This guide covers the fundamentals every pilot should be aware of when entering into a combat engagement. This guide assumes the reader has completed all the basic combat training and/or has around 10 hours combat flight time.
There are many different types of weapons at your disposal, however keep your fire groups in mind when choosing which weaponry to equip. You don’t want to have a build which is unnecessarily complicated, otherwise certain weapons may end up being forgotten about and never used.
Keep in mind the purpose of your ship, what you need it to do, as well as picking weapons that complement each other. If your ship has mostly thermal damage, consider something kinetic or maybe even explosive. Take into account the strengths & weaknesses of different weapons, think about how they will work with each other, as well as your ship.
For example, if you have fixed pulse lasers, fixed multicannons will not be a good combo weapon since it will be impossible to hit the target with both simultaneously. One of these two weapons will need to be to gimballed, for full efficiency.
If you wish to extend the deployment time of your ship then consider using weapons with a higher ammo capacity, either via engineering or choosing a different weapon type. If you wish to take on assassination missions then all you need to do is kill one target as quickly as possible, so consider high-damage weapons, while disregarding ammo usage.
Also take into account where the weapon will be placed on your ship, let’s use the Viper Mk3 as an example:
- The ship has a small profile from the front & sides, making it harder to hit
- It has incredibly strong thrusters, responding immediately to inputs in any direction
- There are 2x small hardpoints on the front/top of the ship
- There are 2x medium hardpoints on the rear/bottom of the ship
- To support these weapons, it has only a size 3 power distributor
With this in mind, it is clear that the medium hardpoints have a limited firing angle, therefore will have poor performance as gimballed weapons. While it is still possible to gimbal these weapons, it would also be an optimal spot to place your fixed weapons, if you planned to use any. Keep things like this in mind when designing your loadout.
As seen previously, the Viper Mk3 is incredibly fast & manoeuvrable, meaning it should easily be able to maintain a high time on target, while also being able to dodge shots & stay in your opponent’s blind spots.
With a high time on target you will get full value out of any continuous or rapid-fire weaponry, such as lasers, or multicannons. Or alternatively you could use high damage, low fire-rate weapons while spending the time in between firing to dodge shots from your opponent. Just keep in mind the small power distributor, this will limit your capacity for continuous fire, making the second option a more appealing choice if you want high damage.
But of course, what is a ship without its pilot? You should always consider your own strengths first, prioritizing those when designing your loadout. If you don’t have great control over your ship then low damage continuous weapons would be a bad choice. Likewise, if you struggle to land shots accurately then high damage low-fire rate weapons would be a bad choice. If you lack both, then choosing the simplest option will work best, letting you worry less about your weapons and more on your flying.
There are two main fighting styles, dogfighting and jousting:
With dogfighting, your goal is to stay on target for as long as possible, while preventing your opponent from doing the same. Stay on their six, keep them off yours. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Perhaps in an atmosphere it would be, however in space you can fly in any direction, whilst facing any other.
In some situations it is simply impossible to avoid being shot at by your target, however if there is a large enough difference in speed & manoeuvrability between the two of you, then it may be possible to stay on their rear for the entire fight, without taking a single point of damage. Obviously this is not to be expected, however keep in mind that it is possible and always try to stay out of their sight when able.
One good way to practice this is to go to a nearby nav beacon or resource extraction site (RES), wait for someone to start shooting someone else and try to stay behind their ship – without engaging. You can of course engage them if you’d like to, but it won’t help the exercise.
Remember to use your directional thrusters, by default the control for your vertical thrust will be moving the right stick up/down. Having control of your lateral (left/right) thrusters would be nice too, but is unnecessary. You can achieve the same results by simply rolling then using your vertical thrusters. By carefully managing your speed & vertical thrusters, it should be relatively easy to remain on the rear of a larger ship when in ships such as the Viper or Eagle; and obviously engineering your thrusters makes a big difference too.
Here your goal is to deal high amounts of damage to the target within a few seconds, as you fly past each other repeatedly, then turn around to pass & engage each other again. This fighting style is often adopted by accident due to poor thruster control, the simplest way to get out of it is to use your vertical thrusters more often, this should transition you into a dogfight.
One major advantage to jousting over dogfighting (assuming both sides are using low fire-rate weapons) is your ability to dodge their shots. With continuous weaponry it much harder to dodge shots since there are so many, and there is little incentive to do so when each individual shot does such little damage. However with higher damage low fire-rate weapons, such as plasma accelerators or railguns, dodging these shots becomes much more useful.
Plus with the way jousting works, you also have regular (but short) breaks, where you aren’t shooting, or being shot at. This helps your power distributor to recharge and gives you time to use a cell bank if necessary.
Explaining how this all works is great ‘n’ all, however actually understanding which is better for you at any given time, as well as mastering each style, will take time. Significant time. Practice. Do not feel discouraged by failure, figure out what went wrong so you can avoid it in the future.
Picking your fights
Target prioritization is crucial in combat, however most of it is contextual, so take what I say here with a grain of salt.
Generally, any target which is currently shooting at you should be the top priority, though not always. Take into account what ship they are in & their combat rank, as well as your current number of hostile targets. For example:
Let’s say you’re in an Alliance Chieftain, looking to engage a “dangerous” ranked Python, in a wing of 3. Their two wingmates both being ranked as “novice”, flying in Eagles. Who would you go for first? Clearly the Python is a bigger threat than the other two combined, however you know you can easily kill both the Eagles before they even have time to fire back. This takes them out of the picture, however allows time for the Python to move into a better position, putting you at an initial disadvantage.
- Eliminate the Eagles first, making it a 1 on 1 fight, however let the Python take the advantage on you?
- Or do you ignore the Eagles, letting them attack you throughout the fight, assuming they won’t be able to do too much harm, while you take the advantage on the Python?
There is no right or wrong answer, even now it’s hard to say, just looking at this as text. One would need to be in that situation themselves to truly understand the odds. Then of course, there’s also option 3. Do not engage. Find a different target. If you’re not comfortable answering 1 or 2, then 3 is the only natural choice.
Also as a side note, be aware of damage falloff on weapons. It varies depending on what type of weapon you’re using; do not underestimate it. Be aware of the damage falloff ranges for your weapons and try to remain within that range if possible.
Managing your pips is certainly useful, however don’t worry too much about it in the early stages, while you’re mostly worried about your throttle control & positioning. Unless you think you can handle it, of course.
Proper pip management can give you some big advantages, especially in under-dog situations. However, first, just to ensure everybody is on the same page, here is a rundown of what pips do.
- Having pips in SYS (Systems) directly corresponds to the strength of your shields, having 4 pips in SYS will increase the strength of your shields by 2.5x against all sources, including absolute damage; without affecting regen rate. SYS is also responsible for providing power to countermeasures, such as Chaff, ECM & Point Defense Turrets (PDT). So even if you don’t care about your shields, keeping some in your SYS capacitor is crucial to defending yourself.
- ENG (Engines) directly corresponds to your maximum speed, supposedly it also affects the strength of your boost, though I’ve seen nothing to support this. The main purpose of ENG is to let you reach higher speeds & increase the speed of the blue zone on your throttle, which is the point your ship is most manoeuvrable (50%). Obviously, you also need to have power in the ENG capacitor in order to boost.
- WEP (Weapons) unlike the other two, having pips in WEP doesn’t provide any advantage besides keeping your capacitor charged; it doesn’t increase weapon damage in any way. So if you’re using weapons with a low distributor draw, don’t be afraid to leave 0 pips in WEP for short periods of time, then recharge it when convenient (such as after passing the target while jousting). Although do keep in mind that your weapons will generate much more heat as your WEP capacitor gets closer to the bottom, so in hotter builds it’s best to keep it above 30% charge at all times, otherwise you’ll risk overheating.
Shields, hull & modules
This segment is going to be less detailed than others, simply because this is intended as a self-improvement guide, rather than to teach upon different strategies; however I believe it’s still important to know the basics.
So, what is a good shield? There is no single answer to that, it again, like weapons, it depends what you plan to do. For longer deployments involving multiple fights, bi-weave shields with high resistances are ideal. They recover quickly, ensuring you’re at 100% by the time the next fight starts.
If you only plan to engage in a single short fight, then strength is your best bet, with either standard or prismatic shields.
Hull on the other hand is much simpler. More=better. Although however tempting it may be to just slap on a shield generator then fill the rest of your slots with hull reinforcements, consider your modules too.
If your shields go down then it isn’t the end of the world (unless you’re in an FDL), your ship has a hull too. Just keep in mind the strength of both. If your shield health was about the same as your hull, then expect both to go down in the same amount of time. If one is stronger than the other, then that one will last longer than the other. It’s simple. Isn’t it? Well that’s without factoring different damage types & resistances… But this isn’t the time nor place for that.
Hull isn’t everything though, your modules will take damage too, without the proper protection. Module reinforcements are crucial to keeping your ship functional once your shields go down (assuming you had any shields in the first place). 1 or 2 is usually enough, although do consider the size of them relative to how much hull strength you have. Also consider bringing an AFMU (auto field-maintenance unit), this is a device capable of repairing your internals. It can repair everything besides your powerplant & itself (it can even repair the glass of your cockpit, assuming it’s only cracked & hasn’t been blown out).
NPC’s (non-player characters) will never target specific modules on your ship, so any which do take significant damage is purely a coincidence. However you do not need to behave the same, you can target specific modules on their ship to hinder their abilities. Targeting & destroying their thrusters for example will cause them to lose control of their ship, forcing them to drift off into space. Destroying their shield generator will… You guessed it, completely shutdown their shields. And so on, and so forth for each different module on their ship. You blow it up, they can’t use it anymore. But as I said, the same goes for you. So keep your modules safe.
To target specific modules, you can either select a target ship, then pick which module to target in your left panel, or assign a button to cycle through their modules, stopping once you have the one selected which you want. A popular choice is the powerplant, destroying the powerplant of a ship can often be a shortcut to killing it, without needing to take their hull all the way down to 0%. Once the powerplant reaches 0%, keep shooting it. Each shot past 0% has a small chance to cause their ship to immediately self destruct.
Be sure to read our short guide on powerplant optimisation.
This concludes my combat self-improvement guide; I hope you found it helpful. Remember, the most important thing in all of this is your ship positioning, as covered in the fighting styles segment. Avoiding damage is just as good as, if not better, than tanking it.
If you have any questions then please do not hesitate to get in touch on discord.Written by CMDR Tenacious C