I am not normally a fan of game changing super weapons but the Ion cannon in Homeworld Cataclysm was a little different requiring considerable skill to use effectively.
It took a great deal of time to research, develop and build.
It was one shot with a lengthy regenerate time.
It had to be manually targetted in 3D space and you had to anticipate where your target would be some time into the future.
It was very slow in transit to the target area giving observant opponents time to “warp” away or even move away if they were quick enough.
Despite it’s power it couldn’t destroy everything.
It could be used effectively to win a stalemated game.
It could be used as a feint, panicking the opponent to do something rash.
Whilst exceptionally powerful only a direct hit (which was difficult) would destroy a top of the line ship. Blast radius, however, was large.
One of the reasons I liked this weapon so much was that it could be used to turn the tide and fool an opponent. There were a number of times in MP I lured an opponents force with a much smaller force to an area I had already targetted, sacrificing my small fleet. I also liked it because only the mothership could build it, you couldn’t have more than one and the regeneration time was long.
Such a weapon could work well in the game. All modules have a weight, affecting ship speed, so if we had a super heavy and super short ranged mega-gun, it wouldn’t arrive in the heat of battle, close to enemy cruisers until mid-battle, and you would need to screen it from attack until then. Given enemy fighters and bombers, you would need to equip it with a lot of defences, and if it was power and crew-hungry, it could be designed where basically it was a ships main weapon, and it relied on auxiliary craft for it’s effective defence.
The hard part is balancing out all the weapons, so there’s no game winners, and all situations can be countered if used effectively. I’d have to see one unbeatable, always winning strategy. Exploiting weaknesses is where it’s at.
That big gun would be great in a battle with lots of large craft, but where the smaller ones could scatter and avoid the massive shockwave. Like Cliff said: It depends on power, weight, crew requirements and ability to defend it.
If you’re looking for something else in that vein, check out the Excalibur on Babylon 5: Crusade. The ship had a normal weapon, which did the normal amount of damage. It also had a more powerful version of the weapon which did a much greater amount of damage, but drained the ship’s power and left the ship defenseless for a minute of battle time. No maneuvering, no long range sensors, and no weapons fire.
If you haven’t watched the show, watch the Babylon 5 series. You will not be disappointed.
How about something similar to a WWII field gun? Something that is basically a big cannon with crew quarters attached to it, and maybe a few token lasers. It could be a large, slow, rail gun with very little armor and engines. It’s only defense might be better than usual shields, thereby making it extremely vulnerable to fighter attacks.
Although the game does not currently have large single weapons, you can convey the same tactical capability by outfitting a cruiser with a big bunch of lasers and no defenses, little in the way of engines, and little else. Obviously you need to ensure that vessel is protected by squadrons of fighters or frigates or other cruisers, otherwise it is toast
I’d welcome superweapons in the future as long as they aren’t too destabilizing to game balance. Therefore make 'em heavy, make 'em large, make 'em expensive, make 'em power-hungry. But make 'em, please! They’re a major part of the cinematic/Romantic “space opera” tradition, and can be an asset instead of a liability to the gaming experience.