Wednesday, May 8, 2024

EVE: Equinox And CCP's Plans For Null Sec

Yesterday CCP continued the Equinox hype train with a video and news article on the upcoming changes coming in EVE Online's summer expansion. Waking up to a new video was a pleasant surprise.

The developers went into greater detail about some of the planned changes. The one that snapped me wide awake is the substitution of customs offices in null security space with orbital skyhooks. My first thought was, "A lot of players are going to find out how Interbus felt when the customs offices were introduced." 

The changes will introduce three new structures to the game. The first, the aforementioned orbital skyhook, is required to obtain the resources needed to make the entire Equinox system work. In addition to existing planetary interaction resources, player groups will need skyhooks to obtain the new colony resources coming this June. But, importantly, only in player-owned null sec. The orbital skyhooks are not usable anywhere else.

Remember back during 2019's Chaos Era when CCP set the Drifters to attack the structures of the null sec powers? The developers did not abandon the idea. Orbital skyhooks will also attract NPC pirates.

Once an orbital skyhook is in place, capsuleers must be vigilant, as there's a periodic risk of encountering a Pirate Orbital Blockade. These blockades challenge players to either engage in combat with pirate NPCs, potentially at an officer level, including capital and supercapital ships, or run the blockade. Successfully lifting these blockades rewards pilots with ISK in addition to enhancing the defensive rating of the solar system. The blockades thus give capsuleers more opportunities to tackle powerful pirate NPCs for impressive rewards. 

I'm not sure how the PvP focused players in null sec will handle having to defend their space from NPCs. Hopefully the pirate AI has improved over the past 5 years.

The next structure is something I've wanted to see for a long time. CCP is finally replacing the territorial control unit and infrastructure hub to create the sovereignty hub. As someone who tried following null sec wars, the territorial control unit never made sense. Combining the two into one structure makes a lot more sense. I think though, the move gave the developers an opportunity (or excuse) to revamp the old I-Hub upgrades. The following examples sound a lot more powerful and tempting than the existing upgrades.

One example of improved sovereignty upgrades is the addition of a new, harder combat anomaly for the Pirate Detection Array upgrade. Furthermore, all sites detected by this array will now have a chance to escalate, with some having the possibility of capital or even officer escalations. 

Another upgrade will allow the detection of previously undiscovered ores, allowing sovereign nullsec leaders to choose what minerals their system will provide, potentially reducing manufacturing bottlenecks and shaping space to suit their needs. 

Once again, we are seeing efforts from CCP to add new PvE content to null sec. We will need to see what the effects on the economy are over the rest of the year.

The final structure breaks the pattern of null sec only content as players can deploy the new Metenox moon drill in any place moon mining is possible. CCP's vision for the structure follows:

The Metenox may be less efficient than manual extraction by players using an Athanor or Tatara, but instead, it slowly collects the resources obtained from mining and refining moon ore in an automated fashion. This gives smaller alliances and corporations normally more focused on aggression the ability to mine moons, even if they lack the necessary manpower. For those groups that do have the manpower, they can focus their attention on the high-value moons while the Metenox takes care of the lower value ones.
The Metenox moon drill is a throwback to the pre-Upwell passive moon mining POS. In those days, moon mining was a cause for fights as often the ISK generated from the moon did not pay for the defense of the moon, especially in low sec. But this latest iteration has a twist: running the Metenox requires reagents, one of the new null sec only resources harvestable with the presence of an orbital skyhook. The availability of reagents will deterine the use of the Metenox moon drill outside null sec.

Speaking of regeants, now is a good time to discuss the new colony resources found only in null security space: power, workforce and reagents. Once again I'll let the developers explain.
Power comes from suns or plasma and storm planets. It is a hard limitation within each system, which determines how many upgrades your sovereignty hub can support and run. Workforce consists of the people, specialists, and tools required to run these upgrades. This is a soft limitation and can be transferred between systems, however certain conditions apply. Reagents are two new fuel types, extracted from ice and lava planets. They are used to fuel sovereignty upgrades and to run the Metenox moon drill, and are freely exchangeable, opening new market opportunities for entrepreneurial capsuleers. 

Once the resources have been extracted, power and workforce will become available in the sovereignty hub, while reagents must be collected and distributed. 
The change to make planets and not just base security status important may have knock on effects. The devs may think they know, but until the leadership of the various major and minor null sec powers examine the space geography, I wouldn't think to guess what the forms of those changes will take. CCP, on the other hand, decided to publicize the goals of the new colony resource system.
Perceptive pilots will notice that power is somewhat of a baseline resource, while the other two offer more opportunities for disruption. As power and workforce will be required for sovereignty upgrades, fresh opportunities will emerge for those looking to sabotage and disrupt by choosing to destroy orbital skyhooks. These structures function similarly to medium Upwell structures with a single shield reinforcement and damage caps on armor and hull, and will continue working while reinforced. 

Additionally, a new form of hit-and-run activity is being added around the orbital skyhooks, allowing pilots to hack into them in the style of ESS heists, enabling them to steal resources and sell them off. Reagents will have a period of maturation within the structure, ensuring that they will always be somewhat vulnerable to theft. 

Throwing enemies’ workforce into disarray by attacking a sovereignty hub’s Workforce Transport Complex or a workforce-providing skyhook directly or even starving them of an essential reagent before an attack will become viable stratagems, bringing meaningful new conflict drivers to the table for raiders and attackers. 

The introduction of these new structures is sure to gain immense attention, including the notice of local pirate forces, so be wary of warping to these structures in undefended haulers! In fact, there’s a chance of facing officer-level NPCs around skyhooks, so be prepared. 
Honestly I'm not sure New Eden will ever see the major reason for large-scale wars in null sec turning on economic issues. I believe interpersonal conflict will still lead to in-game war. But the people who get paid to think and implement ideas think differently. Of course, previous generations of EVE Online developers learned development plans never survive contact with the player base.

One plan the developers have does get my full approval. Bitter vets may find the idea hard to believe, but the Equinox suite of products and systems was designed with the user experience in mind. Perhaps I should credit the existence of the Upwell Consortium and the need to fit into the Upwell look and feel.

First, the user experience team developed an in-space UI to make depositing of fuel easier, as well as listing hacking objectives. The UI also contains important information concerning the Equinox suite. Did CCP actually design a feature to make the lives of alliance logistics players easier? I hope the answer truly is yes.

Next, the Agency is receiving another addition.

Information about the distribution of the new colony resources, power, workforce, and reagents will be easily accessible through the Agency window under the Resource Harvesting tab. The interface allows capsuleers to search and filter for specific resources, their availability and quantity, informing pilots’ decisions about the expansion of their sovereign space and empowering them to find and target valuable star systems. 

On a non-Equinox note, I remember when the Agency was first introduced and seemed a downgrade from what we had. Over the years, though, the developers continued iterating on the feature, which years ago was something CCP was not known for.

But perhaps a bigger deal is supporting the leadership of player organizations with in-game tools.

Capsuleers in managerial roles will gain access to a dedicated interface capable of installing and prioritizing upgrades. Pilots will be able to design their desired layouts for upgrades, monitor resources available to the sovereignty hub, and efficiently manage workforce transfers. The interface provides a centralized hub for strategic decision-making, enabling managers to optimize their territory effectively. 

I also want to applaud the developers of thinking about the spies. I realize the devs probably weren't concerned with operational security with this decision, but that's what came to mind when I read the following paragraph.

Additionally, through the corporation window, all players within an alliance holding sovereign nullsec territory can now track collective progress, receive updates, and gain insights into their sovereign space activities. The alliance tab has been revamped with a new section dedicated to sovereignty. The aim here is to strike a balance between clarity, accessibility, and engaging aesthetics. By incorporating table layouts for easy sorting, filters for enhanced research, and graphical data representation for items such as resource allocation and fuel consumption, the interface is designed to inform and captivate, ensuring capsuleers stay engaged and up to date about the state of their territory. 

Honestly, I can't wait to hear how the null sec alliances deal with the security implications.

I'll finish this post off with how CCP believes players will utilize the new Equinox sovereignty system.

With the introduction of the Equinox suite, Upwell sets out to redefine the strategic importance of system locations within the universe. It enables capsuleers to specialize the systems they oversee, providing the flexibility to adapt and maneuver workforce resources across their territories as necessary. 

Strategic planning is paramount with the Equinox suite, as pilots must consider potential attack vectors. For instance, a system might offer substantial power resources but lack nearby workforce sources and be susceptible to isolation. Capsuleers may invest in such a system or opt for a less optimal but more defensible position. Furthermore, pilots must consider how they'll distribute various system upgrades to maximize their effectiveness - specializing in mining or combat operations could greatly influence their strategic decisions. 

The Equinox expansion also introduces heightened opportunities for raiding, trading, and betrayal. Expect intense specialization in mining or combat readiness in certain systems. Pilots can utilize Metenox moon drills as strategic bait for skirmishes or as significant income sources on a larger scale. The ability to fine-tune systems to suit specific needs, such as mining for isogen or hunting high-level pirates, will appeal to many. For those adept at wormhole operations, the thrill of ambushing an overly ambitious adversary or raiding a vulnerable reagent skyhook offers a tantalizing prospect. 

As I mentioned before, CCP's development plans never match up with what players ultimately do in EVE. But the new system does address some of the weaknesses of the current system, such as useless sovereignty structures and reintroducing conflict drivers. I have the feeling Equinox will received some positive player feedback this summer. Then again, I don't play in null sec, so I might be wrong.

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