Combat missions in New Eden are the bread and butter of many a capsuleer, with level four missions being widely regarded as one of the best 'ISK fonts' available. In order to access level four missions, a pilot is required to have a sufficient standing with the agent, corporation or faction to be deemed worthy of the task. This is most often achieved by progressively working through the lower level mission agents.
Traditionally, as the mission level increases, so too does the recommended ship class. An appropriately fitted tech-one frigate will make short work of most level one missions. However, as improving standings allow access to increasingly challenging missions, so the pilot is required to upgrade to destroyers, cruisers, battlecruisers and ultimately battleships to take on the tougher level four missions. This is the traditional path and it works.
I've Got a Stupid Idea, Who's With Me?
But here at Freebooted, we're not interested in tradition. If there are two ways to do a thing, and one of them is wrong and a bit silly, that's our way. What we wanted to find out was how far we could push the envelope using only rookie ships. That's right, those terrible little ships that they give away at stations when you dock in your capsule; one low slot, one medium, two highs and no rigs. In anyone's book, they're rubbish.
So the challenge was this: Get as many pilots in rookie ships as possible and attempt to complete combat missions of increasing difficulty, starting with a level one and working up to a level four. This, my friends, is going to get messy.
Firstly, we needed willing participants to assist in our foolhardy experiment. Myself and fellow Freebooter Long Jack were joined by Old Pond Pub regular Vsmit. Our Flying Circus operating associate, Monkey Polo, provided two of his own big-top minions in the shape of Lozyjoe and her ertswhile partner in crime, Caveat Emptor Tempora. Several more pilots showed an early interest, but their failure to appear in the chosen system suggested that they had seen sense. This was a bit of a shame as I'd hoped it would have been more of a community event. Never mind, there's always next time.
Fitting out the rookie ships proved fairly simple, with options being so few due to the limitations of the vessels. The lack of low- and mid-slots meant that armour or shield tanking was never going to be an option. Speed-tanking would provide the only chance of survival, so the addition of an afterburner capitalised on their small size and relatively good speed. In order to fit any kind of weapons turrets more powergrid was required, so the low-slot demanded a Micro Auxiliary Power Core I. After that, limited resources and racial bonuses dictated the size and nature of the weapons turrets to be fitted. Each ship could also accommodate a single small drone, with the exception of the relatively heavy-hitting Velator which can carry two.
The one exception to this fitting standard was to be Vsmit's decoy Reaper. As the racial bonuses of the Reaper provided additional velocity per Minmatar frigate level, the installation of a micro-warp drive meant that he would be able to achieve speeds in excess of 3000 metres per second. The strategy was to be that Vsmit would enter the mission areas first, obtain aggression from all hostiles, then burn for the stars. It was hoped that this would allow Vsmit to get beyond their weapons range and lead them on a merry chase, paving the way for the rest of the rookie swarm to warp in and happily explode our way through the distracted enemies. Vsmit would only be able to watch the resultant fire-fight, as the fitting demands of the MWD would leave him weaponless.
And so, with multiple ships prepared in advance, our plucky band of demented missioners went forth to smite the evildoers of New Eden.
Level One Mission: Unauthorised Military Presence
The crew mustered by the preliminary acceleration gate and watched Vsmit as he was hurled into the fray in his unarmed Minmatar suicide missile. We waited, Long jack and Lozyjoe in Amarr pulse laser Impairors and Caveat and myself in double-drone blaster Velators. We listened on voice-comms for his confirmation of aggro obtained, which came quickly, then we jumped.
As we arrived in the deadspace area, we could see that Vsmit was already nearly 100km away with a squad of five Guristas frigates in futile pursuit. We closed and engaged. They fell quickly without the need for us to concentrate our fire. We quickly approached the second acceleration gate and repeated the process against the hostiles in the second pocket. With a combined DPS in excess of 200, the second wave fell as quickly as the first. We returned to station victorious and completed the mission.
Level Two Mission: The Blockade
We knew the five of us were in for a rougher ride when The Blockade was offered, as it's one of the more difficult missions. However there was the advantage of every subsequent wave of hostiles beginning a good distance from the central point, which played into our 'range tank' strategy. However, we were mindful that this would be the first time we would encounter cruisers and we were prepared to concentrate fire if necessary.
Vsmit warped in and quickly reported that there was no acceleration gate and he was already being targeted. He went evasive but incoming fire was still reaching him. As we warped to his location, his report made grim listening; despite his rapidly increasing range, he was already well into structure and was about to explode. As we arrived 'on grid' Vsmit appeared on the Watch List as three completely red bars, but somehow he'd managed to achieve a safe orbit range and his Reaper, engines spouting flame, seemed to be holding together with duct tape alone.
However, with optimum combat conditions just about obtained, our Rookie swarm set about thinning out the numbers whilst trying to steer clear of the individual ship that would trigger the second wave of enemies. We managed to whittle down the numbers, but as we were still picking individual targets the final three hostiles fell almost simultaneously and the next wave deployed without our being able to prepare. The long reach of their weapon systems meant that we were now all taking fire, which wasn't part of the plan! Our shields were quickly collapsing and armour began to buckle, I initiated a squad warp and prayed. We all warped out safely except for Long Jack, who had decided to take umbrage at being auto-warped and hung around a little longer just for the hell of it. It was a close call, but even he managed to get out without a ship loss.
After a quick regroup and repair, we returned to the fray using the same decoy tactic. We focused on the quicker, more accurate frigates and destroyers first, then worked together to bring down the cruisers. Having learned from the arrival of the previous wave, we warped out briefly to allow Vsmit to regain all aggression. With our tactics established, the remainder of the mission went smoothly and we successfully completed level two Blockade without a ship loss. All hail the Rookie ships.
Level Three Mission: The Spy Stash
Referring to EVE-Survival, this mission was always going to be a huge undertaking, with the first deadspace pocket containing four elite frigates, three destroyers, two cruisers and two battlecruisers, in addition to three light missile batteries. This was underlined by the decoy ship's initial arrival resulting in it's quick destruction. As Vsmit reported his demise over the comms, the acceleration gate suddenly activated and Long Jack catapulted off into the void. That wasn't part of the plan, but what the hell. With trepidation, Lozyjoe, Caveat and myself followed, fairly sure that a quick death would also await us.
Arriving in the first pocket, we found ourselves surrounded, with the hostile ships all within a few thousand metres of us. Long Jack's ship was taking heavy fire and exploded before our eyes. The remaining three of us picked a direction, engaged afterburners and accelerated, hoping to out-range the enemy before we met the same fate. However Vsmit's earlier attempt in a quicker ship suggested futility.
Lozyjoe and Caveat both started reporting incoming locks from the ships and the three missile towers focused on me. I had deployed my drones at the nearest missile tower as I sped away, my ship rocking as the missiles began to pound through my shields. I watched in dismay as my Watch List slowly turned from grey to red and the amassed Guristas ships made short work of my remaining squad mates. Meanwhile, my shields had just about held and I breathed a sigh of relief as I realised I was now beyond the range of the light missile batteries.
However, my relief was short-lived as the two cruisers, now 50km away, locked me and launched their missiles. helplessly I watched as their orange glow grew closer and closer, then slammed into my fragile vessel. My shields halved. The plucky little Hobgoblin drones started to take damage too as the other enemy ships had turned their attentions on them. The drones were close to finishing off the missile tower and I made the decision to allow them to complete their task, just to score a small victory for us. The second heavy missile salvo from the cruisers put me well into armour and I knew the end was close. The missile tower exploded and with no other targets available, I called the drones back knowing that they would probably not make it under fire, but then there may well be no ship for them to make it to anyway. The third incoming salvo put me into structure and one of my drones exploded. As the fourth salvo closed, I waited for the end.
It never came.
I'd escaped. As the heavy missiles fizzled and died before reaching me, my drone docked and I realised we might now have a chance in what had been looking increasingly like a hopeless cause. The two cruisers were still in pursuit and both distant missile towers were still pumping their ammunition uselessly in my direction. With the Guristas now dividing their fire, the other squad members might have a chance to gain a foothold.
Unfortunately, this didn't prove all that easy. Further attempts to enter the deadspace pocket from the others still yielded the same result, a quick death at the hands of the ships idling near the warp-in point. Meanwhile, despite my recharging shields, my ship was in a bad way, I was a drone down and there was no way for me to re-engage without being quickly picked off my the missiles that still relentlessly flew in my direction.
Then, there was another breakthrough. Vsmit managed to break out of the kill-zone and achieve a safe orbit distance, drawing fire from all but two of the idling ships. Interestingly, the two cruisers started firing at Vsmit's Reaper too, despite maintaining a lock on me [I wasn't aware that NPCs could maintain multiple targets]. Another boon (read: bug) was that due to some spatial oddity resulting in the relocation of one of Caveat's abandoned drones when one of the cruisers warped back to it's companions. If I could recover that drone, my DPS would be back up to nearly 100 hp per second and I could attempt to engage one of the distracted outlying cruisers.
Meanwhile, Lozyjoe and Caveat could now enter and, providing they avoided aggro from the remaining two static hostiles, could set about destroying the enemy. This was a relief as, judging by the changing tones on comms, morale was starting to drop. Long Jack had already decided to sit out and rest for a while (he's not well at the moment). Finally, we were making progress and with only a couple more ship losses, we managed to bring them down, even the two Ferox battlecruisers.
With the first pocket secured after an exhausting session that lasted for well over an hour, I was doubtful that the remaining squad members would want to continue. Even my own enthusiasm was waning. Before attempting the last deadspace area, I proposed a choice; attempt the second pocket in rookie ships again now that we had our "suicide blitz" tactic, try it in frigates instead for a little more survivability or give up and and find something else to do. I felt a swell of admiration as both Vsmit and Caveat immediately called for rookie ships However, there was some unintelligible grumbling from Lozyjoe.
But democracy rules and so on we went. All four of us warped in together. And all four of us died fairly immediately. We took that as a sign that this was just not going to work without hours more dedication, which I think none of us could face. After a brief discussion, we agreed to give it one more go, but this time Vsmit was going to use his other 'rookie' ship. It was fitted with a civilian shield booster and only deployed one drone, but there was something oddly 'modular' about it's design. However, Vsmit did say it was "low key", so I guess it's not cheating. With this new technology beguiling the Guristas, we were able to work our way through all remaining resistance to score another victory for the plucky Rookie Swarm.
You Want More?
After the gruelling five hours it took for us to complete the first three missions, we decided to stage a tactical withdrawal to consider what we had learned, perhaps taking on the level four mission at a later time. Given the difficulties that a moderate level three mission presented us, we would certainly need a bit of a rethink and a lot more pilots if we were to make any in-roads into a level four mission.