It's this level of complexity that has kept me hooked on EVE for so long. A fight can have any number of variables, and being able to deal with them is where the genius of combat lies. Figuring out the perfect tactic to take down a particularly tough group of enemies is quite sublime, while the hit-and-run potential of small-gang tactics is quite unlike PvP in any other game. (Of course, the vast, lag-tastic 200-man fleets you see in EVE are quite unlike any other game too, but I'd have a hard time recommending them to anyone who wasn't some kind of masochist.)
EVE's real skill lies in managing the energy levels of ships. Every ship depends on its "capacitor" to be able to do anything, and once the capacitor runs dry most systems will simply stop working. Knowing this allows some very complex combat tactics to emerge. If you're aiming to go for a "healer" setup, by using repair ships, then your enemy can quite easily cripple you by using energy-neutralising systems. You can counter this with energy-boosting capacitor injectors, but this will reduce your ability to fit other, vital modules. Like any MMO, knowing your build, and knowing how it fits with the build of your allies, is essential to victory.
Finally, let's come back to speed. Speed is the point at which EVE becomes quite unlike any other MMO combat you might think of. There are a few escape spells in WOW, for example, that allow you move quickly, or sprint away from trouble, but it's nothing compared to the far-reaching ramifications of speed in EVE.
At its most basic level it allows you to get away from your enemies: being able to zoom back to a jumpgate and leave the system, or get out of range of warp disruptors, means that you can avoid horrendous death. But that also means that everyone fits their ships to go as fast as possible. Either to escape the horrendous death, or to stop people from escaping the horrendous death: the answer is almost always speed.
What's more, if your enemies are unable to slow you down, it's possible for you to orbit them at high speed, slowly wearing them down, while outrunning their weapon systems entirely. The fastest builds in EVE, available to the richest and most experienced characters, are practically unstoppable. If you want an MMO in which real time factors such as the raw velocity of your character really do count, then EVE is still your best bet.
But - and this is one of those world-defining buts - speed as a game mechanic is also one of the biggest problems that EVE faces. Speed is EVE's great stumbling block, and the area most ripe both for a potential nerf, and for vehement defence by those who exploit it. It is an area of EVE's game that remains highly controversial: should speed really be the "I Win Button" that decides how battles go? Can EVE ever actually recover from its obsession with high-speed ships? We'll be putting that question to EVE's senior producer, Nathan Richardsson, in an upcoming interview.
Meanwhile, stay tuned for our next article, which will examine politics and piracy in PVP.
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