October 18, 2013

Blasters 101: Vaporizing The Competition

Last but not least of the turrets in this blog series, we have the awesome weapon system that is blasters. Hold on to your hats, since this post turned out to be fairly lengthy. Maybe get a snack first.

Blasters do damage. No, really. They are far above all other weapon systems in raw damage output, and have the best tracking out of all turrets. This makes them an excellent choice for a wide variety of situations, and makes them especially attractive to young pilots with few skill points.



However awesome they may be at melting ships though, they have their own downsides. Let's look at blasters' attributes in more detail:

Pros

Amazing damage. Nothing much more to be said here.

Great tracking. Well... in most cases. Small (frigate-sized) blasters are actually out-tracked by autocannons, but that's simply because the two main autocannon frigates (Slasher and Rifter) both have large tracking bonuses, while no blaster frigates have a tracking bonusCorrection: there are plenty of blaster frigates with tracking bonuses. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I typed that.

Ease of use. Blasters are a pretty no-nonsense weapon system. Get in range, fire. Like pulse lasers, you also only have to worry about two ammo types (one if you use T1 guns): Antimatter, and Null. Ed: well, and maybe Void. Read on to the ammo section for more.

Wide applicability. Even though they are technically preferred by the Gallente, blasters make an appearance on both Gallente and Caldari hulls. The optimal range bonus they get from some Caldari ships isn't particularly useful, but does not invalidate the usefulness of having a high-damage shield-tanked ship.

Let's joust!

Cons

Unforgiving fittings. Since the objective of blaster ships is to maximize damage output, you'd think that using the neutron (largest in the class) blasters is a no-brainer. However, they can be very hard to fit, and usually leave their ship lacking tank. Swapping down to electron or ion blasters helps, but it comes at a fairly high price in damage output.

Range. Range range range range range. Blasters have awful range. A day-one pilot cannot expect to hit past 3 km with frigate blasters (and at 50% miss rate, at that), while a perfectly-skilled pilot only pushes that out to 4 km. T2 blasters with Null ammo somewhat help with this, but they do it at the price of damage and tracking. Look for ships with range bonuses to mitigate this.

Difficult range control. Blaster ships tend to be helpless when caught by a ship with superior mobility. In addition, blasters are very vulnerable to optimal range disruption from tracking disruptors. There is no surer way to shut down a blaster ship than to lower its range to completely impossible levels.

Poor in large fleet fights. Large battles tend to spread themselves out over wide areas. Having to move close to every target in order to apply damage wastes a lot of valuable seconds that other weapon systems would be using to apply damage.


Electrons, ions, and neutrons, oh my!

Yes, yes, I keep talking about these different sizes of blasters, and it is extremely confusing. Luckily for you, the naming scheme is actually uniform throughout the ship classes: neutrons are larger than ions, which are larger than electrons. Need a better mnemonic? They're alphabetical!


So, where do I start?

If you like armor, the Incursus. If you like shields, the Merlin. If you just like overwhelming raw damage, the Catalyst. The Incursus and Merlin are both incredibly good brawlers. They both have a bonused to their tank and damage, and are straightforward to fly. The Catalyst doesn't really do tanking (and it's fairly flimsy for a destroyer because of that), but it does do damage that rivals that of some battlecruisers.

For the Incursus, try something like this fit to start with. Some notes about it, though:

  • It may be difficult to fit with low skills. Feel free to remove the armor plate or replace the magnetic field stabilizer with something easier to fit (like an adaptive nano plate)
  • Mind the range. Those might be neutron blasters, but they still don't go out that far.
  • Replace the armor repairer with an ancillary armor repairer if you can. The extra repair is worth it, and fights don't last nearly long enough for the regular armor repairer to overtake the AAR. More words on ancillary tanks in a later post.
  • Never ever forget the damage control. Gallente ships benefit more than most from it.

The Merlin brings to the table very similar features, but in a shield-tanked package. Try something like this. It's a little simpler to fly than the Incursus, due to the lack of active tank. This comes at slightly reduced damage, and higher signature radius (why would I care about that?).

Lastly, the Catalyst... Its fits are very straightforward. However, they tend to also be extremely tight. Luckily, being a destroyer, it gets both optimal and falloff range bonuses, which means that "downgrading" to smaller blasters isn't too big a tragedy. The fit I linked is a sample "optimal" tech-1 glass cannon Catalyst. One alternative that works especially well in fleets is not to use a scrambler/disruptor; just use a stasis webifier instead. Slowing down your targets helps both with people who kite your blasters, and with you getting in range fast to apply that awesome destroyer damage. Just be wary that, due to only having a damage control for tank, that Catalyst is significantly less suited to tanking than almost any other destroyer.



What next?

There are lots of great blaster-centric ships. These are usually either fast, tanky, or both, and their sole objective is to get in the enemy's face and shoot it off. Let's have a look:
  • Atron: Think of a faster, flimsier, and slightly longer range Incursus. Good fast tackle, but also works for solo combat.
  • Enyo/Ishkur: Both of the Gallente assault frigates work great with blasters, along with being very tough nuts to crack. The Enyo is more dedicated to blasters, while the Ishkur uses both blasters and drones.
  • Taranis: Combat interceptor that out-damages most assault frigates. Fairly thin-skinned, but very dangerous against larger ships, or when it's roaming around in a gang.
  • Thorax: Gallente attack cruiser. Very fast, outdamages some battlecruisers, and has a tracking bonus on top of that, making it very dangerous to anyone encountering it. Has to trade a bit of that damage for survivability (if you want it).
  • Moa: Caldari combat cruiser. Extremely tanky, plus sports high damage thanks to its bonused blasters. However, its mid slots have tackle, electronic warfare, and tank competing, and it only has three light drones, making it a non-optimal choice outside of a fleet. Very good, functional bait.
  • Deimos: A T2 super-Thorax. Slightly slower, but tankier, higher damage, and range-bonused. 
  • Brutix/Astarte: The Brutix and its command ship big brother, the Astarte, are the ultimate medium weapon battlecruisers. They're not the tankiest in their class (though the Astarte is not to be underestimated), but in exchange they can reach damage figures that compete with, and sometimes excel, those of battleships.
  • Talos: Essentially a discount Megathron battleship in a battlecruiser-sized package. The Talos has the exact same gun-toting capabilities of the Megathron, but like all attack battlecruisers, it has very weak tank. Unlike the other ABCs though, it features a flight of light drones, which makes it usable at much shorter ranges.


Quite the selection, yes? But wait, I'm not done! There is a selection of ships which are generally considered to be weapon-agnostic. That is, they have working fits with high slots featuring autocannons, missiles, energy neutralizers, nothing, and... you guessed it... blasters!
  • Tristan: The Gallente drone frigate can fit two guns, and it receives a tracking bonus for hybrids, but those fitting resources are often used for something else (like a tougher tank). It can use blasters to good effect to have great overall damage.
  • Vexor/Ishtar: The Tristan's cruiser-sized big brothers. These do more than enough damage just using their drones, but can further enhance it to awesome heights by fitting some (lightly bonused) blasters. 
  • Myrmidon/Prophecy: Yes, that's an Amarr ship there. These two battlecruisers receive no weapon bonuses, so they have a lot of options for what to fit in those high slots. Blasters are a common choice when aiming to maximize damage dealt.

So, since they're so good, can I fit blasters to everything?

No! While yes, your damage figures may be higher, you may be wasting the potential of a ship by slapping blasters on it. Alternatively, there is probably a good reason that blasters are not meant for it. Here are some examples of ships that make me weep bitter tears when I see them equipped with blasters:
  • Cormorant: When using blasters, the Cormorant's optimal range bonuses hardly get used, and it gets relegated to the role of being a slower, lower-damage Catalyst. Use railguns!
  • Ferox: Same deal, it just becomes a crappier Brutix. Railguns railguns railguns!
  • Naga: While it may do slightly more damage on paper than the Talos, it is slower, flimsier, lacks drones, and is missing the tracking bonus, making it overall a poorer choice at short range. Raaaaaailguuuuuuns!
  • Maller: fitting blasters does not gain that much damage, and loses lasers' immense range flexibility. Don't do it!
  • Rifter/Punisher: I think people just do this on purpose to tick me off. I hold personal grudges against anyone who does this.
Does this look like a %@#$ing blaster ship to you?!

Antimatter is king

When picking out ammo for your blaster ship, there is no T1 ammo that makes sense other than Antimatter Charges. All the others progressively do less damage, while increasing optimal range. Since blaster optimal range is very short, scaling it up with ammo is not worth it for  the amount of damage traded for it. It's the same deal as using autocannons with anything but EMP/Phased Plasma/Fusion.


Oh, and keep in mind: the Federation Navy and Caldari Navy variants of hybrid ammo are exactly identical. When buying either, make sure the other isn't cheaper first (unless you're racist, in which case you already know what to do).


If you  have T2 blasters, always make sure to bring a load of Null ammo as well. When you only have Antimatter on you, it is very easy to get kited, or to get shut down by a tracking disruptor. Null extends both optimal and falloff range to a point where you are no longer helpless.

Update: (because I have gotten a complaint about not including this) The last T2 blaster ammo type is Void. Like Conflagration and Hail, it penalizes tracking but increases damage. A lot. Void is generally useful when fighting above your ship class, or in other situations where you are confident you can avoid tracking problems. It also trades off a little bit of falloff range for a little bit of optimal range, meaning that it is easier to get into "point blank" range, but when leaving it the damage drops off much faster.

Moros is also a pretty cool blaster ship... but it's not really a frigate.

Anything else?

Nope! You made it through the wall of text. Or maybe you didn't, and are just looking for a summary here. Well, fine. TL;DR: Blasters are a high-risk, high-reward weapon system that involves running up to your target and shooting it in the face from within arm's reach. Their sound is also closest to "pew pew", so they have that going for them, too.

Tune in next time to hear me rant about drones. Or maybe missiles? I already wrote a sort of missile primer, but it's not quite as exhaustive as the posts in this series. What do you think?

October 9, 2013

Railguns 101: Range Limitations Are For Losers

On to hybrid weapons! Let's start with railguns.

As the title of this post implies, railguns are the longest range turrets. In some cases, they even overtake all other non-turret weapons in order to claim the "top range". This is a very useful tool. However, railguns are more complicated than being plain "sniper" guns.


Before getting into the nitty gritty of railguns' peculiarities, let's take a look at some simplified pros and cons:

Pros

Great range. Have I mentioned this already? Railguns have great range, and is a wide variety of optimal range bonusing ships that gives them even nicer range.

Good damage. At the ranges where they excel at, railguns out-damage most (if not all) other weapon systems on equivalent ships. More on this later.

Easy fitting. Unlike most other long range weapon systems, railguns in general tend to be light on fitting requirements. Of course, the largest ones in each class size may be difficult to fit, but its range usually enables trade-offs in other parts of your ship.

"Gatling" alternatives. All sub-capital classes of railguns have one variety that has very high rate of fire, good tracking, and a relatively short range: 75mm, dual 150mm, and dual 250mm. Not only are they useful for some short range kiting, but they are also very easy to fit, making for good "placeholder" weapons for ships like the Vexor.

The Harpy is an amazing frigate-sized railgun platform.

Cons

Limited damage types. Hybrid weapons only deal a combination of thermal and kinetic damage, with a lean towards kinetic when using longer range ammo. Usually these are "okay" damage types, but they don't really have the huge potential to wreck a heavy tank that EM or explosive dealing weapons have. They also tend to be next to useless against T2 Gallente or Caldari hulls (which have very high Thm/Kin resists).

Very poor at short to medium range. When used anywhere closer than their optimal range (particularly when using Antimatter ammo), railguns are plain inferior to other weapon types such as beam lasers and artillery.

Unforgiving learning curve. Unless you're looking to only snipe from maximum possible range, expect a tough time learning how to pilot a railgun ship correctly. I hope this post will be of some help.

Edit: Some capacitor vulnerability. While hybrid guns do not use as much capacitor as lasers do, they are still vulnerable to having your capacitor drained. Without power, they can't fire. Thanks to /u/Killerx09 for pointing this omission out.


Where do I start?

The Cormorant destroyer, hands down. It receives a double bonus to its railguns' range (50% base, plus 10% per Caldari Destroyer level), making it a great first ship to start taking advantage of being far away with. Try this fit to start with. If you have problems getting the 150mm railguns on there, it's okay to swap down to 125mm ones.

To fly it, you simply have to try to stay at whatever your optimal range is (10 to 18 km, depending on skills), and fire your guns. Orbiting is unnecessary (and might even be counter-productive) unless your target is a cruiser or larger. The web is there for "pushing off" frigates that get too close and become hard to track -- not for purposefully getting within 10 km to use it. Needless to say, because the Cormorant is a bit slow, this fit works best when put as "fire support" into a gang.

Using the Cormorant solo is... difficult, to say the least. I used to have a working gimmick fit for it, but since it does not have 4 mid slots anymore, that fit is useless. I have some experimental ideas for it, but nothing concrete yet. I may report back if I find a mind-blowingly good fit.

Okay, enough on the Cormorant. If you absolutely refuse to use it, you can find a shorter range, higher damage variant of it in the Catalyst. Though it is optimized for blasters, the Catalyst can still handle railguns fairly well.

On the frigate front, the Merlin, Incursus, and Atron all can be fit with railgun kiting fits. Railguns also find a home on the Tristan, where the tracking bonus makes them a decent auxiliary weapon (along drones) for ranged fits. If you would like more info on these sorts of shenanigans, get in touch with Fintarue, my corp expert on these matters.


What's next?

Everybody always says "Caldari are the missile race". Everybody is wrong. Along their lineup of missile ships, the Caldari also have a whole array of hybrid weapon equipped ships, all of which are excellent with rails. Some work with blasters, too. Here's a sampling, with some approximate range figures from common fits.

  • Harpy: one of the tankiest assault frigates, with great range and damage. It has some problems tracking (even when blaster-fit), but if flown smartly it can demolish a huge variety of stuff. Expect 20 km railgun range on a good fit.
  • Moa: the Caldari take on "tanky brick with lots of damage". Works with both blasters and railguns, and has very good flexibility to trade between tank and utility, due to its large number of mid slots. Expect 15-25 km of range.
  • Ferox: outdone at short range by the other battlecruisers, the Ferox instead beats all of them in ranged fights. It is very hard to kill, and projects damage to great ranges. Expect 30-40 km of range.
  • Eagle: recently reworked to improve its combat performance, this heavy assault cruiser takes the Moa's tank and mobility, plus the Ferox's range... and improves on both of them. A great sniping ship. Don't get caught. Expect 50-60 km range.
  • Naga: the longest range attack battlecruiser, specialized for doing very high battleship-sized railgun damage from long distances. Outdoes all the others at ranges above 70 km or so. Expect 70-90 km range (unless equipped with Spike ammo, in which case it fires farther away than ships are allowed to lock).
  • Rokh: So far I have made a point to not mention battleships in this series, but the Rokh is the epitome of "giant brick railgun platform". Its range is the same as the Naga's, and the damage is a little lower, but it cannot be counter-sniped easily due to its massive hit points. Oh, and it's so badass it even has a song dedicated to it.

(Adult language warning; cover any nearby kids' eyes and ears)


On the Gallente line-up side, the ranges tend to be shorter, but the damage is usually higher. This leads to a lot of unconventional semi-kiting fits (like the frigates I mentioned). As this post doesn't go very far in depth on those tactics, I will leave those for another day.

Ammo selection

Like with beam lasers, the ammo choice when using railguns is a serious consideration. The most common options are:

  • Antimatter Charge: General purpose high damage ammo. Fairly short range if your ship does not have a range bonus, though. Use the Federation Navy or Caldari Navy variants if you can. The extra damage is worth it.
  • Uranium Charge: Higher range and lower damage than antimatter, uranium charges are for those situations in which you really need to squeeze a little more range out of your railguns. May actually end up doing better damage than antimatter due to superior tracking at longer ranges.
  • Spike: Uranium doesn't give you enough range? Spike cranks the range up to maximum. It's another slight damage decrease, but the range is immense: 3.6x that of antimatter. Caution! Spike also reduces your tracking 75%. Never ever use it against fast moving things, or at short ranges.
  • Javelin: Okay, your target caught you, and your antimatter is no longer tracking. Stick this ammo in and enjoy the tracking boost. It comes at the price of range, though, so remember to switch back to other ammo when you need to shoot stuff far away.







Damage/range comparison

Many critics of railguns claim that railguns are not useful due to their having lower damage figures than those of beam lasers. However, railguns have something that beam lasers do not have: range.

To demonstrate what I mean, I have whipped up some quick Oracle and Naga fits, respectively toting Tachyon Beam Laser IIs and 425mm Railgun IIs. Naturally, since everyone loads the shortest ranged ammo first to test out damage, they see something like this (graphs courtesy of Pyfa):

Range in km on the x-axis; DPS on the y-axis
The Oracle is clearly superior at up to about 65 km! The trouble is, with these sorts of guns, the closer you are to the target, the more your damage gets reduced by missing the target. For example, this is what happens when the two battlecruisers shoot an average cruiser moving at its base speed:

130 signature target, moving 200 m/s at a 35 degree angle
The Oracle now has a much slimmer window where it is superior. But that's no problem, since it can just switch to longer range ammo and match the Naga, right? After all, lasers are known for ammo flexibility. Let's see what happens when it loads Xray ammo, which gives it roughly the same range as the Naga:


Ouch. Now, just for curiosity, what happens if we compare hyper-long range performance (Aurora vs Spike)?



The extra vertical lines are the lock range limits with these two fits. To get locking range matching the Naga's, the Oracle would have to give up either speed or gun range, while the Naga can be more easily refit as it won't suffer as much from replacing one of its Tracking Computers with a Sensor booster.

Disclaimer: This entire theorycrafting session was manufactured inside my sick and twisted mind, and may be full of bad fits, opinionated statements, and overall wrongness. Feel free to be offended if you dislike it.

Do you have a headache yet?



I know I do. I'll leave it here.

Good luck with your railguns, and tune in soon™ to learn about the last kind of turrets: blasters!