Sunday, March 29, 2015

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.
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