So I decided to give my alt a little love the other day.
My alt, as most pirates' alts tend to be, is my hauler, my highsec roamer, my shopper and my mission-runner for when I just want something easy to kill a little time that isn't Second Life (because Firefly RP is just as time-consuming as piracy). It's a kind of roleplay, when I interact with people through her, because in my effort to keep her as separate from Shae Tiann as possible, I've had to come up with other reasons why my alt may be found wandering seemingly fearlessly through lowsec in unstabbed haulers full of t2 ships (I did nearly lose it once - the unexpected mega who landed on the gate just as my alt jumped in wasn't running his sensor-booster).
I have her based quite a few systems out of our base area, a couple jumps from a market hub, close enough to make shopping easy, far enough to avoid lag and Local spammers, and lately, since she's been in Shae's gear-staging system, I've been neglecting her. I forgot she had a mission on the Log to run, and her agent got a bit huffy when she failed respond, then I forgot to set a long skill running and she went 12 hours without a skill plugged into her head.
)0.0( oh noes!
So when nothing was going on down in lowsec and I didn't feel like roaming, I sent my alt back to her base to visit her agent. He had an incident report on his desk, and wanted her to go take care of it. Get those bloody Serpentis off that stargate!
Yes, it was The Blockade, level 3. NOT the easiest of missions, nor the fastest, and I wish I'd been more alert when I'd accepted it, because it ran twice as long as I'd been looking for in a mission that evening.
My alt runs missions in Hurricane with a standard pvp-style armour/resist tank, pve-quality mids setup, and ammo/drones selected for the targets' weaknesses. I have a sensor-booster fitted to make locking and hitting small/fast stuff easier, and it's prompted more than one accusation of being a gate suicider from people who clearly don't see boosters as anything more than a pvp tool. It works, it tanks like a bitch for most missions - it's actually overkill most of the time, but I'm lazy and just want to kill some time, with minimal effort.
So, yeah. The Blockade. The level three version chucks NPC battlecruisers at you like their market value has dropped and the owners want to cash in on their investment before it's worthless. They're incredibly squishy - the Guardian cruisers take more time to pop - and I was tanking up to fifteeen of them together toward the end. I kept running out of ammo, it took nearly three hours, and at one point I commented to a friend, 'No wonder the carebears-cum-faction militia whined, if they're used to mopping the floor with rats like this.'
Anyone who's ever gone head-to-head with another player can tell you that pve!=pvp. There's no comparison - players fight hard, they improve themselves, they work together, they know when it's time to run. Players use drones, one of the biggest differences I've noticed between missions/ratting and pvp. Players swap out ammo types, overheat modules, optimise ship fits and try unexpected combinations (a passive-shieldtanked artillery myrm? surely not! ...But I've seen it). NPCs...? Fail. They really, really do, and personally I think they ought to be a lot harder. They're predictable. They're slow. They don't switch primaries, they don't go back to shooting your drones except in rare cases, their dps output is predictable, they go to a certain preset range from you and they stay there. If you can't beat one, you can go back to your base, refit or grab a more appropriate ship, return and pwn the bastard, because it ain't going anywhere.
There's virtually no challenge - admitting to losing your ship to rats is like admitting you got mugged by an 8-year-old in a Frankenstein Monster costume. There's hardly any strategy to it, apart from don't kill the trigger rat first. I'm not even serious about the pve aspects of Eve because it's essentially the same for every mission. The miners/industrialists get the more interesting stuff - yes, I had an indie alt for a bit, I got a cool mission where I had to buy items and make stuff, and I liked it because it wasn't, 'Go there, shoot that,' or, 'Take Xitem from Apoint to Bpoint'. PvE isn't a challenge once you learn the tricks, and that takes... what? A month or so? If you can practically solo a Level 4 with your eyes shut, something's wrong. The system is so totally broken now becuase the missions may have been tough back when cruisers were the biggest ship in the game, but that's no longer the case.
I'm not certain if the mission difficulty has been boosted in the past, but it could use a little steroid injection. PvE players really should have to work harder for their rewards: tanking fifteen battlecruiser rats should not be resolved by the expedient of flying (very, very large) circles around them. It shouldn't be embarrassing to lose a ship to an NPC, mission-running shouldn't be an easy route toward ISK and standings, and it couldn't hurt to give the missions a little more variety so we're not all bored sick and falling asleep in front of our keyboards.