Arms Race Alphas: Adjusting the Meta

Bill McDonough 2017-12-06

With the release of the newest expansion, Arms Race, CCP has updated and revised the Alpha Clone skill selection. Gone are the days of Alphas being limited to one race, and hull types no larger than a cruiser with T1 guns and an insufficient tank. Now Alpha Clones can train into battlecruisers and battleships, and fit T2 modules of many varieties. Some groups have been preparing for this change for the last two months. Now that the changes are here, the rest may find themselves scrambling to keep up.

Alphas, both new ones and returning vets, will have a lot of variety available to them. But they won’t always be able to get the same performance out of the ships they can fly, and in some cases, may need to change the fits to account for reduced power grid, CPU, and capacitor. In this article, we take a look at some of the common doctrines around New Eden that alphas will be able to use, and what (if any) changes they’ll need to make.

Battlecruisers

Combat battlecruisers will occupy an interesting niche for the new Alpha Clones. While the ability to use this hull class is new, Alpha Clones have been able to use cruisers, and medium weapons. The big improvement coming for them in sub-BC hulls is T2 weaponry. As a result, many are looking at battlecruisers with an eye toward Alpha Clones with T2 weapons. (Attack BCs use Large guns, so Alphas won’t be able to use T2s there, regardless.) In some cases, like the venerable PvE Missioning Drake, this will be feasible. For the Ferox and Hurricane, the two combat battlecruisers in most common use in PvP, that might be tricky. Triple-rep ratting Myrms may see a lot of use in PvP, but it’s not usually their idea.

Feroxes

Feroxes are one of the battlecruisers in most common use in the current fleet meta of New Eden. From large groups to small, the Ferox’s range and mobility make them a good choice. Most groups have reasonably similar fits. They use two Large Shield Extender IIs, three hardeners, a DCU, and the rig slots for the tank. Damage output comes from six 250mm railguns, and three dps/tracking mods. A small smartbomb often supplements the guns, to clear enemy drones. An MWD provides mobility. Some, like Fraternity or Pandemic Horde, like to swap the third hardener for a cap booster, and use one of the rigs to plug the hole.

The perfect fitting skills available to Omega clones allow groups to fit T2 shield extenders and T2 guns. With the limitations placed on new Alphas, though, that’s not possible. Either the guns, or the extenders, have to drop to meta (or faction) versions. The easy choice is to keep the extenders, and downgrade the guns. After all, dead ships do no damage. For returning players with access to plenty of ISK, using faction extenders is an option. Newer Alphas, though, may find the potential to use T2 railguns something they have a hard time turning into a reality. Of course, they could downgrade to 200mm rails. But then you lose range, as well as damage.

Hurricanes

The Hurricane is another common choice for battlecruiser DPS. Like the Ferox, the Hurricane is a reasonably mobile ship with a shield tank and decent range. The Ferox out-ranges the Hurricane, but the Minmatar ship can vary damage types while the Caldari hull is locked to kinetic and thermal damage.

Also like the Ferox, the Hurricane has a fairly predictable ‘optimized’ build. High slots fit 720mm Howitzer IIs and a utility module. An MWD, Shield Extender, Hardener, and a wildcard take the mids. The low slots round it all out with a DCU, Reactor Control, Gyros and Tracking Enhancers, capped off with shield rigs. Once again, the Alpha clones’ incomplete fitting skills leaves them short on Power Grid. Shifting down to 650mm artillery provides the needed PG, but once again sacrifices not only damage, but also range.

Unlike the Ferox, though, the Hurricane usually only sports one Large Shield Extender II. As a result, downgrading the tank doesn’t provide enough free PG to make everything fit. Either one (or possibly more) of the shield rigs would need to be replaced. As a result, the tank suffers considerably. It’s just simpler, and more sensible, to use T1 meta guns.

Battleships

Long the mainstay of large fleet warfare, battleships spent a few years mostly on the shelf. Capitals and strategic cruisers took over much of the niche, but in the last two years, the trend has begun to reverse. With the changes to Alpha Clones, there’s more incentive to use them. The upcoming revision to citadel defenses means more opportunities for a wider spectrum, too. Expectations may be a bit different for Alpha Clone battleships, but that’s likely unwarranted. Plenty of Omega Clones get into battleships long before they have perfect skills for them. The new Alpha Clone balance will put them on more or less the same footing as newer Omega pilots.

Maelstrom

If there’s a ship in EVE where the conventional wisdom for ‘Fit This: How Do?’ has hardened into etched in stone, it’s the Maelstrom. The Maelstrom is the premiere shield-tanked artillery platform. It offers a level of one-shot bang-for-your-buck that has no equal. A max-skills Omega Maelstrom with full boosts can deliver a single volley that exceeds 10k dps. A full fleet of these ships can evaporate any sub-capitals it can hit cleanly, and make short work of sieged dreadnoughts and force auxiliaries. Unfortunately, like any shield battleship, it’s vulnerable to bombers.

The nigh-universal fit for the Maelstrom is simple, and effective, and has remained unchanged for over half a decade. Eight 1400mm Howitzer Artillery IIs take up the high slots. The mids and rigs provide most of the tank, in the form of a pair of Large Shield Extender II, a trio of T2 hardeners, and three shield rigs (usually extenders). A Damage Control II rounds out the resists, and a Power Diagnostic provides a little extra power grid and just a bit more shields, while the other low slots are given over to Gyrostablizers and a Tracking Enhancer.

The adjustment for Alpha Clones is simple. The guns shift to T1 meta artillery. With that change, nothing else has to. The Maelstrom loses 10k EHP from the tank, and 11 km from the targeting range, after boosts. Damage drops as well, from a maximum potential of ~10.7k to 9.6k. Even with this reduction, the ship puts out a frightening amount of punishment in a single volley.

The endurance of Maelstroms stands as testament to the attractive power of alpha-strike doctrines. At the same time, the large signature radius makes them extremely vulnerable to bombs. Enter the Tempest: the middle child of the Minmatar battleship line.

Tempest

Packing six 1400mm artillery and often armor-tanked, the Tempest has found use in multiple groups across many regions of space. With two utility high-slots, the Tempest sees some variety in its fits and uses, but these center around those utility highs. They might carry smartbombs, or Rapid Light Missile Launchers, or heavy neuts, depending on the situation. The mids usually fit the prop mod, tracking computers, a sensor booster, and a sensor disruptor or other EWAR module. In the low slots and rigs, twin 1600mm plates, a Damage Control II, and three resist modules combine with three Trimarks to provide the tank. Some groups prefer active hardeners, some prefer EANMs and a single Armor Explosive Hardener II, but the general philosophy is the same. The lows and rigs are pure tank.

Unfortunately for the Tempest, the power grid is extremely tight. In most builds, even Omega Clones use T1 guns on the Tempest. This means Alphas don’t have to switch the guns, but it also means their weaker fitting skills don’t get the benefit of additional leeway from the downgrade. In order to fit six 1400mm arty, one of the 1600mm armor plates can’t be T2. At least, not if all you’re fitting is the ship.

Another option exists, though. The Inherent Implants ‘Squire’ Power Management series is one of the most commonly used set of implants in EVE, and the EG-603 provides all the power grid an Alpha Clone needs to keep the T2 plate, though you only have room for the utility highs with an afterburner. With the plates intact, the tank remains the same, and volley damage only drops by about 600 points, making the Tempest an attractive option for uniform performance.

Raven

The current Raven meta is Micro Jump Drive (MJD) cruise Ravens. They can be seen flown as both armor-tanked by groups like PL and the Initiative, and shield-tanked like those of Silent Infinity. The concept is sound, and when executed properly, it can be extremely difficult to counter. Unfortunately, it’s also completely outside the reach of Alpha Clones. Even though battleships and cruise missiles are now on the alphas’ skill list, MJDs are not. This means the MJD Raven is off the table, right? Well, not exactly.

Groups like Initiative and PL, especially, have the coordination and individual pilot skill levels to use command destroyers’ Micro Jump Field Generator (MJFG) capability to supplant the battleships’ MJDs. As a result, Alphas are still viable in the cruise-Raven fleets. They simply won’t have as many options for escape, if things go bad.

Rokh

Even a large influx of Alpha Clones probably can’t stop the Rokh. Or at least, they can’t keep it from its ubiquitous role as a solid platform for battleship dps. In today’s New Eden, Rokhs are one of the best long-range battleships available. They have a niche alongside Maelstroms in ‘Alphafleet’ doctrines, and the ability to sit at range and snipe. As snipers, in fact, they work as effectively as cruise Ravens (maybe better). In a pinch, they can also slap on a full rack of mining lasers and pretend it’s still 2009!

Alpha

So-called ‘Alphafleet’ Rokhs are a counterpart to the Maelstrom. Where the Maelstrom delivers volleys of tremendous power, the Rokh’s faster cycle time gives the dps more consistency. This helps to suppress the effects of logistics ships, and sets up the Maels for more effective follow-on vollies. These Rokhs use 425mm Railguns to deliver 600+ dps at nearly 100km. By switching out ammo, they can project nearly 2/3 of that firepower to the limit of their lock range.

Alpha Clones, though, reduce these numbers. Some of this comes from lower skills, but the shift from T2 to meta 4 guns contributes. Lock range drops slightly. Damage trails off by about 1/6th. Optimal range on the guns drops slightly, as well. The tank—which doesn’t need to be altered at all—is reduced by about 10%. But the upshot of all of those mild performance hits is that the Rokh is still performing just the way it should be.

Snipers

Sniper Rokhs rely on the ship’s ability to project significant damage out to extreme range. That’s kind of obvious though, isn’t it? Snipers don’t go and sit out in a tree someplace with a squirt gun. They use high-powered rifles that shoot a long way and produce results. Sniper Rokhs work the same way. They do about 250 dps each. That may not seem like much on its own, but it adds up. And they deliver that at range; 250 km range is about the baseline. Some fits can target (with boosts) out to 300 km, and apply their full damage for that entire distance.

All that, though, comes with Omega Clones, and all of the benefits of perfect skills and T2 guns and modules. In the hands of an Alpha Clone, that 300km fit only locks to 267 km. It hits the first falloff interval at 265.9 km. The damage output also drops to about 185 dps. Lower numbers, all around, just like on their lower-range relatives. Even taken together, though, these numbers still place the Rokhs at a range that’s difficult to counter. And they’re still bringing powerful dps when the weight of massed fire is added. 200 Alpha Clones in sniper Rokhs would still bring 3700 dps. And that’s at a range where most ships can’t fight back at all.

Oh, Right…

As for that mining Rokh? Yeah, it sounds a little ridiculous in a world where Rorquals ply the belts of lowsec and anomalies of null. For Alpha miners, though, it’s a surprisingly sensible option. The only dedicated mining ship Alpha Clones can use is the Venture. It maxes out its unboosted yield at 6.28 m3/s in the hands of an Alpha Clone. That same max-skilled Alpha sitting in Rokh with 8 Miner IIs and a trio of T2 Mining Laser Upgrades in the lows pulls in almost twice that: 12.4 m3 of ore per second. Fully expanded, it gets a cargohold of almost 1.7k m3, as well. It’s not the 5,000 cubic meter ore hold of the Venture, but it’s not bad. If you’re looking for throughput and have someone to haul, Rokh on, Alphas.

Apocalypse/NApoc

Maybe it’s the name, but the Apocalypse just keeps coming back into use. It’s got good tank and tremendous firepower, and it doesn’t use ammunition. That’s handy for structure shoots, but it gets very cap-hungry. The Apocalypse Navy Issue (NApoc) features in here as well. Whenever there are Apoc fleets, there are NApocs. In fact, it’s often a NApoc fleet where a few guys just didn’t buy the pricier hull. Loadout-wise, the two ships generally fit the same way. The only real difference is the extra low on the NApoc, which allows a Heat Sink for more dps.

The Apoc’s capacitor is often supplemented with a heavy cap booster. Usually, this is a T2 model, but for Alpha Clones, it has to be downgraded to a meta T1. The same goes for the guns, of course, but beyond that, the normal fits are fine. The Apoc does lose a bit of tank to the skills of Alpha Clones. However, it’s not as much as the shield battleships lose. The dps drops by about a third, but the cap booster provides enough to keep weaker cap skills from cutting that down further. The Apocalypse Navy Issue suffers the same performance degradation. It starts off so much better than a normal Apoc, though, that when flown by an Alpha, it does comparable dps and still has more tank.

Megathron

That’s right, I said it. Not just Throns, Megathrons. As armor ships go, the Megathron is one of the most balanced battleships available. It offers a solid tank, good mobility, and staggering firepower. Like the Apocalypse, it can run into capacitor trouble, though. This is only going to get worse with Alpha Clones. The normal response to this problem on a Mega is to use a capacitor booster, just like the Apoc. Happily, Alpha Clone Megathrons using a cap booster enjoy the same stability as their Omega counterparts. While they lose over 1/4 of their dps due to skills, range, and T1 guns, the hit to their tank is almost non-existent. Combined, this makes Megas a strong option for groups with a lot of Alphas, or smaller groups getting back into the game on Alpha accounts. These will only get stronger once the citadel changes go through.

Oh, and there’s one more we should talk about.

Machariel

You didn’t really think we’d go through all of this to not look at the Machariel, did you? In the current metagame, the Machaeriel is hands-down the top dog among battleships. It’s faster than the rest, both in warp and sublight. It features a strong resist profile and fits out to a solid tank. It gets bonuses all over large projectile weapons, from pure damage to rate of fire to falloff range. And as a projectile platform, it has only minimal capacitor needs. From Tenal to Paragon Soul, Outer Passage to Outer Ring, in low- and null-sec fleets, small gangs, and even high-sec missioning, the Machariel does it all. As might be expected, there are a number of different ways to fit out the high and mid-slots of the Mach.

Artillery

The most common builds for Machs center around the big guns: 1400mm artillery. It’s possible (just) to fit out a Machariel with seven 1400mm Howitzer Artillery IIs, a 500MN microwarpdrive, and a pair of Imperial Navy 1600mm Steel Plates. Of course, it requires giving up a rig slot to a T2 Ancillary Current Router, or using the T1 and a 2% PG implant. It’s a tremendous ship, but of course, Alphas can’t use that fit.

Specifically, they can’t use the T2 guns. Downgrade those to T1 guns, make sure any sensor boosters you use are T1, and they’re fine. They don’t even need the implant. Other artillery builds work out much the same. As long as that T1 LACR rig is in there, T1 Artillery give Alpha Clones all the fitting space they need.

Autocannons

Artillery isn’t the only effective option for Machariels, though. The bonus to falloff range means they can be fitted out with 800mm autocannons as a vicious, high-dps brawler. It’s the equivalent of bringing a chainsaw to a knife fight: fast, powerful, and rips things up. In this build, the lower PG requirements of the guns means that the Mach can devote all of its rig slots to tank. Often, the short-range configuration will be fitted with MJDs to get in (or out of trouble) fast. That’s where Alphas might run into trouble. As we saw with the Raven, they can’t use MJDs. But a group that knows it has Alphas in the mix can bring Command Destroyers, just like those Raven fleets already do.

In fact, most of them would, even without Alpha Clones. It’s better to use the CD than your own MJD, after all. Battleships bump one another. They upset one another’s alignment. This is especially true of the Machariel, with a model nearly the size of a carrier. Since the MJD jumps you directly ahead, a fleet even slightly out of alignment winds up scattered. The single MJFG jumps everyone together. So like the Raven, the Alpha Clone MJD Machariel probably won’t suffer for normal combat mobility. When it comes time to scatter and run, though, they’ll be the ones who get caught.

Performance on both versions drops in the ways you’d expect, of course. Tank drops by roughly 15%. Damage drops off by 10-25%. You lose about 15% off the ship’s speed. But it’s still a fast, hard-hitting battleship with a massive tank and a (relatively) small signature that warps like a Heavy Assault Cruiser.

Support Ships

Battleships and battlecruisers are really just the beginning. With their improved fitting skills and ability to use T2 modules of many kinds, Alpha Clones now enjoy upgraded performance in many roles. Whether logistics, tackle, ewar, or scouting, Alpha Clones can now use the normal fits previously limited to Omegas. Incidentally, that mining Rokh? Maelstroms and Abaddons will do a pretty good job, too. Basically any battleship with 8 turret slots will outperform a Venture. From there, it’s just a question of how much cargo hold you need, or if you’ve got a hauler.

Winning the Arms Race

Arms Race brings improved capabilities to the Alpha Clone skillset. As a result, Alphas will have more of a role in the conflicts of EVE Online than ever before. They’re deadlier in small gangs, and can contribute more easily in large fleets. Moreover, their versatility and expanded ship list makes them a much more attractive option for returning players. Many players have been largely dismissive of what ‘alpacas’ could do over the last year. But in the new meta, they’ll be almost indistinguishable from ‘normal’ Omega Clones.

Regardless of how they get here, the possibility exists for a large swell in Alpha numbers. The groups that are best positioned to appreciate and take advantage of this can gain—or make up—a lot of ground in the never-ending arms race that is EVE Online.

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Comments

  • Rhivre

    It’s going to be interesting to see how Alpha use of battleships & faction ships develops over the next 6 months or so, both within alliances, and in the solo alpha players.

    December 6, 2017 at 6:53 pm
    • Lekly Rhivre

      Alphas finally have enough skills available that they can be used in a mainline doctrine. It will be interesting if groups try using alpha clone stashes in various key points, just import ships and invade.

      December 7, 2017 at 5:27 am
      • Aurel Specker Lekly

        I expect rather the opposite. The ability of doing strong defense/rorq saves while being deployed with the main…
        But making an an alpha still costs a few bill.. just for a backup alt? Not sure if this is an actual option for the most ppl (non-spacerich ofc)

        December 8, 2017 at 7:41 am
        • It only costs a few bil if you don’t plan ahead. At this point it would take half a year to get an alpha to the right level, but if you started when the news was first announced, you’re right on track.

          December 8, 2017 at 2:16 pm
          • Arrendis Lekly

            Yeah, but if you’re logged in on an alpha, and someone gets tackled back home, you can’t login a second account to drop faxes and save them.

            December 8, 2017 at 3:26 pm
  • Rolfski

    Mark my words: Alpha mining battleships backed-up by Omegas in Orcas are going to be huge. Delve economic reports will explode even more.

    December 6, 2017 at 8:31 pm
    • Lekly Rolfski

      I think the Alpha BS miners will only really exist in HS

      December 7, 2017 at 5:25 am
      • Rolfski Lekly

        Nullsec alliances have plenty of alphas, both vets going casual for a while and the ongoing stream of fresh blood.

        December 7, 2017 at 11:48 pm
  • Freelancer117

    Arms Race Assemblers (Spawning ships out of Thin air)
    source: https://forums.eveonline.com/t/arms-race-assemblers-spawning-ships-out-of-thin-air/44177
    ccpgames spawns battleships etc out of thin air, and again this CSM does nothing.

    Regards, a Freelancer

    ps: could it be like Jin’taan said it’s not the csm’s place to interfere with the Company’s business ?

    but how do you explain this ?

    https://forums-archive.eveonline.com/default.aspx?g=posts&m=4583354#post4583354

    CCP Seagull: Nothing has changed in our approach since that blog – the same principles still apply, and we will still discuss all new plans with the CSM.

    The blog she mentioned was ACCORD REACHED AT CCP’S SPECIAL SUMMIT in 2011.

    December 8, 2017 at 10:31 am
  • Alot

    I feel CPP missed a brief but important trolling opportunity with this release. They should have released a set of time-limited Quafe-brand cybernetic racing arms in the cash store to customize your clone with, claimed that was the central feature of the “arms race” at the top of the release notes before listing the actual (lesser) features such as such as alpha clone changes ect.

    December 8, 2017 at 10:31 am