Thursday, May 23, 2024

Exploration in null - Guristas edition, Part 1 - Introduction

Exploration was the first activity I engaged in when I joined EVE a decade and a half ago. I still remember scanning and exploring the vast space in my trusty Imicus. Everything back then felt unknown, scary and exciting. Safe to say, exploration is the PVE activity closest to my heart, and it is probably no surprise my career path took to wormholes where scanning and exploring are at their core. Therefore, I will speak from the position of passion while describing my exploration experience in null-sec. I hope the criticism of some parts will not be mistaken for complaining but rather taken as a missed opportunity for what "it" could have been or still be.

Home area

It is probably no secret that TEST & friends live in Deklein. The first thing I learned was that each Alliance have its own space carved out, and you are not allowed to run any anomalies or exploration sites outside defined borders, with few exceptions, such as events and escalations. For TEST, that means an area for a total of 19 systems. When I first heard this, I wondered how such a big alliance with so many members fits in this small area. I did not follow null-sec politics, but from what I understand, the alliance went through some dramatic shifts and is not what it used to be in terms of size. While many people might find the current state "disappointing", for me, who comes from wormholes, the smaller, the better. I joined the corp and not the alliance anyway. It just happened to be TEST, and it could have been anything else. One thing I learned about null-sec residents was that most hate scanning. The majority of people run combat anomalies and mine to fund PVP. A small percentage focuses on exploration, meaning competition is not that bad. So, let's talk exploration.

Exploration toolset and philosophy

For the first few weeks, my approach to exploration was that of a vacuum cleaner. I did not care about isk/hour, total value, difficulty, or anything else. I would clear every site I could find, from low-end data sites to high-level DED combat complexes. It took me a few days to bring in all the tools, but I spared no expense. My philosophy is simple - throw money at the problem to minimize failure. For things like Ghost and sleeper sites, the question is not how I can escape intact before rats or the environment gets me, but how to tank it best. Difficult hacks with a risk of failing and exploding can? Can I buy my way out to negate that risk? What ship is needed to run 10/10 without much sweat? And so on... Here's how my setup currently looks:

  • Tengu - scanner & data/relic site runner (Alt)

Initially, I just used my trusty WH stalking Proteus with expendable implants. Despite rarely dying, I always went with the setup that in case I died, I would just shrug it off. Few implants to support scanning, but nothing crazy. My starter process was - to scan with my alt and run sites with my main. I soon found this to be inefficient. If I found a good Relic site and a combat site 5 jumps away, that was a lot of lost time travelling back and forth. The reason for using Proteus was the same as in WHs - have a tanky tackle ship for spontaneous targets. Worked really well in wormholes but does not work in Null. Mostly because no one but "blues" run sites, and any PVP target will be either a big fleet passing by or a cyno bait. Very rarely would you get an engageable small gang situation. Proteus would still work for day-tripping to wormholes, but they don't spawn that often and even if it did and I found targets, I realized one - my corp and probably alliance, in general, are allergic to wormholes, and two - all doctrine ships are kity stuff that works well in null, but will be difficult to utilize in WHs which requires more tanky setups. Plus, no armoured doctrine exists, meaning no armour reps, and the universe will die before I exchange my trusty cloaky tackle Proteus for anything else when it comes to stalking.

So, I made the decision to park my favourite ship in favour of a Tengu, purely for exploration purposes. Now I scan and run all standard Relic/Data* sites and bring my main for specific Ghost/Sleeper or combat sites. I even added a Zeugma Integrated Analyzer and a full set of  Virtue implants for good measure.

Reasons for Tengu and not a covops ship are: 1) I feel safer as it is tankier and normally, hostiles don't assume it's for scanning/exploration. 2) I can still snipe and kill hostile exploration frigates I encounter.

  • Proteus for Ghost/Sleeper sites (Main)
Designed to tank Ghost sites and Superior/Standard Sleeper Caches. 
  • Proteus for The Maze & escalations (Main + 2 alts)
Pimped out for maximum tank against Guristas and specifically designed for clearing The Maze, which is a 10/10 DED combat site. It is also used to do escalations outside the home area as it can travel fit with an interdiction nullifier and covops cloak.
  • Ishtar for general combat sites (Main + 2 alts)
Ishtar was originally designed for anomaly runs but was adapted to run all exploration combat sites within the home area. It's cheap, tanky and boring, but gets the job done. I still can get ganked if I run into a fleet, but the intel channel and a scanner scout make that very unlikely. The only reason I use it instead of pimped Proteus is that I couldn't be arsed to swap between combat & travel fits. Also, I can buy 5 Ishtars for one Proteus, even if the risk is minimal. Not to mention, it makes me not worry about situations like if I get disconnected when tackled mid-site. I am sure there are Ishtar fits for The Maze, but I am allowed some excitement in my life, eh?
  • Proteus for WHs  (Alt)
While it mostly sits in the hangar, I still use it to explore wormholes when the region has few sites to run, and I have time to spare. I still need to bring the tools for WH ganking. The last thing I want is to find a couple of Marauders running sleeper sites, and my corp does not have anything beyond Stabber. I can call Alliance Fleet, but I have yet to build rapport and determine how that would work in practice. It would be simpler if I was in a big corp like Dreddit, but I am not, meaning I have to use Alliance comms and I can't really ping targets because I am not an FC. I still have some figuring out to do on the null-sec life.

In the next chapter, I will discuss my experience running specific sites. While some are as old as the game itself, many sites were new experiences to me, as funny as that sounds. So, the story will be from the perspective of a "new player" with a flavour of a bitter vet.

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