Well I finally finished Blockade (lvl 3) in my Rupture last night ..... at 3:00 am.
It seems my naive optimism after clearing the first couple of waves the previous night were misplaced. Not alone had everything reset after yesterday's downtime but everything seemed to have gotten harder. There appears to be a random element in the spawns and I appear to have gotten the unlucky draw. In every case I got more enemies and tougher enemies than listed in the normally excellent Eve-Survival guide. Frigates turned into cruisers, cruisers turned into battle cruisers and battle cruisers turned into tech 2 Arch Gistum ships with insane resistances.
Even the triggers proved trickier than I expected. On two of the waves the trigger ship was not unique but one of a bunch of identical ships. This slows things up enormously as you need to work your way around the map avoiding killing any of the possible triggers. It also gives you a lottery of which one to kill last in order to avoid triggering the next wave.
It was slow, tedious work and my poor rupture cruiser was stretched to the limit. My tank was unable to sustain the high damage from groups of cruisers and battle cruisers so I had to resort to hit and run. Warp in and kill a straggler while my shield gets whittled down under a withering barrage. Then warp out again to recharge shields. At least this isn't a deadspace mission so I was able to create a ring of safe spots around the map to warp to and from which helped enormously both in keeping me alive and also in herding the npcs where I needed them to go.
My big passive shield tank (over 7000 shield hp) works well for hit and run but the biggest difficulty is my very poor dps. In some cases I struggled to kill even one enemy before I was forced to warp to a safe spot. A bunch of Arch Gistum Predator cruisers nearly scuppered me. They have very high resistances and even with all guns blazing I could bearly deplete their shields before I was forced to warp to safety. NPC shields regenerate just like a player's so a hit and run strategy will only work if you deplete a ships shields and take a bite out of the armour on every pass. If you don't get down to the armour then the pass is useless.
I swapped out shield power relays for gyrostabilisers in order to increase my dps a little, trading survivability for increased damage. Then my inner nerd came out and I put together a fairly nifty Excel spreadsheet plotting damage versus distance for various ammo types against a given npc ship. This allowed me to choose the best ammo and the best distance for optimum dps and eventually I was able to break down those pesky Arch Gistuums. I am quite proud of the spreadsheet. If I get a chance I will tidy it up and link it here.
I fired over 2500 projectiles and almost 1000 missiles. I lost 10 drones due to carelessness. I didn't even get to reap the bounty of salvage because most of the wrecks had long since disappeared by the time I finally cleared the mission. Nevertheless I finally did it without losing a ship.
I used a variety of fit outs during the mission but this was probably the most useful: A Gyrostabiliser replaces one shield power relay to increase dps and a shield hardener replaces the afterburner to give increased survivability. I didn't need an afterburner in this mission because it isn't in deadspace and I was able to warp around.
Where to next? My confidence in the Rupture's ability to do level 3's has been dented somewhat. I am glad I managed to pull it off in the end but I can't afford to pull all nighters just to complete missions.