For some, the thrill of ship combat in EVE Online is heading out into the unknown in search of conflict. However, I find lengthy roams are often fruitless and unrewarding and, in my experience, the victor is often decided by weight of numbers. But one man's "Blob" is another man's "Good Fite". To each their own.
Pre-arranged duels can be a good way to skip much of this pre-amble and get straight to the fun bit of exploding ships. The key is to pick an opponent equal to your level of incompetence - something I've not quite mastered yet it seems.
Following some social media "smack talk", fellow blogger Kirith Kodachi challenged me to a series of duels, one in each of the sub-capital ship classes (frigate, destroyer, cruiser, battlecruiser and battleship). The first duel was between my Merlin and Kirith's Rifter and saw me snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
With all my ships pre-planned and docked-up locally there was no opportunity to re-fit, so I hoped that for the next duel my unorthodox Catalyst set-up would see my opponent flummoxed and out-strategised. I was playing the odds and worked on the assumption that Kirith would stick to the popular choice of the Minmatar Thrasher, favoured for it's unmatched speed and ferocious damage output. So I set about planning a counter for that.
The Ship: Catalyst, SSS Beaver Basher
125mm Railgun II x8, Spike S
Catalyzed Cold-Gas Arcjet Thrusters
Phased Muon Sensor Disruptor I
Magnetic Field Stabilizer x2
Nanofiber Internal Structure II
Small Ancillary Current Router I
Small Hybrid Locus Coordinator I
Small Polycarbon Engine Housing I
Effective Hit Points: 3,434 EHP
Damage Output: 180 DPS (165 turret/15 drone)
Weapon Range: 41.9km Optimal +9.38km Falloff with Tech II Spike ammunition.
Speed: 1,962 m/s with Micro-Warp Drive.
Align time: 4.6 seconds
The Strategy: Thrasher Dodger
As you can tell from the stats above, this Catalyst fit is quick and agile, hits hard at an impressive range, but has the structural integrity of a soap bubble in high wind. It also has another weakness, but we'll get to that later.
The key to protecting the ship would be to dictate range (41km) and prevent incoming damage by crippling Kirith's locking distance. A MWD Thrasher (1,873m/s) is naturally a touch faster than a similarly fitted Catalyst (1,711m/s), hence the Nanofiber Internal Structure II and the Small Polycarbon Engine Housing I rig. If Kirith had short-range weaponry, my superior speed would ensure he could never get in range to hit me and my dampener would negate any long-range efforts. There was no need for any tackle modules as I should be the faster ship and warping out forfeits the fight.
The one caveat to all this was that everything (MWD, Remote Dampener and Railguns) needed to be running all the time, giving me two-and-a-half minutes of capacitor to get the job done. Should be plenty.
The Duel: Catalyst vs. Catalyst
Oh crap - another Catalyst - not what I was expecting at all. But we'd warped to the combat area at a comfortably long distance apart (100km+) so I had some thinking time.
The first threat was Kirith's drone. The Catalyst was the only destroyer that could carry one, but even a single Warrior II posed a real threat to my paper-thin tank. That little bugger would have to go.
I started to close the distance and as soon as I could achieve a lock I dispatched my own drone and opened fire on his Warrior II. Whilst Kirith's drone was being murdered, a few long-range shots from Kirith ripped through my shields, reminding me my only protection was to fire up the Dampener and be mindful of maintaining the range between our destroyers. I'd drifted in to 35km despite supposedly orbiting at 40km.
As Kirith's drone exploded, I returned to my optimal orbit, now safely protected by my dampener-enhanced range tank. It was then that I discovered a glaring flaw in my fit. With the Small Hyrid Locus Co-ordinator I rig, I'd increased my bank of eight 125mm Railgun II's optimal range from 36.5km to 41.9km, but my maximum targeting range was only 41.3km. On paper this hadn't looked like a huge problem, but in reality it left little margin for piloting error. In retreating to my optimal I had inadvertantly gone a touch too far and lost lock on Kirith, thus was no longer range-dampening him. I had to approach once again to achieve a lock in order to make progress, which would allow him once again to fire at my weak tank.
It was in this final assault that almost the entire damage to both sides occurred, all in less than 30 seconds. My drone had been nibbling away at Kirith's shields, whilst my shields had been depleted by his earlier shots. With patience and accurate piloting, I should have been able to toy with Kirith and slowly kill him at my leisure. But perhaps being oddly protective of my drone on which he was now focusing fire, I had a rush of blood to the head and instead went barrelling toward him with my MWD-enhanced signature radius, forgot to re-engage the dampener and unsurprisingly died 15km from Kirith.
Despite my woeful tactics, I still managed to get Kirith's Catalyst into structure before I met my inevitable end.
I've watched Kirith's video back several times now and I just can't figure out what I was thinking at the end there. It's like I suddenly thought I was back in my short-range Merlin fit from the previous duel. So what did I do wrong? In short, I failed to adapt appropriately to the changing situation and instead reverted to default comedy idiot mode.
When initially confronted with an unexpected ship (Catalyst rather than Thrasher), I identified his drone as the main threat, but this was only the case if I utilised my modules to eliminate the threat from the opposing Catalyst, which I didn't.
This Catalyst loadout was flawed, with the narrow range band between optimal and out-of-range being a millstone. Successful use of the Dampener or rig-boosted range are good ideas, but not at the same time. The Remote Sensor Dampener should perhaps be replaced with a Sensor Booster to focus on superior range and simplicity of piloting.
Despite having an optimal of 40-odd kilometers and a speed of nearly 2km/s, I was 15km from the enemy when I died. This is inexplicably stupid.
Kirith didn't win this duel as much as I lost it. I had every opportunity to stay beyond his guns and win the match on my own terms but I failed to do so. I think this combat is a good example of thinking clearly and adapting quickly being more important than having the best fit or most expensive ship.