Monday, August 18, 2014

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Modules Guide

This will be my penultimate guide for the time being (I will upload the final piece on combat tactics a little later), but having given an overview of the ships and the weapons, I thought it would be a good idea to have a look at the ship modules as well, to let you know which ones I've found most useful and which ones are worth avoiding, at least until they've fixed the bugs!

Ship modules come in four varieties: the weapons I've already discussed at length, so we won't cover those here; there are also utility modules, armoured bulkheads and support modules.

I'll start with the support modules, as there's currently only one of them, the Standard Docking Computer. At only 4500Cr, it's relatively cheap and supposedly takes the difficulty out of landing your ship. In practice, it makes your ship behave like a drunken ballerina during the docking cycle, makes docking take at least twice as long as it should do, and has a habit of making your ship land disturbingly heavily, which is rather scary if you have 100 tonnes of gold on board. It does, however, at least let you listen to Strauss's Blue Danube and give you a few minutes off to check the forums, go get a drink, or go to the toilet while you dock. So if you like having periodic little breaks during game play, then by all means, get one. There have been a few rumblings on the E:D forums about them being bugged and causing ship crashes. Personally, I've never encountered this on the few times I've used them with my Type 6, but there may be issues using it with larger ships. I don't recommend using one, because any half-decent pilot doesn't need them on a Type 6 or anything smaller, as you don't even need to bother matching the rotation of the station to get these ships through the docking port, and if you've spent enough time playing the game to have made enough money to fly a Type 9 or an Anaconda, you should have had enough practice at manually docking to not need one. Manually docking is quicker and arguably safer, so while listening to a bit of Strauss while landing is nice and relaxing, you can always have that running in the background on your media player of choice anyway. I recommend saving the slot for the other support equipment types that will become available in future game versions. The Field Maintenance Unit that fixed subsystems has been taken out of the game between Premium Beta and Beta 1, presumably for game balancing, so might make a triumphant return in future patches.

Armoured bulkheads are more varied and come in the following flavours: lightweight, reinforced, military, mirrored and reactive.
Lightweight bulkheads come as standard with the ship and offer only basic protection against damage, but do not carry a mass penalty that would reduce your ships hyperspace range. In most cases, these are the bulkheads you'll want to stick with, as either the upgraded bulkheads are prohibitively expensive (e.g. Viper and Type 6), or they reduce your hyperspace range too much to be useful (e.g. Eagle and Viper).
Reinforced alloy bulkheads come in at half the mass and around half the price of the military version, and give upgraded damage ablation against all weapon types (the precise values are lurking on the Beta Discussion forum here). They're probably the best compromise between cost, hyperspace range loss and damage resistance, so if you want to upgrade the armour on your Cobra or Sidewinder, use this.
Military grade composite bulkheads are slightly more effective at reducing all damage types than reinforced bulkheads, but do come at twice the price and twice the mass, so will seriously hobble the hyperspace capabilities of an Eagle or a Viper. You can get away with them on a Cobra and still have a hyperspace range of a smidge over 7 light years with no cargo, which may be sufficient for you to carry out localised combat and assassination missions, but isn't enough to go exploring. I'd only use them if you're going to do some heavy-duty bounty hunting in anarchy systems or system destabilisation in Independent/Federation combat zones. Cobras are also the ship you get best value for in terms of armour, as military bulkheads "only" cost about as much as the actual ship itself. For ships like the Eagle and Viper, they'll set you back four times the base cost of the ship, but for the Type 6, it's more than ten times the cost of the ship (two million credits, which is more than half the cost of a Type 9!). You should only really use them if you have the budget.
Mirrored composite and Reactive composite bulkheads both add on an extra 20% over the cost of military grade armour, but are more specialised in their damage resistance. Mirrored armour is the most effective at ablating laser damage, whilst reactive armour is the best at providing damage reduction to projectile-based weapons. Are they worth it? Probably not? You'll have to make that decision for yourself, as you're basically taking a punt in predicting that you're going to be taking hull damage predominantly from laser or cannon-based weapons and want to give yourself preferential damage resistance against that weapon type. They will give you a 50% reduction in damage for their specialised weapon type compared to military grade armour (for the same mass penalty), but they do leave you more vulnerable to the other weapon type - so it's a tricky judgment call for whether it's worth forking out the extra 20% in terms of install cost. Personally, I don't use them, as I mostly play solo and you can't always reasonably guarantee that you're going to be mainly fighting against a specific weapon type. This equation might change if you play online and want to be fighting other players, who are slightly easier to predict - as most veteran combateers will pick cannons or multi-cannons.

You also have several options to consider for your utility mount module slots, which are: Kill Warrant Scanner, Cargo Scanner, Chaff Launcher, Point Defence Turret and Heat Sink Launcher.
The Heat Sink Launcher is the cheapest utility module that you can buy, costing just 3500Cr, but is arguably the most useful. Heat sinks can be used in two ways: 1) to dump heat from your power plant to prevent it from exploding, allowing you to keep fighting in long combat engagements or boost away from danger continuously without overheating, and 2) as a decoy for heat-seeking missiles. Heat sink launchers are almost essential, no matter what ship you fly, because at some point you're either going to want to spoof an incoming missile, or want to dump heat from your power plant to prevent it from overloading. Heat sinks also allegedly slow down the rate of heat buildup on your ship, but I've not explicitly tested that, or seen any figures on it. I might test it in the coming few days - but my impressions from using them is that your ships is slightly more heat-efficient with heat sink launchers installed. The tl;dr version: buy one.
The Point Defence Turret is, on paper at least, the utility module that you'll most want to buy, as it's relatively cheap (around 8500Cr), does not have a mass penalty on your hyperspace range, and is tailor-made to shoot down missiles homing in on your precious space chariot. It's unfortunate then, that they're badly bugged at this point of game development - I'll explain how in a minute. More fundamentally, they also have a wee bit of a design flaw that users will want to be wary of. As the Point Defence Turret is classed as a weapons system, it is subject to thermal overload, just like your regular weapons. This is a bit of a problem, because enemies will invariably wait for your weapons to overheat before dropping missiles on your head - and an overheating Point Defence Turret can't shoot down missiles, which makes them rather useless. So do bear that in mind if you ever get them working. In Beta 1.03, that's a big 'if', as they have a really bad habit of screwing up your weapon fire groups. Point Defence Turrets should auto-deploy and should not be assigned to a fire group, but depending upon the order in which you add them on to your ship, they can royally screw with your fire groups. The best method of trying to get them working is to buy all your other equipment first, launch, sort out your fire groups and power priority settings, redock and then add on the turrets. At which point the fire groups will probably screw up again, necessitating you launch, shut down your Point Defence Turret in the Modules screen, reset your fire groups AGAIN, land and reactivate the turret. And pray that it works this time. Players with Type 9s and Anacondas have reported all sorts of issues with trying to use the Point Defence Turrets, so they're probably worth leaving until the next patch, when hopefully all the bugs have been ironed out.
Also somewhat problematic is the Chaff Launcher. If you've played any flight simulations, you might think that you use a chaff launcher to decoy missiles. It's a reasonable assumption, but in this case, you'd be totally wrong. The chaff launcher is supposed to provide a radar-reflective screen between you and an enemy to prevent auto-targeting systems, such as turrets, gimbals and missile targeting systems (that is, BEFORE they are launched) from tracking properly, delaying the point at which an enemy can lock onto your ship. I've not seen any figures quantifying just how effective the chaff screens are at delaying lock-ons, and I've not really seen any players using them either, so they can't be that great. It also suffers from a couple of issues, similar to the Point Defence Turret, in that it can screw up your weapon grouping, and if you do assign it explicitly to your secondary fire group, for example, chaff loads will mysteriously disappear between instances of you deploying and putting away your hard points. This is most certainly a bug, and what makes things even more baffling is that you don't appear to be able to replenish your chaff supply in the module on the munitions screen - so if you run out of chaff, your only option is to sell the module and rebuy one, which strikes me as rather bizarre. If they sort the bugs in a future patch, I can imagine the chaff launcher being useful for cowardly traders, who just want to run away from pirates after their cargo, but I can't really see a use for it if you're more interested in a more active combat role.
Much more useful is the Kill Warrant Scanner, or K-scanner. It's the most expensive of the modules, at just over 18,000Cr, and I was initially sceptical as to whether it was worth it or not, as it does have a few limitations. Firstly, it does require binding to a weapon fire group, meaning that you might have to set up multiple fire groups, depending on what kind of weapon loadout you use, but that's only a minor annoyance. Slightly more annoying is the K-scanner's range and limited scanning cone. For the K-Scanner to work, you need to be within one kilometre of the ship you're trying to find bounties on. As you might expect, most ships don't sit still for the eight seconds or so it takes for the scan to complete, and the very limited gimballing range on the scanner (it only gives you a leeway of a few degrees from the centre of your targeting reticule) does make getting successful scans rather challenging. Another issue is the lack of instant feedback you get as to whether the scanner has found bounties or not - there's no visual cue on your HUD, so you currently you have to check the ship's status on your Contacts list on your left-hand dashboard. Not really something you want to be doing in the middle of an asteroid field... I almost lost a Viper colliding with an unseen asteroid as I was checking the bounty value on a Cobra I was hunting. At least the player concerns (including mine!) have been picked up on by the designers and will be addressed to make the system a little more immediate in future versions. Having used the K-scanner more extensively now, I have less of a problem with the long scan time, short range and narrow focus of the scanner - you just need to become a better pilot, as it should be difficult for you to scan another player or NPC, since it's a fundamentally hostile act, even if it's not an outright attack, you are advertising to the other pilot 'I'm going to murder you if you're worth it'. A slightly shorter scan time (around 5 seconds would be nice), plus a range extension from 1000m to 1500m and a slightly wider scanning beam would make it even better, but even as it is, the K-scanner is an essential piece of kit if you want to make serious money from bounty hunting. You absolutely need one if you want to be able to claim bounties in anarchist systems (since they don't have local bounty warrants to tip you off that a pilot is dirty), and you should be able to make back the install cost of one in a couple of hours. Along with the heat sink launcher, this is my most-used piece of utility hardware.
Finally, there is the Cargo Scanner, which operates in almost exactly the same manner and has exactly the same flaws as the K-scanner, only this time, it's giving you information on the cargo carried by ships, rather than information on pilot bounties. I'll be honest - I haven't actually personally bothered using one, as I can only see them being worth the 13,000Cr investment if you're going to be an unscrupulous pirate, and that's not a mode of game play that I'm interested in exploring right now (though maybe when the playing volume of the galaxy opens up a bit more, you never know!). Is it an essential piece of kit for a pirate? Not really?? It's almost quicker just to pop the cargo hatch on your victim and let them poo their cargo into space for you to survey and scoop up later. With some future refinement, such as being able to state whether cargo on board a ship is stolen or not, a bounty hunter might want to use one in tandem with a K-scanner, but I don't personally see much use for them.

As more modules become available in future releases, I will endeavour to post my thoughts on them, but that's it for now. Good hunting, commanders!
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