Life in space is not easy. It doesn't matter what your occupation is - sooner or later, someone will shoot at you (or you will shoot at someone else). Blundering headlong into a dangerous situation without preparation is a certain way to end up dead, or at the very least, as petfood in orbit around Isveve.
This essay is designed to combine most of the hints and tips given to players on the Oolite Bulletin Board over time. Hopefully some of this information is useful to you in your journeys across the Eight.
There are some OXP tools and additions that can make combat easier. We'll look at some OXP solutions and options at the end. What follows just covers the core equipment and scenarios.
- 1 Starting out
- 2 Combat tactics
- 3 Tactics for cargo ships
- 4 Tactics for particular scenarios
- 5 Escaping tactics
- 6 Tactics for specific equipment
- 7 OXP options
The early game can be quite a daunting affair - you have a great ship in the Cobra Mark III, but it is woefully under-equipped at the beginning. Make sure you read Mr Gimlet's advice. The information it contains can help make your first decisions in the game to be wise ones. Other general advice and tactics for the start of the game:
- Be careful of quick money. Some parcel and passenger contracts can seem like an easy way to make money fast, but check the route to the destination. Are there any dangerous systems you have to pass through? What type of parcel is being carried? Could it attract unwanted attention?
- Look for "milk runs", two systems located close together that have opposite economies. A rich industrial next to a poor agricultural is the best combination, but anything close to this can be good. On the F6 Galactic chart, use the "?" key to change the colour coding for the planets. There are four different colour ranges the key press will cycle through: government, tech level, sun colour, and economic level. The economic colour range runs from a deep green to yellow. Once you have purchased the Advanced Navigational Array you can change from showing the planet name to some icons showing you tech level, government and economic level by pressing "^" (shift-6).
- Remember to keep your cargo hold full (or at least as full as you can make it). While it can be tempting to buy a longed-for piece of kit as soon as you have the money for it, if you empty your bank balance and have nothing to buy new cargo with, you can be in a worse position than before.
- It is highly recommended that the first thing you purchase are injectors - they can get you out of lots of different types of trouble, so they are definitely worth the money. While it might seem odd to even suggest this, selling your pulse laser to fund the purchase of injectors can actually be of some benefit, but you need to change your mindset when you do - with no offensive weapons you must flee dangerous situations. But with injectors at least you can.
- After injectors you have some options. Some commanders suggest an ECM system is the next best choice, to give you better defensive options. A beam laser will give you a much more formidable attack option, although there is value in mounting it in the aft position, so it can be more useful in defence.
Tactics for combat are tricky, as every player has different styles they prefer, and much of it depends on what equipment you have and the type of battles you’re facing. To try to make this guide as useful as possible, we'll look at three different stages for the player: A beginner, who has almost no equipment; a player with some equipment, considered a medium-level player; and a player with a fully-kitted out ship. A Cobra Mark III will be assumed for most of this guide, but many of the tactics will be applicable to any combat ship. Trade-focused vessels (eg Boa's and Anaconda's) will be considered separately later in the document.
Note: If you don't fancy your prospects in the standard Cobra Mark III (the default starting ship), you could trade it in for a smaller ship (say, a Cobra Mark I), which will give you a bunch of credits to get you some essential kit as early as possible. However, there are downsides to down-sizing: smaller energy banks, slower speeds, smaller cargo capacity, some limitations on equipment. Make sure you understand the specifications of the ship you switch to.
If all you have is a pulse laser, with no ECM or injectors, your options are limited. The first tactic is to avoid combat wherever you can. This is a tactic, although it can seem counter-intuitive given you're in a space ship with lasers. But at this stage of the game, it's all about survival. The longer you survive, the more money you can earn, and the faster you can upgrade your ship. You might consider entering battle if there are just one or at most two opponents, and if you do, these things are worth remembering:
- Don't go "head-to-head" with another ship. That is, fly directly towards them as they're flying directly towards you. Yes, it makes them much easier to line up, but other ships have a tendency to fire missiles at the last moment if they're being attacked, which gives you no chance to avoid them.
- Playing chicken with ships the size of a 747 is not advisable. If you dodge the wrong way on the pass, you might end up with another ship buried in your cockpit.
- Don't fly in a straight line - this makes you too easy a target for enemy ships. Move your ship around to make yourself a harder target.
- Get in close. Shooting at long distance might seem like a good idea, but the down side is that it's much easier to miss your target. A pulse laser only has a range of 12.5km, so can't hit anything outside that distance. And every miss adds heat to your laser, with no gain at all. If your laser overheats, you become much less of a threat to your targets. So reduce the distance to your targets as fast as you can, and get onto the tail of ships. Use your throttle to reduce speed and stay inside the turn of enemies, which can give you more opportunities to hit them with your laser.
- Make use of your missiles. The standard missiles can seem like a waste of money in the early game, but they can be useful for two things: (a) As a form of ECM. If an enemy ship fires a missile at you, fire one back at him. It's quite likely they will have an ECM system and they will use it to destroy your missile, and in doing so destroy the one coming at you. (b) Fire them in close. If you can get close in behind another ship, they won't be able to react in time to a missile fired at close range.
- Keep some "pirate kibble" handy. Pirate's are desperate, and need all the funding they can get to keep their ships in space. They will demand cargo from you when they first start their attack. So, keep a few tons of food (the cheapest of all the commodities) on hand. When the demand is made, eject some of this food. The pirates will break off their attack to scoop the cargo, giving you time to get out of range. But when you eject the cargo, make sure you eject it in a direction away from the pirates. That will force them to travel further in order to scoop it, and every second they spend chasing is another moment you have to escape. The longer the better.
- Try to keep all jumps short, to leave fuel in your tank. Even if you don't have injectors, having enough fuel to make an emergency jump to another system if things get out of hand can be life-saving.
- As soon as you arrive in a new system, set a course to your next one. Do this before any action starts, so you can be ready with an emergency jump.
- Make use of convoys. Quite often there will be other ships heading to the station from the witchpoint. Look in particular for large trading ships with escorts. Tag along with the group, even though the journey might be a bit on the slow side. If trouble starts, endeavour to put the traders between you and the pirates. In the event that a stray shot from the pirates hits one of the trader ships you'll get some very welcome allies in the battle. Following an Anaconda to the station might seem tedious, but it only takes a couple of runs to start gaining enough credits to equip your ship, after which you can switch to other tactics.
You reach this stage when you have upgraded your laser to a beam or military level, and you have ECM's and witch fuel injectors. You may not yet have shield boosters or extra energy units. At this stage you could probably take on battles against 2 to 3 opponents, or even 4 if you're feeling confidant and your aim is good.
- Most of the rules from the beginner apply here as well, and indeed apply to any player interested in combat. Don't go head-to-head, don't play chicken, get in close. The final tactic, of getting in close, is particularly important with the beam and military lasers. While they both have an increased range (15km for the beam laser, and 30km for the military), they also fire and heat up faster. Being able to fire fast is pointless if all your shots miss. So get in close, and make use of the increased rate of firing by hitting your targets with every bolt.
- Avoid situations where there are opponents spread out across your scanner. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the closer your opponents are, the less likely you are to be hit. Once they're all close, the only thing you need to be concerned about is running into them.
- Make use of the different zoom settings of your scanner. Use "z" and "Z" (shift-z) to adjust the zoom and make it easier to see where other ships are.
- ECM-hardened missiles can be very useful as a tactic, as well as for their destructive force. Many opponents will have injectors (you might see them rushing ahead of their comrades when battles start), and will outrun even a close-fired missile. A standard missile will likely be ECMed before it gets too far, and you don't gain very much. An ECM-hardened missile, though, will force the opponent to flee much further, often completely off your scanner, which can help reduce the size of the opposing force and increase your chances of survival. Doing this before the battle is joined, before you've gotten in close, can be a good way of removing a target you think might be harder to kill (ships like an Asp or a Fer-de-Lance), allowing you to concentrate on the easier ships.
- Try to target the weaker ships is a pirate group (eg Mambas, Geckos, Kraits) before attempting the stronger ones (eg Asps or Fer-de-Lances).
Fully equipped ship
When you reach this stage, you can effectively go up against much larger groups. Experienced players have often fought alone against groups of 12 or more. You'll quite likely have a tail gun by this stage, and increased energy and shield strength.
Some rules always apply: head-to-head is still never a good idea, and getting in close is the best way to deal with opponents. With a tail gun, though, especially if it's a military laser, you have the option of sniping - that is, of heading away from the opposing force and using the rear laser to pick-off targets. You need to have a good eye for long distance shooting, as your laser will heat up quickly. You can snipe with the front laser as well, but be careful of the golden rule - don't go head to head. If you plan on sniping with your front laser, bring your ship to a halt first, at the limit of the range of your laser, and snipe from there. The enemy ships will continue to fly towards you, but now the closing speed is halved, giving you more reaction time for when missiles are fired. As target's get in range of their own lasers, turn away and use injectors to get out of range, then stop at your laser range, rinse and repeat.
Injectors are a great tool for combat, both in the pre-combat stage, where it allows you to get in close faster, but also in escape, when things aren't going well, in getting you out of range faster. The key for injectors is fuel; no fuel means no injectors. Keep watch of your fuel use, and be careful when planning your jump routes. Wherever possible choose a route that will leave you with at least 1 or 2ly of fuel at your destination, particularly when your destination is a dangerous system. But also stay aware of your remaining fuel at all times - it can be disastrous to get into trouble in a battle, decide to turn and flee, and waste precious seconds hitting the injectors with no result. In that "Why aren't my injectors working?" moment you could find yourself floating free in space.
Tactics for cargo ships
For a combat player making the decision to switch to a non-combat-focused ship, the greatest difficulty you will face is your own instinct to fight every fight. Cargo ships are slow and very non-agile. They can sport some reasonable defences, but often the best tactic is to avoid combat wherever possible. Use the tools provided by the Advanced Navigational Array to plot safer routes and avoid dangerous systems as much as you can.
If you're starting the game in a bulk hauler, consider moving the standard-fitted front-mounted laser to the rear position. You might find this is a more advantageous position.
Sometimes, though, you can't avoid dangerous systems, because that's often where the best profits can be found, and bulk haulers are looking for those big profits. Apart from using injectors and keeping some "pirate kibble" on hand (and on a big hauler, there should always be a bit of room for it), rear lasers and ECM-hardened missiles are your friends here. Turn away from any approaching pirate pack, and snipe them with your rear military laser. Your manoeuvrability is a bit restricted in a large ship, so this is your best chance of hitting anything. As they get in range, use injectors to get back out of range, or fire an ECM-hardened missile to make them run.
Tactics for particular scenarios
- Piracy: See this article for details on dealing with piracy.
- Thargoids: See this article for details on dealing with Thargoids, but in short, target the motherships first and ignore the Thargons as much as possible. If you can disable and destroy the motherships, the Thargons will shut down anyway.
- Assassins: If you pursue a career as a courier or passenger ferry, you will more than likely experience the situation where you arrive at a witchpoint and are jumped on by 1 or more assassins. In this situation be careful: assassins have a "Clean" record - if you are also clean, and a police vessel sees you in a fight with an assassin, you might suddenly find you've got a bounty on your head and you're fighting the police as well.
Running away can be the better part of valour during the early game. However, there are some things to remember even in this situation.
- Don't fly straight. Flying in a straight line makes you a very predictable target. Without injectors to outrun other ships, you have to jink your ship around as much as you can.
- Head towards safety. Even while you're bobbing and weaving to throw off the aim of the ships, you still have to maintain a general line of flight towards safety. Safety could mean a group of police ships, or a station. Don't discount hiding in a Rock Hermit either. If nothing else it gives you a break and lets you refuel (which, if you have fuel injectors, could be critical) and lets your shields and energy banks recharge.
- If you have an aft laser, don't forget about it. Ships trying to line you up in their sights will often fly straight, making themselves much easier to target. A few hits with a laser may dissuade them from chasing you completely.
Tactics for specific equipment
Note: See this document for a more detailed look at laser tactics.
With a range limited to 12.5km, these are a short range weapon. You have to get in close for these to have any impact at all.
The range is slightly improved over a pulse laser, at 15km, and they fire much faster. But they also heat up faster. These are still considered a close-range weapon, and not suitable for longer range targets (except perhaps larger ships that are slower and therefore easier to target)
These aren't usually considered a combat weapon, but if used carefully they can pack quite a wallop. Sometimes, though, you will find yourself in combat, so it's worth considering how these should be used. Because of the slow rate of fire, careful aiming is crucial.
These are perfect for sniping, because of their extreme range (30km). However, heat management is critical as these lasers get hot fast. They make good short range weapons, because of the power in each shot and how fast those shots can be delivered, but you will find you need to spend some time in dodge-mode while you wait for your lasers to cool enough to deliver the kill shot.
Fuel Injectors are an essential part of any pilot's ideal ship configuration. They can be used in attack (to close the distance to approaching enemy ships) or in defence (in escaping overwhelming situations), but it should be noted that they are not a "get out of jail free" card. Firstly, they use fuel, and lots of it. Using injectors indiscriminately can leave a pilot short for essential jumps. But also, not all enemies can be escaped just by using injectors. Some pirates will chase players with their own injectors, and quite often their injector speed is greater than that of the player (eg an Asp). Injectors alone cannot be the only weapon in a pilot's arsenal.
That being said, even if the player is chased by a pirate with injectors, it can still be useful to employ the tactic in order to reduce the number of pirates being fought with.
See this document for more details about tactics with missiles, but in short:
- Standard missiles should be shot at close range, and the less the target is moving the more likely it will arrive before it's hit by an ECM blast.
- ECM-hardened missiles can be shot at long range, and are useful for thinning out an attacking group.
- Quirium Cascade Mines are truly a weapon of last resort. They are indiscriminate in their destructive power, and you will likely need injectors to escape the deadly wall of blue energy. However, they can be very effective in the right situations (eg against a large group of Thargoids). Setting off a mine near a main station is not a good idea.
Make note of the keys that control what missile/bomb will be fired next. The "y" key will cycle through your available missiles to let you select the next to be fired. If you carry a Quirium Cascade mine, this key can save you from an embarrassing (and potentially lethal) mistake.
Incoming missiles and ECM
When a missile is fired at you, hit the ECM system straight away and keep hitting it until the missile is destroyed. Even with ECM-hardened missiles, keep hitting the ECM, as there is still a chance the counter-measure will be effective. You can target the nearest incoming missile by pressing T (shift-t).
Using the ECM will use energy - lots of it, actually. In a ship like a Cobra Mark III you have quite a bit of energy to spare, but in smaller ships your energy reserves are limited. You may find your ECM won't fire because there is insufficient energy to run it. Keep an eye on your energy during battles to make sure you know if you need to run away from an incoming missile.
If you don't have an ECM system, or the missile is resistant to the counter-measures, you may not be able to avoid the blast. In that case, turn your ship around and run away from the missile. If you have injectors, great! Use them to escape. If you don't have injectors, you can still survive the impact if you’re travelling away from the missile when it hits you. This reduces the impact somewhat. A fully shielded ship should be able to withstand a missile in this way.
There are a lot of OXP options for making combat easier. However, please make sure you read all the information about these OXP's before you install them. There may be unexpected consequences from adding them. For instance, adding Missiles and Bombs also makes them available to NPC ships, meaning some of these items may be fired at you.
This list is not to be considered as some form of recommendation, or even a complete list of OXP's designed to help with combat, but merely as a starting point for finding OXP additions that might be suitable in your play experience. The links will take you to the page that describes the equipment. Read this information carefully before installing the OXP.
For a full list of OXP's you can visit oolite.org/oxps, which lists all OXP's that can be downloaded directly from within the game, or go to the OXP List which lists pretty much everything that's available.
- Target Autolock will automatically target an attacking ship if no other target is selected.
- The Fast Target Selector can help pilots by making it easier to quickly target ships. The Targeter OXP works similarly, but has multiple user-selectable modes. The Military Targeting System also does this.
- SniperLock can also help with targeting, by keeping your aim on a target for longer.
- Laser Cannons and New Lasers provide new laser options that increase your fire-power.
- The Laser Mount Switching System can also help by allowing two lasers to be installed in one position and then each laser can be switched in flight.
- The Laser Booster can give your existing laser a boost, making it give more damage.
- The Laser Cooler can help bring the heat down on your laser quickly.
- Missiles and Bombs and Armoury provides more missile and bomb options for the player, which can sometimes particularly help with larger targets (like Thargoid motherships). Be aware, some of these missiles may be used against the player.
- Missile beep adds an audible notification that a missile is inbound.
- I Missile is another missile option, with high speed and high impact.
- Nexus Missiles provide various multi-warhead, semi-automatically-targeting, missiles.
- If you're missing the Energy Bomb from the original Elite, you can add it back in with the Energy Bomb OXP.
- Hired Guns gives the player the opportunity to hire a pair of escorts for a single trip.
- Escort Deck allows the player to fly with several escort ships attached via an external deck, while Carriers lets you fly with a big ship, and then switch into one of your escort ships to perform defensive actions. The Escort Pack expands the types of ships that can be added to either of these options.
- Fighters allows larger ships to launch small fighters to attack targets, and then the fighters can be scooped up afterwards.
- Energy Equipment can help quickly recharge a depleted energy bank.
- Shield Equalizer & Capacitors will equalise shields if one is higher than the other, as well as storing energy and passing it back into the shields when they are reduced.
- Shield Cycler allows pilots to configure how shields are to be configured: all forward, all aft, or both. This can really help if your default method of dealing with enemy ships is to turn away and snipe with a tail laser.
- BroadcastComms MFD gives you the chance to attempt to bribe an attacker with some credits. If the bribe fails, you can try offering them even more credits.
- GalCop Galactic Registry can help you examine the make-up of the galaxy by highlighting specific elements of the sector (economies, techlevel, government, etc).
- Fuel Tank is a disposable, pylon-mounted accessory that allows for an additional 3ly of fuel to be carried, to top up fuel tanks when required.
- Military Fuel Injectors will reduce the fuel consumption of your fuel injectors.
- Ship Configuration has options for increasing the speed of fuel injectors, adding extra energy banks, increasing the base speed of your ship. However, this OXP also limits the amount of equipment that can be installed on your ship, so make sure you understand what the OXP will do by reading the documentation carefully.