Somewhere last week sugar asked me; talk to me about battlecruisers? Are they any good in the game at the moment?
My very elongated answer boiled down to; that yes they are actually not bad but they do fill a somewhat niche role in the current meta. Also what battlecruisers are good depends very much on what environment and gang size you are trying to use them in.
I did a very wordy post on gang sizes earlier this week so I will not bore you with that again, if you haven't read it however some of it is relevant to what I write here today.
Battlecruisers used to be the workhorses of EVE, they used to be everywhere and for the majority players involved in PvP they were the hull type they would spend the most time in, by far. The Drake and the Hurricane used to be almost synonymous with PvE and PvP respectively. This is no longer so, to explain why I need to go into the history of battlecruiser and cruiser re-balancing, because I think that to explain the battlecruisers disappearance as EVE's workhorse the two can't be seen separately.
With EVE: Retribution, CCP went and nerfed tier 2¹ battlecruisers while at the same time buffing cruisers. Cruisers in general became faster, more agile, easier to fit, got better capacitors and most of them saw a significant damage increase to boot.
While at the same time tier 2 battlecruisers in general became comparatively slower, harder to fit and either lost damage or stayed about the same in the damage department. Tier 1² battlecruisers which had always been far less popular then there tier 2 counterparts mostly got minor buffs and in the case of the Cyclone an entirely new main weapons system.
Personally I think battlecruisers at this point where in a good spot except for their relative sluggishness compared to the new cruisers, kiting battlecruisers like the PODLA Drake and Nano Cane died with EVE: Retribution. But battlecruisers on a whole still offered bigger tanks and better damage then cruisers, but the gap had undeniably become much narrower. As a direct result of this cruisers became much more prevalent in PvP and battlecruisers less so.
Gang size also plays a part in the usability of battlecruisers, historically the two most popular PvP battlecruisers used to be the Drake and the Hurricane. Their use in small gangs however was very different from their use in large fleets.
In small gangs these ships were commonly used as kiting ships. A typical Hurricane would sport a shield tank, a nanofiber and gunnery mods in the lows, 220 or 425 autocannons and two primarily defensive but flexible medium neuts. A Drake would be fit as a PODLA Drake (named for the corporation famous for flying them) and would generally sport 2 nanofibers, 2 bcu's, 2 defensive webs a shield tank and heavy missile launchers.
The Hurricane was very fast in that era, able to keep up with most cruisers and all battlecruiser, it had good damage that it projected well and was generally very flexible. PODLA Drakes could quickly kill anything that was fast enough to tackle it and outrun anything powerful enough to kill it. Both were incredibly strong ships in the hands of a capable pilot.
Some premiere PODLA Drake flying by the corp that made them famous.
Hurricanes for fleets were fitted either with hefty armour tanks or with dual shield extenders and an adaptive invulnerability field, 220 or 425 autocannons and dual medium neuts. In those setups, provided you brought a lot of them, they were a cheap and effective way of dealing with capital ships. You'd park them on top of hostile capitals slammed silly numbers of medium neuts into them and utilized their excellent close range dps. They were also great at shutting down cap dependent doctrines like Abaddons provided you could manage to get them on top of the hostile fleet.
PODLA Drakes mostly died out when heavy missiles got rebalanced and then when Drakes took a hit to their agility and speed later, the fit just died all together. Kiting shield canes and neuting armour canes both died when their power grid got nerfed into oblivion.
In EVE: Crucible however CCP had introduced a new class of battlecruisers called attack battlecruisers. For a period then kiting battlecruisers became synonymous with these newer tier 3³ attack battlecruisers. The Talos was for a while, arguably, the absolute best kiting ship in EVE. It could (and can) project massive dps and huge alpha (on par with an alpha hurricane even) out to very respectable ranges and had the speed, especially when supported by gang links, to deal with most things that could pose an immediate threat to it. Oracle gangs to, became a common sight in all areas of New Eden, combining excellent damage projection and alpha with good speeds.
The blob Drake was also obsoleted largely by the introduction of attack battlecruisers (in addition to the range nerf to heavy missiles). While attack battlecruisers have less tank they are faster and can do far more damage then Drakes can at similar or better ranges. Naga's in particular supplanted the Drake in their blob role.
Kovorix showing of his Talos skills from 7:50 onwards.
The first change meant that solo or small gang kiting tier 3 battlecruisers could easily be tackled by cruisers. The Second change meant that larger tier 3 battlecruiser gangs all over 0.0 started dying en masse to bombing runs. This ultimately signaled the end of tier 3 battlecruisers as a fixture in the meta only about a year after their introduction into the game.
In November of 2013 CCP released EVE: Rubicon and with it came the warp speed changes, no longer would cruisers and battlecruisers move across space at the same speed. With the benefit of hindsight I'm going to point to this moment in EVE's history as the death of the battlecruiser as a staple in small gang PvP in lowsec but not however in nullsec.
The reason for this I think is that people in lowsec and 0.0 move around differently, especially when moving over greater distances. In lowsec people tend to roam and move the majority of small gangs via star gates. Often they do so over significant distances, 50-100 jump roams are not uncommon for lowsec fleets. Having your entire fleet slowed down by battlecruisers really bites, it means you can cover less virtual space in more real world time. So lowsec switched to cuisers and heavy assault cruisers (especially after these got buffed too in EVE: Odyssey). A final contributing factor to the battlecruisers demise in lowsec is that battlecruisers cannot enter medium faction warfare plexes, making cruisers and HACS a preferred choice for many faction warfare corporations. A battlecruiser is a fairly rare sight in lowsec anno 2014 and it really didn't use to be like that.
In 0.0 however it is far more common to bridge fleets around either by titan or via a jump bridge network, meaning that the trade-off, of tank and damage for loss of warp speed is one that simply hurts less. On top of that larger (buffer) tanks are more valuable in 0.0 due to the constant threat of stealth bombers, a thing nobody in lowsec has to worry about.
Fast forward to 2014's meta, so are battlecruisers still being used today and are they any good? Yes, they are but a few things have changed. In present times if you see a battlecruiser in lowsec (or NPC 0.0) it will very likely be either a Myrmidon, a Cyclone or a Prophecy. The astute observer will notice that all these ships have a tanking bonus of some sort and specifically that all of them make good active tankers. A very astute observer will also pick up on the fact that all of these ships have the ability to fit weapon systems capable of dealing damage well at any brawling range and are at least partially immune to some forms of e-war. Furthermore they all have the ability to fit medium neuts and tackle, essential tools for killing frigates. And if you fly solo or in tiny gangs in lowsec that's a pretty big requirement you simply have to fill.
This is also why many of the other battlecruisers see very little use in lowsec, frigates are omnipresent and so are tracking disruptors. If you can't quickly kill frigates or hit them well you're most likely going to die helplessly to a big swarm of them. The combination of a big active tank, neuts and a weapons system that can cope with tackled frigates allows you to to both survive and kill them however.
You do also occasionally see a brawling HAM Drake or a brawling Brutix, while neither of these ships are bad at what they do, they both have some serious limitations and vulnerabilities making them relatively uncommon choices.
Out in 0.0 however things work a little differently, and while some people absolutely do still fly slow brawling PvP battlecruisers out there, they aren't very common. When you're in hostile sovereign space either solo or in a small group, brawling battlecruisers are too slow to disengage from superior numbers and you'll likely have to deal with many ships larger than frigates often in superior numbers. Lack of a reliable way to disengage (other then trying to de-aggress on a gate and hoping they're idiots) means that roaming 0.0 in a brawling battlecruisers is more often then not a one way trip. The medium micro jump drive CCP is introducing with EVE: Kronos may change all this, but we'll have to see.
What you do still see in 0.0 is the need for cheapish 'for fun' fleets with decent tanks that have the ability to reliably engage things and/or act as support to battleship doctrines. A recent example of this are Nulli Secunda's beam Harbingers that they are currently rolling around providence with. Rail Feroxes -or if you're rich like Pandemic Legion rail Vultures- are also ships that have been used by various entities in recent history as way of fielding cheap decent range, decent damage, decent rate of fire doctrines that have sufficiently acceptable tanks.
Nulli Secunda & Friends using their 'Handicats' beam Harbingers
Attack battlecruisers survive in both lowsec and 0.0 primarily as a sniper platform, used to camp gates and stations or to roam solo in faction warfare space and/or snipe people outside plexes.
They are also very popular with high sec gankers in the shape of the Talos and the Tornado.
Some gangs also still use tier 3 battlecruisers as a way to compliment their dps, though I see them get used like that less and less recently.
Basically there is now a divide between what type of battlecruiser hulls get used in small groups and solo and what type of hulls get used in larger fleets. With the exception of attack battlecruisers which get used in the same role in both arenas. Where the Drake & Hurricane used to rule supreme in both environments there is now diversity. Personally I am fan, for diversity is good for the game.
Battlecruisers are in my opinion absolutely still viable, though they have some significant drawbacks in how they compare to both T1 and T2 cruisers making them less likely choices for smaller fleets. It is hard to think of something for example that a Drake really offers over a (Navy) Caracal or a Cerberus, or a Myrmidon over a (Navy) Vexor or an Ishtar in a small gang setup.
That is not however sufficient basis to call them bad ships, for they really aren't, it is however I think basis to wonder if perhaps battlecruisers have perhaps lost a distinct role/function in the current game?
¹ Harbinger, Drake, Myrmidon, Hurricane
² Prophecy, Ferox, Brutix, Cyclone
³ Oracle, Naga, Talos, Tornado