September 24, 2013

Beam Lasers 101: Space Light Shows

Have you ever seen any mid-combat pictures that look like this?



Yeah, those are beam lasers. They are decidedly the most fabulous weapon system.

On top of making for spectacular-looking space shootouts, beam lasers are quite useful as a long range damage delivery system. Whenever the range of pulse lasers with Scorch is not sufficient, it's time to bring out the beams. Let's look at some of their characteristics:


Pros

Great tracking (relatively). Beam lasers have much better tracking than railguns and artillery, the competitors in the "long range turret" section. 

Great DPS. Not only do they track better than railguns and artillery, but beam lasers also do more raw damage. It is comparable to that of autocannons or pulse lasers!

Decent alpha. While they are not quite artillery, beam lasers still fire fairly slowly, and as a result, do their damage in respectably-sized lumps.

Incredible range flexibility. The long optimal range of beam lasers synergizes very well with the rainbow of available laser crystals and the instant switching of laser crystals. Beam lasers can always pick the appropriate crystal for the range their target is at in order to maximize damage.

Taste the rainbow!

Cons

Cap usage. Beam lasers are extremely capacitor-hungry. You have to consider your capacitor seriously whenever you plan a beam laser fit.

Fitting requirements. Beam lasers are also a pain and a half to fit. Be prepared to make significant sacrifices to use them.

Limited damage types. All lasers do some combination of EM and thermal damage. As crystals increase in range, though, the proportion shifts heavily toward EM. This means that beam lasers are quite poor against armor tanks.

Competition with Scorch. The long range of pulse lasers using Scorch usually encroaches on the operational range of beam lasers. Usually it comes down to a difference in damage and tracking, but there are some times when it is really just pointless to use beams instead of pulses with Scorch.



Where do I start?

There is no better way to jump into beam lasers than the Coercer. It is decently fast, which lets it do all sorts of tricks with its long range lasers. It also has a tracking bonus, which helps with the "I'm missing all my shots" learning curve.

Try this fit. Here's how an optimal engagement with a short range ship can go. Refer to my kiting guide for the basics of how/why this works.

  1. Load Ultraviolet/Standard/Infrared crystals to start off, depending on your skills.You want about 20 km range.
  2. Get point and start firing at 20 km. 
  3. Have your microwarpdrive on and burn in a straight line away from your target as soon as he decides to fight you. This forces him to chase you, and gives you more time to do damage to him while he's not doing anything to you.
  4. When he gets to 10 km, swap to Multifrequency crystals to maximize damage. Overheat.
  5. If you get scrammed/webbed, continue drifting in the same direction. It will still help your tracking.
  6. Boom! Either he's dead by now, or you're in a brawl with a heavily damaged ship. You probably have a tracking disadvantage, but with some luck, you'll still win.
The fit can be upgraded by switching to Small Focused Beam Lasers, or by fitting T2 guns. Unfortunately it is quite difficult to do so unless you have good fitting skills, but in my opinion it is wholly worth it.

So far as tactics go, something like this works on most beam laser platforms. There are some exceptions (such as AHAC Zealot fleets), but they are advanced enough that they do not belong in a "101" level post.


What's next?

There are a variety of beam-capable ships. Let's take a look at some of them. Some might seem similar to the pulse laser list, but that is simply because pulse laser kiters also usually make great beam laser ships.
  • Retribution, Imperial Navy Slicer: Frigate sized pew-pew boats. Pulse lasers usually make the most sense if you plan to stay within point range (24 km), but outside that they are still great when using beam lasers.
  • Omen, Omen Navy Issue: Fast cruisers with good beam damage and good support from drones. like the Retribution and Slicer, they both work well with pulses and beams (especially the Navy Omen). 
  • Harbinger: I do not have personal experience with the beam Harbinger, but it seems that with proper support (in a fleet), it can become an incredibly powerful, if slow and fat, laser platform. Its damage from 20-30 km rivals that of point blank blasters.
  • Zealot: Amazing long range laser platform. Somewhat slower than the other Omen-type ships, and lacking drones, but it projects damage very, very well. Fly with care; it has no way to deal with frigates that catch it.
  • Oracle: In my experience, the perfect platform for battleship size beams. Fast, with lots of damage. I would only recommend it to experienced pilots, though. It requires a lot of manual piloting to do well.
Also, the Oracle is vertical. That's right.

Beam Laser Peculiarities

Yeah, beam lasers are a little bit weird.

Cruiser-sized Beam Lasers do more damage than Crusier-sized Pulse lasers. Yup. This is only the case with the cruiser variants. Frigate and battleship still lasers follow the "shorter range is more damage" pattern, though.

Quad Light Beam Lasers, a type of cruiser beam lasers, do not deserve their "beam" denomination. They have higher damage, shorter range, and comparable tracking to cruiser pulse lasers. Try them on a brawling cruiser! They're fun!



Pew pew!

That's about it. Go light up the sky!



Oh, and a reminder of something that you really need to know: never mix crystal types. It might make for sweet looking beams, but just don't do it. Why? Glad you asked.

September 17, 2013

Pulse Lasers 101: Pew Pew Pew!


Lasers have often been derided by being nicknamed "flashlights" -- good for looking at pretty things, but useless at doing anything other than illuminating their target. While various recent improvements in laser-toting ships have made lasers more appealing to the general public, they still suffer from the same thing they have always toiled under: a complete lack of understanding of how to best take advantage of them.

In this post, we will be looking at the short range variety of lasers: pulse lasers.



To start with, let's see what they are good at, and what they suck at. Pulse lasers are a very "polar" weapon system, in that their benefits are amazing while their downsides are awful.

Pros

Long optimal range. Pulse lasers have the longest base optimal range of all the short range turrets. This means that, barring tracking problems, they will be applying damage much better than their counterparts.

Little to no ammo concerns. Lasers do not use conventional "ammo". Instead, they use "crystals" which modify their damage, range, and the capacitor usage. T1 crystals can be fired infinite times, while faction and T2 crystals crack after several thousand shots. Unless you're very good at not dying, running out of ammo will never be a concern. Also, you never have to stop firing to reload. How cool is that?

Instant ammo switch. Crystals are similar to "scripts" of other modules, in that they can be swapped out instantly. This allows for great flexibility to adapt to whatever you're currently shooting.

Shields get dunked. Lasers are prefect for taking down shield-tanked ships due to their damage type and good ranged damage application. 


Cons

Poor tracking, especially at short range. Pulse lasers have very poor tracking compared to blasters and autocannons. As such, they have trouble hitting things that move very quickly, or are very close up.

Very little falloff range. Once a target exits a pulse laser's optimal range, the damage very quickly drops from full to zero. Range management is critical for applying full damage.

Vulnerable to tracking disruptors. Tracking disruptors take advantage of both of the above weaknesses. The arrival of a ship equipped with a tracking disruptor is big trouble for someone equipped with pulse lasers.

Vulnerable to capacitor warfare. Lasers eat a ton of capacitor to fire, so an opponent with an energy neutralizer spells trouble.

No damage type selection. Lasers are stuck dealing EM and thermal damage. The ratio between how much of each is dealt can be modified by using different ammo, but lasers simply cannot deal kinetic or explosive damage. This means lasers are poor at dealing with armor ships, and nearly useless against T2 Minmatar ships.

Scorch




Scorch is the wind beneath pulse lasers' wings. It is a T2 ammo type that enormously boosts the weapon's effectiveness. Why? A huge range boost. 

When equipped with Scorch, a laser ship will not only handily out-range its competing weapon systems, but it will also be significantly better at applying damage, as it is still firing at optimal range. Scorch boosts pulse lasers almost to the range of long range weapons (notably artillery and beam lasers), while preserving most of the high tracking and damage of short range weapons. 

Plus, it makes the lasers purple. PURPLE!



Where do I start?

Punisher, or Coercer. These two ships are completely focused on being laser platforms, without much else involved, which makes them perfect for getting used to the odd way lasers work.

The most common mistake people make when flying a laser ship is orbiting the target. With a couple exceptions, you should never, ever, ever orbit your target. Tracking is based on the relative movement of your ships. This means that not only is it harder for you to hit a moving target, but it is also harder for you to hit when you are moving.

This does not mean you should stay still, though. Try to keep as close to your optimal range as possible. Propulsion modules (afterburners and microwarpdrives) are your friends, as are stasis webifiers and warp scramblers. One trick to use to improve tracking when you are having problems is to fly in a straight line away from your target. This forces them to "trail" behind you to catch up, which improves your damage and may mess up theirs. Inattentive pilots who always orbit their targets are particularly vulnerable to this treatment.


Now, some suggested fits... The Punisher is a very hardy frigate because of its armor resistance bonuses, and can be fit as an effective brawler like this. The Coercer is focused more on being a glass cannon with amazing damage application (hence its range and tracking bonuses). Try something like this. Stay near the edge of your optimal range, and let the flashlights illuminate the non-believers.


Where do I go from there?

Laser ships follow one of two philosophies: big, tanky bricks that roast things from relatively short range, and agile, flexible kiters that are infuriating to fight. The "brick" ships you can look forward to are:

  • Tormentor: Similar to the Punisher, but a bit more flexible and skill intensive.
  • Maller: Very sturdy crusier with great damage and tank, but trouble tracking things. Works best with friends.
  • Harbinger: Powerful battlecruiser that will shred anything that gets in its range. Unfortunately, it's a bit slow.
The kiters are a bit more finnicky to fly, and I recommend reading over my magical kiting guide before trying your hand at it. T2 pulse lasers with Scorch are required.
  • Executioner: Very fast short range frigate; commonly found at 7-8 km, laughing at its target.
  • Imperial Navy Slicer: A super-Executioner; more speed, tank, plus a huge range bonus; usually found at 20 km or so, laughing even harder at its target.
  • Retribution: A super-Punisher; yes, it kites, because it has a big range bonus which the Punisher misses; think of it as a very tanky, slower Slicer.
  • Omen: Can be used as a brawler or kiter. Usually preferred over the Maller due to its improved mobility and drone bay, despite the reduced tank.
I could mention the Apocalypse and Abaddon, but... I won't. Bigger is not always better, kids, especially when you don't know how to fly your ship.

Pew pew!

Get out there and try it out! Whether you're a completely new pilot, or someone reaching out to try something new, pulse lasers are always a fun and different experience. They're also great for parties.


Come to the dark side. You know you want to.

September 11, 2013

Autocannons 101: There Are Never Enough Bullets

It is commonly said that "flying Minmatar ships is like riding a wheelchair down a staircase while wildly firing two Uzis and screaming." Artillery lacks the rate of fire for this to nearly apply to it, so it must be talking about autocannons instead.


Autocannons are the short range variant of projectile weaponry. Unlike Minmatar artillery, autocannons consume far more ammunition, and do not require immobile, bigger, or otherwise easy to hit targets. They are very easy to use, flexible, yet not lacking complexity. Let's look at some basics:

Pros

Very long falloff range. When comparing the falloff range of the various kinds of short range weapons, autocannons easily come out on top. This gives them a large engagement envelope; they will continue doing damage (albeit little) far past the range of comparable weapon systems.

"Magical" awesome ammo. As projectile weapons, autocannons get to take advantage of a variety of ammo types to best adapt to the current situation. 

No capacitor usage. This is especially important for short range weapons, as it means your damage will continue even if your capacitor is dry.

Very easy to fit. The powergrid and CPU draw of autocannons is very low. Some non-Minmatar ships actually even sometimes opt to equip autocannons as supplementary weapons because of this.

Republic Fleet Firetail

Cons


Very short optimal range. This means that autocannons will almost never do their full "paper" theoretical damage; it will always be reduced because of firing beyond the optimal range. Since long range autocannon ammo only bonuses optimal range (not falloff), using it gains almost no range while sacrificing a ton of damage. Never use medium/long range ammo in autocannons!

Low damage. Not only does autocannon theoretical damage get reduced by falloff, but it is also lower than that of blasters and pulse lasers to begin with.

Knowledge/luck dependent. In order to make up for the damage reductions from above, the pilot needs to be able to properly identify what the correct ammo is to use in the situation. If you pick wrong -- you're dead. Pick right, though, and the damage is great.


Barrage


A big selling point of autocannons is one of the ammo types only usable on T2 guns: Barrage. This ammo is the only projectile ammo type that bonuses falloff range (by a hefty bit). This means that autocannons can use it to stretch out their range even farther. 

Barrage is specialized ammo, though, so it has some downsides. While using it, your guns will track more poorly, and do less damage than shorter range ammo would. Barrage also only comes in a single damage profile: mainly explosive. This makes it a difficult sell against shield tanked ships, or Amarr T2 ships. Ironically, it's best suited to fight Minmatar T2 ships.

The Vagabond is well known for having falloff of 30-35 km or more for its autocannons.

Where do I start?

The Rifter! Or... the Slasher and Thrasher. 

Truth is, autocannons are used successfully on almost every Minmatar ship capable of fitting turrets, so you have a lot of options. The most straightforward one I've found (and the one which is apparently easiest to jump right into) is to just use the Thrasher with a fit like this one. The tracking and damage bonuses that the Thrasher provides to its guns are great for turning the rack of seven autocannons into a ship grinder. The fit is pretty straightforward: lots of guns, some tank, and a little bit of ability to hold things down via a warp scrambler and an energy neutralizer.

One small note, though. All frigate-sized autocannon-toting ships (Rifter, Slasher, Thrasher, Republic Fleet Firetail, Dramiel) have tracking bonuses for projectile weaponry. Very few larger ships have those kinds of bonuses. While frigate autocannons will almost always hit (a reason they deal with drones very well), larger ones may not. 

It's not pretty, but the Slasher means serious business.

What's next?

Practice, practice, practice. Because of their inherent lower damage, they tend to require more manual piloting, tricky tricks, and luck. Ammo takes a long time to swap (10 seconds), so the right choice is critical. During the fight, the large engagement envelope allows you to "fire and forget" the autocannons, producing the full-automatic "firing two Uzis while screaming" effect. This actually allows you to do more manual piloting and to pay more attention to what's going on, how to sabotage your opponent, and how to reduce incoming damage, rather than worrying about if your guns are hitting.

As you keep learning, try some of these autocannon setups. This is in no way an exhaustive list, as autocannons are extremely common.
  • Brawling Rifter/Slasher: Both of these ships are nimbler, more fragile, and do less damage than their same-class counterparts. However, the low fitting costs of autocannons and the balanced slot layouts allow both of them to bring unpredictable and highly tuned setups (think varying types of tank, electronic warfare, rockets, energy neutralizers, etc)
  • Brawling Thrasher: The Thrasher scales up very well with skills, and becomes a fast, flexible, high damage platform when equipped with autocannons. It can use either a shield tank for speed and damage, or an armor tank to have the extra utility mid slot.
  • Brawling Rupture: The Rupture is a very robust cruiser brawler, which brings a little bit of everything to the table. Can fare quite well both solo and in a gang.
  • Kiting Stabber: The Stabber, like the Vagabond from above, receives a large falloff range bonus. It is also extremely fast for a cruiser. This combination allows it to pull a lot of tricks, pecking away at its targets from range. T2 guns with Barrage are preferred, but it can sort of work with T1 weapons too.
  • Hurricane: Can be fit either as a bigger Rupture, or as a bigger, slower Stabber. The former (heavy armor tank, a lot of point blank damage) works better in my opinion, but a lot of people swear by the latter. 

Good fight!

There's a lot more that I could say about autocannons, but it would probably just devolve into lengthy ranting about weird fits and situations, so I'll stop here. Let me know if there is anything you would like me to address! Good luck out there, and may the ammo types be with you.



September 8, 2013

Artillery 101: Having a Blast

Do you like turning ships into expanding clouds of dust with a single shot? Do you enjoy your firepower accompanied by satisfying boom noises? Do you use projectile turrets but are tired of spending your whole fortune on autocannon ammo? You should look into artillery!



Artillery is a long-range turret type designed to best work on Minmatar ships. It can be found in almost any activity that involves shooting things. Despite this, there is a lot of misinformation around how it works, and when it should be used. Let's start by taking a look at artillery pros and cons:

Pros:

Very high alpha damage. This is by far the main selling point of artillery. In each ship class size, they hold the highest per-shot damage, at medium ranges. This is very important since alpha is one of the ways to break through an active tank (one using repairers). It is also essential in larger fleets, when taking targets off of the field from range is critical.

Inexpensive and low-skill friendly. T1 and meta artillery is very common, and the T2 ammo types forgone by not fitting T2 artillery are not critical in most situations.

"Magical" awesome ammo. Artillery cannons get to take advantage of the full range of projectile ammo types. Since they have a significant optimal range, they can expand from autocannon ammo selection (Phased Plasma, EMP, and Fusion) to the longer range ammo types as well.

High skill ceiling. Combining the long range aspect of artillery with the nimbleness of its host Minmatar ships leads to a lot of possibilities for advanced piloting tricks to achieve ridiculous results.


Cons:

Hard to fit. Artillery is one of the hardest weapon types to fit. When using it, be prepared to make serious fitting sacrifices.

Fragility. As a consequence of the fitting requirements, artillery ships usually are not very durable, and need to make great efforts to not get caught or damaged. 

Very low damage over time. While artillery has amazing per-shot damage, its fire rate is abysmal, leading to little damage done over time.

Poor tracking. Missing is very common, and very painful because of the slow rate of fire. It will have serious problems tracking any target of similar or smaller size to yourself when it gets too close.

If that Hurricane has artillery... it's screwed.

How do I get started?


To jump into using artillery, I recommend getting a Thrasher. The bonuses the hull provides fit artillery perfectly: a damage bonus, a tracking bonus, and an optimal range bonus. On top of that, the Thrasher uses 7 guns, which means a lot of satisfying "blam".

When fitting an artillery-based ship, always fit the guns first. Once those are fit, build the rest of your fit around them.

As a starter, try this fit. It is thus named ("Sisters Thrasher") because it is very similar to the fit I used to run the Sisters of Eve mission arc back in the day. Let's look at some aspects of that fit:

  • 280mm artillery (rather than 250mm) gives extra range and damage, but is hard to fit
  • The micro auxiliary power core (MAPC) ameliorates some fitting difficulties. 
  • Both the stasis webifier ('Langour' is a meta 2 web) and the PWNT target painter serve to make things easier to hit. If using it to fight other capsuleers, you might want to replace one of them with a warp scrambler or disruptor.
  • The damage control gives some survivability, but if you are confident about not being shot, it can be replaced with a gyrostabilizer to get extra damage.

Where do I go from here?


The weaknesses of artillery are especially prominent when using a ship solo. Thankfully, they are greatly diminished by being in a fleet with others. Additionally, in many fleets, rapid takedown of a target is especially important, and the high alpha of artillery makes it especially useful. In short? To be as useful as possible using artillery, find friends and fly with them.

If you really enjoy the concept and would like to get into it more, you should look into these ships:
  • Rifter, Jaguar, Republic Fleet Firetail: The Firetail is very fast, fairly hardy, and has a great tracking bonus, which enables it to perform a risky scram-range kiting strategy using artillery. The Rifter and Jaguar can emulate it, but they lack in mid slots and in speed respectively. For more about scram range kiting, see my kiting post.
  • Thrasher, Wolf: These two ships enjoy very large range bonuses and very good artillery alpha strike. They can usually stay out of danger while shooting down things from afar.
  • Rupture, Stabber Fleet Issue: The Rupture is a very versatile cruiser that can serve as a decent artillery platform. It can have problems with speed and tracking, though. The SFI improves in both those areas, if you can afford it.
  • Hurricane: The staple artillery battlecrusier. Cheap enough to be ballsy with, but still packs the highest alpha strike of any medium artillery.
  • Muninn: Heavy assault cruiser specializing in artillery. It's faster than the Rupture, gets a tracking bonus akin to the SFI's, has alpha strike similar to the Hurricane's, and gets a big range bonus which the others do not. An excellent artillery platform.
Muninn exchanging fire.

  • Tornado: An attack battlecruiser with battleship-sized guns, it is the final say in mobile, high damage artillery. It has a lot more trouble tracking than the Muninn and other medium artillery platforms, and it also loses out on some mobility and a lot of tank, but it more than makes up for that with enormous range and volleys from 8 artillery cannons. Be aware that it  requires strong manual piloting skills, though.
  • Tempest, Maelstrom: These battleships also function very well when equipped with artillery. However, due to their slow nature, those setups are only commonly seen in large organized fleets.

That's it!


You've got a primer in how artillery works. Go out and try it! Feel free to let me know in the comments if you want me to add something else, or if you need extra advice.