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EVE: Mission Learning curve

Its just over a week since I hesitantly ran my first level 4 missions and after completing about 25 of them over the intervening period I notice they have gone from dice with death warp out in flames experiences to pretty routine fair. I am not at the speed running stage but I can comfortably clear any mission in well under an hour without ever being in danger of losing a ship.

How have the missions become so much easier for me? For the most part I am using exactly the same Maelstrom battleship set-up. The only material difference is that I have trained up Tech 2 drones which speeds up killing small annoying frigates but the real explanation is that I have "learned"how to use the ship properly in these missions and it has become second nature. Most of this learning is subconscious but I will try to summarise the main things I remember:

 1. Artillery is a long range weapon - distance is the best way of keeping your targets angular velocity low enough so that you guns can hit them. A good tactic is to start out at 70km with medium range ammunition and thin out cruisers and battle cruisers. Then I switch to  short range ammo and close to 37km to tackle battleships.

2. Correct position and range is key to this strategy.  Don't be afraid to spend several minutes gettign into an idea position before you fire a shot. Switch on the tactical overlay and choose a route to run away that doesn't smack you into another group of mobs or into any scenery. The afterburner is absolutely vital.

3. Maintaining range like this cuts down on most of the incoming damage. For most missions I never even have to top up my shields. 
4. Ammunition and shield hardeners selected using a combination of Eve - Survival and common sense.

5. Eve Survival is also very useful at indicating which spawns are safe to hit to avoid triggers or aggroing the whole room. However sometimes it is just easier to aggro everything and run away from them. The chasing ships tend to line up nicely one by one behind your guns.

6. Don't waste bullets on frigates or destroyers. They can't hurt you and drones will make short work of them when they get close.

7. Good drone control is essential. Don't release drones until you have already picked up any loose aggro yourself. Dock all drones immediately if they are taking damage. Always dock your drones before aggro-ing a new group.  Setting drones to aggressive is useful for getting them to automatically kill anything that gets too close but it doesn't always work so manual targeting is often needed. Don't use aggressive mode if there is risk of your drones aggroing the wrong group .

8. The primary function of drones is to kill frigates and destroyers so light drones are essential. I carry ten of them in case of losses. I use Warrior IIs (explosive) for Angels and Hobgoblins IIs (thermal) for just about everything else. Once all the frigates are cleared you can use drones to help kill cruisers and even add a bit of dps to battleships. I carry 5 medium drones (Hammerhead II) for this.

9. Not really a lesson learned but I have abandoned salvaging and looting unless I know there is something valuable like an implant. It is boring and it takes too much time to travel back to base swap to a salvager and return. Sure I am leaving money on the table but between bounties and loyalty points I am not short of isk.

10. You can decline one mission every hour without penalty so it helps to know what missions to decline: Anything that sends you to low security space, Anything that will cause a faction hit with one of the non pirate factions, missions without bounties (unless you want to loot and salvage).

11. For the most part I avoid damage by staying at range  so my original Maelstrom build is actually over tanked. This gives some flexibility to sacrifice tanking components and add something more useful like ECCM (counters jamming) or a sensor booster (extends targeting range and /or counters dampening) for missions that require it. 


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