Following on from my Caracal experiment and in the spirit of finding new and interesting ways to enjoy EVE Online's PvE content, my continued pursuit of foolhardy ship fittings to use in level 4 missions inevitably led me to the Tech 1 frigate.
If I'd had any sense, I'd probably have gone for one of the popular 'high-end' T1 frigates; the Caldari Merlin, the Amarr Punisher, the Gallente Tristan, or the PvP favourite - the ubiquitous Minmatar Rifter. But common sense is outlawed in the bars and clone vats of the Freebooted fraternity, so I used a Kestrel.
My skills favour Caldari in general and missiles specifically, so although the Merlin is more versatile and infinitely more capable at tanking than the Kestrel, using the Merlin wouldn't really be playing to my strengths. Also, this was an opportunity to test the new rocket tweaks and despite not being the top-of-the-line T1 Caldari combat frigate, the Kestrel is actually quite a good little ship. At least that's what I kept telling myself.
So I rolled the dice and asked my local agent for a mission. I got 'Massive Attack', which is no pushover as far as L4 missions go with it's multiple deadspace zones (I dislike the term 'rooms' as much as I avoid the term 'rats' - ironic or not, I play EVE because it's not a fantasy MMO, why make it sound like one?). The biggest issue was going to be my inability to dictate my position relative to enemy ships from the outset. Because of this, my loadout pretty much built itself: maximum speed, maximum damage and to hell with shield tanking. The Kestrel doesn't have the resources for all three anyway.
So off to the mission I warped, with my Tech-II launchers loaded with Thorn Rage rockets to take full advantage of the Kestrel's 10% kinetic damage bonus per level. I'd also brought along some EM missiles in case the Sansha's Nation ship resistances cancelled out the kinetic bonus advantage. The only protection I had was the speed of my microwarp drive making me an impossible target to hit and yes, I had checked to see if MWDs would work in this particular mission.
At least Kuvekei's boys had the good grace to break me in gently with a few frigates and destroyers waiting at the initial acceleration gate. I fired up the MWD with my default orbit set to 'in the face' and I was on them straight away with the Kestrel spitting rockets as fast as it's little launchers could go. The Succubus hulls began to explode in quick succession and I was pleased with the Kestrel's initial performance. However, my jubilance was a little premature as the enemy vessels achieved lock and began to evaporate my shield frighteningly quickly. I had to make a snap decision and broke orbit to put some distance between myself and the remaining enemy ships to allow the shields to recharge.
Arse! This Kestrel fit was aptly named; The Glass Shotgun was indeed made of glass. Despite being able to hit hard, it's fragile shield and armour was going to make surviving this mission a tall order.
The problem laid with my attempts at speed-tanking. Orbiting a target at speeds in excess of 2000m/s was a fairly effective way of preventing the target from hitting me, however my speed relative to the positions of other enemy ships wasn't so consistent. Conducting combat in a cloud of enemies meant that it was inevitable that at some points I would be heading straight toward or directly away from a hostile that was firing on me. This would result in my transversal velocity relative to that hostile being essentially zero for a brief moment. If that was the moment that the hostile fired, I was basically a high-speed sitting duck with a huge signature radius thanks to the MWD.
With my shields recharged, I burned back at the enemy, taking care to pick on the outliers first, pulling out to a safe distance if incoming fire became overwhelming. In that way I successfully whittled them down and cleared the area of hostiles.
I say successful, but I was under no illusions as to what lay on the other side of the acceleration gate that sat ominously before me. I knew that landing in the midst of a sizeable enemy force would result in a fly-versus-windscreen moment for the Kestrel if I attempted to stand and fight.
I recalled how I dealt with the same problem with the Caracal - Sansha's Nation tactics tend toward close range. If I could put some distance between myself and the hostiles, I could pick them off one by one. I needed to be using standard missiles.
I returned to station to refit for the new tactic wherein I intended to pick off the smaller ships at range with missile launchers (Custard Artillery EFT DPS: 137), then dock, refit and return with the higher DPS rocket loadout (Glass Shotgun EFT DPS: 204) to take out the battleships. Simple.
And it almost worked.
It all went to plan in the first deadspace pocket, with successful kiting of the smaller ships clearing the way for the Glass Shotgun configuration to survive the high-speed engagement of battlecruisers. I even tried destroying all of the larger ships with the Custard Artillery, but it was painfully slow.
The tactic worked in the second zone too, but the Centus Overlord battleship nearly caused me to give up as it's armour repair rate all but equalled my DPS. But eventually even he succumbed to the plucky Kestrel's relentless rocket barrage.
Bear in mind that by this time I had been working on this single mission for well over two hours and I still had one final deadspace pocket to go. I was getting tired and just wanted it to be over. In order to speed things up, I decided to forgo returning to station to adopt the Custard Artillery configuration and rashly charged on through the last acceleration gate in the Glass Shotgun.
Here I quickly learned that it was difficult to remain orientated when assorted sized vessels were bearing down on my position from three different directions whilst I endeavoured to spin around in high-speed circles. Kiting was a lot trickier when my effective range was now less than ten kilometres rather than forty.
I eventually managed to lure out and destroy the frigates, but the remaining cruisers huddled together forcing me to take dive-bombing strafing runs then pulling out under fire. A battleship loitered around by an asteroid station and I tried circumnavigating the cruiser pack to kill it, but every time I was forced away by the encroaching cruiser pack.
Suffice to say eventually I paid the price for my haste and a couple of lucky hits were all it took to strip me of my shields and put me well into armour. I attempted to burn away from the incoming fire but another couple of salvoes and the Glass Shotgun was shattered.
So in conclusion, although technically I didn't complete the mission in it's entirety (at least not in a Kestrel) I think I proved that it is possible to complete a level 4 combat mission in a T1 frigate. As long as you are very, very patient.
In the next installment, I'll tell you about the legend of the SSS Stupid: the Combat Mammoth.