For a long long time, CCP has slowly rebalanced different ship classes to make them more popular, in most cases making them faster than their previous iterations. To some extent this was to make the game feel faster and more intensive, but it could also be seen as a response to the dominance of projection based doctrines that have been a staple in the fleet environment for a long time. The latter of these two reasons is the one that has made fast ships so vital in solo and small gang PvP.
Speed counters projection because of the way Eve’s “tracking” system works. Most people who’ve been playing the game for a while know this: the faster a ship goes, the harder it is to track, of there are more variables but that’s the basic idea. But making everything faster is unsustainable. We’re at the point where kiting in null security space is quite risky without friends in support ships due to the incredible speeds some ships can reach, This change was exaggerated by the assault frigate changes last year that reworked the entire ship class, making most of the assault frigates the same speed or faster than their T1 equivalents (with the exception of Amarr frigates), especially in regards to the Jaguar assault frigate.
CCP doing CCP things
At Eve Vegas, CCP announced their long awaited fix for the Jaguar, often critiqued by solo PvPers and small-gangers as being too fast, too tanky, and overall too much of a hassle to deal with to the point where entire fleet compositions were built to deal with this one ship. CCP of course did as CCP knows best. Instead of looking at why that ship was being critiqued, they nerfed the entire assault frigate shiptree, giving them all an approximate 10% speed nerf.
This change is getting mixed responses from everyone that used them, especially from the people that relied on assault frigates like the Retribution and Wolf to fight against larger groups where speed was everything. CCP might have done this to please the crowd that wanted the Jaguar nerfed, but the more likely option is that they wanted this change to support the changes to the combat interceptors (Claw, Taranis, Crusader and Raptor) as they’re significantly weaker than the assault frigates, with their only advantage being speed.
Not So Howling Interceptors
But when all that is said, the change to the speed of assault frigates does fit thematically according to CCPs vision. CCP wanted assault frigates and heavy assault cruisers to be tanky T2 ships that packed a punch compared to their T1 equivalent, at the cost of speed, so the strength/weakness dynamic was kept (with Minmatar being the outlier due to their insanely fast T2 ships). The problem is that many people use the assault frigates to kite due to their speed and innate signature reduction, which made combat interceptors obsolete in their role as a fast kiters due to the assault frigates similar speeds and far better offensive and defensive capabilities. This of course means that CCP wanted to knock them down a notch to make room for combat interceptors as a fast and agile kiting frigate.
The problem with this balance change, that CCP nicknamed “howling interceptors,” is that it didn’t provide enough of a buff for the combat interceptors to make them compete with assault frigates. CCP added a +5% damage bonus to each combat interceptor hull to help boost their popularity, but that was never the problem with them, at least not the largest problem. Since these ships are designed around kiting with long range weapons, it means they struggle heavily for multiple reasons.
As a dps/tackle ship hybrid they quickly run into trouble as they have no range bonus. This makes applying damage at warp-disruptor range a problem, especially with a targeting range worse than their T1 equivalent, with a Taranis and Claw barely targeting to overheated point range at 28km. The lack of a range bonus also means that you’re forced into longer range ammos, reducing your damage even further.
Their tank is also paper thin as they don’t have the fitting nor slots to fit a strong tank without making sacrifices elsewhere in the fitting in terms of range or damage. These sacrifices already cannot afford to be made as they’re vastly inferior to other ships available in every aspect, apart from their speed, speed they’re mostly unable to utilize due to their poor range.
The Weak and Vulnerable Hare
Below I’ll compare two fittings for the Claw and Wolf, both fit for kiting with artilleries to make the differences and shortcomings of the combat interceptors more obvious as the weaknesses of the Claw go for all the combat interceptors.
The immediate weaknesses I explained above should be clear from the numbers here. The effective hitpoints on the assault frigate are significantly higher, which is one of the major shortcomings. In this meta where light missiles, drones and high tracking ships like Kikimoras are quite common, the Claw struggles heavily with two-thirds of the Wolf’s tank in its weakest resist and barely half the tank with a standard resist profile.
While it could be argued that the lowered sig and increased speed of the Claw would be a huge advantage to it, as it reduces the amount of damage it takes, this advantage is made insignificant when the Claw is unable to apply the already-lower damage at these speeds. These fast kiting ships are most effective at dealing with smaller ships, yet because of the Claw’s high speed and low range, it’s unable to apply well to a small target while moving at top speed.
The last point I want to make regarding the Claw is its fitting. Due to the naturally higher speed you’d assume that you could fit more tank in the low slots compared to the Wolf, where you need several speed modules, especially after the speed nerf, but this isn’t the case. As you can see on the comparison, the Claw and all other combat interceptors have heavy problems with fittings, to the point where fitting any tank becomes a liability and generally weakens the ship further, in areas where it already can’t afford to be weakened.
In conclusion, CCP’s vision of separating combat interceptors and assault frigates was good in theory, giving both clear strengths and weaknesses. The problem with this is that combat interceptors are simply too weak in almost every aspect compared to assault frigates. Their increased speed doesn’t make up for their terrible fitting and inferior damage/range which prevents you from fitting tank as you need the CPU for range and damage modules. So, all these changes accomplished was to make assault frigates far weaker for fighting outnumbered, while not giving players another alternative in combat interceptors.
If CCP wants to go through with their vision they must change more drastic things about the combat interceptors. They need to give them more base hp in their specific tank, armor for Amarr and Minmatar shield for Caldari, and a little to hull, armor and shield for Gallente, as its three mids and three lows can be used for both shield and armor tanking, and Gallente ships have innately strong hulls. This change can be coupled or replaced with a much-needed buff to add more distinct T2 resists to them as they’re currently more in line with T1 resists.
Next up is the potential to add a range bonus to their racial guns, either as an additional bonus on top of their already existing bonuses, or as an innate range bonus similar to destroyers. No matter how it is added it is a definite need as they’re currently struggling to keep up with anything in terms of application, which is almost everything in the game that is in the meta.
And lastly, as I mentioned earlier, all four ships in the class need to get another look taken at their fits, as they all struggle with fitting even the most basic of tank without making their damage and projection too weak viably use over other ships, primarily assault frigates and faction frigates.