Interception!!

It’s been over 6 months now since the interceptor changes, and I feel like there’s been enough real experience with them now to deal with the topic of the changes they experienced in Rubicon.  This was a hot topic for some time, but it’s dialed back to a slow simmer with occasional flare-ups when some nimrod has nothing better to do on the forums but whine that interceptors killed his ratting Tengu or run his gate camps too often.

It’s not that the topic is unworthy of discussion, but more than the topic tends to be hijacked by idiots who seem to think camping a gate with a bubble is automatic entitlement to kill anything that comes through it other than the cyno bait Rupture that’s going to hotdrop it, or who think  that because they are ratting out of titan bridge jump range somewhere in a rental Empire, that dropping a few “defensive bubbles” ought to be a foolproof method of getting into warp before anyone can catch their ratting Raven/T3/Carrier.

First, I want to get out there that personally I think bubbles are a shit mechanic, with the possible sole exception of Heavy Interdiction Cruiser (HIC) Bubbles.  Regular interdictors are marginally better than anchored bubbles.  They have the potential to not be a shit mechanic with some careful nerfing to the regular interdictor bubbles (namely, capacity to carry more of them) and anchored bubbles, but as of right now, they’re shit, placing a premium on expensive ships of a few narrow types (cloaky or nullified) to beat them when not travelling in areas you have a strong intel network for.  they are especially bad in places like null-to-low/high connection systems and other crowded areas like NPC null.  The Doril gate from Sendaya is camped so frequently that hotdropping the campers is a public service.

Therefore it should be no surprise that I consider the interdiction nullification change.  Not only is it a nerf to bubbles, but it also means that interdiction nullification is not a T3-only feature.  While I have no particular dislike of T3s, aside from the absurd durability of their buffer fits, I do think anything that provides alternatives to T3s is a good thing.

That said, interceptors require some consideration, because the class is not JUST interdiction nullification.  Roaming gangs of interceptors are a thing.  They don’t seem to be as much of a thing as they were 4-6 months ago, but that also might be a matter of BRAVE relocating from Barleguet to Sendaya and now to Catch and not having every bored lowsec pirate in the neighborhood coming around in interceptors looking for newbies to farm.

That brings up the weakness of claiming that interdiction nullification is the problem with interceptors – Barleguet and Sendaya are both lowsec systems.  There are no bubbles there.  Yet, the roaming gang of interceptors can do as much damage there as nullsec; maybe more since lowsec is not vast swathes of empty between possible targets.

No the problem with interceptors is not with their ability to evade bubbles, nor with the ability of 14 interceptors to swarm a Raven to death.  The problem is with the advantages of the interceptor in fights where numbers are more or less equal.

The interceptor is at the extreme limit of the advantages of small and fast, and because of EVE’s mechanics trying to balance ships across all sizes, things break down a bit with the interceptor.  Not all the way; the game is not broken, per se, but interceptors combine high speed with small signature radius to an extreme degree.  This really shows in the level of skill the interceptor pilot has trained; every level lowers the interceptor’s sig radius bloom from MWDing by 15%.  When you add in things like boosters, faction mods, and off grid links in some cases, interceptors can reach astounding speeds, while suffering much less penalty in terms of sig than other frigate-sized ships.

This means that all interceptors have a fairly large “zone of immunity” where it’s very hard indeed to hit them.  Outside of 10KM (edge of web range without faction webs or bonuses) and inside somewhere between 30 and 45km, interceptors enjoy a VERY high degree of protection from almost everything.

In these ranges, small short-range guns probably won’t reach at all, medium short-range guns will reach, but with a stretch to get out to the high 20KM ranges where interceptors like to fight.  Large short-range guns will generally reach, but suffer major issues of tracking and sig radius.

Long-range guns aren’t much better; almost all cannot track the interceptor effectively, even if they could track other small, fast targets like Imperial Navy Slicers.

Consider the example of BRAVE’s now-sidelined Pocket Rocket Thorax doctrine.  The Thorax has a 7.5% per level tracking bonus to the hull, and the Pocket Rocket used 250mm meta 4 railguns.  It included a tracking enhancer and a tracking computer with strips.  Hitting kiting Slicers was easily done’ hitting kiting interceptors nearly impossible.  Using 20mm Tech 2 guns with Javelin with have remedied this, but I have not had the chance to really experiment.  Still, that would mean a hull bonus, 2 tracking modules, a slightly smaller gun size AND a tracking bonus to ammo, just to hit with medium long guns.

Add a tracking disruptor to the interceptor, and you can basically forget about hitting it with any gun weapon system.  At longer ranges the interceptor might not get enough transversal to avoid being tracked, but at longer ranges it also can’t hold point.

Other weapons systems seem like they should fare better, but even light missiles suffer from extreme speed tanking of their explosion velocity.  Flare catalysts can help, but they aren’t that common, and the interceptor stays well out of web range for the most part.  Drones, even Warrior IIs, are mostly outrun.

Specialized ships can help, such as the Arazu or Lachesis, the Huginn, Rapier and anything else that can apply webs, scrams, or neuts farther out than normal, but these tend to be expensive and specialized ships.

Now, to be fair, gun interceptors run the risk of outrunning their own tracking too, and brawler interceptors like the Taranis and some Claw fits end up getting in web/scram range because they tend to apply scrams themselves rather than points, and possibly webs as well.

But that’s highlighted in the choice of interceptors – the most popular are the Crow and Malediction which avoid any problems with their own weapon system tracking or range, and which easily stay outside web/scram range of a target.

This means that an interceptor can essentially hold down a lot of targets indefinitely.  Often, these targets are ostensibly powerful combat ships.  While this isn’t automatically bad, the degree to which they can do it and the need for specialized options to have any chance at dealing with them pushes this over the limit of what’s acceptable.

Mynnna posted on her blog a few months back, an idea of taking bubble immunity from half the interceptors and giving them web/scram immunity instead.  While intriguing, this might actually make the problem even worse – stripping away counters to interceptors in lowsec. and any time a bubble is not available in null.  Worse, bubbles don’t slow the ship or make it easier to hit, so while it might not be able to warp off, it becomes harder still to hold it down and hit it, either to kill it or even just keep it in the bubble.

Right now, I would say any solution that alters all interceptors equally is not a good idea.  A solution should focus on bringing the worst offenders in line with the other six interceptors.  After that a better adjustment, if still necessary, can be better explored.  Still, if it’s a choice between having them as is and giving up bubble immunity, I’ll take “as is”.

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