Today I decided that I would try and determine an answer to Elite: Dangerous's equivalent of 'Daddy, or chips?' Which ship do I like better, the Cobra Mark III or the Viper? Being a good scientist, I decided to perform an experiment, by choosing a few measurable variables to make a fair, or at least reasonable comparison between the two chips. Sorry, ships.
I gave both ships my currently preferred combat loadout, two C3 gimballed multicannons, two C1 gimballed burst lasers, lightweight alloy bulkheads, point defense system and a kill warrant scanner and went to play in the Anahit Ring.
I picked the following criteria for the evaluation:
Test 1: Viper wins
Here the Viper is a clear winner, as while the Cobra Mark III is fast, nothing currently matches the Viper for its ability to get into and out of trouble in a hurry. Stick all the power to engines and light up the the boost, nothing is going to catch you. The Cobra can out-run everything else, but it's not really a match for the Viper in this category.
Test 2: Viper wins
Things are looking good for the Viper so far, as in this category, it's a clear-cut winner. The Viper can out-turn just about anything, making it one of the better ships to take advantage of the greater damage offered by fixed weapons, as the Viper is just as good as the Eagle at keeping its pointy end facing the enemy. The Cobra isn't the nimblest of ships, meaning that you have to take advantage of its extra power and speed when sideslipping around corners to turn inside or loop outside of the turn radius of smaller ships, meaning that gimballed weapons really are the order of the day if you're taking a Cobra into combat.
Test 3: Cobra wins
The Cobra is the bigger of the two ships, meaning that it can take much more of a beating than the Viper, which is just as well, since there's more for the enemy to aim at, but the thing that really tips the balance in the favour of the Cobra in this category is the quality of the shielding on the Cobra. The Cobra can face off on a head-to-head run against another ship much more easily without taking hull damage, as its greater shield capacity outweighs the speed advantage of the Viper, actually giving you more time to deal damage, especially if you've got gimballed weapons and you're sideslipping during the intercept run.
Test 4: Cobra wins
While both vessels are pretty evenly matched against smaller opponents like Eagles and Sidewinders, it's against larger prey where the Viper can start to get found out a bit. If you're trying to take down a Lakon Type 9 Heavy or an Anaconda, you're going to be in combat for a while and managing your power settings and heat output levels becomes an important factor in determining whether you're going to survive the encounter or not. With the same equipment, the Cobra has a distinct advantage over the Viper, because its larger power plant can sustain combat without overheating longer than the one in the Viper. To gain the same combat endurance as the Cobra, the Viper either has to sacrifice combat power by using smaller weapons or sacrifice utility equipment to reduce the drain on the power plant, so the Cobra is a clear winner in this category.
Test 5: Cobra wins
Here the Cobra wins hands-down. The biggest problem with the Viper is that when you have it fully kitted out in a combat specification, its hyperspace range is terrible - barely comparable with a Sidewinder. Attempt to fly with a full load of cargo and armoured bulkheads, and the Viper's range is equivalent to that of a military spec Eagle; only about 5 light years, which is no good at all if you want to travel around between systems mopping up bounties from the bulletin board. The cargo capacity of the Viper is also only 8 tonnes - double that of the Sidewinder and Eagle, but not enough to make serious money, unless you happen to be scooping up stolen canisters of gold in anarchy systems. On the other hand, a Cobra Mark III with the combat spec above, plus 36 tonnes of cargo AND 10 tonnes' worth of military spec armour still has a respectable hyperspace range that won't see you restricted to a handful of systems like the Viper.
Overall verdict: Cobra wins - just!
In terms of pure combat ability, particularly if you strip it down to the bare bones of just weapons systems, the Viper is The Daddy, as you can see from this screenshot of all the bounties I picked up in a Viper at Dahan in about twenty-five minutes.
The Viper's fast, dextrous and lethal, but just a tiny bit fragile, a little bit like a cheetah. The Cobra Mark III on the other hand, is more like a lion: big, powerful, able to take a hit and will run and chase all day until its prey is worn down, and then it will go for the throat. If you're after a craft that you can make serious money in, whether it be through bounty vouchers or trading, the Cobra's the pick of the two ships, especially since it's got all the potential combat power of the Viper, has a longer hyperspace range, more cargo capacity and is also cheaper to armour, which boosts its combat endurance even further. When the chips are down, it's hard to beat a Cobra Mark III...
With that question answered (at least until the developers implement uprated power plants and military hyperdrive systems), the next question I'm going to try to answer is 'Turret weapons: worth bothering or not?' Well, tomorrow I'm going to try to find out. Check out what I'll be hitting Dahan and LP 98-132 with in the morning!