EVE Skills II: The Level System

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The Level Cap

The dirty secret of the EVE skill system comes down to this: it really is a level-based system. It's just not the levels you see in D&D-derived games, which is what most computer games with RPG elements are. In those games, you have a class or profession or archetype, and you pour experience points into it to gain higher and higher levels, which in turn give you access to new powers, new abilities, more bonuses et cetera. Some of them let you multi-class so you can spend those XP on proficiencies that you wouldn't otherwise have, and some of them (especially computer-based ones) have level caps that demonstrate the limit of designer inventiveness tells you it's time to try a different path. EVE is the ultimate multi-class design.

In EVE, every skill is effectively such a class structure, but with very limited sets of abilities and bonuses to unlock, and with a ridiculously low level cap. All you can get is lvl V. As discussed in the previous part of this series, taking a skill that far can actually often be counter-productive since you're looking at increasingly marginal improvements for exponentially longer training times. In this part, we're going to look at the bigger picture of this cost-vs-reward relationship and see what that level cap actually entails and how much you (supposedly) miss out on by not going for it.

The Characters

For the purpose of this illustration, I am going to use three characters trying to fly a classic blaster Thorax fit to the best of their abilities. The three characters are named “The Naïve”, “The Pragmatic”, and “The Maxed”. The Naïve character has taken the “don't train anything above IV” rule to heart and strictly sticks to lvl IV skills, even when training that fifth level would open up a new world of awesome. She will miss out a whole slew of neat support skills, but will be a very quick character to train. The Pragmatic character has stuck to the only-lvl-IV rule as far as possible, but allowed for a few strategic lvl V skills to open up critical support skills and to gain access to some T2 equipment. The Maxed character has simply gone for ye olde All-V. In terms of what they end up flying, this means that The Pragmatic and The Maxed will end up flying the exact same ship, since both will have unlocked all the same equipment, whereas The Naïve will have to fit T1 (or, more commonly, Meta-4) modules. All characters have (admittedly somewhat unrealistically) trained solely for this particular ship and fit, but the point of this will become clear in time…

The Naïve

The main problem with this character is, as the name might suggest, its naïveté. By choosing not to train even the most obvious lvl V skill, she ends up having to sacrifice some pretty important support skills. This has two effects: one is that, obviously, there are fewer skills to train, and that everything is strictly trained to lower levels than the other two characters, which makes her a very short build. This is all good and well, but the other effect is that she quickly run into fitting issues. By foregoing Weapon Upgrades V, she misses out on Advanced Weapon Upgrades, which saves an enormous amount of power grid on a weapons-heavy platform such as the Thorax. This has to be compensated for by either fitting smaller guns or by using fitting rigs and modules, which obviously means missing out on something else that would improve the ship's capabilities. In this case, the choice was to go with an Ancillary Current Router rig instead of one of the Trimarks that go on the other two ships. An alternative would have been to use an EG-604 +4% powergrid implant, but to avoid complicating the comparison, we'll stay away from implants altogether.

All in all, this character build requires 4,254,896 SP to be trained, which takes around 70 days at a decent pace.

Files: [EVEMon skillplan] [EVEMon character] [EFT character]

The Pragmatic

This character allows herself to train lvl V:s that open up some nice support skills and T2 equipment, which means the fitting issues of The Naïve character are largely gone. It also means that she can fly the same setup as The Maxed character, and the only difference is the bonuses all those fifth levels bring. Notable improvements here are things like getting access to Advanced Weapon Upgrades, Drone Interfacing, and Blaster Specialization — skills that have a significant impact on the weapons the Thorax can carry — and to Thermodynamics, which can further push those abilities. It should still be noted, though, that for the most part, The Pragmatic only goes for prerequisite lvl-V skills — aside from Electronics, many core skills that are cheap and which would round out the character nicely are still left untouched.

All in all, this character build requires 8,367,761 SP to be trained, which takes around 140 days — twice as long as The Naïve character.

Files: [EVEMon skillplan] [EVEMon character] [EFT character]

The Maxed

Here it is: the ever-elusive All-V character. The character that thinks more is better and which trains her skills to the max whether it's needed or not (and even whether, as in the case of the Tactical Shield Manipulation skill, it is beneficial or not). Even if it's just a prerequisite, that makes no difference for the ship, if it's on the character sheet, it has to be at lvl V. In short, a not entirely clever build.

In the end, this massive SP spending spree comes to 34,761,025 SP(!) — 19 months worth of training; more than 4× the training required for The Pragmatic character. It neatly answers the age-old question of “how much SP can you sink into a single ship?”, though.

Files: [EVEMon skillplan] [EVEMon character] For EFT, use the “All 5” profile.

The Stats

The characters are set, and the difference in training time is suitably huge, as expected. So what does it mean in terms of performance? What happens when we stick them in the ships designed for them? First of all, let's look at the actual ships themselves. The Naïve has been given a special fit that matches her lack of fitting skills and overall inability to fit T2 mods (either because the skills aren't there, or because they'd blow the fitting budget), whereas the other two characters have been given the same, largely T2-fitted Thorax:

[Thorax, T1 for The Naive]

800mm Reinforced Rolled Tungsten Plates I
Damage Control II
Prototype Energized Adaptive Nano Membrane I
Magnetic Field Stabilizer II
Magnetic Field Stabilizer II

Experimental 10MN Microwarpdrive I
Stasis Webifier II
Warp Scrambler II
Small Capacitor Booster II, Navy Cap Booster 400

Modal Ion Particle Accelerator I, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge M
Modal Ion Particle Accelerator I, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge M
Modal Ion Particle Accelerator I, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge M
Modal Ion Particle Accelerator I, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge M
Modal Ion Particle Accelerator I, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge M

Medium Ancillary Current Router I
Medium Trimark Armor Pump I
Medium Trimark Armor Pump I

Hammerhead I x4

[Thorax, T2 for The Pragmatic/Maxed]

800mm Reinforced Rolled Tungsten Plates I
Damage Control II
Energized Adaptive Nano Membrane II
Magnetic Field Stabilizer II
Magnetic Field Stabilizer II

Experimental 10MN Microwarpdrive I
Stasis Webifier II
Warp Scrambler II
Small Capacitor Booster II, Navy Cap Booster 400

Heavy Ion Blaster II, Void M
Heavy Ion Blaster II, Void M
Heavy Ion Blaster II, Void M
Heavy Ion Blaster II, Void M
Heavy Ion Blaster II, Void M

Medium Trimark Armor Pump I
Medium Trimark Armor Pump I
Medium Trimark Armor Pump I

Hammerhead II x5

As an immediate note to head of some obvious complaints, these are just standard EFT warrior fits to try to maximise gank and tank. Things like ammo choice and trying to find a balance between speed and survivability have not been considered. Slotting the characters into these ships give us the following results:

The Naïve scores a depressing 379 DPS, split between 333 from the guns and 46 from the drones. The drone damage is particularly noteworthy since it lacks the punch of a fifth drone and the added bonuses that would come from having Drone Interfacing trained. The drones also suffer in the area of drone control range, due to not having the prerequisites for Electronic Warfare Drone Operation (which would have added another 12km at lvl IV) and a missing last level of Scout Drone Operation. Likewise, the tank takes a beating from having to sacrifice a trimark rig in order to get enough power grid to make the whole thing fit at all, ending up at just under 20k EHP. The whole ensemble is saved somewhat by the low skill requirements of the ewar, weapon upgrade, and damage control modules.

The Pragmatic can step into a whole other setup, sporting all T2-equipment aside from the plates and the MWD — both of which would needlessly waste fitting space and cap if the T2 versions were used. The doubled training time provides a 46% increase in damage output, in large part due to the massively increased drone damage, and in some part due to the T2 weapons and ammo, and the support skills that go with those. By getting the skills for T2 drones, The Pragmatic also gains access to the full skill set to project that drone damage out to 57km. The tank gets a nice 18% increase to 23k EHP. At the same time, it should be noted that this fit is actually slower than The Naïve character's ship, partly because no skills are added that would improve the speed and partly because the improved fitting ability of the character allows for a third trimark, which slows the whole thing down.

Finally, the All-5 character. A four time longer, one-and-a-half year investment into this one ship and fit has bought this character a damage increase of 17% and a tank increase of 2%. Neither the plates nor the trimarks weigh the ship down as much as for the other two characters, so there's a decent speed increase as well. Compared to The Naïve, the damage is up by 71% and the tank is up by 21%, but the training time is also 8× higher…

Conclusion and Continuation

So what do you gain by going for the level cap, and what do you miss out on by opting not to? As discussed in Part I, you have to remember that just because 5 is 25% more than 4, a lvl-V skill does not necessarily give you a 25% edge over a lvl-IV skill, and that the more complementary skills we combine, the more complex the picture becomes. Here we see that, while for the most part, The Maxed has her skills one level higher than The Pragmatic, there are enough skills where they both have the same level that we quickly deviate away from that 25%-limit and end up with a mere 17% extra damage and a paltry 2% extra tank. We also see the value of simply having more complementary skills: that's the key difference between The Naïve and The Pragmatic, and it lands the latter with a whopping 46%/18% increase in spank'n'tank.

This also highlights the difference between widening and deepening the skill sets: what's largely a mere widening between The Naïve and The Pragmatic certainly adds a significant chunk of time, but it pays off. The deepened specialisation that The Maxed represents comes at a massive increase in time expenditure, for a rather small increase in potency — an increase that can easily be achieved or compensated for in other ways.

Ultimately, going for the level max means giving up tons and tons of time, and with it the versatility and adaptability that could be had by training different professions or roles or just different ships and fittings. Going for those other roles, on the other hand, means losing out on that ~20% total increase in stats that is the result of all the missing fifth skill levels. Which of the two will be the better choice will entirely depend on the situation and on how well the player can manipulate it to play to his or her strengths.

In the next part, we'll take a look at what this means in terms of the overall balance between older and new players.