only seen in ARPGs such as Diablo and Path of Exile, or non-sandbox MMOs.
Let’s rewind the clock back to the time before the Svipul was nerfed. The Svipul was problematic because it had frigate level agility, the damage output/tank of a cruiser, the resistance profile of a Strategic Cruiser, excellent sensors, and enough CPU/Powergrid to fit everything a player could ever want. As a result, the hull’s existence made other ships irrelevant, and as a result the meaningful decisions that players had were reduced.
On the all too rare occasions that CCP’s developers have been allocated time to rebalance ships and modules, the above are all attributes that can modified to tone down an over-performing hull or to make a ship more competitive. The problem that arises in a world with mutated modules is this: If CCP balances against the current T2 and faction modules, I as a player can completely sidestep their efforts by simply using mutated modules with lower fitting requirements. Every single subcapital in Eve now has the “Svipul problem.” Conversely, if they decide to tone down ships to balance against mutated modules, every player that isn’t running abyssal modules is significantly less competitive as they struggle to make a viable fit.
One of the primary reasons that shield slaves still haven’t been introduced years after they’ve been announced is because CCP’s development team has to look at possible problematic use cases before they can be implemented. If they aren’t being given enough resources to make sure that there aren’t game breaking bugbears that would arise as a result of shield slaves, and had to delay the rebalancing of Heavy Assault Cruisers to some indeterminate point in the future, then looking at the possible permutations of abyssal modules is almost certainly never going to happen.
It was implied at Fanfest, and recently confirmed in the Abyssal AMA that rolls on mutated modules would follow a flat statistical distribution, meaning that every outcome is equally likely to occur. With such a massive range existing in the possible rolls of mutated modules, extremely powerful modules will become relatively commonplace. This has some fairly disastrous implications for the PvP ecosystem and the faction/deadspace module economy.
One of the more obvious problems is that Recons become monsters overnight, and therefore restrict the number of viable fleet or roaming compositions. The more powerful mid/long range tackle options are, the more difficult it becomes to justify using close range compositions. The Huginn can currently web out to roughly 100km as is, and goes out further with implants. Towards the upper range of possible roles you end up with a ship that webs at 120km, or 4/5’th of the minimum warp distance. You may notice that the officer modules that I’ve used to represent mutated modules don’t actually fit, and that’s a core balancing decision that was made years ago. Officer tackle modules were designed such that they could only fit to some very niche Strategic Cruiser builds that sacrifice tank, Battleships and Capitals because they’re simply much too powerful to be allowed on Recons.
Stasis webifiers additionally can receive a velocity strength bonus to make long range webs even more effective. There’s a number of problems with this, one of the more noticeable examples being that Serpentis hulls can reduce a hostiles velocity by 99% with a single stasis webifier. This incredibly problematic not just in small gang and solo scenarios, but also in wormhole brawls. Stacking even 66% webs results in use cases where HAWs as a weapon platform are obsolete since dreadnaughts have little trouble applying damage with anti-capital weapons.
When velocity bonuses are combined with signature modifiers to microwarpdrives alongside a signature reduction to shield extenders, the result is Interceptors being so fast and small that they’re nearly uncatchable, have massive damage mitigation, and can outrun missiles. The Orthrus uses these microwarpdrives and modified faction warp disruptors to become Alliance Tournament prize ship levels of ridiculous. I could continue to list completely broken use cases for each and every module class and this blogpost would be twice as long.
The Alliance Tournament flagship rules permit abyssal modules as a means to promote the patch, and the obvious implications this could have for already strong flagship local tanks in particular alleviates my disappointment over my commentator application being declined a little when I consider the prospect of feigning excitement while a flagship tanks half the match.
Into the Abyss is a patch that attempts to bring Eve’s PvE into the current decade, but unfortunately comes with the price of degenerating core gameplay and interactions in a way that’s next to impossible to recover from. At this point I’m very much inclined to believe that this excerpt from the winter CSM minutes were a direct warning of things to come. I’d be pretty terrible at space politics if I didn’t mention that the CSM elections are ongoing. If you as a reader like the content and feel that I would be a solid representative for the playerbase and to promote the health of Eve, I’d ask that you consider voting for me.