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.
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