May 31, 2010

To Kill a Rifter (or Punisher)

There are some who have questioned my crosstraining from Minmatar ships to Amarr ships as well, especially since I mostly fly frigates. I mean, who needs more than the Rifter, right? It's clearly the best frigate out there! Well... no. It's the best for newbies, and for those who don't feel like micromanaging their ship's actions, but once fighting shifts more to juicing every possible drop of potential out of your ship rather than "let's sit back and watch our ships shoot each other", things get more complicated.

Today an alliance-mate (Smackyjan, but we'll call him Smacky) and I decided to test the worth of the Punisher Amarr frigate versus the Rifter. At first, I was flying the Punisher. Here's how our fits worked:

  • Punisher

    • High slots: 3x Dual Light Pulse Laser I, with Multifrequency S crystals, and Standard S crystals on standby; Small 'Knave' I Energy Drain
    • Mid slots: 1MN Afterburner I; J5b Phased Prototype Warp Scrambler I
    • Low slots: Damage Control I; 200mm Reinforced Rolled Tungsten Plates I; Small Armor Repairer II; Adaptive Nano Plating I

  • Rifter

    • High Slots: 3x 150mm Light Carbine Repeating Cannon I, varying EMP and Phased Plasma ammo; Salvager I
    • Mid slots: 1MN Microwarpdrive I; J5b Phased Prototype Warp Scrambler I; Patterened Stasis Web I
    • Low slots: Damage Control I; Small Armor Repairer II; 200mm Reinforced Rolled Tungsten Plates I
Here's a short analysis of their capabilities. To start with, the Rifter is faster - 441 m/s base speed compared to the Punisher's 330 m/s base speed. This difference is only compounded when they are using their speed mods. The Rifter has autocannons, which have higher damage than the Punisher's lasers... but at their optimal range of 500 or so meters. Their falloff is 4000 m, but the Punisher's plain optimal range is 4000 m to start with, so the Punisher has more damage potential unless the Rifter is right next to it. More on the range topic here.

The Punisher also has the upper hand in tanking: about 150 more hit points in its armor, plus higher resistances across the board - 70/62/56/53 compared to the Rifter's 64/41/32/19. Unfortunately, the Punisher can't hit the Rifter where it hurts, in the 19% explosive damage resistance, since lasers only deal EM and thermal damage, which the Rifter covers pretty well (64% EM and 41% thermal). More on tanking here.

So, if the Punisher has all these upper hands against the Rifter, why is it not known for being the best frigate? Well, remember the Rifter's speed. Then, subtract 55% of the Punisher's speed because the Rifter will be using a Stasis Web on it. Then, consider that the Rifter's autocannons are the best tracking guns in the game, while the Punisher's pulse lasers have pretty terrible tracking. More on the tracking business here.

So, this is what happens when the Rifter and Punisher orbit each other. The Punisher loses out. And gets labeled as an inferior frigate. But what if, say, the Punisher were to realize this is happening, or even foresee this happening, and start moving away from the Rifter?

The Rifter will start noticing problems with its damage and hit chance since it's spreading its falloff distance thin. The Punisher has no problem, it's still below its optimal range. So, the only choice for the Rifter is to start burning speed towards the Punisher, to close the gap.

The Punisher has the Rifter right where he wants him, and the punishment begins. The Punisher's lasers can easily out-damage the Rifter because of the range factor. Until the Rifter catches up that is, and the process starts all over.

A good Punisher pilot will use his Afterburner to manually always steer away from wherever the Rifter is, to make the Rifter have to give chase as much as possible. By ensuring the Rifter's transversal speed is always as low as possible, the Punisher gives its guns the extra punch to be able to destroy the Rifter.

But can the Rifter pilot fight back? Of course! He needs to be up close to deal maximum damage, but simply moving up close to the Punisher to do that would be suicide, since that would lower the transversal velocity between the ships enough that the Punisher would melt the Rifter. Orbiting at close range isn't an option either, because the Punisher would take advantage of an instant where the Rifter's orbiting back and break out with a chase like above.

What it can do is catch the Punisher from the side, then head to a spot ahead of the Punisher's path.

They'll be both doing allright... for a second. Then, this happens:

The Punisher is in a lot of pain. There is no way for its lasers to track something moving that fast so close to it, but the Rifter has little problems with it. Plus, it's right at its maximum damage range, so it gets one or two powerful, safe punches. Because of its higher agility and speed, it can then double around for another pass, as the Punisher attempts to turn around in the other direction.

With foresight on the part of the Punisher, both frigates could have ended up moving in the same direction at the time of the pass, in which case for a few seconds it would be a case of the metaphorical devil being in the all-too-real details.

But I mentioned something about Smacky!

Don't worry, I didn't forget about him. So, the first 1v1 duel between my Punisher and his Rifter ended up with him losing, but we couldn't call it one way or the other because I had started firing while he was semi-idle. Also, he was apparently using EMP ammo, which he realized was a bad idea against an armor-tanked Punisher.

So we tried again, with both of us ready, and him using Phased Plasma ammo (mainly thermal damage). I won, by using the first strategy described in this post. We then switched ships, and I switched tactics to the second one I illustrated. I won again, but more narrowly.

I then advised him that he should never orbit in a Punisher (which he was trying to do), and told him to burn away from me instead when we were fighting, and possibly even overload his afterburner if I got too close. He defeated me when flying that way, handily. I then noticed something about the Rifter fit. It had a microwarpdrive, which shuts off when the ship gets warp scrambled. This was giving up the Rifter's biggest advantage: its speed. So, I replaced it with an afterburner.

The later fights were much more even, and were determined mostly by how the different maneuvers we executed synced up with each other, and in whose balance the scales tipped because of that. A few of them also ended frustratingly with one of us burning out his guns due to overheating (in which the Thermodynamics skill difference between my II and his V proved an unreliable measure of how fast guns would burn out).

So, which is the better frigate? In a 1v1, the Punisher and Rifter are balanced, but in other uses, the Rifter is probably better because of the extra versatility granted by it giving up some tank for extra speed.

And the point of this entry? Try to make yourself familiar with the ships your enemy flies. Know their weaknesses, know their strengths. Not only in the pure "numbers" of damage, tank, and speed, but in their tactics too, and in which situations each ship is best. All I have presented to you here was learned empirically through embarrassing losses in Amarr ships when I cross-trained. For bigger ships it's harder to cross-train, but find a way to learn how to combat ships you don't fly, and learn it.

Ignorance of your enemy's capabilities or unvaried tactics is death.

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