(And by beginner’s guide, I do mean a guide by a beginner more than for a beginner, but I suspect some input from elsewheres may improve it)
There are several ways to defend your ships, and while I personally prefer the approach of ‘A Strong Offence’ being a good defence, the game neither gets offended nor emotional when you swear at it.
That being the case, one must use more mundane methods to defend your ships:
- Shields – These absorb, or reflect damage before it ever reaches your ship.
- Armor – These absorb, or even reflect damage, before it does the same to your ship.
- Speed – A moving target is hard to hit.
- Gizmos – Widgets & do-dads that help you protect your ship.
First up, we have Shields.
There are several different kinds of shield, but they each have 3 basic factors for you to consider: Strength, Reflectivity, and Recharge Speed.
- Shield Strength - This simply refers to how ‘deep’ a shield is, or how much damage it can sustain before it fails. Once it fails, it will not recover.
- Shield Reflectivity - Weapons with a shield-penetration value less than this will bounce off the shield, having not harmed it.
- Shield Recharge Speed - The rate at which a shield recovers strength lost to attacks.
For Cruisers, the 3 key shield options are:
- Multi-Phasic shields – These have a high Shield Strength.
- Fast-Recharge shields – These have a high recharge value.
- Reflective Shields – These have a high reflectivity.
Now, you can’t get one shield with all three factors in surplus, you can mix and match them, but how exactly do they mix & match?
Well, lets take a hypothetical cruiser, and pack one of each of the above 3 shield options onto it. What does this do for you?
Well, currently, when you get attacked, the shield reflectivity is checked first. If the attack’s penetration is weaker than the reflective value of your highest-working shield, it gets reflected, and nothing happens to your shields.
However, if the attack isn’t reflected, a shield generator gets picked at random and it’s individual shield strength is cut by the attack value. If that takes the current strength of that shield generator to 0, that generator is knocked out. Otherwise, the generator has a chance to recover from the attack.
Things get a little more interesting once shield generators start cutting out on you. First, reflectivity is only determined using the highest working shield, so if your reflective shield generator dies first, more attacks can start hitting your shields. Second, when a shield generator is selected at random, even dead shield generators can be selected, and when a dead generator is selected, the shot hits the ship, even if other generators are still active – this makes it possible to destroy a ship without ever completely disabling its shields. Once one generator is dead, the hull becomes exposed to (some) enemy fire.
One last note on shields – if all of your opponents fire will damage even reflective shields, they arn’t worth bothering with, trade them out then for either an extra multiphasic or fast-regen shield.
Something to try: Pack a ship design with one each of the above three generators, and use it in battle. Make note of which shields tend to drop first.
Next up, Armor.
Armor does 2 things for you: It can absorb some damage. It can cause some damage to be reflected harmlessly, however the latter does come at a bit of a penalty. While high armor can make a ship relatively immune to enemy fire, like most tanks they lose the nimble mobility of fighter jets (there’s a reason fighter jets don’t get tank armor…), and often weapons must also be sacrificed.
How armor works is fairly simple: Take the total equipped damage asorbable. Divide it by the number of installed modules plus 1, and you get the armor value enemy fire must penetrate to damage your ship.
Something to try: Take a Federation Cruiser. Add to it 5 Ultra-Heavy armor units. Leave all the other slots empty. Deploy one of them against the tutorial ‘adding ships’ scenario. Try again, but with the empty slots packed with power plants & crew modules. While the first scenario ends in a stalemate before your ship is appreciably damaged, the second scenario, thanks to the added modules dropping your average armor value, you will find your ship destroyed.
Speed: This one’s fairly simple. The faster you move, the harder you are to hit. Some of the more powerful weapons have trouble hitting moving targets, so while it may seem easy to create ships without engines, what you are creating are quite simply ‘Sitting Ducks’. Fighters are perhaps the best example of this: If you make a fighter using only an Engine II & a rocket launcher (no armor, no power-plant), nothing short of tractors or lucky shots will kill them. If instead you pack in a power-plant, heavy armor, a cheap engine, and a heavy weapon, the fighter will move much slower, becoming an effective ‘sitting duck’ for enemy fire, and you may find them dying to long-range plasma fire. The same is true to a lesser extent for the larger ships, and a ‘Keep Moving’ order may be of use in keeping your ships alive. That, and engines that move your cruisers at above 0.30 instead of the leisurely 0.03…
Gizmos: There are several gizmos to chose among…
- Missile Defence - Point Defence and Guidance Scramblers
- ECM - Electronic CounterMeasures, and the ECM Shield.
- Anti-Fighter Defences - Tractor Beams & Limpets
- Auto-repair systems
For the anti-missile systems, you have your choice of various point defence systems, and a guidance scrambler. Point defence blows up enemy missiles, and guidance scramblers cause them to fly random paths that seldom coincide with anything the missiles were aimed at. If you need to make a choice between the two, remember this about missiles: Missiles often have maximum flight-times that are longer than their launchers recharge, but until the missile hits something or is otherwise destroyed, the launcher that sent it cannot fire again. In this way, using guidance scramblers can actually lessen the speed at which missiles can be fired, because the missiles are left intact to fly until they run out of fuel.
As for ECM, you have 2 basic choices: The Frigate launched ECM Missile, the Cruiser mounted ECM beam. A ship caught in the effects of ECM will be unable to fire back, so each ship you keep ‘blasted’ with ECM becomes almost like a sitting duck. To prevent this unhappy outcome in your own ships, you can load an ECM defence item on your cruisers, however you can still expect to have some problems with ECM, even with the shield, but the shield can make the difference between a constant ECM state and an occasional ECM state.
Anti-Fighter gear comes in two types, first the Tractor beam: Fairly standard, tractors let a cruiser or frigate nab and hold onto a fighter long enough for weapons to shred it to bits. While they arn’t equipped with an impressive rate-of-fire, they can make swarms of fighters somewhat easier to clear. Second is the Limpet, of which I have heard rumors. I assume they are hunks of depleted uranium or similar materials with small tractors on them that attach themselves to enemy fighters, with the result that enemy fighters then become as maneuverable as your average hamster propelled super-tanker. Or so I hear, but I’ve never had a chance to use limpets.
Cloak: The good things about the cloak: Ships tend to ignore you more while cloaked, and the cloak device requires substantial damage to destroy (a plus for making the ship more durable). The bad things about the cloak: You can still be fired on, and hit, while under cloak. And you can’t shoot back. While these might seem like a problem to some, not all useful ship designs require weapons.
Auto-repair: This is the only class of item that lets you rewind the damage clock, and fix things the bad guys broke. While it can be an enormous plus, if a ship takes enough damage fast enough, the bonuses of auto-repair become insignificant. Ships relying on thick armor may benefit most from this, as the armor can mitigate the rate at which the ship takes damage, but anytime fire on your ships is not concentrated at single ships, this can still be of use. It does have a couple limitations: Repair supplies are limited, and it can’t fix something that’s been destroyed.
Here are some defensive ship designs to try. While they may not all work in all scenarios, they should give you something to start thinking on in building your own designs from scratch:
- Pack as much armor as you can onto a cruiser, leaving room for only a engines, crew, power, a guidance scrambler, and a tractor beam. Ignore shields, and have this lead your attacks, taking fire for the better-armed ships behind it.
- Using the above ship design, try omitting the tractor beam for an auto-repair system.
- Using the top ship design, try omitting the tractor beam for an ECM weapon.
- Pack as many shield generators into a single cruiser hull as you can. Include some rockets as your only weapon, and a cloak. (The rockets are to help draw enemy fire back to your ship after you come out of cloak, as it is possible to order attacking ships to largely ignore ships that don’t fire back)
- Take a rebel Icarus fighter hull. Add engine #3 and armor, but no weapons or power-plant. Aim for a speed of around 4.0 when adding the armor. Set them as a reasonably close escort for a cruiser that has a repair bay & tractor. Ensure other nearby ships have short-range guns suitable for picking off fighters. When enemy fighters come in, they will try to take down your armored fighters, and fail, allowing your cruisers to pick the enemy fighters off at leisure.
- Place some vulnerable heavy-weapons fighters in formation well behind a frigate. When the frigate dies, this will signal the fighters to begin their attack-run, on (hopefully) ships that have been cleared of their own fighter defences and are otherwise occupied with cruisers.
A last note, when it comes to defensive planning, if something stupid works, it ain’t stupid. Be creative.