Way back almost two years ago, when I first set out for the life of a lowsec belt pirate, I dreamed of roaming the space lanes at the console of an Ishtar-class Heavy Assault Ship. It was considered the wtf solo pwnmobile of its day. Feeling alone in the universe, I determined to work my way up into one of the most feared combat vessels available, and the Ishtar was a stand-out. Based on the Vexor's cruiser-sized hull, the Ishtar is relatively agile and manuverable. It's design centers on drones, and it has both the drone bay and drone communications bandwidth to field more than one set of heavy combat drones or even sentry drones. And so I began patiently accumulating the skills to fly Ishtars, starting from the bottom and working up.
After more than a year of tedious learning, I was poised to see my dream come true. I had laid a fine foundation of support skills, and was looking at the final stretch of learning: high-tech heavy combat drones and sentry drones--an arcane and complex tangle of physics, electronics, space traffic control, specifications, fuel computations, mechanics, and tactics. It was at about this time that, in the face of new discoveries in physics and a mass of class-action suits, microwarpdrive manufacturers brought an end to the golden age of high-speed combat. The Ishtar, until then one of the poster-boys of nano-combat, fell from grace.
Hearing the lamentations of Ishtar pilots across New Eden, I re-evaluated my path, and did not learn the final skills needed to master an Ishtar. I completed my regime to fly Gallente battlecruisers instead, and specced for Recon ships and Heavy Interdictors. Mastering these ship classes gave me the ability to pilot some notorious ships: the Myrmidon, a beast of a battlecruiser; for the first time, my fights lasted longer than a few seconds; the Arazu, one of the better ships for solo hunting when wants to pick ones fights; and the Phobos, my first ship with a real tank, allowing me to tackle anything while easily soaking up damage from sentry guns. Heck, I even went back and took the courses needed to fly Assault Ships well. It turns out the same scientific and legal issues that knocked the nano-Ishtar down a few notches elevated the Ishkur-class Assault Ships to dizzying heights.
I had my share of fun with my new toys as I acquired them, one-by-one. I remember perma-tanking a Drake I tackled with my Ishkur, waiting patiently while comms contacted potential backup ships to come and finish him off. A pesky Myrmidon slipped through my fingers once, and I jumped into my Phobos to try again; the Phobos did the trick and my gang got that Myrmidon kill. I roamed far and wide in my Arazu, and time after time I would appear on my victim's overview two or three scant kilometers away, spewing drones and death. My Myrmidon gave me opportunities to engage multiple foes single-handedly, and the flexible drone selection broadened my pool of targets.
Oh yes, I had my fun. But the fly in the ointment for me was the fact that none of them were the mythical Ishtar I had dreamed about. The Ishkur was an excellent ship, but not suitable for engaging many of the targets that presented themselves to me: I could kill most other frigates (some interceptors would manage to escape), many cruisers (I still had to watch out for well-flown drone boats), and even some battlecruisers. The Myrmidon was also a good all-arounder, but a bit slower than I'm used to flying, and I had to watch out for small gangs. The Arazu gave me confidence over any T1 cruiser I might find, but was very vulnerable if my target had backup. And while I've never lost a Phobos in battle, and it is just the ship needed when the target has warp core stabilizers fitted, it is strictly a niche ship--I use it only in gangs, and only rarely, because its DPS is, well, its DPS isn't.
The bad thing for me was that these ships were expensive. I'm a pirate, and I get in a lot of combat. Sure, the Phobos has been a one-time expense for me, and I can afford to lose my share of Ishkurs. But each loss of a Myrmidon (well-rigged) or Arazu hit me hard in the pocketbook. From a cost-benefit perspective, I grew cool toward such ships, and found myself flying Vexors and Thoraxes along with my Ishkurs. In other words, I was selecting ships primarily because they were cheap, and letting juicy targets go unmolested. That hurt.
By the time I finished achieving competence in each of those four ship classes, I had noted sporadic reports coming in that the Ishtar was still a formidable PVP ship, whether solo or in gangs. This picture did not emerge immediately, as more pilots could not agree on how to fit their Ishtars. Some continued to shield-tank their Ishtars and fit them for speed; others fit double armor repairers and swore by their tanking ability; yet others fit heavy armor plating and rigged them for survivability. Eventually concluding that the Ishtar remained a flexible and deadly option, I put the final skills needed back on my schedule and forewent replacing my latest big-ticket ships.
I formed a plan to try each "flavor" of Ishtar to get a feel for their relative pros and cons. The so-called nano-Ishtar (a shadow of its former self) does retain a respectable speed, and is able to run under the guns of ships such as battleships that sport heavy weapons. The double-repper Ishtar doesn't run under guns so much as absorb their damage, making it fairly impervious to most single opponents. But I decided to start with the plate buffer Ishtar, which can take a real pounding before calling it a day.
I started out slow. Spooked by heavy losses in Myrmidons and Arazus, I kept the Ishtar in my hangar, and brought it out when I would be in a Tusker gang and my DPS and tanking ability were both issues. I didn't really start to actually roam in an Ishtar until May 15, and even then it's taken me a long time to get a feel for the ship. Many of my early fights were fights I would have won in my Thorax or even my Incursus. I'd make foolish decisions regarding range and drone deployment: I'd warp in 30 kilometers away from the target and deploy sentry drones, unable to help tackle and often without landing any shots. Several brave Tusker pilots went down in flames as I experimented. But I learn.
At this point my confidence in the Ishtar is growing by leaps and bounds; I find myself cautioning myself not to become over-confident, as my Ishtar faces each new battle situation and comes out on top. The Ishtar's DPS is good, but not stellar; my current configuration can dish out up to about 480 DPS, compared with my gank Thorax's 575 (both my Taranis and my Ishkur do about 210). The EHP on my plate-buffered Ishtar is also good--over 62k, compared to over 70k on my dual-repped Phobos or almost 46k on my blaster Myrmidon. Next, this flavor of Ishtar is speedy enough, with boosted speeds of over 1100 meters per second, about the same as that Thorax and beating the 900 that Myrmidon can do. Finally, the Ishtar has flexibility in deploying drones. If I'm fighting something fast or small (or both), out go the light drones. If it's big and heavily tanked, a full flight of heavy drones do their thing. If it's big and can outrun the heavy drones, or if there are multiple targets not right on top of one another, I can deploy five sentry drones and hit targets out to about 100km.
The thing is, this Ishtar is the whole package; while not really shining in any one area, it does well in all. More than once I flew my Ishtar into a trap. Not only was I able to warp away once the trap was sprung, but I've also been able to kill the bait first. What I like about the Ishtar is it seems to be a forgiving ship; I can make a few mistakes, take too long to figure something out, and still be fine.
For example, a few days ago I was ganking a destroyer when a Hurricane dropped in and I started taking heavy fire; my shields evaporated, and he was making steady inroads into my armor buffer. I finished off the destroyer, then dropped heavy drones on the 'Cane as I opened the range to get out of his optimal. This worked well for a few minutes, and I knocked him down to about 25% armor. Then he stopped taking damage, and after another couple of minutes I noticed he was actually regenerating his shields. Why did my drones stop hitting him? I checked, and saw that my drones were about a hundred kilometers away; I was having no problems keeping up with the battlecruiser, buy my Ogre II's were huffing and puffing to no avail. So I abandoned them, dropped sentries, and went in close to web him so he couldn't get away from them in time. It worked--I still had 15% of my buffer left when he popped. I spent my Global Criminal Countdown looting wrecks and scooping drones over a 200+ kilometer battlefield.
Over the past three weeks since I started flying almost exclusively in my Ishtar, I've done quite well. In terms of solo kills, I've killed 5 frigates, 3 destroyers, 2 industrials, 1 covert ops, 3 assault ships, 9 cruisers, and 4 battlecruisers; in fact, I managed to lock 5 of the capsules in time to kill them as well, and extracted a ransom from a Retriever mining in lowsec. On top of that, in small gangs I helped score another 2 frigate kills, 2 more destroyers, 2 assault ships, 4 cruisers, 1 recon ship, 1 battlecruiser, 2 battleships, and 4 more pods. We let a battleship go for ISK, and we let a battlecruiser pilot keep his implants in exchange for his ship.
50 kills and 3 ransoms--but that's just one side of the story. To really understand my growing infatuation with the Ishtar, we have to ask the question, "How many Ishtars did I lose in the process?"
I'm still flying my first Ishtar. That's right, I'm getting some nice kills, my hangar is filling up with T2 and faction loot, and my biggest worry is when will I have to fetch more cap boosters.