January 23, 2011

How Do I Shot Drones

Most frigate pilots have been foiled one time or another by the little buggers called drones. If you haven't, you will be soon. The little bugs swarm you and are impossible to target before they start putting hurt on you. And once you do target them, they are horribly hard to track. Plus, while you can shoot them down, it does not damage their host ship at all, and it could always just keep pumping out drones.

Minmatar Warrior II drone, the fastest drone type.
Like turrets and missiles, drones are weapon systems for various ships. However, unlike turrets and missiles, drones rest in the ship's drone bay. By default, a ship can fly a maximum of 5 drones, so long as they all fit in its drone bay, and the total bandwidth of the drones in flight is less than the ship's bandwidth capacity. This means that, for example, even though a Dramiel frigate can fit 4 light drones in its drone bay, it can only fly 3 of them at a time due to its 15 Mbit/sec bandwidth. For reference, these are the different sizes of drones and their requirements:
  • Light drone - 5 m^3 drone bay space, 5 Mbit/sec bandwidth
  • Medium drone - 10 m^3 drone bay space, 10 Mbit/sec bandwidth
  • Heavy drone - 25 m^3 drone bay space, 25 Mbit/sec bandwidth
  • Sentry drone - 25 m^3 drone bay space, 25 Mbit/sec bandwidth
  • Fighter - 5000 m^3 drone bay space, 25 Mbit/sec bandwidth
  • Fighter bomber - 5000 m^3 drone bay space, 500 Mbit/sec bandwidth
The Templar, an Amarr fighter drone used by carriers.

Also unlike turrets, the basic drone skills give you the knowledge to use drones of all race types. The only race specific skills are the specialization skills, which unlock Tech-II drones.

So now, how do you deal with drones - both in using them and in being shot by them? To answer this,  we will have to look at the specs of the different types of drones. For simplicity, let's focus on light drones: the Minmatar Warrior, Gallente Hobgoblin, and the lesser used Caldari Hornet and Amarr Acolyte.

I have sorted them from "light" to "heavy", a trend that is present in all drone types. Minmatar drones are generally the fastest, but flimsiest and least damaging, while Gallente drones tend to be large bricks that do a lot of damage and don't move as fast. Now, some highlights of using drones.

Damage projection. Some pilots are tempted to dismiss drones on account of the low "paper damage" they do. After all, what's the point of using drones when you can achieve much more damage on a drone-less ship using autocannons? The answer is: you really won't. Not as easily, at least. The tracking of drones is very good, and their speed ensures they will be in range to deliver the damage. They are also not susceptible to dumb pilot errors such as accidentally moving your ship off-course instead of keeping an orbit at the engagement range.

Range. Drone control range starts at 35 km and only goes up as you learn more skills and use range-increasing modules on your ship. There is no advantage to being in your target's face when their face is already full of drones. Unless you're a Gallente blaster-boat like the Taranis.

Taranis, Gallente combat interceptor

Getting shot down. Drones can indeed be shot down. If you are the one using drones, make sure to not put them out until the enemy is safely focused on a different target (e.g. you), or he may very leisurely pop your drones as soon as you throw them out of your drone bay. If you are the one attacked by drones, try to kite them with an afterburner: it lowers their transverse speed, and might force them to pulse their microwarpdrives to keep up with you, which bloats their signature radius and makes them really easy targets. However, do keep in mind that dedicated drone boats almost always have more than a flight of drones, so you need to be fast about popping them.

For the love of all that is good, don't forget to recall your drones before warping out. Seriously. On the flip side, if you force a hostile drone boat to warp out without his drones, you get free drones!

Picking the correct drones. It is futile to send medium drones after a frigate, and light drones will only tickle a cruiser, that much is clear. But which drones for which task? What you mainly want to consider is the speed of the drone, and its damage type.

If you got tackled by a Stiletto that is speeding around you at 4 km/s, sending out Hornets or Hobgoblins is just asking for them to get shot down horribly. Use Warriors. However, if you have a Claw up in your face dealing massive autocannon damage, the quickest way to get rid of it is some Hobgoblins, since it won't be moving too fast.

Similarly, if your enemy is shield tanked (or has Tech-II Amarr resists), Warriors will be mostly useless. You most likely have to use Hobgoblins or Hornets in that case (depending on how fast the target is).

Now, something that you might have noticed is I didn't even mention the Amarr drones. Here's why:

Amarr drones suck. 

They seriously do. In the drone table I showed above, there is generally a trend towards slower drones with higher damage, going from left to right, and all drones follow that trend. Except for this:

They deal less damage than Warriors! The marginal EHP boost is not worth the decrease in speed and damage, so there is no real reason to ever use Acolytes. This same trend appears across larger drone types, too. It's a pity, too, lasers are pretty.

So, now you know about drones. And knowing is half the battle (dying horribly is the other half).