Sunday, May 31, 2015

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - Imperial Courier & Lakon Diamondback review

I've been spending a bit of time with the 1.3 Powerplay Beta, and I've been taking advantage of the 1% ship hull and equipment costs to play with the latest ships to be added to the menagerie of vessels: the Imperial Courier and the Lakon Diamondback.
[Edit: 16/07/15 - I posted this before Frontier decided to put out two versions of the Diamondback, so I've added in an extra section to highlight the differences between the Diamondback Scout and the Diamondback Explorer.]
Imperial Courier
Cost: 2,479,400 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout 1 (Courier/Smuggler): x3 Class 2 Gimballed Pulse Lasers
Recommended weapon loadout 2 (RES Hunter): x2 Class 2 Gimballed Beam Lasers, x1 Class 2 Gimballed Cannon
Why you should fly it: On first inspection, the Imperial Courier seems like an odd little ship. It's a cross between a supercharged Eagle and a Viper. It has three medium-sized weapon hardpoints with good fields of fire, making it more combat effective than the Eagle or Viper, but the standout feature of the Courier is its shield strength. With a 3A shield generator and three 0A shield boosters, the Courier's shield strength rivals that of a Python, which is insane. In combat versus similar-sized ships, I've never lost more than a single ring of shields, even if I've been rammed by my target. The Courier is certainly a tough little ship. Allied with its high speed, it ought to be perfect for blockade running with precious or illegal cargoes. You can easily outrun interdicting ships, who'll never get through your shields by the time that your FSD has cooled down. It's also quick enough to avoid scans outside of stations to prevent you from getting fined on those missions where you have to recover contraband cargoes. The only problem is that the Courier has short legs, especially if it's laden down with cargo. So it's arguably more of use as a combat vessel in conflict zones and resource extraction sites. Provided that the shield strength isn't nerfed too badly when the 1.3 patch gets rolled out, it should be a good ship to take down top tier Anacondas with for Assassination missions, too - at least until you can afford a Vulture.
Why you should ditch it: At the time of writing, the Courier does have a couple of major problems. The FSD range is pitiful if you're intending to use the ship as a courier for faction missions and the ship is almost impossible to refuel from stars without taking heat damage. I'm assuming at this point that it's a bug that may get addressed before release, because currently, you start taking heat damage in around 10 seconds, unless you're right at the edge of a star's atmosphere, which slows down the scooping rate to a crawl. It's also relatively expensive, given that you can get twice the cargo capacity, more hyperspace range and an almost equivalent amount of combat power out of a Cobra. So you're really paying a premium for that third medium hardpoint. It appears that the Courier is intended to be a stopgap ship between the Viper and the Vulture in the combat-aligned professions, but it's hard to justify the extra cost, even given the Courier's amazing shield strength.

Lakon Diamondback Scout (DBS)
Screenshot_0395 Cost: 564,300 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout 1 ("Combat" Explorer/Scout): x2 Class 2 Gimballed Pulse Lasers, x2 Class 1 Gimballed Burst Lasers
Recommended weapon loadout 2 ("Pure" Explorer): None!
Recommended weapon loadout 3 (Interdick): x2 Class 2 Gimballed Pulse Lasers, x2 Class 1 Gimballed Multicannon
Why you should fly it: "The Flea", as it has been affectionately nicknamed by the G+ community, is a poor man's Asp, or perhaps a rich man's Cobra, depending upon which way you want to look at it. The Diamondback is billed as a long range scouting vessel, or "combat explorer", which is a sure sign from Frontier Developments that the business of exploring may be about to become a whole lot more dangerous. Given that most explorers fly without shields or weapons and strip down their thrusters and power distributor to save mass, if the Thargoids do rear their chitinous, insectoid heads, there might very well be a slew of casualties amongst the more adventurous Commanders in the Elite: Dangerous community. With a long-range combat spec (i.e. laser weapons only), the Diamondback does give you an equivalent combat power to the Cobra, but has a slightly better hyperspace range. The weapon hardpoints on the Diamondback (as you'll see below) are well-placed to give you much more of an opportunity to bring all four of your weapons to bear on a target simultaneously, compared to a Cobra or Viper. The Diamondback is also more agile than either of those two ships, meaning that it's also a passable bounty hunter (against smaller ships) in RES combat. Being a Lakon ship, the cockpit view is great for both exploring and combat (something it has in common with the Courier, in fact), but the Diamondback is by far the best Lakon ship for battle, given that it's smaller and so much more maneouvrable than the Asp. Out of the two ships introduced in the Powerplay update, I'm of the opinion that this is the pick of the two of them. It has greater range and a similar combat power to the Courier for only a quarter of the cost. It's a viable alternative to the Cobra as both a combat ship and as a stopgap between the Adder and Asp in terms of exploration. It's good fun to fly, can hold its own in combat, and has a decent reach in terms of its hyperspace range. If you want a cheap, but robust ship to explore the hinterlands with that will give you a great panoramic view from the cockpit, then the Diamondback is your girl. I can see it being very popular with commanders that want a secondary ship for exploring that doesn't require the massive credit investment of a dedicated explorer ship, like an Asp. Another possible role that the Diamondback could be suited for is that of an Interdick - that is, an Interdiction Bounty Hunter. In 1.3, assassination targets will not just appear in Unidentified Signal Sources, but will also randomly spawn in the systems highlighted in the mission parameters, allowing you to hunt them down in SuperCruise. The Diamondback's good FSD jump range and fuel tank capacity means that you can put the ship's four utility hardpoints to good use, allowing you to scan and hunt down anyone who tried to flee from your wrath. The Diamondback is one of the smallest ships to give you this much flexibility with your utility options, so is a good ship for this kind of role.
Why you should ditch it: Even with a "pure" explorer specification, the Diamondback will only give you an FSD range of around 27.5ly, which isn't really that much of an improvement over what you can get from an Explori-Hauler. So the Asp is still the best option when it comes to giving you the best FSD range for your credits, and the Asp is far more versatile, thanks to its configuration of internal compartments. Like the Hauler, the Diamondback only has four internal compartments, which isn't really enough if you want to create an explorer-class vessel that still has a chance of survival in combat. You have to choose between either the security of a shield generator or the extra income potential of a detailed surface scanner, unless you're staying close enough to the Old Worlds that you don't need to fit an auto field-maintenance unit. One thing that the Diamondback is also singularly unsuited for is cargo hauling. A Cobra is a cheaper option, able to haul more than double the cargo of a Diamondback, and is arguably more robust in a fight, too. The Diamondback isn't a ship that's going to earn you a fortune, via any means, be they combat, trading or exploration, but it does fit a hitherto unfilled niche in the ship market. It's a good ship for new players on their way to bigger and better things, but for most people, I think that the Diamondback is going to be a secondary "leisure" ship to fly when you want to take a break from your primary game role.

Lakon Diamondback Explorer (DBX)
Cost: 1,635,691 Cr
Recommended weapon loadout 1 ("Pure" Explorer): None!
Recommended weapon loadout 2: (Thargoid Hunter) x1 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Laser, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Pulse Laser
Recommended weapon loadout 3 (Combateer): x1 Class 3 Gimballed Beam Laser, x2 Class 2 Gimballed Cannons
Why you should fly it: The biggest problem with the Scout, as an exploration vessel, is the lack of space in its internal compartments. The Explorer goes a long way to addressing this, but is still rather skinny on internal space for true, long-range exploring beyond the galactic centre. It should see you to Sag A* and back, provided you're careful, but the ship could really do with a larger fuel scoop. However, it is a lot cheaper than an Asp, so I guess you get what you pay for. The DBX does have the hyperspace range to reach the parts of the galaxy lesser ships cannot reach (i.e. requiring a 30ly jump range), so it is a good option for your first serious forays into the deeper parts of the galaxy. It's also quite handy in a fight, too. The DBX gives you the cheapest access to a Class 3 weapon hardpoint, so as a combat explorer (a.k.a. Thargoid Hunter), the DBX gives you better range than a fully-kitted Asp and better firepower against big ships, as well. You can do a surprising amount of damage with one in a RES too, so as long as you don't want to haul cargo, the DBX is a pretty decent multi-role ship, at a price that won't break the bank.
Why you should ditch it: The Diamondback Explorer is a multi-tasker. I describe multi-tasking as doing several things at once, badly. It's not quite a great explorer ship and it's not quite a great combat ship, either. It's not terrible. It's not a waste of space like the Federal Dropship is, for example, but it is clearly going to be either a stopgap ship, or a leisure ship you bring out every now and again for some fun in a RES. The lack of internal compartment space means that as soon as you can afford one, you'll want an Asp for exploring. The low shield strength means that you're going to want to switch up to a Vulture as soon as you can afford one of those, too. The jump range of the Diamondbacks does mean that it's going to be a desireable ship in the early game for new commanders, but once you've gotten a few months of flying and a few dozen million in your Bank of Zaonce account, the DBX is a ship that will inevitably get parked for something bigger and better.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Bark: X-Wing Miniatures Tabletop Game

In recent weeks, I have gotten majorly into Fantasy Flight's X-Wing Miniatures Game. I'm lucky enough to have a couple of friends at work who, like me, are veteran gamers (in both the video and the tabletop form) and have been collecting the ships and playing the game for a year or two now. My love of all things Star Wars (excepting Jar-Jar, obviously) is the stuff of legend, so it's surprising that I've taken quite this long to get into it. But get into it I have, very badly indeed, as the pictures dotted throughout this post will show.
With the extra ships I have incoming from the Amazon System, due to arrive out of hyperspace later this morning, I'll have a large enough fleet to have a significant 100+ point battle between three factions. That's some pretty epic tabletop gaming, right there. Added to all the other ships owned by the other guys at work (the Decimator, Falcon, Outrider, Lambda-class shuttle and more fighters than an evening at the UFC), we've got practically everything the game can currently offer: the only ship we're missing is the Tantive IV, and I may very well pick that up next month. On Thursday night this week, we played a 2v2 battle: Rebels versus an alliance between the Empire and the Scum & Villany ships I picked up at Orc's Nest in Covent Garden earlier in the day; 100 points for each player. I'm still very much feeling my way around the game a bit, but the game couldn't have been closer: the final two ships were both down to one hull strength each going into the final round, and my team only lost because in a previous round I'd suffered a critical hit to my cockpit, dropping my pilot skill to zero... and he who shoots last invariably dies first. Well, that and Boba Fett (i.e. me) rolled like Wil Wheaton in an episode of Tabletop all night whenever Slave One had a shot at the Millennium Falcon... But that's sometimes what you get with dice games. Guri in the StarViper, on the other hand, was an absolute demon for damage rolls - I only lost the ship because my teammate had the Ruthlessness card for the Decimator, and I was caught up in the collateral damage.
I'm impressed with how much fun the game is, even when you lose, but probably the most impressive thing is just how easy the game is to pick up. The rules are simple enough to remember after a simple skirmish game with a couple of ships each, but the ship upgrades, abilities and customisations add a lot of tactical depth to the combat. Knowing what modifications and upgrades to choose for each ship takes some experimentation, as does getting a feel for when you should focus, evade, boost, barrel roll or target lock. There's more to the game than the random chance of the dice rolling for attack and defence, too. There's a real skill in being able to out-think or anticipate the next move of your opponent, as well as judgment in knocking whether your next maneouvre is going to leave you stranded against an asteroid or piece of debris (I've been there a couple of times, both with fatal results), or whether it will bring you into the blind spot behind an enemy ship's fire arc. The game has a bit of everything: skill, chance, excitement, tactics, psychology... and a lot of good design. Not least with the actual ships themselves.
There's no getting away from it (despite my awful photography) - the models are gorgeous things in their own right. Overpriced? Maybe, but they are pre-painted and exquisitely detailed. Slave One takes pride of place next to my Boba Fett action figurine on the boom box of my speaker system, next to my monitor. The rest of my fleet stand on overwatch atop the bookshelves in my office. I think that the Scum and Villany faction ships are going to be my go-to faction, since some of the ships are just a little bit out of the ordinary (the IG-2000, which is coming in the morning, looks fabulous), and I've always had a soft spot for the Z-95 Headhunter, too. The Black Sun models are slinky little numbers - I love the Black Sun crest on them to make them stand out from the standard Rebel colour scheme.

On our next games night we're going to try out Medium Transport in a three faction free-for-all game: the Rebels have to defend the Transport, the Imperials have to destroy it, and the Scum and Villany have to capture it... That, my dear readers, will be a night to look forward to.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - So you want to be... an explorer?

So, you want to get away from it all? See the sights? Get away from the tedious politics of the Old Worlds? Then becoming an Explorer is the career for you. One of the things that most attracted me to Elite: Dangerous was the fact that the entire galaxy has been modelled for you to wander at your leisure. I've spent a lot of time doing exactly that, mainly visiting the nebulae nearest to the Old Worlds, as well as doing tours of my favourite constellations, which are slightly less trodden paths out into the galaxy at large. I'm about a million creds short of gaining my Ranger's rank, but that shouldn't be a problem by the time I return back to civilisation following my latest jaunt into the undiscovered hinterlands between Sol and Sagittarius A*. My ultimate aim for exploration would be to travel all the way past Sagittarius A* to the other side of the galaxy and back - but I'm not sure whether that will be achievable, even in the most lavishly-equipped exploration ship. It would also be a huge time investment - at best you can make around 1000 light years per hour of travel, when you take into account route planning and refuelling, so it would require a couple of months of game time, at my current level of available gaming time - and I'm not sure I'm that patient. If I had a secondary save slot (which I'm sure we were supposed to have, at some point) I could have a dedicated explorer commander to give it a go with as an ongoing, long-term project, but as it is, I think I'll have to limit my ambitions to the regions around Sagittarius A*, which is a bit of a pilgrimage point for people pursuing the explorer path.

So what does it take to be a good explorer? Patience, primarily. As I alluded to earlier, exploration is quite a serene (if not outright lonely) occupation, as once you've travelled a few hundred light years away from the Old Worlds, you're very unlikely to encounter other ships, which is why most explorers tend to run without shields or weapons: since the extra mass cuts down on your hyperspace range, most explorers consider them to be unnecessary dead weight to be hauling around. I'm a little more risk adverse, so I rarely fly without a shield generator (because you never know when you're going to have a docking accident) or at least a gimballed beam laser (because if some NPC punk in a Sidewinder pulls me over when I'm about to dock with several million creds worth of exploration data on board, I'm going to show them exactly why I have a Dangerous combat ranking!). There's also the 1.3 Power Play update to consider, as well. The Lakon Diamondback is touted as a "combat explorer", which I'm taking as a sign that a certain insectoid species is going to make exploration a rather more perilous profession sometime soon. I will try out the Diamondback at the first available opportunity and let you know what I think of it. Other than an ability to tolerate your own company for hundreds of hours at a time, the other trait that can be useful for a would-be explorer is an obsessive compulsive disorder. Until recently, I took the Pokémon approach to exploring ("Gotta scan 'em all!"), and while that's great for getting your name plastered over stellar bodies if they're first discoveries (that come hand in hand with a minor cash bonus), being obsessive compulsive about scanning everything in every system you encounter can be incredibly time consuming (not to mention expensive for your wear and tear bill!), though if you're in for the long haul and don't mind spending an hour in every system you jump into, perhaps that's not so much of a problem. For normal mortals, though, doing detailed scans of absolutely everything you find is probably a good way of driving yourself nuts, so perhaps you'll want to do what I do now instead:

1) Jump in and "honk" the system with your discovery scanner. And if you want to make any kind of money at all from exploration, then you'll have to invest in an Advanced Discovery Scanner. An Intermediate Scanner isn't worth the money, since if only gives you twice the range of the 1,000Cr basic scanner (approximately 2AU as opposed to 1AU). Spend the extra 500kCr, because it will pay itself back relatively quickly.
2) Check the system map for anything worth going out of your way to get detailed scans of. These objects include neutron stars, black holes, water worlds, earth-like worlds, ammonia worlds and gas giants with life (these can usually be identified by the atmospheric markings, though I am repeatedly told that if you zoom in on a gas giant in the system map, you'll hear a sonic clue if the gas giant has life on it - I can't say I've ever heard this myself... maybe my ears aren't good enough).
3) Scan any object within immediate sensor range of the primary star - this depends widely on the object's radius and mass. Some planets require you to be within 10ls to get a scan, but larger terrestrial worlds may be scanned at up to 100ls. Class 1 gas giants are usually scannable if you're within 250ls and Class 3 gas giants can be scanned up to 1000ls away. You need to be within 2000ls to get a scan from a Brown Dwarf, whereas an M-class star can be scanned from around 4000ls away. Neutron stars and black holes are tricky, as they need you to get within 20ls (unless the black hole is super-huge), and they can yank you out of supercruise for bonus hull damage if you're not careful about your approach. Finally, don't bother doing detailed scans of asteroid fields. You don't get any money for them.
4) Once you've scanned everything worth scanning, move on to the next system, using economical routes to take in as many systems as possible and minimise the risk that you'll run out of fuel. It would be a shame to go all that way just to have to self-destruct...

As an explorer, there's only really one thing that can kill you, and that's your own stupidity and carelessness. Never, ever, try to shoot the gap between two binary stars when refuelling. Never, ever try to refuel from a T Tauri or neutron star. If you do, then you deserve that hull damage. Use the galactic map to check how close the stars are together in binary, trinary or other systems with multiple stars, and if it looks like they're close, make sure you come out of hyperspace with your throttle set to zero. Also, never fly tired. Or after a couple of Lavian Brandies. Falling asleep when in supercruise is a good way of getting yourself destroyed or running out of fuel. I've had a few close calls, saved only by getting dropped by the matchmaking server, or by waking up at my desk to find that I'm 2,000,000ls away from the star I jumped in at.
Explorer Adder - 3.6MCr
It was tempting to recommend an Explori-Hauler for the budget exploration option, since it gives you a smidge more range and is only two-thirds of the cost of the Adder, but the Adder is more durable, which despite the awful cockpit visibility (which is not something you really want as an explorer) makes the Adder my budget choice. The extra internal compartment the Adder has over the Hauler also means that you can keep a shield generator on board to protect yourself from docking scrapes when you come back with your precious cargo of data. A lot of the cost also comes from the 3A Fuel Scoop, which is certainly worth the money, as keeping the amount of time you spend in the atmosphere of stars refuelling to an absolute minimum helps reduce the risk of getting heat damaged. The heat sink launcher is for emergencies, for those times when you get dropped out into the middle of a contact binary and need to cool down before all of your modules expire. For an extra half million you could also add a Class 2 gimballed beam laser onto the dorsal mount, which is more than adequate to see off most NPCs that might interdict you during your transit between civilised and wild space, but for the most part, it's not worth the loss of hyperspace range, not when you can simply Sir Robin to safety and let your shields take the damage if they do get into firing range.
Explorer Type-6 - 9.2MCr
This might initially seem like an odd-choice for an explorer ship, but in this role, the Type-6 does actually have quite a lot going for it. Firstly, with an A-rated frame shift drive and the rest of the modules pared down to the lightest options, this gives you the best hyperspace range you'll get for under 10 million creds. Secondly, it has lots of large internal comparments, which means a honking great fuel scoop and lots of auto-maintenance units, so the Type-6 can take you on a massive tour into the tens of thousands of light years with no trouble at all. Also, like all of the Lakon ships, the canopy is fantastic for getting those lovely views of stars and nebulae - which shouldn't be a factor to underestimate, since you're going to be living off the pleasure of those views for many, many hours of playing time. Lakon do pretty much have the market sewn up when it comes to exploration.
Explorer Asp - 24.5MCr
This is the specification I'm currently running on my explorer Asp, the Culture-inspired Couldn't Find His Gravitas With Both Hands. It's not kitted out for ultimate jump range (I'd take off the beam laser and the shield generator for that), but if you're going to take exploration seriously, you need an Asp. It's got enough legs in hyperspace to reach just about anywhere in the the galactic plane, and isn't going to be as prohibitively costly as a 40ly Anaconda in terms of wear and tear, either. Plus, the Asp is nimble enough to maneouvre adroitly between stars and around planets in supercruise, and the lovely Lakon canopy gives you those all important picturesque views. You could argue that the three auto-repair units are a bit excessive, but better to have them and not need them, than need them and not have them... And at a smidge under 25 million creds (more like 20, if you have access to the shipyard at Shinrarta Dezhra), it's good value, too.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Bark: Mostly Harmless

A couple of days ago I finished reading Mostly Harmless, by Kate Russell.

I'd not read any Elite universe fiction since The Dark Wheel, the original novella that came with Elite way back in 1984, and I picked Kate's book mainly because I knew that she was an avid player of the game and had a certain familiarity and respect for the game world. I also bought it because it was the novelisation that sounded most interesting to me and I thought it would be a good yardstick to use to see if I would pick up any of the other books in the future.

First things first: I enjoyed the book. The story was entertaining and it felt suitably grounded in the Elite universe to come across convincingly as an "Elite" story. It stuck well enough to the Vonnegut principle (i.e. do horrible things to your characters to see what they're truly made of) to make the narrative interesting and dramatic. The writing also has a sense of humour and Commander Angel Rose's character was well-drawn, suitably flawed and had just enough hubris about her to be a likeable protagonist. I would not be unhappy to read about her further exploits in the future.


A few things about the book did annoy me.

Number one, by the rings of Asellus Primus, this book needed the attention of an editor who knows how punctuation works. There were so many little typesetting and punctuation errors in the first couple of chapters (and this did not improve throughout the rest of the book), that I almost stopped reading. I don't blame the author for this (unless, of course, the author did their own editing, in which case, they really should have known better!) - after all, the author's job is to write the story, the editor's job is to do the editing and iron out the author's inevitable mistakes. Honestly, you try writing 80,000-120,000 words without screwing up on spelling or adding in a space too many in a sentence somewhere... it's impossible - and no matter how much you proof-read it as an author, you won't find them all, because you're too close to the material - your eyes bypass the mistakes because you see what you had meant to write in your head, not what you actually wrote. That's why editors have a job - to be an extra pair of eyes on the manuscript that will see the flaws the author will never find.

Two, it was a little too easy to tell in the text that the novel had been crowdfunded. Some of the character and ship names were absolutely awful - I think that even in the 34th century people would have more class than to call ships Chandnør Waffoospark the Mad Swede, for example. Perhaps I'm missing out on some HILARIOUS pop culture reference here, but the obvious crowdfunding insertions did grate with me as both a reader and a writer. I know that this is how Kickstarter works with the reward levels and such, but I don't think I'd ever be happy with the idea of ceding over creative control over my work to some wonk on the internet, even if they were helping fund the novel. In my opinion, that's taking crowdfunding too far. If I don't have 100% creative control, it's not my piece of work, at the end of the day. And, crucially, it made the whole thing feel a little forced in some areas, rather than having a more organic, natural feel to the characterisation and the writing. If I was ever to crowdfund a novel (and I don't think I ever would), this would be one aspect where I'd retain control. If you want your own characters in a book, write your own fecking novel! Don't pay someone to crowbar them into theirs...

Three. I called the twist. I won't spoil it here, but I guessed it about a third of the way through. Maybe I've just watched too many thrillers and read too many mystery novels, but there wasn't enough depth to the personalities of the other supporting characters to provide enough misdirection to stop me from guessing where the twist would come from. It was still quite a fun twist, and the ultimate sting in the tail for the twister was an enjoyable one, but it was pretty obviously signposted very early on.

So, all things considered, Mostly Harmless is a decent enough book, and if you're remotely interested in Elite: Dangerous it's worth a punt. It's not going to win the Nebula Award for its style or originality, but it's perfectly servicable and enjoyable as a work of science fiction. Given this experience, then, will I now swoop down upon the Elite store and snaffle up the rest of the Elite: Dangerous novelisations? I don't think so. Not unless I'm given a personal recommendation by someone whose opinion in sci-fi books is known to be impeccable. Why settle for serviceable when there are so many books out there to be read that are better than that?

I'm out of here... I've got Time Of Contempt and Baptism of Fire to finish reading before The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt comes out...

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - So you want to be... a bounty hunter? (Part 2: RES Prowler)

This is the role I've spent most of my gaming time in, while playing Elite: Dangerous. Last night I claimed my 2500th bounty - a figure that even Boba Fett would be proud of. Somehow, despite having more than 53MCr of bounties claimed, I'm still a Master and not quite yet Dangerous, but it's only a matter of time... Soon! Soon! I'm going to flag up a slight caveat here before I get into the three ships and their loadouts. Normally, I play in Solo or Private Group mode, which means that generally the only thing I have to worry about is either my own tiredness or a marauding NPC. With this as the case, I eschew the loadout of Shield Cell Banks and prefer Hull Reinforcement Packages (because they give you extra combat endurance without a power plant overhead), though if you're playing in Open, you might want to consider a balance between the two. NPCs very rarely get through my shields anyway, but on the rare occasions they do, I usually want extra armour, since FSD range isn't something you have to worry about if you're raiding a Resource Extraction Site (RES) for big game, I'm more than happy to sacrifice the FSD range for the extra durability that mass gives you. It should also be noted that these setups will work equally well for hunting at Nav Points, though I usually don't bother too much with Nav Point hunting unless I'm in an Anarchy (where everyone is fair game), as the frequency of Wanted ships at Nav Points is usually vastly outweighed by those you'll find in a RES. If you're going to be a dedicated RES Prowler, however, there is one thing you need to bear in mind, which is that eventually you're going to piss a faction or two off. Make sure that it's not the one in charge of the local space station, or you're going to have a lot of fun trying to dock for reloads and repairs... Once you're Hostile with a faction you do have to be wary of three Vipers in a Wing rocking up while you're already under fire from an Anaconda or another ship you're hunting. It can make things lively, to say the least. But that's what you get for being a hunter. Sometimes, you become the prey.
Prowler Eagle - 1.5MCr
If you've found a nice, productive RES site (Nu Tauri for the Federation and Beta-1 Tucanae for the Empire are good places), the one thing you really don't have to worry about is hyperspace range. Strip that FSD back to the bare minimum to get you into Supercruise, and save that power plant capacity for something useful, like thrusters, shields or weapons. I've flown the Eagle a lot with this spec and made millions with it. Even though the Eagle is relatively slow, it can still use its agility to run rings around larger opponents. Putting the gimballed beam laser on the dorsal mount gives you a massive field of fire, so you can keep laying down laser fire almost constantly on your target as they twist and turn to get out of your gunsights. Once their shields are down and your beam laser is drained, you can start laying into them with the low-power-draw multicannons, whittling away the hull percentage or sub-system health of a large ship's power plant. I've even stuck it out with Clippers, Dubsteps, Pythons and Anacondas when I've run out of multicannon ammo, and while it takes a little bit longer, the Eagle is still more than a match for large NPC ships at Master ranks or lower. This is definitely one of the best pound-for-pound fighter craft you'll fly for combat potency versus capital investment.
Prowler Vulture - 26.4MCr
I'm starting to warm a little bit to the Vulture. It's an unrefined brute and a bully, but it's almost peerless as a combat vessel. The FSD range isn't great to begin with, but if you find a good RES and don't need to fly it anywhere else, the low power plant capacity of the Vulture becomes somewhat less of an issue if you can downgrade the FSD to the absolute minimum. The Class 3 gimballed cannon is absolutely vicious and will rip through the power plant of an Anaconda in a single reload (provided you get direct hits each time) and you can dispatch opponents smaller than a Type 9 with just the Class 3 gimballed beam laser alone. You should be able to reclaim the insurance cost of this ship in under an hour, provided the RES you're in is being kind with drops of large Wanted vessels. I was averaging about 2MCr between reloads, when I was using a spec almost identical to this at Beta-1 Tucanae.
Prowler Anaconda - 616.3MCr
I wasn't sure whether to plump for a Python or an Anaconda as my ultimate RES Prowler, but upon reflection, it could only be an Anaconda. The Anaconda is an incredible ship - with enough power to blast anything out of the sky. When flown to its potential, nothing can touch an Anaconda. This spec has more cannons and armour than the USS Missouri, and is more than capable of reducing another Anaconda to scrap in a couple of shots. It doesn't come cheap, but if you can afford an Anaconda in the first place, that's not likely to worry you. The Class 1 and Class 2 hardpoints alone have the combat power of a Viper or Cobra and will handle most targets you'll find in a RES comfortably, but add in the delicious power of those gimballed cannons and you'll be turning a RES into a scrap yard in no time at all, because it'd take a small fleet of Vultures to get through those shields and armour plating... If you've never had the pleasure of flying an Anaconda in a combat zone, make sure you can afford a loadout like this before you do and you'll be in for one heck of a treat.

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - So you want to be... a bounty hunter? (Part 1: FSD Interdictor)

My preferred playstyle in Elite: Dangerous is that of a bounty hunter. I suppose this is mainly because of a childhood (mis?)spent watching the original Star Wars trilogy and idolising Boba Fett. That said, the role of a bounty hunter in Elite: Dangerous isn't clear cut, but can be broadly categorised into two sub-types of bounty hunter: the FSD Interdictor and the RES Hunter. I'll write more specifically about RES Hunters in my next guide, as even though the roles might appear superficially similar in that they both kill crims for cash, they do require distinct loadouts and potentially different classes of ship.
An Interdictor Bounty Hunter (or as I like to call them, an Interdick) needs two key pieces of equipment in their loadout: a Frame Shift Drive Interdictor module (well, duh!) and a Frame Shift Wake Scanner. A Kill Warrant Scanner is useful, but arguably not essential. If you're flying with a ship that only has one Utility hardpoint (i.e. an Eagle) you will have to make a judgment call as to whether loading out with a Frame Shift Wake Scanner or Kill Warrant Scanner will earn you more money, since you can't fly with both. Personally, I'd take the FSW scanner. Also essential for the burgeoning Interdick is a ship with good firepower and long-ranged hyperspace legs, because more often than not, the suckers you yank out of Supercruise will try to run. Therefore, you either need to be able to blow their Frame Shift Drive out from under them before they escape, or simply be able to out-range their hyperspace jumps. The latter of these two options is decidedly easier than the former.
In each of these guides I'll post three ship specs for the role, each one in a different ship model, for three budgets. The "low cost" option will not exactly be bargain basement, but will cost less than 2 million credits, so I am assuming you've had a little time with the game to build up some working capital. After all, it's not hard to get yourself over to E:D Shipyard and spec your own minimum cost Sidewinder for each of the roles. The "mid range" option will assume a budget of between 10-15 million credits, for those established players who want to try out something a little bit different, and the "high end" option will assume that money is no object at all, and that you've got 50 million credits and upwards just burning a hole in your account with the Bank of Zaonce.
Iron Eagle
Interdick Eagle - 1.9MCr
I've undoubtedly mentioned this before, but I love the Eagle. It's a lovely little ship, and if you don't mind the fragility of the hull and the power management required to keep the modules up and running at the right time, then this spec is ideal for NPC interdicting. The only real issue with the Eagle is the lack of a second utility mount for a Kill Warrant Scanner. This can be a problem if your quarry jumps out into an anarchy, because that juicy bounty they had in civilised space will disappear faster than a plateful of cake in a high school staff room. The gimballed beam on the dorsal turret will strip your target's shields hopefully before they can return the favour (just remember to pop your shield cells nice and early - don't wait for the warning beeps), and the cannons can target and pound the hell out of the FSD of the target, hopefully before they can spin up into hyperdrive, so they you can take them to pieces at your leisure. And if your mark does get away, a hyperspace range of almost 18 light years should allow you to catch up with most NPCs. The Eagle's maneouvrability is key to making sure the enemy doesn't lay too many gloves on you, and also ensuring that those cannon rounds hit the required subsystem, rather than do too much hull damage. I first tested out the game's interdiction mechanics using an Eagle with a loadout similar to this, and I was taking down NPC Pythons pretty much with impugnity. Just on general principle, you should keep an Eagle in your starship hangar - they're just too much fun, and cheap to replace if you boil one.
Interdick Cobra Mark III - 12.8MCr
I agonised a bit over the weapons loadout here. I did consider plasma accelerators (briefly), but I think the projectiles are a little too slow and easy to evade to be used effectively for an interdiction vessel, where your target may be on the run. The gimballed Class 2 beams do good damage against both shields and subsystems, and the rail guns can be used to get critical hits on either the FSD or power plant of your target, ideal for quick kills. The 22 light years of FSD range is adequate for just about any NPC you'll encounter and the A-rated Shield Generator and array of Shield Banks should keep your hull out of trouble. You will, however, need to actively manage and restrict your module use, because with everything turned on, you're going to be significantly over your power budget. However, it is possible to keep all the vital combat systems running, provided you only use the scanners when you need to and only have one shield bank activated at a time. Likewise, the fuel scoop is only required in supercruise if you need to top up before chasing down your target, so will not affect combat. Also, if you ever get bored of bounty hunting, the Cobra is really easy (and relatively cheap) to re-spec into another role.
Interdick Asp - 44.75MCr
A lot of people underestimate the combat potential of the Asp, probably because it comes from the same stable as the venerable Space Cow. With a grand total of no less than six weapon hardpoints, however, the Asp does have a lot of stopping power. Its other great advantage as an interdiction vessel is a large power plant capacity, the longest hyperspace legs of all (barring a bare-bones Anaconda) and lots of space for utility and combat support hardware. Even with the big power plant, this spec does still require a bit of active module power management, provided you don't want everything to shut down when you deploy your hardpoints (because we all know how much fun that is in the middle of a firefight!). In combat, an Asp with four gimballed beam lasers on the Class 1 mounts is really something to behold - beware the laser fingers of death lancing out to grasp your target! Then you've got the dual gimballed Class 2 cannons to pulverise the FSD or power plant from close range. And it doesn't really matter if your quarry jumps away, because with 27.5 light years of hyperspace range, nothing's going to be outrunning you (not if it's an NPC, at any rate). And the kicker? You've even got a little bit of cargo rack space to scoop up anything juicy the target space poops out of their cargo bay to sell on the nearest handy black market, too. The Asp is a really versatile ship and I like it a lot - you're going to be seeing it rather a lot in the guides to come.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Byte: Elite: Dangerous - So you want to be... a role-playing game guide series

A few days ago on Google Hangouts I received a request from a Elite: Dangerous Commander to who'd read some of my other guides to suggest a few ship loadouts for the Eagle, Viper and Cobra for a budding bounty hunter. After I'd finished being flattered by the concept that some random stranger on the internets would actively seek out my opinion on the matter, Commander Gnasher Slasher's request seeded the thought of an idea for a new series of E:D game guides. It's a bit more of a traditional extension of the Your Dream Ship guides I wrote over Easter.
The beauty of Elite: Dangerous is that there isn't one "right" way to play the game. You can find your own niche and play in a way that suits your personality and playstyle. In many ways, sandbox games like E:D are the purest form of role-playing games, because you're not straightjacketed into a single restrictive playstyle by a character class - you can really mix it up and even change the way you play over time. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to post role-playing guides for the main character archetypes you can assume in playing Elite: Dangerous. If you think I've missed any potential roles you'd like me to write about, please feel free to make suggestions in the comments. Here are the game roles I'm going to write about - though not necessarily in the order I'll publish them:

Bounty Hunter (FSD Interdictor)
Bounty Hunter (RES Prowler)


So keep your eyes peeled over the next couple of weeks - I'm going to start writing the first guide tonight, so it should be online before the end of the long weekend. As ever, thanks for reading - my traffic stats continue to amaze me (35,900+ hits last month, alone) and the kind comments really are appreciated.