HACs Are Broken. . . Aren’t They?

2021-07-06

Header art by Eithar Nox.

We hear it all the time. In fact, we hear it so much that we accept it as true. The Heavy Assault Cruiser meta is broken. And so, Heavy Assault Cruisers themselves are broken. Unfortunately, this is both right and wrong. It’s wrong for all the right reasons, though, and right for the most wrong any reason could be.

The HAC meta is broken. HACs, however, are not. Everything else is. In some ways, this is a companion piece to my previous article. Hell, it’s literally a more complete dive into a chunk of text I left out of that one. But that was mostly because including it would have meant putting this entire article inside that one, and that would have just gotten way too all-over and rambling.

So let’s start off by looking at the simple stuff.

Balanced, As All Things Should Be?

Let’s start off by looking at the poster-child for the HAC meta, the Muninn. Are Muninns too strong? Well, what’s the Muninn’s role? Stand-off fleet combatant? Slash-and-burn brawler? How does it balance against other HACs? Does it just see use because it’s the middle-of-the-road HAC that doesn’t really excel at anything, but doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses? Maybe the problem, within the HAC class, isn’t the Muninn. If the Muninn is ‘middle of the road + artillery alpha’, then maybe the issues (artillery aside) are with the rest of the class.

Eagles see a lot of use, after all. Better range, better tank, better sustained DPS over time. The Cerberus and Sacrilege have their uses, too. Selectable damage types, and either good speed or very good tank, make them viable. But then, the Eagle and Sac get resist bonuses. And they stack without penalty with the massive resist bonus of the ADC. Four different types of HAC see use in fleet engagements. Isn’t that a good thing?

Fleet HACs vs Skirmish HACs

Minmatar, Amarr, Caldari, all represented in the four heavy-use HACs. No Gallente, two Caldari. Why? That’s where racial defensive bonuses come in. The two defense-bonused HACs that don’t get used in the fleet meta are the Vagabond and Deimos. They’re bonused for small-scale fighting. Small-scale is also where the Zealot shines. 

You’d expect, then, to see the Cerb in small-scale conflicts, and the Ishtar in the fleet meta. But we don’t. The Cerb’s got the speed to survive, and missiles, unlike the artillery the Vaga would need to carry, take relatively little power grid. In fact, alone among weapon systems, the short-range Heavy Assault Missiles take more power grid than the long-range Heavy Missiles. And the Cerb gets bonuses to both missile flight time and flight speed. It double-dips on the range that way.

The Ishtar, on the other hand, winds up suffering in the fleet meta because it’s just an unconventional ship. It’s all drone bonuses, and drones don’t work the way other weapons do. Drones have travel time, like missiles, but much slower. And drones can be bombed. 

Sentry drones can be used to great effect, but they’re especially vulnerable to bombing. Run out of drones, and you’re done. That’s true of all ammunition, but most weapons can carry more than a few dozen shots. Meanwhile, mobility is one of the HAC’s strengths, and sentry drones can be a big anchor, locking a fleet down. 

Like everything else, drones need critical mass to really be effective. Which rules the Ishtar out as a skirmish HAC, too. So you get one race with no fleet HAC, and one with two—and the Cerb can pull double-duty as a skirmish HAC, too. Still, overall, the class isn’t as imbalanced as it seems.

Power Creep

But even if HACs aren’t imbalanced within the ship class, that doesn’t mean the class itself is balanced. After all, are Heavy Assault Cruisers really supposed to do everything better than even faction battlecruisers?

The answer there might actually turn out to be ‘yes’.

HACs Are. . .  Inevitable

Yeah, I just double-dipped on Thanos. 2018 Thanos, not 2014/2023 Thanos. 2018 Thanos had earned that shit. 2023 Thanos was just a straight up entitled bitch. Anyway…

From the moment EVE launched until Tactical Destroyers were released, New Eden saw consistent, prolonged progression. There were T1 ships. Then there were T2 ships. Eventually, access to hyper-advanced Sleeper components produced T3 ships. Since then, we’ve gotten Precursor ships and Edencom ships. The empires have each demonstrated they’re still capable of technological innovation, because we’ve even gotten T2 Precursor hulls like the Zarmazd and the Ikitursa. And all of that, in its way, makes sense.

Here’s what doesn’t make sense: Tech II ships require nothing that the empires can’t acquire in bulk supply from their own moons. They don’t appear to be particularly difficult to operate. And they’re far and away better than their Tech I counterparts. Which raises a small, kind of irritating question, really.

Why The Hell Do The Amarr Build Mallers?

That’s a serious question. In 1979, the United States rolled a brand new, high-tech weapon off the assembly lines, literally. It was the M1 Abrams, a Main Battle Tank that outperformed the M60 Patton in basically every way imaginable. But less than seven years later, production on the M1 was over. Instead, the US spent 1985-1992 producing the M1A1, and then the M1A2. As the technology improved, the ‘basic’ version got phased out in favor of the more capable, updated versions of the vehicle.

Similarly, by the time George H.W. Bush was built, she was already significantly different from Nimitz, the lead ship of her class. She incorporated a number of improvements that would go into the subsequent Gerald R. Ford-class. And she benefitted from structural improvements that every carrier since Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed. That’s just how military development works: as designs mature, they get refined and improved.

So why are the empires still building their outdated, obsolete T1 hulls? Why, more than a decade after the introduction of T3 ships, are T2 still ‘advanced’? (Seriously, look at the wrecks.) They’re not advanced. They’re already less advanced than the ‘elite’ T3 hulls. T2 ships are mature, middle-of-the-road hulls that should have completely replaced the older, less-capable versions. And that’s the problem: they have. But of course, they haven’t.

The HAC Meta—Cruise Control

Cruisers are the mainstay of a navy. They have been for hundreds of years. Originally ‘cruising warships’, since the age of sail, cruisers have been the ships that can go everywhere and pretty much get the job done. Since the development of the battleship (and especially the dreadnought), they’ve been categorized as mid-sized vessels that occupy basically all of the roles between torpedo boat screening (destroyers) and capital vessels (battleships and carriers).

And that, after all, is where the HAC currently sits: the mainstay vessel of most nullsec navies. They’re the generalist fleets that Get Shit Done. When moving around isn’t as much of an issue, battleships do more damage and tank better. When mobility is the most important factor, frigates and destroyers dominate. But when you need the sweet spot… cruisers. HACs have largely replaced the battlecruiser fleets of a decade ago.

Similarly, Assault Frigates and Tech III Tactical Destroyers have replaced T1 frigate and destroyer fleets for strategic use. Heck, if there was a T2 battleship worth using, nullsec would be using it. We keep trying, after all. Faction battleships get tried—on their own or mixed into regular battleship fleets—all the time. Some groups even try Marauders every now and again.

And that’s exactly what should have happened. But it should have happened everywhere. And it should have happened in the empire navies first. They’ve got the production facilities. They’ve got the money. Hell, they invented the newer, better ships. Argentina shouldn’t be getting the newest, bestest, upgraded Ticonderogas while the United States is still using some busted old California-class cruisers from 1970. But that’s what’s happening in EVE, because nullsec can develop, while the empires are locked into being 2005-background-flavor-text.

The Other Half Of The Problem—Is The Same Problem

Ford offers seat belts and airbags in the 2021 Fusion. And in the 2021 Mustang, Explorer, Expedition, and F-750 Diesel Tractor. But they’re not offering either of those, or anti-lock brakes, or a spare tire, in the 2021 F-150 pickup.

Sound ridiculous? Of course it does. Because it is. You’ve got proven technology that works on the biggest thing you make, the smallest thing you make, and the mid-sized thing you make. Of course you’ll put it on the full-sized thing. And it’ll work, because it’s a proven, well-understood technology that you know how to implement at different scales. So what does that have to do with EVE? Just asking that question in the context of this article, you already know what I’m talking about now.

I’m talking about the Assault Damage Control. Works on Frigates. Works on Cruisers. Capital Emergency Hull Energizers are basically the earlier, more limited version, and they work on caps and supers.

So where the hell are the ADC battleships? Why is this damage control system, too, not standard in the empires’ navies? I’d like to say this is more believable, because the ADC’s much newer than T2 hulls, but let’s face it, it’s a refit cycle. It doesn’t take nearly as long as building a new ship, and we’ve got nano-assemblers building whole damned IKEA™ Upwell-brand Keepstars in 24h. The very idea that the empires don’t incorporate this kind of defensive array into literally everything they can is preposterous. If nothing else, the Triglavian invasion should have had them desperately scrambling to improve their fleets—especially the Caldari.

Uphill, Both Ways

New, advanced technology becomes old, outdated technology. When I learned to drive, the only cars on the road with full-time communications suites were driven by the Secret Service and Michael freakin’ Knight. Now, I’m pretty sure the old Hyundai my grandfather bought twenty years ago has the processing power to land people on the moon. More and more advanced technology finds its way into public hands every year.

But with that comes other things, too. The year I learned to drive, a new Corvette cost about $20k. Now it’s four times that cost. Inflation’s a thing, in the real world and in MMOs, and most games understand that. When you start World of Warcraft, and do the latest version of the tutorial, you don’t get the same copper rewards you got at launch, killing kobolds for their candles.

But CCP’s missions haven’t changed. Their early game hasn’t changed. They have shiny new tutorials every goddamned 18 months, and then they dump newbies right out into a PvE environment that’s over a decade old. Oh, sure, the ores in asteroid belts have changed, but the mechanics haven’t changed in any significant way. Missions haven’t changed. Mission payouts sure as hell haven’t changed.

Skillful Advancement

CCP needs to get the clue, and start phasing things out. Moreover, they need to overhaul the relationship between ships and skills. The other thing that happens to technology as it matures is the people behind it find ways to make it easier to use. Once upon a time, adults setting the time on a VCR was a running joke. Now, they don’t have to: the cable box they use to DVR their shows gets the time automatically. So does their phone. And their computer. And the Blu-Ray™ player on their home network.

Hell, setting up a home network has gone from ‘get the teenager to do it’ to ‘take it out of the box and plug it in’, more or less. My mom, at 76, used to go around teaching her friends how to use their tablets. Tech gets easier to use. And this has happened within the setting of EVE Online, too. Alpha clones represent a more streamlined, less-hoops-to-jump-through version of capsuleer training, with wider availability than the ‘older’ Omega training. The empires have improved on their processes.

But they haven’t done this in any way with their ships? Does it make sense that after more than a decade, the navies haven’t found more streamlined, effective ways to train the baseliner crews on their ships? The empires and CONCORD all haven’t found ways to make the tools and technology more intuitive and easier to use? Capsuleers come out of the most advanced training programs in existence. Skill books literally download data into capsuleer brains. But despite all that, they’re not familiar with decade-old technology?

Can you imagine if graduating from a major technology university meant you weren’t even introduced to any technology newer than 2011? Would anyone take that degree seriously? Would anyone take that university seriously?

Growing Pains

One of the arguments against this idea is that military organizations don’t update their tools that often. They don’t stick with advancements as quickly as possible. One example that was brought up to me in discussions is the main infantry rifle of the biggest military in the world. The M4 carbine is essentially the M16A1E1, with a bit of refinement. Ultimately, it’s a weapon rooted in development that goes back to 1958. The new US Marine Corps M27 is more or less a hybrid AR- family rifle with guts from H&K’s G36, another long-serving firearm. All of that is undeniable.

Unfortunately, that ignores two factors. For one thing—even for capsuleers—ships are not personal weapons. For another, in many ways that is exactly the point.

Ships Are Not Guns

When you look at large, complex pieces of equipment, like vehicles, one thing keeps being true. Top-end military tech advances don’t get into private hands quickly. In fact, if you look at which group gets high-end vehicles faster, it’s pretty universally the military.

Now, that’s not always the case in things like personal arms. Those, however, are a different creature. They’re easier to build, faster to design, and a lot faster to get to production. So yes, in that frame, the private sector gets flooded faster. But for things that have actual development cycles, and things that have actual price tags, no. In that, military availability will always be greater. And HACs, and other T2 ships, are definitely out there in private hands, in massive numbers. If we can build entire fleets of HACs in a few weeks, then the Republic, with massive shipyards they can dedicate to that purpose and no need to build Rupture hulls first…

And there’s really no justification for claiming the bottleneck is the T2 components—moongoo and the like. First, the empires have moons. They own all of the moons in high and lowsec. If they need moongoo, they get it, and screw you, capsuleer. But more importantly: if moongoo was that much of a bottleneck, the empires would find ways around it. They’d come up with substitutes, just like we came up with synthetic rubber, etc.

So no, they don’t have any problem mass-producing these things. If we can do it, they can do it, better, at a much larger scale. And clearly, we can do it.

The M4A1 Is Not The M16

The newest iteration of the Armalite Rifle series is not the first one. That sounds like it should be obvious, because it should. And it’s the entire point of this article, too: technology evolves. Nations replace older designs with the newer versions of those same designs. Eventually, they develop entirely new equipment from the ground up, but first, they update the old stuff to the new standards. The F/A-18 Hornet A/B gets phased out for the C/D version. Then those get replaced by the larger—but still an evolutionary development—F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

And that’s the point. Everything evolves. Nations phase out older original designs in favor of updated versions incorporating new technology. And new technology propagates, and cross-pollinates. The M27 itself shows that. One of the very examples people trot out for ‘militaries don’t update that well’ could be held up to say ‘Why don’t ADCs work on battleships?’

Technology doesn’t sit still. Except EVE’s does.

HAC the Cluster

HACs represent a clear progression of the State-of-the-Art for cruisers. They also represent clear progress in New Eden, and a way forward for CCP’s development of the game without things like introducting new, largely useless, ship lines. And I don’t like saying that. I know the developers put a lot of work into coming up with an interesting new mechanic and ships to use it. And I very much respect that effort and appreciate their labors. Trying new things is important… but, like the Zumwalt destroyers of the US Navy… sometimes a great idea just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, Upwell’s ‘I have a shotgun’ line of ships is about as useful as a real-world gun that costs $1,000,000 to fire.

Instead, advancing the state-of-the-art from older designs to newer, proven ones keeps newer players from feeling hopelessly left behind, and lets older players look forward to what innovations in ship design might come next. Let HACs etc become ‘Cruisers’. Don’t gate the hull by a T2 skill, let the T2 skill work to improve performance. It goes from an obstacle for newbies to a feather in their cap. Those skills become the sign of a pilot that knows that ship, and that role, so well that they can get the most out of their craft.

Similarly, AFs etc, become ‘Frigates’. And yes, continuing in this vein means T1 Combat Battlecruisers all end up with Command Ship resists if you have the skills for it. In a universe where T1 Cruisers do HAC damage… so what?

Then start phasing out the old T1 ships from the NPC ranks. Leave them in for players. They’ll get cheap, then they’ll stop getting built, and get expensive. Owning a Probe or Merlin would be like owning a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.

Natural MMO Progression

Technology evolves over time. MMOs evolve over time, top to bottom. Entry-level stuff gets compressed and newbies get into the higher-tier content faster than players at launch got through their first 10 levels.

EVE’s resisted that compression. At first, that wasn’t so bad. These days, though? Newbies come in, get T2 stars in their eyes, and feel like they have to rush to ‘catch up’. They follow a ‘Wallet Warrior’ path because they think CCP is telling them they have to. Go Omega, Buy Packs, Buy PLEX to get ISK to get Injectors. And when that leaves them in expensive ships they have no idea how to use, they lose those ships. Then they get bitter.

Some of them get mad and feel like they want a do-over. They spend more real-world money. They blow up again. If they’re lucky, someone notices they’re way too new to be in that ship, sits them down, and has a talk with them about learning how to use a ship before getting in the shiny version.

Others just quit. That doesn’t help anyone. Worse, they’ll tell their friends about a shit experience, and a company that chiseled them out of a few hundred bucks along the way.

An Aside About Economics:
In this approach, over time, changes in ship ‘tech level’ become less a matter of ship tier and more a matter of ship era. As the tech evolves, CCP can use different materials in construction to bring in newer designs, and then start fading out availability of older materials if need be. For the most casual players, the most available ships will always be the most inexpensive. For the guys who amass huge stockpiles of hulls… well, keeping up-to-date should solve a lot of the ‘OMG, too wealthy!’ issues CCP seems to never know how to fix.

P.S.: Don’t Believe A Goddamned Thing Piggles Says

In my last article, I included a post-script about Brisc’s Meta Show comments. This time, we go to the other side of the war for the latest stupid bullshit that someone should be slapped over.

On July 1, Progod made some bold claims about the HAC meta. They’re also straight-up lies. Here’s the first one:

In case it’s difficult to read, the quote is: “HACs aren’t the ship of choice AND the move fast. They’re the ship of choice BECAUSE they move fast. Capitals effectiveness vs. subcaps is what dictates that Battleships, especially after the role bonus removal for HACs, are better, they just are too immobile in this capital meta”

And number two:

“Nerf capitals so that your only concern as a subcap fleet isn’t whether or not you can run away from capitals. HACs are not in nearly as bad a spot as y’all think. Some of their counters could use a buff. But it’s capitals that cause a lot of the staleness in the subcap meta”

The general thrust of Progod’s argument in this discussion was that it’s the current state of carriers that created and sustains the HAC meta.

Progod is full of crap.

The HAC meta has been the HAC meta for more than half a decade. ‘Ishtars Online’ was a common complaint before the Casino War. Cerbs have been one of the dominant fleets since mid-2016. In 2017, Ishtars in Pure Blind made a mockery of literally every subcap thrown at them. It got so bad that GotG adopted an Ishtar fleet as a counter. When the 2017 T3 nerfs killed the Proteus meta, a lot of groups switched to Eagles. Then they added Muninns, because Muninns are faster than Eagles, and have artillery.

SHOCKING. Go fast and have lots of alpha-strike capability! Capitals? Capitals aren’t even part of the calculus. They never were.

But now, because Progod’s got to get his bloated corpse of a mega-coalition through a gate, NOW suddenly ‘HACs get used because fighters, and capitals need to get nerfed’. Progod’s lying. This shocks nobody.

People use HACs because they’re fast, because they hit like a goddamned truck, and because they tank like a battleship for 25s while the logi gets a lock. Not because they outrun fighters. Put a trio of Drone Nav IIs on a carrier, and Muninns have trouble outrunning the fighters from an Archon, forget about a Nid.

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Comments

  • Eve_Osir1s

    As someone who has been an anchor for Ishtars, Muninns, and Cerbs in small gang fights, I agree with your conclusion. Speed is so important because otherwise you’ll get webbed down, bubbled, and killed. The danger comes from being caught and pinned, which is why speed is so important in an effort to avoid that fate since bubbles and webs have a mildly short range.

    The danger for us in BlackOps when we do these fleets is that we can quickly become greatly outnumbered (regardless of capitals or not), so the ability to escape is paramount. Whether it’s two fleets focusing you down or a fighterblob, the result is the same if you get pinned down. Thus, I would argue that PGL’s argument is strictly self-serving as PAPI has been avoiding the capital problem and is hoping CCP will solve the problem for them.

    July 6, 2021 at 8:26 AM
  • Guilford Australis

    The Ishtar wasn’t always so unloved. When I started playing EVE five years ago the bittervets called EVE “Ishtars Online.”

    But I think that was mainly for its ubiquitous lowsec gate-camping and ratting role rather than fleet use, as the article says.

    July 6, 2021 at 11:01 AM
    • Undeadenemy Guilford Australis

      Nah it was way worse than that. The mechanics around drone assist meant that the best way to put DPS down range was to just have the FC trigger it. So everyone was flying Ishtars, Dominixes, and then eventually Gilas. It absolutely was the fleet ship of choice. And don’t forget the Slow Cats.

      July 10, 2021 at 4:47 PM
  • Garreth Vlox

    “Progod is full of crap.”

    When is he not?

    July 7, 2021 at 12:08 AM
    • Guilford Australis Garreth Vlox

      When his lips aren’t moving, generally.

      July 7, 2021 at 12:53 AM
      • One could argue that if his lips aren’t actively spewing crap then he’d actually be slowly filling with crap when not talking.

        July 7, 2021 at 6:02 AM
      • Garreth Vlox Guilford Australis

        when his lips aren’t moving he’s thinking up his next stupid thing to say.

        July 8, 2021 at 2:39 AM
  • Gee Poloskei

    another great article mate, when we sit down and see all the out of date stuff in eve,its pretty well dead now. i dont think ccp will fix it before number get below 10k

    July 7, 2021 at 2:26 AM
  • kwnyupstate .

    “But it’s capitals that cause a lot of the staleness in the subcap meta”
    I.e. Help us we can’t defeat capitals in subcaps. Subcaps SHOULD be scared if they attack capitals.

    July 7, 2021 at 4:23 AM
    • Garreth Vlox kwnyupstate .

      Progod’s complaint about caps can be boiled down to, “my 5000 guys in row boats can’t beat 500 goons in carriers so you should nerf carriers till the guys in rowboats win.”

      July 8, 2021 at 2:41 AM
      • kwnyupstate . Garreth Vlox

        He complains about having to worry if he can run away lol.

        July 8, 2021 at 3:21 AM
  • Bumpy Dog

    The question for me is, will CCP change the meta so that Progod and friends can exterminate 1DQ? He has caused scarcity after all. If he has that much influence within CCP, then I expect the pro Progod changes are already in the pipeline.

    July 7, 2021 at 6:12 AM
  • J Moravia

    This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read.

    July 7, 2021 at 1:51 PM