I haven’t had any luck with frigates either. In theory there are the armored-nomad frigates, but by the time I can get 0.8+ speed, 15 armor, I only have room for like 2 ion cannons which is laughable firepower relative to the cost of the ship.
When I first started playing Id use the Weapons Platforms with 7 plasma launchers(frigate), ok shields and a bit of armor. However, a frigate plasma launcher deals 1/2 the damage at slightly slower reload speed and less armor penetration relative to the cruiser version. So cost-wise, I really wasn’t doing any better than going with a cruiser which has much thicker shields and better armor mitigation.
For those who are still trying the campaign, give yourself a boost and download the UniTy, Union, and Unity Viral races in the mods section. It takes a good deal of honor to unlock it all, but all 3 races give you a distinct advantage which makes the campaign more doable.
Unity Viral - basic ship components, but a vast number of hulls. Can make a ‘tribe-like’ MWM cruiser and put a universal tank in front of it as a damage soak, and other strats that you normally couldn’t do. Their fighters are freaking awesome due to inclusion of special weapons like the frigate anti-fighter missile, and the corvette torpedo.
Unity basic - Lots of hulls, tho many are filler for scenarios. All weapons are modded to be double range, firing rate, or damage for 50% more cost,weight,etc. Can make some seriously strong fighters, good corvettes, and they have some very large hulls available.
Union - Fewer hulls. Able to make strong but very expensive fighters/corvettes. Frigates are lumbering monsters with crappy frigate-based weapons. Cruisers run from small cost-effective to enormous dreadnaughts, and cruisers have a full line of overpowered ship components and advanced weapons.