A fleet of battleships nervously cluster around the force field of a large control tower deep in null security space. Moments later, a cynosural field appears on their overview and ship counts in the system dramatically rise as another fleet enters and proceeds to mercilessly slaughter the defending fleet. Over the course of the next eight hours, they proceed to pound every tower in system into reinforced mode, each followed with, "Five more minutes. One more tower," spoken over fleet communications. With every tower in system finally reinforced, the fleet jumps out, waiting to come back in a day or two to repeat the task again and finally purge the system in their ongoing campaign to control the region.
Sound familiar? This was roughly the state of sovereignty warfare before Eve Online's Dominion expansion attempted to redesign the process. No longer would it be required to hunt down and destroy every control tower in a system before it could be considered taken while simultaneously dropping your own towers to claim it. Gone would be the days where time zone ping pong would turn into an endless back and forth ping pong game of reinforcement of hostile towers while repairing friendly towers. The new sovereignty system was to be streamlined, much more fluid and dynamic while offering alliances who plant their flags new ways to build infrastructure in their space. It's now, three months later, I'd like to examine and highlight both the positive and negative results of Dominion for EVE Online.
TCUs, SBUs, iHubs...wat?
New expansions always mean new acronyms. Dominion was no different with its new chess pieces for the sovereignty game, the Territorial Claim Unit (TCU), the Sovereignty Blockade Unit (SBU), and the Infrastructure Hub (iHub). These three structures would be key in allowing alliances to claim, attack and build their empires while transforming the former slog of control tower sieges into a much more active struggle of invasion and defense. But what exactly do these new toys do?
Territorial Claim Unit - I claim this space in the name of...!
The TCU was designed as the alliance flag to be planted in a solar system. Anchorable at specific points in the system, it would become invulnerable after an eight hour online time while immediately granting system control to the controlling alliance. The only way to remove an online TCU would be the next structure on our list...
Sovereignty Blockade Unit - Nice system, we'll take it.
A permanently invulnerable TCU would make sovereignty warfare non-existent, so we have the SBU to correct that issue. Should you find a nice patch of real estate you would like to own, just drop enough SBUs to cover 50% of the jump gates in the system and they will go to work making the TCU there vulnerable to your attack. Once the 3 hour online time passes for each structure, they become invulnerable and the TCU becomes attackable.
Infrastructure Hub - Making something out of nothing
Once you've secured your patch of space and dropped your own TCU, it's time to lay the groundwork for your empire. The iHub itself has slots for upgrades to be plugged in once certain criteria are met in the system, allowing the controlling alliance to improve their territory beyond what it normally would be by increasing the frequency of hidden asteroid belts for miners and anomalies or complexes for more combat oriented players.
So how did all of this fit together in reality? On the infrastructure side of things, the shakeup was fairly dramatic. The decoupling of sovereignty from control towers meant alliances no longer needed to cover every moon in a system in some cases to make it more difficult for attackers to gain a foothold. Many alliances removed all but the most essential towers they were using for mining or jump bridge networks, leading to much less time invested in fueling hordes of sovereignty claiming towers. Additionally, CCP's inclusion of a maintenance fee per system held resulted in many alliances dropping excess systems from their empires, choosing only to hold station systems and other high value areas while leaving the rest unclaimed to save money. The net result here was less time spent doing tedious maintenance tasks like fueling towers, leaving the players free to do more of what they enjoy in the game like blowing other people's stuff up.
It's only fitting then that the changes to sovereignty warfare are among some of the most hotly debated features of Dominion. While Dominion made taking a system in theory much more simple by requiring destruction of the TCU and iHub present, mechanics have led to a strategy of jumping into a system, camping the exits for three hours while SBUs online, reinforcing the TCU and iHub's shields, then waiting to come back in a day or two to reinforce their armor, then come back to finish the job. This has led to campaign times increasing greatly, requiring sometimes up to a week to finish off and claim a system an alliance has set out to siege depending on how strong enemy resistance is.
Dominion was also laden with some severe bugs early on at launch, specifically pertaining to the iHub upgrades applying properly to the system they are in. Upgrading a system is based on three individual indices that are rated from 1 to 5: Military (how many NPC pirates are killed per day), Industry (How much ore is mined per day), and Sovereignty (how long that system has been held by an alliance, in days). The upgrades that go in the iHub can improve everything from how many and how good the hidden ore belts are to improving the number of anomalies (small combat sites) permanently in system. Normally, anomalies would despawn once completed, but each level of the upgrade was supposed to improve the number of anomalies present by four per upgrade, plus allow them to instantly respawn once completed. Players discovered early on that this was not the case, raising a very large and angry cry for it to be fixed since it was supposed to be one of the most appealing features of upgrading a system. The issue was patched three weeks later after discovery, fixing the issue and allowing anomalies to respawn instantly as had been intended. Other features, such as the conversion of Motherships to the new Supercarrier class and the associated hit point increase, didn't make it into the game until Dominion 1.1.1, causing many players with these ships to not log in and use them in combat as they were now incredibly vulnerable to the new Titan super weapon, a single target death ray designed to replace the massive Area of Effect old Doomsday Devices.
In spite of the multiple issues arising with the new sovereignty and upgrade system and certain features such as Supercarriers not being available until a later patch, Dominion itself laid the groundwork for a system that CCP can conveniently build upon for later improvements and expansions. Supercarriers and their new fighter bomber drones have given the ships a new, interesting role in large fleet combat, while the changes CCP made to the Faction Pirate ships (such as the Guristas and Angels) has led to an increase in them being used in combat as well. Sovereignty itself needs more work, but Dominion has taken the out of control problems of the old system and replaced it with a much simpler one that can be given increasing complexity over time as CCP iterates further on their designs for player empires.