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Jester’s Trek – Misses the target
There’s been a lot of chit-chat about four changes to the Drake that CCP proposed to CSM6 during the December summit:
it would lose the shield resistance bonus and the 5% Kinetic damage bonus; and instead,
gain a rate of fire bonus and a missile velocity bonus.
We’re told that such a change would re-balance the Drake which currently “does everything too well”. We’re also told it would potentially add more uniqueness to the Nighthawk, which is presently overshadowed entirely by the Drake.
Let’s get that last point out of the way first: there’s currently not really any good reason to fly a Nighthawk, other than how cool it looks. A Drake can do the same job nearly as well, for one fifth the cost. In PvE, a well-fit end-game Drake does about 370 DPS without drones; the Nighthawk does 435. The 65 DPS is not really worth the extra ISK put at risk for ratting; get a Tengu instead; just as much DPS at far lower risk. For missioning, while you might start L4 missions with a Drake, you’ll soon be drawn to other platforms than the Nighthawk. All in all, these proposed changes to the Drake aren’t going to change that. You can’t buff the Nighthawk by re-balancing the Drake. The Nighthawk needs someone to look at it, please. Onward.
I’m not so sure.
First, let’s make things really clear: this change is intentionally aimed at PvP Drakes. We’ll get to why in a second. Drakes are hugely common in PvP because they do consistent, reliable DPS, their fitting is really hard to get too terribly wrong, and they’re easy ships to put newbies into with little effort. Enemy FCs ignore them until last because the Drake is the very epitome of a defensive ship. Almost no other ship in EVE can match it on defense.
However, that defensive nature means that Drakes have long been regarded as well-balanced PvE platforms. CCP now proposes to strip that defensive nature away.
What’s that resistance nerf going to do to the Drake? Well, EHP for a max skilled pilot of a Drake with no fittings is going to drop from 24.6k EHP to just over 21k EHP if my math is accurate. A fairly typical heavy tank PvP Drake (double-Invul, double-LSE, double-CDFE, single anti-EM rig) will drop from 81k EHP to about 76k. More significantly, the PvE triple-Purger Drake will go from being able to omni-tank about 300 DPS with passive recharge to about 175 DPS.
Yeah. This is a pretty big change, and — ironically — it’ll hit PvE Drakes a lot harder than their PvP brethren.
Why is the change so significant? The Drake is all about the resists. Today, a double-Invul PvE Drake with no Damage Control has an average resist of 72%. The resist-nerfed Drake’s average will be 62%. I wrote about how important even a few percentage points of resistance are a couple of months ago. Those percentage points are even more important when the ship in question isn’t active tanking. To quickly summarize the point I made in that post, 62% resists means that 100 points of shield recharge becomes 263 effective shield hit points. 72% resists means that same 100 points of shield recharge becomes 357.
On a Drake, depending on your fit, that 100 shield points recharges every six or seven seconds. Let’s say it’s 6.5 seconds. That means the higher resist Drake picks up almost a thousand more EHP per minute, meaning it can passively tank some combination of two or three more rat battleships, six more rat cruisers, or 12 more rat frigates. The difference adds up fast! We wouldn’t see a lot of Drakes in L4 missions after this change; they wouldn’t be able to survive them. Their ability to tank L3s will have to be adjusted with a lot more mission-specific tanking and careful flying.
The PvP Drakes are not going to be impacted as much. PvP Drakes close the EM hole and fit Damage Controls by and large, so the resist nerf won’t hit them as hard: their resists, on average, will drop from 73 to 65. It’s a 7-point change instead of a 10-point one, still big but not disastrous.
The big impact on the PvP Drakes is going to be on the flip-side… all those offensive changes. The kinetic damage change looks like a nerf, but it really isn’t. Today, you can look at a Drake and think “kinetic damage”. A lot of PvP ship classes out there right now that often fight Drakes — AHACs, for instance — go out of their way to close their kinetic resistance hole. With Drakes able to vary their damage to whatever type of damage is required, their effective DPS is going to go up a fair bit. And the missile speed and rate of fire buffs are going to make brawling HAM Drakes — currently relatively uncommon — absolute close-range monsters.
But let’s be clear, here: CCP isn’t looking at these change for the good of the ship. They’re looking these changes for the good of their servers. They’ve had a strong desire to punch the Drake in the mouth for about a year now and are just looking for the right time to deliver that punch. CCP claims that Drake missile volleys — particularly in large numbers — are a big cause of server lag. These changes really effectively do two things to the Drake:
make them easier to kill and more likely to be killed, so they’ll die faster and fire fewer missiles; and,
make those missiles that they do fire hit their targets faster, lessening server load from calculating missile tracks.
It’s clever. But will it back-fire?
After all, there’s another way to use that range bonus. Right now, FCs across New Eden know that HML Drakes — the most common type — can engage defensively at about 70-75km, and offensively (while chasing a target) at 55-60km. The missile speed boost is going to increase those ranges by 25%. Energy Locus Hellcats will no longer be able to hit Drakes for good damage at 70km the way they can today because the Drakes aren’t going to be there any more… the Drakes will be at 80 or 85km, outside of Locus Hellcat range. AHACs, meanwhile, can no longer count on their 80 or 85% kinetic resist to save them; those Drakes are going to be firing EM missiles at them instead.(1)
Lots and lots of people are looking at these potential Drake changes… and getting excited about them. As a result, we might see more Drakes on the PvP battlefield out of this kind of change, not fewer. And we might see them just emphasizing the skirmishing role they were never intended to take in the first place. Do these changes constitute a Drake nerf? Do they really?
Well, yes: they sure are for the PvE Drakes! But that wasn’t the intent. While this proposed change to the Drake is sure interesting, I think it misses the target.
(1) I almost typed “Thunderbolts”, but they’re not gonna be Thunderbolts after tomorrow; they’re gonna be Mjolnirs.
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