Empyrean Age and all that - Combat!
"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."
~ Sun Tzu
And so we get to the meat! Empyrean Age is about war, and war is about shooting people, so we put some thought into new ways of letting people shoot other people, preferably in the face. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
In order to give combat activities some areas on which to focus, and get all the relevant features tied up into a nice, consistent system, we designated two main theatres of combat for the two main conflicts. These sit in lowsec space between the Caldari and Gallente, and between the Amarr and Minmatar. The first one starts in central Metropolis, down through the Amamake area of Heimatar, and extends through into The Bleak Lands and Devoid. The second starts in Black Rise and parts of The Citadel, and stretches across into eastern Placid and the northern lowsec areas around Old Man Star. These are the systems that are "up for grabs," as it were.
One of the results of our general brainstorming are the new sets of missions we've knocked together, using some new tools we've been given. These are issued by new agents, located in the new Militia stations and available only to Militia members, and stretch from level 1 to level 4. Each level has a different limit on the types of ship that can enter:
- Level 1 – Tech I frigates and destroyers
- Level 2 – Tech I frigates, destroyers and cruisers, Tech II frigates
- Level 3 – Tech I frigates, destroyers, cruisers and battlecruisers, Tech II frigates, destroyers and cruisers
- Level 4 – All ships not requiring "Capital Ships" skill
These missions will send you to complete objectives deep inside enemy territory. You'll have to make your way into a system within the enemy's combat area, avoiding or killing enemy pilots. There you'll find a mission site, which as you arrive will place a celestial beacon that can be seen anywhere in the system. From here it's a race against time to complete your objective and get out before the locals show up to ruin your day. Obviously, bringing friends will increase your chances of success, as will playing smart and being ready for just about anything!
The mission sites themselves will be easier than usual for each level, as the main obstacle is other capsuleers rather than NPCs. We've also got a couple of new tricks up our sleeve here, which let us do some rather cool stuff that you'll no doubt discover for yourselves!
In addition to the missions, we also have discrete combat sites available for your pew-pewing pleasure.
These sites are distributed throughout the theatres of war, much like normal exploration sites. They're classified as "Cosmic Anomalies," and are tuned to be findable with the on-board scanner.
Once you locate one, it'll pop up a beacon in local in a similar manner as the missions. They also have similar ship restrictions – sites exist which match up to Level 1, 2 and 3 missions, plus a couple with no acceleration gates, which any ship can enter. These sites are deadspace-enabled, but specially configured to allow MWDs – this means you don't have to compromise your favorite PvP fit in order to be able to move around inside.
The focal point of each site is the tactical objective found within. These use proximity sensors to detect who's nearby, and react accordingly; the mechanics end up being similar to those used by a wide range of other territory-based games, from tactical FPS to tabletop wargames. Your "side" needs to stay close to the objective and keep the bad guys away for a certain amount of time (in the ten to twenty minute range – you won't be sitting around for hours!), after which you'll secure the site, score points for your faction and earn a little personal glory (manifested as standings increases). If the enemy manages to chase you away, they have to undo the progress you've made before capturing it themselves.
This translates into a violent back-and-forth struggle in contested sites as both teams try to beat back the opposition. With ship restrictions adding a little variety to the mix, fights can range from protracted to extremely intense. The rate of capturing is not affected by the number of ships present on each side, so achieving the correct balance between defending individual sites and having as many being conquered as possible at the same time becomes an interesting balancing act.
The Bigger Picture
Once an objective is conquered, two things happen. First, it's thrown back into the pool of available missions, and placed elsewhere in the theatre of war as a new objective. This means that available objectives will constantly be shifting around the map – you can't just sit in one system and grind it, you have to roam around looking for new objectives.
Second, as mentioned earlier, it gains points for your faction in that system, either adding to your points pool as an attacker, or subtracting from the attacker's pool as a defender. If the attackers' points reach a certain threshold, the system becomes vulnerable. At this point the system's Control Bunker becomes vulnerable to attack, and it's a race for the attackers to try and knock it out as quickly as possible while the defenders try to keep it safe and complete enough additional objectives to make it invulnerable again. There're no restrictions on what can show up at the bunker's location –it's a no-holds-barred, winner-takes-all affair. If the attackers succeed in their assault, the system changes hands at the next downtime, which is reflected in one of the new map modes.
For now, this produces no effects outside of the warfare mechanics, but once the system settles down and we get a good handle on the way things play out in the real world, we have the opportunity to give it more significant impact without risking seriously unbalancing other areas of the game.