Last July, Frontier announced the beginning of the Guardians 2.2.03 Patch Beta Test, which would focus on stability and general tweaks and fixes as well as widespread balance adjustments to ships, weapons, engineering, and so on. In short, Patch 2.2.03 became a course-correction and adjustment of everything in the game. Over time, the addition of features, ships, and content like the engineers, as well as the evolution of the meta as new concepts were introduced and then swiftly nerfed as players figured out how to use them, had led to a situation where the game was largely unbalanced. Furthermore, the implementation of Engineers was tedious and tiresome, and unfortunately non-engineered ships were simply not even competitive. Certain builds on certain ships worked, and anything else was simply not viable. I am happy to say that nearly half a year later, Patch 2.2.03 released and is really, really good.
The biggest and most noticeable change to the overall game is the removal of commodity requirements for all engineering recipes. When initially released, engineering required several steps. First, the player had to know about the engineer, which usually required being told about them by another engineer. Then, they had to meet a set of arbitrary requirements such as travelling 5,000 light years from Trevithik Dock, or mining 500 tons of ore, things like this. Finally, they player would usually have to make an offering to the engineer, things like 10 tons of painite, or 50 tons of liquor. Then the player would have access to the engineer, but in order to actually engineer things, the player needed to bring materials and commodities to fill recipes for items. Now, no recipes require commodities to unlock. This means the player only needs to grind for materials, which are much easier to find and which do not require a cargo hold to carry. Engineering has become significantly easier and more accessible, and this is nothing but a good thing.
Wing mechanics and instancing seems to have significantly improved with some major networking adjustments. I have been playing a lot since the patch dropped, and I can say that “transaction server errors” and “matchmaking server errors” are far, far less frequent. Before, any time you initiated a hyperjump between systems there was a very high chance you would be dropped from the game if you were in a wing. This made playing together almost impossible. And forget about PVP! Instancing with other players not on your friends list was almost impossible, and if they’re on another continent? No hope. I can say that none of this seems to be the case now. Earlier today for example I logged in and was instanced with numerous other players, many of them not on my friends list, some in Europe. This is a hugely refreshing change and a vast improvement to the game.
The other changes are more subtle, and apply to the actual balance of weapons and modules for ships, as well as ships themselves. Perhaps the most blatant change is the addition of Module Reinforcement Packages (MRPs), which serve as a kind of repairable ablative armor to protect actual internal modules on ships. Module snipers will have to chew through the MRP before they will do full damage to the targeted modules, and the MRP can be repaired before reaching 0% to restore the protective value. MRPs offer an answer to a longstanding problem: it doesn’t matter how strong your hull or how much armor your ship has if you can have your powerplant or frameshift drive sniped and all but guarantee death.
Another major change is the introduction of “Military Slots” to certain military style vessels such as Vipers, Vultures, Federal Dropships, and so on. These slots can be used to equip either Module or Hull Reinforcement Packages, or Shield Cell Banks. This means that military-type ships can pack more armor, and can pack additional armor even when being used for mining, hauling, or other non-combat applications. It is also better than simply increasing hull values as it allows players to prioritize hull protection, module protection, shield protection, or low weight, by simply leaving the slots empty.
Weapons themselves were adjusted to improve usability. Railguns, which have always been a high skill cap weapon, received three times as much ammunition. This change allows railguns to be viable outside the very niche scenarios of running single-ship assassination missions, or PVP. 30 shots from a railgun is simply not enough to take bounty hunting or to a conflict zone, so the increase to 90 rounds is a tremendous boon for railguns. Gimballed weapons now no longer track with unerring accuracy, but instead their sensitivity is linked to the sensors of the ship: ships with better sensors will track better with gimballed weapons. Fixed weapons mostly received additional ammo and shorter reload times, as well as reductions in distributor draw. This encourages skill play at the higher levels without discouraging more casual pilots from using their gimballed weapons.
Biweave shields have been boosted in a big way, making the biweave tank a viable approach to shielding. Biweave shields previously merely regenerated at a slightly different rate than their normal counterparts, and on ships with shield strength in the thousands of megajoules, the difference between 1/s and 1.6/s was hardly noticeable. Now, bigger biweaves regenerate more quickly when they are broken, while smaller biweave shields are unchanged. This change allows bigger ships using biweave shields to stick around and continue the fight, as there is a reasonable chance shields may come back.
Engineering special effects also received some small adjustments here and there which generally serve to improve the effectiveness and viability of engineered effects, making it so that there are no longer penalties that outweighed the bonuses of effects that were being avoided by players simply because they hurt more than they helped. Modifications that had large penalties have been tweaked, for example lightweight weapons no longer suffer a damage penalty.
The entire patch notes can be found on the Frontier forums, and go into much more detail than I can here. I will say, though I have often been critical of Frontier’s game design decisions, there is very little I can criticize with this patch. All of the changes appear to take into consideration the concerns of the players playing the game. Nothing adds tedium or gates content behind increasingly loathsome time-sinks or busy-work. Adjustments do not nerf things for being too good, but rather improve other things to be competitive. A real balance patch which makes engineering easier and less dependent on rolling boards for commodities, which takes underutilized weapons and makes them more useful, which rewards skill without punishing a lack of it, patch 2.2.03 is a demonstration that when Frontier works with its community, rather than against it, it can make good decisions about the game.
Now we can only hope that this philosophy will carry over into larger concepts of game design, as we still all wait for real in-game organization mechanics and a real intra-player economy that would set Elite apart as the space simulator to play.