(Editor’s Note: This article was written prior to the release of Hotfix FoxFour, and the definition of ‘current’ can be understood as such.)
Given the release of the patch notes for Hotfix FoxFour, I felt that it would be appropriate to write about my thoughts on the state of vehicles, where they are, where they’re going, and where they need to go. I’ll be focusing mostly on HAVs for the purposes of this article as that is the primary focus for vehicle related changes in the upcoming hotfix.
In short, Gallente HAVs are currently overperforming. The combination of Heavy Passive Armor Repairers with an Armor Hardener running, gives the Gallente HAVs an extremely high effective regeneration rate that is constantly running. This allows Gallente HAVs to negate a considerable amount of incoming DPS. This paired with fairly high mobility can make it very difficult to deal with, as any damage received can be quickly recovered.
Inversely, Caldari HAVs are currently underperforming. Like dropsuits, Caldari vehicles do not regenerate shields while taking damage and must avoid additional damage before their shields will recharge. Currently there is no way to increase the natural recharge rate for shield HAVs, and the only active option are Shield Boosters which are both costly to fit and often do not perform properly. Additionally, while Shield Regulators exist to reduce recharge delay, they are often too resource intensive to be worth fitting in most situations.
This leaves Caldari HAVs in a position where their regeneration is significantly lower than armor regeneration in battle conditions and overall less effective HP. So while Caldari HAVs can be effective in some situations, they are far less reliable than their Gallente counterparts.
Caldari HAV Buffs
Caldari HAVs will be receiving a few simple buffs in Hotfix FoxFour
Shield Recharge Rate (HP/s): 126 → 220 (75% increase)
Shield Recharge Delay (s): 4 → 3 (25% decrease)
Shield Depleted Delay (s): 10 → 6 (40% decrease)
For reference, a Heavy Complex Armor Repairer on a Gallente HAV will rep at 137.5 HP/s with a base rep of 30 HP/s for a total of 167.5 HP/s. This will certainly help push the average HP/minute regeneration closer to than of the Gallente HAVs, but it does so in a way which is independent of tier and does nothing to help the lack of proper active regeneration. I would have much preferred a more moderate increase to recharge rate and the addition of modules to increase passive regeneration to make the passive regeneration dependent on the tier of modules being used. Additionally I would have liked to see some changes to Shield Boosters, but I’ll cover that later.
Swarm Launcher Nerfs
The Swarm Launcher will be receiving a few nerfs in Hotfix FoxFour
Explosion Momentum: 500 → 250 (50% decrease)
Max Rotation (degrees): 70 → 50 (~30% decrease)
Max Lock Range (m): 175 → 150 (~15% decrease)
This is more or less an attempt to nerf swarms specifically against dropships. Now I don’t fly dropships so I can’t comment much on them, but I do use swarms a decent amount of time on my Commando. I can’t say I entirely agree with the range nerf, as it was rather short as is and I would have preferred it to be more around 200 than a nerf down to 150. Rattati commented that a more Anti-Air oriented Swarm is still on the table, namely modifying the rarely used Assault Swarms to perform that role. This is likely an attempt to create two distinctively different types of swarm launchers… short range with higher DPS and long range with lower DPS (which is very similar to missile types in EVE). While I imagine we’ll feel some growing pains as this starts to get fleshed out, I think it may be better for balance if the developers take that approach. To be fair in the past the issue was making swarms viable against heavily armored HAVs without making them broken against lighter Dropships and LAVs, and the buff and nerf cycle of the swarms typically broke either side of the equation.
AV Weapon ‘Buffs’
While there are not any true direct buffs to AV weapons, there have been some significant changes to what weapons can do full damage to vehicles. All Explosive weapons will now deal 100% damage to HAVs. While this will give players the ability to perform an AV and AP role at the same time, I think many players will be disappointed in the effectiveness of their weapons against vehicles.
For example a Swarm Launcher currently does a bit over 1000 DPS depending on lock times, but a Breach Mass Driver only does ~350 DPS and a Core Flaylock Pistol does ~400 DPS. So while this will allow players to have more flexibility in fighting vehicles, non-AV Specific weapons will really only serve as supplementary damage. Even so I suspect we’ll see an increase in the use of Explosive weapons after the hotfix, particularly the Flaylock because it can be used without changing the user’s preferred primary weapon.
I am curious to see if the plan is to eventually give certain Laser weapons AV capabilities, but they are holding off to see where the meta lands after these changes to Caldari vehicles.
Additionally they’ve made all melee do 100% damage to vehicles. Considering a Commando can get it’s melee damage to well over 1000 damage, we will likely see dropsuits punching vehicles to death. While this may appeal to some, I personally see it an another ridiculous element of gameplay that depreciates the immersion of the New Eden experience. However the game isn’t made for just me, so c’est la vie.
Vehicle Weak Points
Many people may not know this, but all vehicles have weak points where they will take additional damage. In the case of HAVs, there are sections on the backside as well as the underside that will take bonus damage.
The multiplier has been drastically increased to 150%-250% (the amount varying by weapon), so while AV weapons’ base damage will not be increasing, they are receiving a massive buff if they attack the HAV from the rear or underside. While this adds an element of skill and planning to AV attacks as well as HAV piloting, I’m curious to see if it will change much for most AV weapons given the current speed and mobility of HAVs, but we will have to see how it plays out in-game.
HAVs, Speed, and Defense
I’ve been a long proponent of moving back to an earlier philosophy behinds HAVs. Currently HAVs are very mobile and feature a Low HP and High Regen model. This leaves the vehicles in an interesting spot where they lack the HP to take concentrated fire for an appreciable amount of time at which point they’re forced to flee, regen to full health quickly, and then return to the fight. Alternatively if the incoming DPS is below a certain threshold, many HAV fits can simply ignore the AV DPS. Ultimately the meta devolves into whether or not the AV user can burst down the HAVs regen before it runs away…which is not entirely enjoyable for either party as it becomes a game of raw numbers rather than a game of tactics.
I would much prefer a move to a High HP and Low Regen model. This would allow HAV pilots to take sustained fire for a period of time by using their eHP buffer to buy them time to accomplish a goal (may that be suppressing an objective or taking out an installation) before retreating to regain their HP. This allows the pilot to operate in a fashion where they are not constantly on the run, and can accomplish a task even while sustaining heavy fire. The lower regen would mean that the HAV would be more prone to sustained fire and allow AV users to whittle away at the HAVs health if it remains in the hotzone for too long. This would bring back a more tactical style of gameplay where AV plays would attempt to outmaneuver and corner the HAV before it can regenerate, and at the same time the HAV pilot would need to play smarter and choose his moves carefully as to not fall for said traps.
That being said it may be appropriate to lower the mobility of the HAV to match the increase in eHP. Top speed should probably remain the same, but the acceleration to get there should likely be reduced to make movement more deliberate.
I believe that overall this would be a more enjoyable and deeper gameplay than we currently have.
Don’t Be So Passive
Another gripe of mine is the use of passive regeneration as the primary means of HP recovery in HAVs. This furthers the above mentioned problem of the vehicle meta being more about numbers than actual ability of the pilot. Particularly with Heavy Armor Repairers, certain fits can push the effective regen rate extremely high which negates a large portion of incoming DPS. While burst regen should absolutely have its place in gameplay, it should not running 100% of the time. The return of Active Modules would put additional elements of skill back into HAV piloting and allow pilots to choose when they need heavy regeneration without providing a constant negation of incoming DPS.
Another persistent issue is that Shield Boosters do not offer nearly the same regenerative ability as Armor Repairers do yet have large downtime and even larger fitting costs. The active burst potential of Shield Boosters is fantastic, but the HP per minute pales in comparison and needs to be increased. I feel this would have been a better choice to help the Caldari HAVs rather than simply increasing passive regen. Additionally the issue where Shield Boosters will often not work when used under enemy fire needs to be corrected.
More AV Options
Since the Swarm nerfs were most likely intended to give dropships a buff, this is likely why no anti-air options were added in this most recent update. However at this point the only reliable anti-air option is the Forge Gun which limits the ability of 80% of the suits in the game to counter dropships. I would like to see a lower DPS, much longer range swarm be implemented which could be accomplished by modifying the Assault Swarm Launcher, which Rattati admitted is an option on the table.
Additionally, since Caldari HAVs received a buff in this hotfix, Rattati is likely waiting to see how the meta plays out. However at some point I would like to see a proper Laser AV weapons added to the game. Not only would this add an additional anti-air option for light infantry, but it would also offer another anti-shield AV weapon aside from Plasma Cannons and Flux Grenades. Also with the recent shift of Swarm Launchers to the Caldari Commando and the AV potential of Explosive weapons for the Minmatar Commando, the Amarr Commando is the only Commando without an AV weapon that can use its Damage Bonus and a Laser AV weapon would fill this gap.
Overall this update for vehicles is hit or miss in my mind. The weak point mechanic is a great idea and I’m curious to see how it will plan out. Alternatively the changes to swarm launchers may have been premature and the continued focus on passive regeneration for HAVs is troubling to me. However I do understand that this is an iterative approach and it seems to be clear that the plan is a multi-step process of change and analysis. I do however wish the CPM/Developers were more open about what that plan of development. Regardless, these changes will undoubtedly have significant effects on the overall meta so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out before we consider which options to take moving forward.