Don’t miss out! This is just one chapter of our full EVE Online Exploration guide.
The word exploration should speak for itself, but if you’re not planning to get your fusion thrusters a little dirty out in lowsec, nullsec, or (heaven forbid) wormhole space, you probably shouldn’t be stepping into a stealthy ship to begin with. Getting rich means you’re gonna have to live a little. And living a little means you’re probably gonna have to die a little, too.
But don’t be scared. While you’ve probably gotten lots of warnings from other players about the dangers of 0.0 space, the reality is that exploration ships are much better equipped to survive extended stays in hostile constellations. With the right ship, the right fit, and some safe practices, you’ll be cruising in and out of EVE’s backwaters with nary a scratch.
Choosing a Route
Before getting into specifics about flying around, the most important decision you can make early on is deciding exactly where to go. Exploring in highsec is a waste of time (due to low value loot and increased competition for said loot), so it’s off the table from the start.
Open up your map (default F10), make sure you’re viewing the star map (and not the solar system map), and scroll through the options for various star colors. At the top you’ll see basic stuff like security status and actual color (you know, for space tourists), but in the folder named statistics you can color the stars by things like ships destroyed in the last hour or number of pilots docked or jumps in the last hour. Checking these stats is fundamental to choosing routes through null security space – areas with even a handful of kills recorded may be gatecamped. And even if an area doesn’t seem to be drawing combat, a large number of jumps may indicate a lot of earlybird assholes have already combed through the area and sucked out its precious data/relic sites. You need to be one of those earlybird assholes in a fresh system!
Look for a relatively quiet section of nullsec with a large number of connecting systems. The last thing you need to do is end up running from pirates and being caught in a dead end. Plot out a tentative course, using add waypoint instead of set destination, so you can more easily alter the course as you move around. As you become more familiar with an area that might not be necessary, but it’s always a good practice for your first few outings.
You can make your way closer to the great beyond, but always be wary as you approach the last lowsec system in your itinerary. Although nullsec is more “dangerous” in the sense that it’s a lawless realm of death and betrayal, navigating in and out of 0.0 space is often worse than traveling within it. Experienced pirates know that explorers just like you are jumping from low security systems into the great beyond, and many (if not most) of the border areas are therefore heavily camped.
For these reasons, double check map intel on border systems or consider taking a wormhole to nullsec instead of piloting out there manually. You’d be surprised how many backdoors there are to the far-flung corners of New Eden, and they’re all pretty damn safe. Sure, a wormhole could be camped in theory, but in practice nobody sits around wormholes that connect areas of k-space (known space, as opposed to wormhole space).
If you decide to make a multiplanar leap to a random location, make sure you bookmark the wormhole on both sides, preferably with a helpful name like “Wormhole to Geminate” or “Wormhole back to Amarr suburbia.” If you instead choose to take the more traditional stargate route to nullsec, see the section on gatecamp survival later in this chapter.
Stop and Smell the Safe Spots
One of the big mistakes newbie explorers (myself not exempted) make is they take all the flying as basic sightseeing, with no strategy or planning whatsoever. This is a waste of the capabilities of your spacecraft, plus it’s just downright reckless. Every single system should be approached with a certain amount of process, even if there isn’t anything apparent of value there.
First of all, you’ve gotta get in the habit of making bookmarks. If you’re a total neophyte, you do this by opening in the People & Places section of your neocom and choosing save location. You can do this absolutely anywhere, including mid-warp, allowing you to bookmark safe locations in space that aren’t close enough to a celestial object that another player could easily find or warp to you. And they show up on your right-click menu anywhere in system, making for easy access.
Create bookmarks about 1.0 to 4.0 AU off every gate in a system if possible. This will give you a vantage point from which you can perform a short-range d-scan to check for warp bubbles or hostile players if necessary. It’s much safer than just jumping to 100km off the gate, which could result in other bubble shenanigans and the inability to warp to the gate quickly (minimum warp range is 150km).
The easiest way to do this is to set up your bookmarks while doing the warps you’re already doing. As soon as you enter a system, just follow these steps:
- Open your places/bookmark list
- Click create bookmark (but leave the window open until step 5)
- Type something like “TK safe” where TK is the name of the system you just left
- Initiate a jump to your next stargate
- When you’re past 1 AU from the TK gate, save your bookmark
- Open a new bookmark and name it after the gate you’re warping to
- When your ship is under 8 AU from that gate, save the bookmark
With this process, you will create two extremely useful bookmarks in every system you visit, easily reaching hundreds of emergency rally points in just a matter of weeks. You will also be reinforcing the otherwise hard-to-remember nullsec codes, which will help jog your memory and speed your travels later. And hey – it’s not like you’re doing anything else important while warping.
Creating “safes” in every system you visit is so goddamn useful it should be criminal to pilot an exploration vessel without doing so. The bookmarks give you a get-out-of-jail free card for emergency situations, including later in your EVE career when you may not happen to have a cloak on hand. They also give you context while flying around; bookmarks tell you that you’ve been to a system before, as well as when. Hell, you could name them things like “The time I got randomed at a gatecamp” as a little reminder of the fun you’ve had on previous jaunts.
The Gates of Hell
Jumping through stargates into fresh systems is one of the most dangerous elements of your travels. There could literally be anything waiting for you on the other side of unknown region KKK-666.
If you’ve done your homework, you can probably avoid running straight into the worst gatecamps by steering clear of stars littered with travelers/corpses of travelers. Still, surprises will happen. As you prepare for a jump, make sure you’ve gone through some basic checks:
- You’ve uncloaked recently enough that your cloak will be ready again on the other side
- Your directional scanner, not probe scanner, is active so you can quickly search for trouble
- If you have autopilot on, make sure you disable it by uninstalling EVE and burning your PC
- You’ve recalled all your active probes and drones, and reloaded probes if desired
- You went potty before leaving 7Z-P09, or your father will turn this Proteus right around!
Hit the jump button, cross your fingers (not sure if this is possible in-lore with pod technology), and see how fucked you are when you arrive.
Gate unbubbled, local clear: You’re safe. Even if there is a warp disruption bubble on or near the gate, odds are it’s completely abandoned. Warp to a planet or pre-established safe point to start scanning, or continue to your next waypoint.
Gate unbubbled, players in local: Your immediate danger could vary from basically nothing to not leaving anytime soon. In most instances, locals will not be expecting you, and if you immediately warp to the next system, they’re unlikely to ever see or stop you, doubly so if you have a covert ops cloaking device. In most situations, this will be the correct course of action.
Assuming the system is small enough, use d-scan while you’re still gate cloaked. Lots of NPC wrecks will indicate these players are ratting and unlikely to pose an immediate threat (or even that they’d notice your presence right away). Likewise, mining barges, cargo containers, and the like are typically a free pass to the next jump. See the section on player behavior for more details.
But if you happen to recognize tons of bubbles or any particularly heinous criminals (or perhaps just personal enemies), things are more complicated. Warping off could be safe, but you might be jumping through to a trap they’re currently organizing with allies one system over. The more stargates there are to jump to the better, since it lowers the odds anyone could successfully guess your route. This is the kind of situation where hyperspatial rigs literally pull their weight.
Gate bubbled, players in local: Okay, so this is awkward. Within a few seconds, everyone will know you’re there. Not only that, they could correctly guess you can’t warp off the stargate, so even if they weren’t planning to murder an explorer today, it’s suddenly not such a bad idea. For these reasons, you should probably turn tail and jump back towards the system you just left. Pulse your MWD and you should be on the gate in less than two seconds, plenty of time… assuming nobody was already sitting there cloaked.
Of course, this is assuming whoever’s floating around is a native. If there is more than one other pilot, odds are they’re the guys who’re “supposed” to be there, not you. If it’s just one fellow, you could check his corp and employment history… might just be another venturing vessel like yourself.
Personally I’d make the decision to retreat solely on the answer to the question Do I have a covert ops cloak? Without one, crawling through the bubble is basically suicide. Otherwise, you can probably MWD or slowboat out of the bubble without issue. Just make sure to jump off to a planet first and carefully scan/scout the next gate before moving on.
Gate bubbled, players camping gate: Just gonna put this out there – if there’s more than one person waiting for your exploration ship, odds are you’re dead. You can try to turn your vessel back towards the last system, but as soon as you decloak, you’re in trouble, even if you immediately recloak. Skilled players will be able to suss you out, dropping your camouflage and leaving your hull explosed for missile penetration. That said, you don’t really have an option, so you might as well try – when your frigate is blown to smithereens, at least your pod will be that much closer to the gate.
If there’s only one person waiting, my advice will once again hinge on what you’re flying. A T2 covops or even an Astero have a pretty good shot at cloaking while pusling the MWD and getting far enough from your starting location to lose your pursuer. This would be the perfect time to pick a random direction and stealthily boost as fast as possible. You might even be able to make it out of the bubble or back to the gate before the bad guy can start a lock.
In a T1 frigate, your only real option is to burn back towards the gate. A MWD will get you there faster, but will also make your ship six times easier to lock. Can this asshole lock and kill you before that happens? You’ll find out as soon as you make it back… or see your pod ejected.
Gate unbubbled, players camping gate: With a covops cloak, this is trivial, as very few players will have the skills, equipment, and reaction speed necessary to scramble or destroy your ship before you can activate your stealth systems. Choose a planet, warp a small distance off it, and activate your MWD and space camo the millisecond you see “Warp Drive Activated” appear. In theory you could still be insta-pointed and popped, but this has only happened to me once out of thousands of jumps.
In a T1 frigate, your odds are once again much worse. You might still be able to align and jump before anyone can complete a lock on your tiny ship, and you might still be able to make it back to the gate before getting killed, but neither is likely. Out of the two options, I’d say you should try to warp off. If you get lucky and make it to somewhere you can cloak, you’ll be untouchable. By contrast, jumping back into the gate could leave you in an equally crappy position if any of your enemies decide to follow you through.
Dealing with the Natives
As an explorer in nullsec, there will be lots of times you will actually have to interact with other players. In some situations, bloodthirsty jerks will be actively chasing you from stargate to stargate. But in most cases, you’ll find yourself cloaked at a safe spot with an increasing number of allied players accumulating in local. Warping to a stargate may be difficult or impossible, so you’ll just be sitting there like a chump. An invisible chump.
So not unlike your middle school years.
One thing you need to understand about nullsec is that many of the players there are just as afraid of you as you are of them. They’re primarily members of large power blocs that are designed to minimize risk and maximize profit. The greater part of nullsec space is made up of renters who spend their time ratting, mining, or hauling materials around. They’re not looking for a fight, and will assume you are capable of holding your ground in a battle unless proven otherwise. In that regard, your cloak is extremely valuable, since it’s essentially a huge bluff as long as you haven’t previously been spotted scooting your tin can Imicus around their star cluster.
The safest course of action would be to shut the fuck up and wait. If you’re more patient than whoever it is sitting in local, eventually they’re get bored or scared enough to move on. While you’re holding tight, maybe read their bios and employment histories to get a sense of who you’re dealing with. You can even search their names on various EVE “kill board” sites (Google it) to see if they’re more often on the winning or losing side of a killmail.
Of course, waiting will often fail because the longer you stay in a system, the more suspicious and hostile locals will become. Not only that, they’ll tell allies in neighboring star systems about your presence, which may draw in reinforcements. Before you know it, three neutral players becomes thirteen. At that point, your odds of reaching an uncamped stargate are about the same as the odds EVE Valkyrie is released without crippling bugs.
Here are your options in descending order of lunacy.
Launch combat probes and throw them at each gate at a time. People hate combat probes, and if they think you’re scanning them down for a stealthy kill, they might clear the gate for a minute, allowing you to squeak through. This of course requires having combat probes ready and temporarily uncloaking.
Take a wormhole. Remember that useless wormhole you scanned down a few minutes before the party arrived? The one that leads to “dangerous, unknown regions of space”? Just jump in that thing. You don’t know what’s on the other side, but you do know what’s on this side, and it’s not pretty.
“Safely” log off. From the escape menu, you can elect to log off safely, which will give you a 30-second countdown after which your ship is removed from space and you’re logged out. There are a few requirements, though: you can’t have any modules (including a cloak) running, you can’t be engaged in combat, and you can’t be mid-warp (though you can be in motion). As long as you use this option from an already relatively safe point in space, it’s unlikely anyone could find and kill you before your half minute expires. The downside is, of course, that you will reappear in the same (hostile) system the next time you log in.
The final and most idiotic course of action is to mess with the players in local. This could range from taunting them to full-out bluffing about your ability to fight and destroy their ships. Obviously the success of this approach will hinge almost entirely on how believable your chatting abilities are, but here are some tips that’ve gotten me out of hot water before:
- Continually talk about “Ryan” (make up a name) and say you are here because you and he have unfinished business. Talk about nothing other than your vengeance against Ryan, and refuse to acknowledge the name of Ryan’s character. “You know who he is.” They may eventually believe you are an enemy of a third party who doesn’t exist.
- Talk in local as if you are an idiot who doesn’t understand what local is and are coordinating an ambush with a friend. “Jess, there are five of them here. Six. There are six. Yes. No, just wait at the gate. Dude don’t fuck this up again.” The more flummoxed you are with your accomplice the more confusing and crazy you will sound. Do not acknowledge anyone else’s chat in local.
- Ask the players in local for help. Specifically ask them a lot of questions about a region of space that’s in the opposite direction of your intended travel (but beyond the next few jumps). Try to give them the impression you are simply lost and dumb enough to tell them which way you’re going (then go the other way).
- Call out one of the players in local. For instance, if there are fifteen corpmates in your system, single out the one who’s been in corp the least amount of time and chat with him. Try to make it appear he is actually a spy or awoxer who asked you to show up there. Continually demand the money that player supposedly offered to pay you.
None of these methods are guaranteed to work, but they’re certainly all more entertaining than waiting several hours or logging out of the game. Sometimes the right combination of wit, invention, and braindead tenacity can get you out of situations your cloak simply can’t handle.
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