Back when the NPC changes were proposed I wrote a lot of words. I posted on the forums and was mostly ignored or told I just wanted to mindlessly do level four missions. I was silly and tried to point out that I don't do level four missions and that I often do content harder then level four missions. I poked Hans with an stick and waved my hands about it. I wrote words here, I talked to people and I burnt myself out on the topic because what I understood of the changes and what most people thought of the changes were very different. After the dozenth "It will make it more fun," response I gave up on my doom saying.
Then the changes came out and the forums exploded in screaming. All of the excitement about things being interested mostly vanished. Ships exploded left and right. The replacement drone market went crazy. CCP did some rollbacks again and again and again to look at what was happening and why a simple AI update didn't improve the experience as much as expected. Mission income dropped. Fleets were disorganized chaos. Support ships now spent more time being mown down then DPS ships. Drone ships found their profits consumed in drone replacement. I sat back collected the tears as missions did not become fun they became hard.
People adapted. Some enjoyed the new challenge Many did not. That is to be expected. Some embrace change and some throw it away and wail so the initial reactions of 'yes I like' vs 'no I don't like' shouldn't be too heavily weighted. The salvage materials market has been weird and shaky. Its' a reflection of a lot of changes (such as more T1 cruisers everywhere)but it's also a reflection of the fact that salvaging is no longer as simple as it once was. Now, if simple is good or simple is bad isn't the path I am wandering down. I don't think that people really sat down and said, "Hmm, how do most salvagers operate in conjunction to mission runners? The salvage market is an important aspect of the Eve economy due to it being the foundation of rigs and the supplier of meta level modules." I think they changed missions because, "This will be fun/interesting to challenge more!"
CCP Ytterbium wrote a post 300 posts into the NPC AI change thread. It is a very long post worthy of its own Dev blog. I'd have missed it if not for other sources pulling it out and pointing people to it. 300 posts in is rather deep. It is worth the read. It discusses that, indeed, there were problems with the NPC change. Problems that they have been trying to adjust. Then they explain that they do want to revamp PvE and turn it into something that aligns better with PvP and stops the great fit separation.
That separation can already be bridged by decisions. It's a matter of optimization and peoples unwillingness to lose it. As someone who flies in PvP fits for my PvE ships this gap is a choice. I could tank NPCs much better than I do if I were fit differently. To change NPCs might invalidate a massive selection of equipment or just give players more of a grind doing the same thing. It will also not fix risk aversion. It will never fix risk aversion. It might cause a lifetime mission runner to learn to fit a disruptor to stop his loot NPC from leaving but it will not cause anyone who does not want to risk the dangers outside of high security space to face those dangers voluntarily.
I say more of a grind because there is a discussion about fewer but harder NPCs. I don't think this is an interesting change. One of the greatest fun factors in any video game is owning a massive roomful of enemies in an improbable situation. I've never sat back, while surrounded by bodies and gone, "I am poorly satisfied with the surrealistic depiction of my abilities this situation has placed upon my psyche." No. I cheer and feel like a badass.
Long grinds to chew down massive amounts of hit points sucks. That's why bashing structures sucks so badly. It isn't because they don't fight back. It is because it takes forever to chew through millions of hit points and you become bored. The reason so many mission runners became bored is because they often picked the easiest platform and sat there in a non-mobile situation.
Conversely, I've often remained happily engaged because I selected targets, popped frigates, made decisions, puttered my ship around and engaged in play. With the changes that have come in the NPCs are smarter. However, because the player cannot stop the NPCs from doing things by capping them out and such, smarter now sucks in many ways. I guess that can be seen as a challenge
With their repair rates for shield and armor chewing away at even some small NPCs is a massive pain. Before, I'd have Chella work through any frigate tackling Sugar. Now, Chella's drone fleet isn't enough for some of the higher end frigates. They rep through her damage. Should I put a drone amplification module on and destroy the sensibility of both the Sleipnir or Scimitar's fit to kill a frigate with my drones? Already not optimized against NPC damaged due to being fit for the situation of not being in high sec space the changes made my already harder and risky PvE activities harder and riskier. Again, that cascade effect where a change is looked at for its immediate, face value and not the greater aspects. Again, I adjusted.
As expected, new players in frigates are not welcome in the bigger complexes. The size to size attack ratio means that they chase down the frantic Rifter. I hate upshipping people before they are ready but now it is done just to give them the necessary tank to sit under full logi reps and get to participate. So yes, things have changed. I've adapted. Many have and its not been as smooth or as fun as people expected it to be.
Improving PvE won't destroy other parts of Eve. It just needs to be improved well and not in a frustrating manner that is not friendly or accessible to new players. I've sat out in a belt, unable to mine, because NPCs had me jammed. Drone aggression eventually kicks in and they go kill. Drone API is another story and I won't go here. Still, I've sat for ten minutes while NPC frigates jammed my barge and orbited me to... nothing happening on either side because jamming ins't damaging. These are silly situations that I have been in since the patch. I'm puzzled how that type of situation was not seen as incoming.
I fully support a work over of missions and PvE in general. It's terribly neglected. PvE matters. Even if people do not want to PvE themselves many will always wish to. The boring, stagnant nature is apparent to people only a week or two into the game. It is a terrible retention issue. People come to the game to fly spaceships. Many stay to kill other players. That, however, is not a large enough lure to pull in the numbers the game needs to see to combat the natural sloughing of bittervets and keep the finical machine happy.
I am happy to see this focus on updating and change. I'm not so much in love with fewer NPCs and more grind. Also, I'll have to remember to keep abreast of the situation. Things like loot drops and salvage will be majorly affected and need to be kept in the forefront of the conversation.