Okay, so last night I "won" the Elite: Dangerous Beta 1. Being a sandbox game, any win conditions are obviously going to be self-imposed, so my main goal of Beta 1 was to buy an Anaconda, equip it with the finest weapons known to mankind (including the Class 8 Plasma Accelerator) and have enough money left over to afford the insurance cost to replace it all if I got boiled. I managed that last night, though I needn't have worried about the insurance cost, because against single NPCs, you're practically invincible in a plasma accelerator-armed Anaconda. I popped 20 ships in quick succession with barely a scratch on my shields. The Eagle that tried docking when I was in the middle of coming out of the spaceport at Chango did more damage. Which was to say, none at all...
Now, then, would appear to be the ideal opportunity to provide you with a review and comparison of the final two ships currently available within the game, along with the reasons why you'd want (or not want) to fly them, along with a final judgment as to which ship is my favourite of the eight you can fly in Beta 1.
Lakon Type 9 Heavy
Cost: Approximately 3.5 million Cr
Recommended weapon loadout 1 (Trader): x3 C4 Missile Launchers, x2 C2 Missile Launchers
Recommended weapon loadout 2 (Pirate): x1 C4 Missile Launcher (Ventral mount), x2 C3 Gimballed Multi-cannons (Dorsal mounts), x2 C1 Multi-cannons (G)
Recommended weapon loadout 3 (Imbecile): x3 C4 Cannons, x2 C2 Cannons
Recommended modules: Heat sink launcher, Point Defence Turret (when they're not bugged), Cargo Scanner (if you fancy being a pirate)
Why you should fly it: With a whopping 440 tonnes of cargo capacity, it's not called 'Heavy' for nothing. At three and a half million credits, the Type 9 is a very large investment, but if you can find a good trade route, you'll have doubled that money in an evening. In true capitalist fashion, nothing makes money quicker than already having money, so if you've got capital to invest in a profitable trade route (yielding on average 1000Cr profit per tonne, per trip), you're going to be making well over a million credits an hour, no problem at all. Having spent an evening flying it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's actually relatively easy to fly and dock, once you get used to the inertia. Unlike the AI, which regularly splatters Type 9s across the inside of Coriolis stations, I barely even bruised my shields once and was able to quickly dispense with the dubious luxury of the docking computer. I didn't get into combat with it much, as NPC pirates seemed somewhat reluctant to push their luck with a Type 9 bristling with gimballed multi-cannons and a Class 4 missile launcher (even when I had 440 tonnes of gold on board), but flown well, the Type 9 can easily brush off another Type 9 and smaller craft like Sidewinders and Eagles. I wouldn't like to go up against another player flying a Viper in one, but it's more than capable enough to deal with casual NPC piracy. So if you want to make more money than Scrooge McDuck, this is the ship for you. Pure traders, especially those in open play online will want to make a potent defensive statement with an all-missile launcher loadout - not even the most hardened player-pirate in a Viper is going to want to mess with five missile launchers. A full reload will cost 80,000Cr (10k each for the C2s, 20k each for the C4s), but that's going to be chump change by the time you've spent a few days doing trading runs in this puppy. With five weapon hardpoints and plenty of cargo capacity, the Type 9 will make a passable vessel for any player wanting to indulge in some piracy of NPC civilian vessels (at least until the Python, Imperial Courier and Panther Clipper come along), so if you want to try your hand at piracy, you will want to have a weapon loadout that is able to do significant amounts of damage very quickly, without compromising any cargo on board. The missile rack could be used to crack the shields of particularly large ships, before using an all-gimballed multi-cannon loadout to shred subsystems or open up the cargo hatch on your target. The gimbals will also compensate for the Type 9's greatest flaw as a combat vessel: a chronic lack of speed and mobility. An all-cannon loadout could also do a lot of damage, but good luck trying to hit anything with those fixed mountings!
Why you should ditch it: As I've just alluded to, the Heavy is not really a vessel suited to combat. You'll be easy picking for player-pilots in smaller, faster, more manoeuvrable ships. You'd have to be very brave (or very rich) to try taking a Type 9 into Freeport on an open play server. The other problem with the Type 9 is that it is SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW. It's the only ship I've wanted to go back into supercruise with to travel those last 20km to the space station after you've come out of supercruise. It's just as well that it carries more than four times the cargo of a Type 6, because it'll take you twice as long to get to the station after you've come out of supercruise, and that's with all four energy pips to the engines and boosting all the way (dropping heat sinks to avoid power plant meltdowns). The only consolation is that you are flying the ship that's the quickest money-making machine in the game. Get a solid five or six million in the bank with it, and then trade it in for...
Cost: Approximately 7 million Cr
Recommended weapon loadout 1 (Trader): x2 C4 Missile Launchers, x4 C5 Pulse Laser (T) (on the Class 8 and Class 6 mounts), x2 C1 Multi-cannons (G)
Recommended weapon loadout 2 (Bounty Hunter/Assassin/Pirate): x1 C8 Plasma Accelerator, x3 C5 Pulse Laser (G), x2 C3 Gimballed Multi-cannons, x2 C1 Multi-cannons (G)
Recommended weapon loadout 3 (Explorer): x1 C8 Plasma Accelerator, x3 C5 Pulse Laser (G), x3 C3 Pulse Lasers (G), x2 C1 Burst Lasers (G)
Recommended weapon loadout 4 (Ultimate Badass): x1 C8 Plasma Accelerator, x3 C6 Cannons, x2 C4 Cannons, x2 C2 Cannons
Recommended modules: Heat sink launcher, Point Defence Turret (when they're not bugged), Kill Warrant Scanner, Cargo Scanner, Fuel Scoop (eventually?)
Why you should fly it: OH-EM-GEE. How good is the Anaconda? It's got to be my favourite ship that I've flown so far. It has incredible damage potential, a long hyperspace range, and also enough cargo tonnage to make serious money on the commodities market, too. The Anaconda is a true multi-role vessel and will be the ideal ship to go exploring the galaxy with, once it all opens up and you're able to install a fuel scoop. I definitely prefer it to the Cobra, even though it's a fair bit slower and less agile, as even with a full cargo and combat load, it still has a hyperspace range of 16 light years, opening up trade routes unavailable to the Cobra and allows you to make some trade trips with a single hyperspace jump, rather than two, saving you time (and therefore making you more money, as you spend less of it in transit). Whatever weapon loadout you put on an Anaconda, it's going to be a handful for any player (NPC or otherwise), but you only really need to use turrets or missiles if you're defensively-minded. I'm still not convinced by the turrets, even on an Anaconda, as their tracking systems seem more adept at hitting System Security craft by accident, rather than the Wanted ships you actually want to kill. The Pulse turrets are the pick of the bunch, as they are less expensive and more heat efficient, but I'd still pick a gimbal-mounted weapon over a turret any day, for the greater fire control they give you. If you want to make full use of the Anaconda's damage potential, then it's a must for you to put a Plasma Accelerator on the Class 8 hardpoint. They're almost 800,000Cr, but the ammo is relatively cheap (especially compared to missiles) and with 105 rounds to play with, that's 105 destroyed Sidewinders before you've even unleashed your other weapons systems. In fact, with four power pips to weapons, I was able to one-shot a Cobra Mark III at a range of about 500 metres, which was terribly impressive. At slightly longer ranges and three pips to weapons, I was still able to regularly take a fully-shielded Cobra down to 14% hull in one hit from the plasma accelerator. It is quite difficult to aim, since your target disappears slightly under the nose when you're lining up the hardpoint, but with practice and good timing, wow... what a weapon! Link that up with a mix of gimballed pulse lasers and multi-cannons and you're not going to really have to worry about insurance costs when you're flying against NPCs. They'll be long dead before they make much of a dent on your shields. When the game does open out to the full galaxy, I will spec my Annie with an all gimballed laser setup, along with the plasma accelerator as a last resort weapon (for any passing Thargoids!), as in the wilds beyond the galactic core, I don't think there'll be many places to stop off for multi-cannon ammunition. If I was ever brave (or stupidly rich) enough to bring an Anaconda onto an open play server, I would be tempted to go for maximum kill power, as I could simply put all my power pips in Systems and Engines and simply wait for any poor victims to cross my bow, since no-one in a Viper or Cobra would be able to withstand a full load of cannons with a side salad of plasma... It would also make a very decent Anaconda-hunting specification, too. Heck, you could probably have a decent go at taking down a fecking space station with that loadout... Oh, and I must mention the sound it makes... pure power. The Cobra and Viper sound pretty awesome when you wind up the engine boost, but the Anaconda is just sublime. I was initially wary of trying to land the thing, as it's possibly even a little bit more unwieldy to fly at low docking speeds than the Type 9, but once you get used to that huge long nose and the sheer momentum of the thing, it's not that bad. Again, docking computers are not required (they just scrape your shields on the entry port anyway!) - you just have to treat her gently and be careful. I always put full power into Systems to boost my shields and bump my way through, if I've not quite got the starport alignment perfect. You'll just smash anything smaller than a Type 6 out of the way with no damage at all (though the other ship might not be so lucky!), and it's way quicker than leaving it to the docking computer.
Why you should ditch it: I'm trying not to get too attached to Annie, because I know that all my progress is going to get wiped when the game goes to Gamma, but why would you ditch it for another ship? Well, in open play, you're going to be a target for other players if you fly one of these (another reason I mostly play solo - I don't want other people getting in the way of my fun), so you should either be prepared for that, or fly something a bit more disposable. I haven't lost an Anaconda yet (and don't intend to!), but the insurance cost for the hull alone is of the order of 350,000Cr. So you will want to work up a big fighting fund beforehand if you're going to be risking a ship this big and expensive in an environment with other players in it. Another reason you might not want to keep an Anaconda for the long term is because it's just so good - combat against NPCs will hold absolutely no challenge at all, unless you want to intentionally spring gold traps in anarchy systems to see if you can fend off three Cobras at once. The lack of speed and mobility of the Anaconda might also get a little tiresome after a while, but at least you'll always be able to easily afford to downgrade into something zippy like a Viper, though you will miss the hyperspace range! The only other reason I can think of for ditching your Annie is that it's the only way you'll be able to try out the other ships that will be introduced in future patches. I'm most looking forward to the Fer-de-lance and the Imperial Courier. But until then, I won't be getting rid of my Anaconda anytime soon. After all, Annie has a date with Colossus, and this time Colossus had better watch out...