Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - 1.2 Wings Beta Test Flight Video Uploading Frenzy!

CALL ME CRAZY. But, for you, dear reader, I've used an entire afternoon abusing the upload channel on my fibre optic broadband to free up a huge amount of space on my hard drive (instead clogging up Youtube), posting all the footage I took trialling the ships I'd not gotten around to flying yet, thanks to the cheap access I had to them in the 1.2 Wings Beta.

My priority was to fly the Imperial Clipper, because I've been wanting to fly that since they put it into the game at the end of the initial Beta test. Gosh, it's a beauty. WANT.

I also got reacquianted with an old friend, the Anaconda, whom I miss dearly. Such a good ship... such a fortune to amass to make buying one worthwhile... It'll be a long time before I fly one again.

The Python test flight video I actually uploaded a while ago, but I've not gotten around to posting the link here yet. So here you are. I like the Python. I'll definitely get one in the future.

Likewise with the Vulture test flight video. That's also been online for a little while, but I'm still just as ambivalent about the ship now as I was then. And this is despite me having about 10 million credits invested in one at Jameson Memorial...

It was also a bit of a priority for me to get my hands on a Fer-de-Lance. Having been cruelly denied flying one in either Frontier or First Encounters (some tosh in the lore about it being "too powerful" to be trusted in the hands of private pilots, as I recall), I've been waiting for 30 years to fly one. It's not bad at all, but it's a bit of a "luxury player" of a ship. By that I mean that it costs too much, doesn't track back and thinks it looks and performs better than it actually does... Would I buy one? Maybe...? The Python is the better all-rounder, though.

Lastly, and the less I say about this the better, is the Federal Dubstep. Let's just say that I'm glad to have purged the hard drive of all evidence that I ever flew it... It's so crap, even Youtube thinks that the video should have been stabilised...

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Your Dream Ship, Part 3: Orca to Anaconda

If you've been reading the other two parts of this guide - here and here, if you missed them - today I'm going to deal with the big beasts of the Elite: Dangerous pantheon of ships. As before, assume finding upgrades is no problem and that money is no restriction, either. We'll start with the trickiest ship to find a role for, the Orca.
Orca - Role: Combat Zone/RES Tank
Why is it tricky to find a role for the Orca? Well, it's billed as a passenger ship, and Frontier haven't put in the passenger modules or missions yet, so it's difficult to really see why you'd go about flying one at the moment. No doubt I'll come back to this ship once the passenger mechanics have been added to the game, but I had a think and tried to find a niche for it. My initial thoughts were for it to be a sightseeing ship, but even pared back to the bone, you're only getting 18 light years of jump range from it; not really enough to visit distant nebulae. So that's not going to work. Right now, the only possible role I can see for an Orca is acting as a 'Tank' with a Wing of smaller fighters in a combat zone or RES. Stick on board high damage, high aggro weapons, attract the attention of something big, like an Anaconda or a Python, let your A-rated shields and upgraded hull soak up the damage, while your little friends do the real damage. Alternatively, just wait until Frontier put out the passenger modules...
Fer-de-Lance - Role: Space Bastard
The only real flaw with the Fer-de-Lance is a relative lack of FSD range, meaning that you've realistically got to stick to civilised space. 'Civilised', of course, is a relative term, because that's where all the pirates, criminal gangs, squabbling factions and defenseless traders are. This specification gives you options. You could swap out the hull reinforcement packages for a couple of cargo racks if you wanted to indulge in a bit of piracy, but the FdL is better suited to dealing damage than scooping cargo. If you're going to do that kind of thing, it's better to have a Wingmate on standby to scoop everything up, while you intimidate the target into space-pooping out their cargo with your hideously powerful weapon loadout. Otherwise, as long as you stay within a couple of jumps of a space station, you could use this spec to bounty hunt in resource sites, assassinate high value targets or simply clean up a star system of Wanted pilots while pootling around in SuperCruise. A good ship, then - but I still think it's overpriced for what it is.
Python Selfie Cam
Python - Role: Pirate Lord
Seriously, no-one in their right mind is going to mess with you if you're flying this. To keep the power requirements down, I've had to sacrifice the beam weaponry, so despite the decent jump range and the fuel scoop, you won't be able to stray too far off the beaten track, because you're going to have to reload your cannons quite a lot - but as discussed earlier, all the best targets are in core space, anyway. This spec should also handle PVP quite well, though you would probably want to swap out the cargo racks for hull reinforcements if you intend on taking on a Wing of player-flown Vultures. I like the Python a lot, as it's big, powerful and versatile. Personally, this probably isn't how I'd kit it out myself, (I'd fly a more multi-purpose loadout like this), but if you're the kind of player who'd rather be notorious than famous, the Python is ship for you.
Type 9 Heavy - Role: Combat Zone Gunship
A cargo-hauling Space Cow spec would have been too obvious. Based on the assumption that you want to have fun, rather than just make huge virtual piles of virtual money, try turning the Type 9 into a mobile fortress. You will, of course, want to bring friends to those high intensity combat zones, but decked out like this, you could do some serious damage and still make a lot of money in community goal combat zones, where you have to scoop up cargo from destroyed convoys. Just be careful trying to deliver those illicit goods into the station! The Type 9 doesn't make the best smuggling ship...
Anaconda - Role: Thargoid Hunter
If you've made the 500 to 1000 MCr required to seriously kit out an Anaconda, undoubtedly you don't need advice from me. However, if the Anaconda is a distant dream for you (and it is for me right now, because I don't want to spent a few weeks trading in dull cargo boxes to grind up the cash), here's a potential role you might want to consider for your Anaconda, in that distant future: Thargoid and alien artefact hunter... I would put fairly decent money on Frontier reintroducing the Thargoids in a future expansion pack. I also imagine that once planetary landings become a reality, we'll be able to go searching/surveying planetary surfaces for interesting tchotchkes left behind by long-dead alien civilisations. Which I also imagine would be worth a considerable amount of money in human colonised space. So you're going to want cargo space. You're going to want a decent fuel scoop and field maintenance module. You're going to want a decent hyperspace range to get out into those unexplored hinterlands. And you're going to want some pretty bloody powerful weapons, just in case you stumble across a Thargoid warship. The large gimballed beams will handle just about any challenge posed to you by human pilots, allowing you to conserve that precious plasma and multicannon ammo for close encounters. When I do eventually return to the welcoming bosom of Annie, this is how I'll kit her out. Because I know one thing... If I were to meet an angry Thargoid, I wouldn't want to be flying anything else!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Your Dream Ship, Part 2: Type 6 Transporter to Imperial Clipper

Last night I posted an outfitting guide for the first half dozen ships you can fly in Elite: Dangerous. Here I'll post suggested roles and loadouts for the next six ships (in order of expense), hopefully giving you an idea of how each ship can be used to fulfil a specific role within the game, and hopefully tomorrow I will complete the trilogy of guides, taking us all the way up to the mighty Anaconda. The same rules apply: money is no object, and we're assuming that all upgrades are easily found. So without further ado and needless waffling on, dangerously and uselessly testing the patience and forebearance of my readership, here's what I'd do with a Type 6, if I had one in my ship hangar.
Type 6 Transporter - Role: Cargo Box
The Type 6 is a trader, not a fighter. If you want to make solid money trading, you're going to want those 100 tonnes of cargo space, but you're also going to want to make it as difficult as possible for people to take them away from you. An A-rated shield booster and shield generator should give you a precious few seconds to allow your uprated thrusters to boost you out of harm's way, and the defensive weaponry and modules should discourage pirates from trying to chase you down too hard, while the A-rated FSD should give you the range to out-jump the majority of pursuers, provided you're not fully loaded. If your preferred route to wealth and bigger ships lies on the trading path, then at some point you'll fly a Type 6. If I absolutely had to fly one again (and thank goodness I don't!), this is how I'd kit it out.
Vulture - Role: Assassin
The Vulture is one of the new kids on the block in the 1.2 release and it has quickly won the hearts and minds of a significant number of combat-minded Commanders. It is brutally efficient at what it does - which is Space Murder ships of all sizes with a maximum of efficiency and a minimum of fuss. The price of such an unsubtle projection of combat power, however, is that like its smaller Core Dynamics stablemate and sibling - the Eagle - the Vulture's poor power plant capacity requires you to make compromises on the broader loadout of the ship - you can't simple A-rate everything, because the ship would end up practically invincible. Even as it is, the Vulture is arguably on the overpowered side, and will no doubt be on the receiving end of a few swipes of the Nerf Bat in short order. As it is, however, you're best off utilising those two Class 3 weapon hardpoints either smashing your way through combat zones or pursuing those lucrative assassination contracts. You can more than double your armour rating using hull reinforcement packages, which goes some way to compensating for the ship's slightly underpowered shield generators - especially against Elite Anacondas or Federal Dropships. Assassination contracts usually take place within occupied space, so you needn't worry too much about a fuel scoop or the ship's limited FSD range, so you can dedicate your power plant budget and internal compartment space to modules that will make you harder to kill, while killing your targets as quickly as possible. From an objective point of view, it's a great little ship, and I do have one stashed at Jameson Memorial for combat giggles - but I still don't like it in the same way I like my Eagle or Cobra.
Asp Explorer - Role: Explorer (well, duh!)
The Asp is my current ship of choice. I don't quite have it decked out to this degree (yet!), but this is a "money no object" exercise. At first, it might appear that we're well over power budget here, but it's worth remembering that you don't need to have those Field Maintenance Units powered up - and, indeed, that they should be deactivated unless you're pootling about in real space in a safe place to repair modules. You could eke out a few extra light years of FSD range by trimming off the shields, defensive modules and the weapons, but if you've just circumnavigated all the way to Sagittarius A* or the Eagle Nebula and back, you're probably going to want to feel the sensation of extra security those modules are going to give you, should you happen to get interdicted one jump short of civilisation, when you've got 10 million credits' worth of exploration data sitting in your ship's navigation computer banks. For long range trips into the unknown, the Asp is really the best option, with its resilient hull, peerless jump range and a great view from the cockpit. The cheaper Vulture has nullified the Asp's utility as a combat vessel, and the Type 6 represents better value for money (and certainly less of a financial risk on your insurance costs) than the Asp, should you be tempted to strip one down to act as a cargo box. If you're going to fly an Asp, take it out into the hinterlands, where it belongs (but don't forget to take a couple of big guns and a shield generator in case of emergencies).
Type 7 Transport - Role: Pirate Bait
That picture above represents the closest I've come to actually buying a Type 7. I can appreciate the value of a Type 7 as a cargo carrier, and if that's how you like to make your money, fair play to you. But I thought it would be a bit obvious to suggest a trading configuration, so as an intellectual exercise, I thought, how would I play with a Type 7? Well, I wouldn't, frankly, but that's not terribly helpful for the purposes of this guide, so if I absolutely HAD to fly a Type 7, I'm grateful for the advent of the Wings update, because I'd use the Type 7 to bait Player Pirates in Open play, particularly the ones with rather large "Top 5" bounties. Bimble along in supercruise looking vulnerable (and crucially, not in a Wing) while your mates in Vultures await your signal on voice comms to Wing Up and steam in to support you as you keep the would-be pirate(s) distracted with your curiously resilient shields and hull, plus your annoyance turrets. Well, that's what I'd do. But then, I'm mean and evil.
Federal Dropship - Role: Pirate Corsair
Speaking of being mean and evil, both of the Faction ships seem uniquely suited to being kitted out for a bit of piracy. Overall, I'd prefer the Clipper to the Dubstep (I'm going to keep calling that, just in case it catches on), but if you're going to do piracy properly, you need a healthy amount of cargo space, A-rated equipment across the board as much as possible, plus lots of firepower to take out shields and subsystems of your victims quickly. The Dubstep is a little slow and short of FSD range, even with a top-tier drive, so you really are better off getting a Clipper.
Imperial Clipper Selfie Cam
Imperial Clipper - Role: Pirate Corsair
If you're going to plunder the spaceways for pirate booty, you might as well do it in style, right? Not only that, fulfilling the same role, the Clipper demonstrates the inherent superiority of the Empire over the Federation, given that you have more cargo space, better weapons, a faster ship and a longer FSD range than the Dubstep. Of course, this superiority doesn't come cheap, but that's just another reason why you're going to have to raid those rich, fat Federation transport ships for their decadent cargoes... ALL HAIL THE EMPEROR! BASK IN HIS GLORY!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Your Dream Ship, Part 1: Sidewinder to Cobra Mark III

Elite: Dangerous has gone through many changes since I wrote my original ship, weapon and module guides, back in the Beta phases. Rather than continually go back and modify the guides, I thought I'd take advantage of the wonderful Elite: Dangerous Shipyard website to perform a bit of a thought experiment.

Let's pretend that money is no object. Let's pretend that you have access to a shipyard where every single possible module and upgrade under the Sun (or should that be Sagittarius A*?) is available. How would you equip your dream ship?

It's not a trivial question, given that people have different playstyles and different ships are better at fulfilling different roles. So I'm going to take you through my vision of the perfect loadout for each of the ships currently available in Elite: Dangerous. It should be noted at this point that a) this is just my opinion - your mileage may vary (as the saying goes), and that b) while my experience with the game is extensive (probably knocking on for nearly 500-500 hours at this point), I won't have personally playtested every loadout I'm going to suggest. But I will have played with most of them.

I'm also only going to suggest one loadout for each ship, otherwise I'll be here for weeks suggesting different variants, and I'm sure that you can probably figure out things like stripped down cargo hauler specs for yourself. I will start where every Elite: Dangerous pilot generally does, with the Sidewinder.

Sidewinder - Role: Courier
One of the best, low-risk methods of earning money as soon as you start playing is running light cargo transport and courier missions in your Sidewinder. The majority of your investment in the equipment for this loadout is actually in the weapons, though as a courier, battle should really be your last resort (hence the chaff launcher and the point defence). With two gimballed beam lasers, the Sidewinder can give much larger ships a run for their money and a bloody nose, thanks to its high agility. Decent weapons, allied with an A-rated Power Distributor will give the Sidewinder good combat endurance when it comes to dealing out damage. Add that to an A-rated Frame Shift Drive (FSD) and lightweight D-rated equipment in the other internal bays, and you have a nippy, long-range courier able to ship up to half a dozen tonnes of cargo further than a stock Cobra for roughly the same amount of cash. While it's easy to dismiss the Sidewinder as a cheap, low-rent craft you want to get out of as soon as possible, in the right hands, and in the right role, it's actually a capable little ship.

Iron Eagle
Eagle - Role: Interdictor Hunter
I love the Eagle. It's a vicious little bastard of a ship. Other than being on the lightweight side and not being able to absorb much damage, the Eagle's maneouvrability, peerless cockpit view and three weapon hardpoints make it arguably the best dogfighter in the game. With A-rated shields, an A-rated power distributor and a good mix of gimballed beam and projectile weapons, the Eagle is ideal for interdicting Wanted ships much larger than itself and bringing them to justice. To fulfil this role properly, you want an A-rated FSD, which gives the Eagle the ability to out-jump most ships in the game, and a frame shift wake scanner plus a fuel scoop, so that you can hound targets across space until they have to face their inevitable doom. I still have an Eagle stashed away for combat giggles, not least because it allows me to make best use of my TrackIR 5.
Hauler - Role: Explorer
You may never have thought of the Hauler's potential as an explorer-class ship. I certainly hadn't, until I started mucking around with the options on E:D Shipyard. And then I tried it. Unarmed, unshielded, hull mass slashed to the bone with slimline D-rated modules, provided that you invest in a top-tier Advanced Discovery Scanner and Detailed Surface Scanner, you're actually far more likely to make more money in a Hauler exploring than you would from trading. Obviously, at the beginning of the game you're not going to have 2.5 MCr knocking around in your back pocket, but the investment costs are certainly a lot lower than those of an explorer-spec Asp, yet you get enough FSD range to take a serious tilt at the sparsely populated outer spiral arms, not just the dense galactic core. The A-rated power distributor (you've probably spotted a pattern by now - this is an essential purchase for ALL ships) is necessary to boost your engine recharge rate to Sir Robin bravely away, in the event of getting interdicted. And if it all does go wrong, at least the insurance costs aren't too prohibitive. If you've made your first couple of million trading or fighting and want to try your hand at exploration, but can't afford an Asp, then seriously consider the Hauler.
Black Hole III
Adder - Role: Explorer
I could have tried to come up with an off-the-wall role for the Adder, but it's too good an explorer vessel to make any other suggestion of how to fly it, just for the sake of being different. This specification is certainly high-risk and quite expensive (though still less than you'd pay for the basic Asp hull), and while it's a full 1.6ly short of the FSD range of the Hauler I posted above, there are a few reasons why you'd want to go for the Adder instead. Firstly, it's that little bit faster than the Hauler and more agile, so if you do get interdicted before you get out into the wilds, the Adder does give you a better chance of running away successfully. Additionally, the hull is rather more substantial as well, meaning that you're much more likely to survive navigation mishaps, say getting trapped between binary stars while refuelling in supercruise mode. The greater number of internal compartments (and their larger class) gives you more repair capacity for your modules, plus faster refuelling (handy when trying to avoid those navigation mishaps!), which all adds up to the potential for longer-ranged expeditions, deeper into the galaxy. Obviously, it's not quite as good as having an Asp, but you're getting a ship that can do almost as good a job for 10 MCr less... Sounds like a bargain to me. One disadvantage is that choosing one class down on the power plant and the power distributor does mean that you have to shut down the cargo hatch to stay beneath your power budget, but that's okay - you're not going to have any cargo racks installed anyway!
Viper - Role: Resource Gathering Site Hunter
If you're looking at the spec and thinking "what the hell is wrong with that FSD range?", well, it's simple. You're not going to be taking this ship out of the system. The Viper is only good for one thing: Killing stuff as quickly and efficiently as possible. Find a system with a nice, productive RES, and this ship will pay for itself in around two or three hours. And it will be fun. Screenshot_0752
Cobra Mark III - Role: Rare Commodities Trader
Following the 12.5 MCr cash windfall I received at Lugh, after getting into the Top 40% of pilots for the Spear of Lugh community goal, this is the current spec I have on my Cobra, sitting in its bay and waiting for action at Jameson Memorial. Fully A-rated, 40 tonnes of cargo racks, fully armed and armoured, with over 20ly of hyperspace range, this is a formidable ship for the price. A-rated sensors will help you see danger coming, the A-rated thrusters and power distributor will help you Sir Robin to safety, but if it does start to go fruit-shaped, the Military Composite Armour, A-rated shield generator, shield booster, plus the gimballed cannons and beam lasers will make just about anyone regret messing with you. Every pilot should have one of these in their hangar.

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Ship Comparison Guide - Part 2; Asp Explorer, Imperial Clipper, Federal Dropship, Orca, Python, Vulture & Fer-de-Lance

Well, hello there. It's been a while. I've been very busy working since the turn of the new year, and also in some quite substantial back pain for the last couple of months, which has made keeping up with the blog a bit difficult. This whole "getting old" thing... It's a pisser. However, I was able to take advantage of the recent 1.2 Wings beta to try out the vast majority of the ships I've not been able to fly in the game so far. The only ship I didn't test drive was the Type 7, mainly because after all of the hours I spent trading my way up to an Anaconda in Premium Beta, I have no desire to fly another trading box ever again. Here's my review of the Type 7, completely uninformed by not having flown it at all: It's bigger than a Type 6, smaller than a Type 9, about as worthless in combat, and about as exciting as watching a puddle of distilled water evaporate. I hope that was helpful. Anyway, forget the Type 7... We've got much more interesting ships to talk about.

I've slightly altered the format of my ship guide to previous installments, thanks to the revision of the module system and the introduction of new module classes in the 1.2 release. They're worth a separate guide all of their own, and I'll be getting around to writing that over the course of the next week or so. Anyway. Onward! I have new ships to tell you about!

Asp Explorer:
Cost: 6,135,658 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout 1 (Explorer): x2 Class 2 Gimballed Beam Lasers (Optional: plus x4 Class 1 Gimballed Multicannons)
Recommended weapon loadout 2 (Bounty Hunter): x2 Class 2 Gimballed Multicannons, x4 Class 1 Gimballed Beam Lasers
Recommended weapon loadout 3 (Assassin): x2 Class 2 Gimballed Beam Lasers, x4 Class 1 Gimballed Cannons
Why you should fly it: The Asp Explorer has to be one of my favourite ships in the Elite universe. In the original Elite, they were absolute bastards to kill, and I still remember the moment that I managed to kill the Asp with the Cloaking Device when I turned Deadly and the Imperial Navy/The Dark Wheel (I forget who's supposed to have been responsible in the lore) tried to have me killed. In Frontier and First Encounters, the Asp is a fabulous ship to fly, because you can equip it with military drives to get an epic hyperspace range, yet still pack it to the gills with a 4MW beam laser, laser cooling booster and enough shield generator units to make it practically invulnerable to anything other than a plasma accelerator.
In Elite: Dangerous, the Asp is identified as an Explorer-class vessel, and it does excel in this role. Currently, I'm flying an Asp with an A-rated Frame Shift Drive, carrying out star-by-star tours of my favourite constellations. With an FSD range in excess of 30 light years, the Asp is the only ship big enough and resilient enough, and with long enough hyperspace legs, to reach the parts of the Milky Way other ships cannot reach. It's the Heineken of ships. Completely stripped down to the bare bones, you'll get 33.5 light years out of it with a full fuel tank, but it's worth sacrificing a few light years of range to put in basic weapons, a shield generator and a Field Maintenance Unit to give you some protection against random NPC encounters and navigation mishaps when refuelling. If you're gripped by wanderlust to see the sights of the galaxy, then the Asp is the ship to have.
It's also passably good fulfilling other general purpose roles. It has large enough internal compartments to be a decent trading vessel (especially a Rare Commodities trader), plus it has a whopping six weapon hardpoints (four Class 1, two Class 2), giving the Asp decent combat power. The Asp's agility isn't fantastic - I found that it's high hull mass works against it in a dogfight against smaller opponents - but its relative lack of mobility can be compensated for by gimballed weapons. The Asp's high power plant capacity is also helpful in taking advantage of the new Shield Booster units and being able to equip high-tier, power-hungry weapons and modules without worrying about having things shut down when you deploy your hardpoints. The view from the cockpit is also one of the best in the game, so if you've got headtracking (such as TrackIR or Oculus Rift), combat becomes a lot easier, thanks to your ability to padlock-view the target. It's an excellent ship, that will be the mainstay for many a player wanting a single ship to fulfil various roles, without having to break the bank.
Why you should ditch it: Unless your raison d'etre is trying to find unexplored planets and star systems to stamp your name on for all eternity (and at the moment, mine is - I'll probably reach Elite in the Explorer path first), there are plenty of good reasons to trade up out of an Asp. The Type 7 and Type 9 can haul more cargo and are more profitable traders. The Vulture and the Python are more potent combatants, with much more stopping power than the Asp. Regardless, at some point, you'll want to have an Asp slithering around in your hangar.

Imperial Clipper:
Cost: 21,077,784 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout 1 (Trader): x2 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Lasers, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Multicannons
Recommended weapon loadout 2 (Bounty Hunter): x2 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Lasers, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Cannons
Recommended weapon loadout 3 (Large Ship Assassin): x2 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Lasers, x2 Class 2 Fixed Plasma Accelerators
Why you should fly it: LOOK AT IT... JUST LOOK AT IT. Do I really need to say more? I do? Really? REALLY?? Okay, then, suit you... SUIT YOU, SIR. OH! SUIT YOU!

Not convinced yet? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Sigh. Okay, I get it. You need a rational argument. Here goes, then. It's gorgeous in just about every way. Visually, sonically, this is a supermodel of a ship. Every design aspect of the Clipper practically screams "CLASSY!". Stodgy handling aside, the Clipper represents amazing bang for your buck in terms of trading capacity and combat ability. It's arguably the best of the multi-role ships to date in the game, and it's certainly going to give you the most elegant screenshots. With two Class 3 and two Class 2 weapon hardpoints, the Imperial Clipper is immensely potent in combat, especially given that its powerful thruster engines give it a higher top speed backwards than most ships can travel forwards. Put gimballed weapons on your Clipper and Sir Robin your way to victory against small opponents like Sidewinders and Eagles, who will simply wither away under the weight of your fire. Its speed is also a telling factor against larger ships, such as Anaconda, against whom you can employ fixed weapons to smash vulnerable subsystems into obliviion, without having to whittle down their hull first. If you want the versatility of being able to make significant amounts of money trading, while still being able to more than hold your own against any ship in the game, then you want an Imperial Clipper. It really is that good.
Clipper Eclipse
Why you should ditch it: Obviously, the biggest problem with the Imperial Clipper is that you have to achieve the rank of Baron in the Imperial Navy to be able to buy one. For some players (i.e. the ones that like to roleplay), this will be anathema, due to certain ethical issues with the Empire's stance with regard to slavery, etc. For morally unscrupulous commanders (like me), on the other hand, other - more practical - considerations will come into play. Firstly, there's the issue of cost. To kit out an Imperial Clipper to its ultimate potential is not cheap. Admittedly, it's only about a tenth of the cost of maxing out an Anaconda, but the difference between being able to afford a Clipper and being able to make it resilient enough to take out into Open Play is rather substantial. Another problem I have with the Imperial Clipper is the relatively short hyperspace range. It might make a decent enough explorer vessel towards the core of the galaxy, but if you want to reach the fringes of the outer spiral arms, the Clipper simply doesn't have the FSD legs, which is unfortunate, because it's exactly the kind of ship you'd picture the Empire wanting to use to plant their flag on valuable fringe systems on the frontier. Finally, there is one significant flaw in the design of the ship. Those lovely, elegant wings and engine nacelles have one unfortunate consequence. The Clipper is only able to land on Large pads, meaning that you won't be able to land at Outposts, only Coriolis, Ocellus and Orbis starports. Not so much a problem if you're sticking to the core systems, but it does mean that you have to be careful picking up cargo transport and courier missions. There is also a secondary consequence in terms of the design with the weapon placement. The wide spacing of the weapon hardpoints limits the utility of fixed weapons, especially on the large, Class 3 hardpoints on the engine nacelles. So be careful when equipping the ship, otherwise you might find yourself being picked to pieces by smaller, more maneouvrable ships.

Federal Dropship:
Cost: 18,969,990 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout (General Purpose): x1 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Laser, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Beam Lasers, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Multicannons
Why you should fly it: If you're going to side with the Feds rather than the Imperials, then this is your version of the Imperial Clipper. Except that it's not quite so good. Other than the fact that it's a little bit cheaper (well, it is now, thanks to a price update in the 1.2 release - it used to cost around 36 MCr). I can't honestly say that I'm a big fan of the Federal Dubstep (It's a big DROP-ship... Do you see? Oh, please yourselves...) - while it may be bristling with weapon hardpoints, including a Large, Class 3 hardpoint, its flabby handling negates its high shield and armour stats. At least the view from the cockpit is good - but there are more inspiring ships out there. It might make a half-decent stopgap for the budding assassin or bounty hunter on their way to a Python or Fer-de-Lance, but it's not a keeper.
Why you should ditch it: If you're after a stepping stone to bigger and badder ships, a Type 7 is a cheaper, more profitable option if you're trading your way to wealth, the Asp is peerless as an explorer-class vessel (with practically double the range of an equivalently equipped Dubstep), and the Vulture outperforms the Dubstep in almost all aspects, when it comes to combat. The only niche I really see the Dubstep filling is that of a status ship for the Federally-aligned. It's a bit rubbish, frankly.
Even the holograph projectors look like cheap Nespresso machines. The Federal Dropship: Sponsored by George Clooney - though even that can't make them appear any sexier. Avoid.

Cost: 47,798,079 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout (General Purpose): x1 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Laser, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Multicannons
Why you should fly it: Right now, it's hard to think of a compelling reason. It... looks nice?
Why you should ditch it: It's not a good combat vessel, it's not a good trader and it's relatively expensive. The Orca (and its smaller sibling, the yet to be introduced Dolphin) will come into their own once Frontier Developments implement the passenger transport mechanics in a future patch/expansion, but right now, I really can't think why you'd want to fly an Orca other than to say that you have done, or so that you can take arty screeshots of its sleek, shiny hull.

Python Outfitting
Cost: 55,171,395 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout (Multi-role): x3 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Laser, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Cannons
Why you should fly it: The Python is a BEAST. Three large, Class 3 hardpoints. Two medium, Class 2 hardpoints. Four utility mounts. Three Class 6, two Class 5, one Class 4, two Class 3 and one Class 2 internal compartments. While it may be double the price of the more exclusive Imperial Clipper, the Python really packs a punch. In the original Elite, the Python was prey for your Cobra. Now, it's a ruthless, vicious predator, capable of stripping any opponent to the bone in one-on-one combat.

In a multi-role specification, the Python is capable of hauling over 200 tonnes of cargo respectable distances, while still packing enough combat power to fend off marauding wings of smaller vessels. The Python is a fantastic ship, if a little on the slow side.
Why you should ditch it: It's not the best ship for exploring, since its FSD legs are a long way short of parity with the Asp, though it is more than capable of taking you inwards toward the core of the galaxy and back. The Python also requires a significant amount of cash to be a real money-spinner as a multi-role trader/combat vessel, but if you can afford one in the first place, I don't imagine that will pose too much of an issue in the long run. The only other reason to ditch your Python is that you can finally afford to buy an Anaconda...

Cost: 4,689,629 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout 1 (Frugal): x2 Class 3 Gimballed Pulse Lasers
Recommended weapon loadout 2 (Banzai!): x1 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Laser, x1 Class 3 Fixed Cannon
Recommended weapon loadout 3 (THIS! IS! SPARTA!): x1 Class 3 Fixed Beam Laser, x1 Class 3 Fixed Plasma Accelerator
Why you should fly it: Oh, MAN. What can I say about the Vulture? It's the ship you want to fly if you want to give a big FUCK YOU to the universe. The Vulture is an unsubtle bully. While I can't dispute its efficacy as a combat ship, I'm not convinced that I like it. It lacks... subtlety. Finesse. It's a dumb brute of a ship. It's cheaper and more maneouvrable and more combat effective than an Asp. With its two large, Class 3 weapons, the Vulture will scavenge its way happily through a combat zone, devouring even Elite Anacondas with relative ease (provided that you've uprated the ship's hull and shield generators). If you pick your battles carefully in a resource extraction site, you'll be able to recoup your insurance cost in under an hour. The Vulture almost matches the Eagle in terms of its agility, easily offsetting the ship's limited number of hardpoints. The Vulture's ability to turn on the head of a pin, allied with the potency of its weapons, goes a long way towards compensating for the other shortcomings in its design.
Why you should ditch it: There are only really two main flaws with the design of the Vulture, but they're significant ones. Firstly, like its stable-mate, the Eagle, the Vulture lacks power plant capacity. No matter how you want to equip your Vulture, you'll inevitably have to compromise somewhere, as it's simply not possible to A-rate every module and equip the most powerful weapons to the ship. So you're going to have to sacrifice weapon power, shield power, thruster power or FSD range; you can't have the best of all worlds. The second flaw with the Vulture is its hyperspace range. Even with a maxed out FSD and a decent fuel scoop, you will have to plan your path around the core worlds carefully, as the Class 3 fuel store will only allow 3-4 jumps at maximum FSD range, limiting the Vulture's potential as an exploration vessel - even in the more densely populated coreward regions of the galaxy.

Locked and loaded
Cost: 51,232,230 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout 1 (SPARRRRRRRRRRTA!): x1 Class 4 Plasma Accelerator, x4 Class 2 Gimballed Cannons
Recommended weapon loadout 2 (Say hello to my little friend!): x1 Class 4 Gimballed Cannon, x4 Class 2 Gimballed Beam Lasers
Why you should fly it: I've been waiting 30 years to fly a Fer-de-Lance. Broadly speaking, it was worth the wait. I'm glad that Frontier Developments had a bit of a rethink on the pricing. Initially it was over 100 million credits (more than two-thirds the cost of an Anaconda), which was fairly laughable. Now, the "Ferdel" (or "FdL") is about 10% cheaper than a Python, which still feels a little steep. I suppose the justification for the premium pricing comes from the fact that the FdL is currently the only other ship than an Anaconda that packs a Class 4 weapon hardpoint. While this does give the FdL a potentially significant step up in combat power relative to other ships of its size, I'm in two minds as to whether that makes it worth the premium you have to pay to take advantage of it. The FdL is more agile than a Python, but would you rather have 3 large and 2 medium hardpoints or 1 huge and 4 medium? It's a personal judgment call, but I think the Python edges it.
Why you should ditch it: If combat's your thing and you've found a nice, profitable RES, it's a close call as to whether you should be flying an FdL or a Python. But if you want to spread your wings and go further afield, the pitiful FSD range of the FdL is a big black mark against its ledger book. A Python will give you almost double the range of a Fer-de-Lance, and the Python is a more profitable trading vessel, with more than four times the cargo capacity of the FdL in a trading configuration.
[Edit:] In case you're looking for my original guides, you can find my Adder review here, my overview of the Anaconda and Type 9 here, and my verdicts on the Sidewinder, Eagle, Hauler, Viper, Cobra and Type 6 here.