Thursday, May 30, 2024

Exploration in null - Guristas edition, Part 2 - Engagement, Loot and Effort

I have settled down in my new null-sec home for the most part. During my limited play time, exploration has been my core activity. I believe I managed to try out every site the region has to offer. Here are my thoughts. I will simply point out good things and flaws in how I see it.

Relic/Data sites

Tl;DR: If you are a new player or someone, in general, looking to earn ISK from exploration activities, go to Null and do Relic sites. Travel directly or find a wormhole with a remote null-sec connection to bypass gate camps and do Relic sites. Cargo scan for efficiency. That's it; there is no need to read any further. I also recommend null over wormholes, as local gives a big advantage.

In all seriousness, I quickly found out that data sites are a complete waste of time. Just the other day, upon undocking, I found 2 relic sites that netted me below loot (minus obvious ammo and probes):

Granted, these were high-end sites with luck on my side, but after weeks of clearing data sites, not once did I get anywhere close to the loot drop I got here. I am sure someone has averages posted somewhere, so I won't bother with data analysis, but the imbalance is undeniable. In my humble opinion, the best data sites equal the worst relic sites. It is unfortunate, and while I understand the demand is player-driven for the most part, I can't help but feel there is some potential to re-adjust the loot tables and end product requirements to make the data/relic site running more rewarding (I read that high-sec has the opposite problem due to low t2 salvage). Also, WHY PARTLY CLEARED SITES DO NOT DESPAWN? The fact that people can cherry-pick valuable containers and leave with the site still showing active is the biggest design oversight of all.

Leaving the "total value" relic vs data topic aside. the lack of "jackpot" items makes them rather mundane. You always know you will not find anything out of the ordinary, and the loot overall probably doesn't differ all that much between high, low, and null sec, only the amount. Meaning you get the same shit, just less of it the higher the system security. I like to daydream how it would be amazing if relic and data sites had some unique, rare drops part of the loot table, but I guess that's where sleeper cache and ghost sites come in.

Overall, the majority of the loot that drops is unique and only obtainable via said sites, which is what I like to see. If more unique items were added to the loot tables tied to low/null, it would be a great addition.

Sleeper Caches

There are three types of sleeper caches: limited, standard, and superior. They spawn in the empire regardless of security status, which I think is great. I had a chance to do all three.

Limited - pretty simple and straightforward, only one room with some environmental damage that can be avoided/mitigated.
Standard - a bit more complex with one main room and a hidden room. Some important knowledge is required regarding alarms, but otherwise straightforward.
Superior - most complex, with most rooms that require a good understanding of what needs to be done.

My relationship with Sleeper Caches is a bit of a love/hate. During my first run, I was confused and scared, which was a good thing. I think the risk of losing your ship makes them great, where you are left with the choice to either put the expensive, tanky ship on the line, which can still die, or use a frigate that every slip up can result in death. And there are many such slip-ups! While I think Sleeper Caches are a little overengineered, the risks they pose are what I like to see in exploration content.

These sites are not new by any means. Therefore, the market has settled.  Overall, loot-wise, when benchmarked against null Relic sites, anything but Superior Caches feels underwhelming for the risk and effort required to run them. The storyline and polarized gun blueprint drops are a nice addition, too bad many of them are quite worthless. I never understood why most of "storyline" loot is subpar to faction and deadspace. I feel the stats of many items should be revisited to make them more appealing.

CCP sometimes makes strange design choices. Take the example of the Superior Sleeper Cache "The Archive" room. Specifically, the Nanoplastic Membrane and Self-regulating Machine Gears loot. This content is not new, so I would assume people would have found any "hidden" meaning, but nope. I couldn't find any use for these items. Intravenous Oscillation Fluid x3 is required to trigger the final event, and as far as I am aware, the other items you get are junk. WHY? If they indeed serve no purpose, the designer needs a good smack to the head. Or maybe he got smacked and wasn't able to finish coding the purpose for the remaining 2 item types.

Other than that, I like the increasing pressure of shock waves that makes me sweat and race against time to hack as many cans as I can. Initially, I used a cargo scanner to cherry-pick important cans, but I realized I could almost hack all cans available before the damage became too much.

Ghost Sites

Covert Research Facility, a.k.a. Ghost Sites, is my favorite exploration content, and I think it should be the gold standard for future exploration designs. It is simple, risky, and rewarding. You have to prioritize your hacking. Enemies will melt your face if you do not have a good tank or don't warp out fast enough before they arrive. The timer is unpredictable, so it's always a race against time. Drops unique implant blueprints that are rare enough to make you excited when you find one. Although I only find "Improved" sites, and sometimes overall loot can be less than a high-end relic site (even with cargo scanning and cherry-picking), it does have good payoff chances, so it is always worth doing them. Honestly, Ghost Sites win my "Best Design Exploration Content" award. There. Not much else to say. They really hit the mark.

Unrated Guristas Combat Sites

Now starts the "ugly" part. I feel the unrated combat sites are the legacy content that hasn't been touched since EVE's inception. I may be wrong, but it sure feels that way. The dark ages when someone duct-taped things together without too much thought and called it good enough. Let's see what we have, shall we?

This is one of the easier combat sites. The most challenging part is staying cap-stable while flying from one side to another. It starts innocently with the acceleration gate only 65km away.

Then you get one spawn 50km off, another 100km off, and finally, the reinforcement wave spawns 175km away.

But let's not forget the second room where the tower itself is roughly 200km away with a timed wave spawning 140km from the warp, which, to my understanding, serves no purpose as you need to destroy the tower to get the faction to spawn that can trigger an escalation. This whole site is bizarre. I really struggle to understand why NPC is placed so far away apart. Especially in the second pocket when they can just be ignored, and they are too far away to be any threat to you.

Overall, it's pretty straightforward. It has 2 locations. 1st location, you may have a faction spawn, which, once killed, may trigger a second stage. No weird distances to cover. You destroy Guristas Research Facility, which may trigger the final "boss," who will drop goodies if you are lucky.

Overall, I have nothing particularly negative to say about this expedition, apart from the fact that it's not clear which structure to shoot to trigger the waves, but that is a common theme with many escalation triggers.

You land in the middle of 3 hostile groups but can blitz the room pretty quickly by snipping the tower and taking the acceleration gate. This spawns an additional group of battleships and frigates that web and scram you, so there is a risk they will tackle you before you can warp out.

Blitzing is an interesting concept. It can be done right, or it can be lazy. In this case, I think it's more on the "done right" side. Simply the fact that I am presented with a choice of either playing safe and clearing hostiles before triggering a reinforcement wave or taking a risk and going straight for the trigger that can put my ship in danger. 

I would like to highlight a few things once I was reflecting on my experience. Playing EVE for a long time and checking EVE University wiki has become second nature, but if we pretended we had no such source and I was new to the game, I would have no idea what is the escalation trigger. There is basically no visual, text, or audio indication of what needs to be done. It would be nice if sites were designed so that it would be obvious what needs to be done.

The second room has a big station and a massive amount of tank.

Upon shooting it, it releases a high-damage smart bomb with a range of 100km. It will nuke all your drones if you are not careful, as I found it the hard way. Also, a fun fact - it releases a smart bomb for each character that attacks it. So, if you have a fleet of 4 cruisers and attack it at the same time, there is a good chance everyone will die.

Overall, the site can be tanked in an Ishtar without big problems. The commander that may or may not spawn will for sure not give you anything worthwhile. At least, that has been my general experience. I am not even sure I am isk positive with this site due to the amount of drones I lost while multiboxing. Nuked 3 sets of Wasps more times than I could count.

But we run these sites for the escalations, right?

The first 3 rooms are pretty straightforward and can be completed quickly. Warp in, snipe the commander, collect garbage loot, and go to the next location.

If you are lucky, you will get to the final stage, the 4th room. The last room, unlike until now, has timed spawns. No way to blitz through. You just have to kill stuff and wait for the final boss to arrive. In this case - Hanuo Wako.

The problem with escalations is that they can take you anywhere. If you are lucky, the expedition will be in a friendly territory or in a hostile one. To finish Pirate's Path escalation, I had situations where I had to travel to a hostile territory with no stations. I use ~720 dps. The Maze fit Proteus for this purpose. It is pimped to tank excessive damage. Just like The Maze, Pirate's Path also does considerable damage if you focus on "blitzing" and shooting commanders as they spawn, which still takes considerable time as spawns are timed. The Hano Wako took a long time to kill. 700 DPS seems to be just above the threshold to break his tank. As mentioned, I ran this escalation several times, and each time, I got jack shit from it. I know it's RNG and all, BUT multi-stage escalations, in general, SHOULD give SOMETHING. Unlike standard DED sites, you have so many stages to get lucky: get initial escalation and get continuous escalations with each room. Not to mention, you are often forced to go many jumps away to complete them. Escalations should have a UNIQUE loot pool to them. They should be exciting, and people should be willing to risk shiny ships in hostile spaces to run them. As it is now, the unrated combat sites are often skipped by explorers, as I see multiple days go by with signatures still active. I am not surprised. I think many people get complacent and just accept these things as they are. While the new content is good and exciting, CCP should consider some Life Cycle Management practices for existing content. Either remove obsolete content or make adjustments to make it new and refreshing. Hacking sites went through numerous iterations until they landed in a hacking mini-game, which I think is a great implementation compared to the old system. I wish they revisited combat sites across the board someday, too.

In the next part, I will continue to review the remaining combat sites. Thanks for sticking around.


  1. I can’t believe my favorite PVP wormholer is talking about relic sites. I pray that the bug bites and you’re back to hunting soon.

    1. I get it's probably not the most exciting topic to read about, but I simply aim to describe my experiences. I will talk about my impressions of nullsec pvp too. Unfortunately WH hunting will have to somewhat wait for the time being.