Friday, 22 June 2012
Faction Warfare - First Impressions
Based on the current state of play I decided to join the Amarr; I figured that joining the underdogs was likely to present both the greater challenge and a larger number of targets, and so far that's proving to be correct. I also decided to go into FW solo, signing up under my own corp rather than joining one of the established groups - obviously this is going to change my FW experience considerably, but I expect it'll be a better baseline for a new PVPer signing up to FW.
In terms of gameplay, Faction Warfare occupies a spot somewhere between general lowsec PVP and the hisec foreverwar of RvB, with a small dash of nullsec sovereignty thrown in for good measure. Most of the action takes place in small roaming gangs of fairly light ships, with fleet sizes of 15 or less being the norm. Since your opponents are at war with you you're not constrained by the mechanics of GCC and gate guns unless you decide to engage neutrals, which further encourages the use of light gangs and makes it easier to fight on gates. Like RvB, most FW fleets tend to be pick-up fleets and are fairly 'kitchen sink' as a result; you'l occasionally see more structured gangs fielded by some of the more cohesive FW entities, but these are in the minority. Because of this, it's fairly easy to sign up to FW as a new and unaffiliated player and jump into a fleet with minimal fuss.
Speaking of fleets, there's almost always a fleet up for you to join (at least there has been in my experience - obviously I can only speak for the Amarr). Unlike RvB where there tended to be a single fleet active at a time, in FW there are regularly two or three militia-wide fleets on the go chasing different objectives. There tends to be more roaming between fights than in RvB since the combat is spread over a larger area, however it still requires far less time commitment to find a fight than regular roaming PVP.
Most fights take place in FW plexes, a special kind of deadspace complex designed to only admit ships below a certain class. This restriction leads to more balanced fights; if your gang is in a minor plex then only gangs of other minor plex ships can get in to engage you - no more getting your frigate fleet stomped by a battlecruiser gang. However it also removes some variation in the ship types that you're likely to encounter, since everyone aims to fly the most powerful ship that can access a given size of plex; if a gang is out running minor plexes they'll fly destroyers, whereas a medium plex gang will be heavy on faction cruisers (generally fleet stabbers, at least in the Amarr/Minmatar warzone). It also has the effect of removing some potentially well balanced fights due to participants being either side of a plex cut-off; for example you can't easily engage a frigate gang in your solo assault frigate because they're probably going to be in a minor plex which you're unable to access.
While plexing in a group gives you a better chance of beating hostile gangs, a plex will be captured just as quickly regardless of the number of ships you have in it and the LP reward for doing so will be split among the fleet. This means that there's more benefit to plexing in a small fleet than a large one (providing you can defend against any hostile gangs), and helps avoid the numbers war that you get in nullsec and keeps gang sizes relatively small.
Solo PVP in FW is fairly easy to find, but can be a bit of a mixed bag. Many people run FW plexes solo and warping to those plexes is a fairly good way to find a fight, however since the NPCs will attack whichever participant is hostile to them (and because many of those people run plexes using speed tanking or PVE-fit ships) quite a lot of potential targets will warp out rather than fight you. You'll need to watch out for hostile gate gamps too; since most combat takes place in a relatively focused area the chances of running into a larger gang are fairly high, and unlike regular lowsec PVP people can tackle you without risking GCC. That said, the militias seem to be fairly good at sharing intel and most large gangs or camps will be reported, which is a great convenience compared to roaming blind (or relying on an alt scout).
One of the big draws of FW is the fact that you quite literally get paid to PVP - every kill you participate in will reward you with LP based on the value of the ship you destroyed. The LP gain from PVP kills is relatively low, and since it's split among members of the gang that's especially true if most of your kills are as part of a group. It's definitely a nice addition, but don't expect to fund your PVP purely through killing things. On the other hand, offensive plexing and FW missions both reward substantial amounts of LP (and thus isk) for the time invested, and can provide a nice income source in a PVP environment. If you plex in a PVP-fit ship you might even be able to generate some fights at the same time. The isk return from LP if fairly mediocre at lower warzone control levels, however if a faction is able to hit tier 4 or 5 warzone control it really can be very good money. In light of recent developments however, it looks like reaching those tiers under normal circumstances is likely to be a rare event even when your militia is winning.
One controversial change of Faction Warfare which was introduced with Inferno is that you can no longer dock in systems which the opposing militia controls. There was a lot of criticism around this change, but I actually think the mechanic works really well - it gives a lot more meaning to being in friendly or hostile territory, and makes capturing (or defending) a major staging system really quite a big deal. Unlike sovereign nullsec it's fairly easy to get your stuff back should you lose access to a station - you can use an alt or friend not engaged in FW or create a courier contract to Black Frog and they'll haul it out for you. The effect then is much less about removal of assets and more about shifting the front line and making it more difficult for the opposition to stage or reship in a given area.
In summary, FW seems like a great place to get fairly low-commitment PVP with very regular fights, and the size of the warzone along with the consequences attached to system control makes it a little more varied and tactical than the experience you're likely to get with RvB. Some major benefits over RvB are that fights generally take place in space rather than on stations, and that the plex mechanics make it harder for your opponent to simply upship to beat you. The system capture mechanics serve as a good objective to drive fights, without encouraging the size of fleets that you might encounter in nullsec. Since each militia is a collection of corporations rather than a cohesive group FW can feel quite disorganised, however the political aspect can add an extra level of intrigue if you're into that kind of thing. With politics comes plenty of propoganda and forum-warrioring too of course, but that's all part of the game.
FW is a good choice if you're a fairly new pilot looking to get some exposure to PVP - you don't need fancy ships or skillpoints to participate and fleets will generally welcome newbies happily, while the LP gained from plexing and killing things can help ease the cost of your ship losses. FW is also a good outlet for more experienced players who want more strategic PVP without the long hours of nullsec, or who are simply looking to maximise their number of potential targets. Since the fleets in FW tend to be fairly cheap and laid back it's also a great place to develop new FCs. It probably isn't the best place to go if you like structured gangs and disciplined fleets unless you're planning to fly mainly with your own corp, but that's true of just about anywhere.
For more information about about FW, there are a number of FW-related blogs which I'd recommend checking out. Some are more partisan than others and you should be prepared for a fairly hefty amount of bias the author's faction, however they're all interesting reads. While I'm no means a FW expert by this point, you're also welcome to drop me a line if you have any questions, and I'll do my best to answer them.
The Altruist is the Eve Online blog of Azual Skoll, PVP instructor and small gang PVPer.
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