Combat is one of the most obvious and colorful activities for players in the X-universe. In spite of the "Trade, Fight, Build, Think," slogan of the X-series, most players generally boil it down to "fighting" and "everything else".
All NPCs in the X-universe have a faction they belong to, and the player has a reputation to every faction. This causes some factions to be hostile to the player (marked red), and causes them to initiate combat on their own. Fighting with those enemies harms reputation, causing a negative feedback loop that is hard to escape from - once marked an enemy, you have to take drastic steps to ever be seen as anything else.
NPCs are also hostile to each other's factions. Fighting can break out between factions, and some factions are notable for constantly being at war. Pirates and Yaki hate pretty much everyone, (and some pirates will always hate you, even if you have "good rep" with pirates in general,) Xenon truly are permanently hostile to everything else, while Split/Boron and Argon/Paranid fights often occur as well. Borders between warring factions are prime places for these conflicts. Albion Prelude includes a war between Argon and Terrans, and a full war zone.
Since combat usually involves a good amount of indiscriminate fire in sometimes crowded conditions, sometimes even "friends" can get into conflict. Amusingly, ATF and Terrans, being different factions, will fight each other in a sector once friendly fire sparks a shooting conflict between allies.
You, likewise, can be caught in the crossfire, so it is best to be wary even of friendly frigates fighting their enemies.
A way to repair terrible relations with a given faction is to kill its enemies on its home turf (while not engaging that faction's military). Killing Xenon that spill over into a faction's space is an easy way to gain rep. You can also kill other faction units, even ones you are allied with, if you are willing to trade reputation with one faction for reputation with another.
Being responsible for the destruction of hostile units will raise the player's combat ranking and marks them as a more dangerous foe. "Responsible" is a little tricky as a concept, as it includes ramming (accidental or not), and owned-unit kills, but not anything you are indirectly responsible for, like severely damaging an enemy craft while bringing it close to a neutral ship that destroys the enemy, or tricking an enemy M5 into plowing into an asteroid or station.
Combat rating is important in combat, as missions will spawn new enemies ex nihilo of a power level deemed appropriate to the player. The more powerful the ship class the player is riding in, the more allies they have in-sector, and the higher their combat ranking, the more enemies, and the more powerful the ship class they will spawn in.
Generally, this means that the more enemies you kill, and more combat missions you take, the more powerful the enemies you will face in those combat missions. Higher combat ranks also mean you get paid more for completing combat missions, and as you get paid per unit shot down, the more enemies you face, the more money you rack up, and the faster your combat rank increases again.
The power of enemies spawned can be controlled by purposefully keeping from being responsible for killing enemies by finding ways to trick friendly military ships into killing your enemies for you, not accepting combat missions at all, or accepting combat missions (or going into sectors at points where the enemies spawn) in smaller ships, then calling in backup against the lesser enemies, if you want to keep combat rank low. (This makes combat easier, but less profitable for merchant players.)
Players that want bigger battles and enjoy the harder fights should accept combat missions frequently, and do so while in powerful M2 ships with plenty of wingmen in the sector to amp up combat ranking quickly.
Combat rating is not used to determine the power of standing fleets of given factions - Xenon will spawn Qs and send them into Commonwealth space constantly whether you are ready for them or not.
This section details common strategies for an offensive player ship (on the left) against an opponent (on the right).
Typically combat devolves into maneuvering into an opponents blind or weak spot and systematically pounding through shield and hull.
Fighters are maneuverable and respond quickly to control inputs. Most fighter engagements revolve around high speed passes which progressively erode light shields and armor. Most fighters do not have rear turrets which gives a trailing fighter an advantage.
Heavy fighters which have rear turrets somewhat upset standard fighter dogfights as they can constantly have an enemy under fire, also the turret makes them very resistant to missile fire. On the other hand rear turrets typically don't have the firepower to seriously damage a vigilant foe and act primarily as a deterrent. Against an M5 or faster M4 that has almost no shields, and relies entirely upon evasion to survive, this can functionally mean there is no truly good angle of attack, however.
When the player is in a ship less maneuverable than the enemy, it often is better to just wait for them to come to you, evade the incoming barrage as best you can, and aim for their tails when they fly you by. Missiles, such as the Wasp Missile, are useful at hunting down M5s that are more trouble shooting at than they are worth if you rely primarily upon heavier weapons like the HEPT. A PBG, meanwhile, can area-saturate the space the M5 was going to fly through.
If you are in a smaller craft than your target, you are likely to be in the dangerous position of having so little shields that even a few stray hits can shred your ship. Especially if outnumbered, finding a way to distract your opponents may be the best strategy. M4 or M5 Wingmen may not get many kills, but they'll draw fire from yourself, and can set up your own attack runs on the enemy. Still, mistakes are deadly, and mistakes happen. Many players prefer to go for personally flying a heavier M3 as fast as possible for a reason.
If completely outgunned, such as if you are surrounded by Xenon or pirates, try running for the nearest neutral capital ship, or at least, police, and try to get the enemy fighters within range of something more powerful than yourself. Small police and military ships will happily suicide-charge any enemy of their race in range, and it will give you some time to go for the kill on an L or two, or just plain flee, if nothing else.
While quick, corvettes are at a distinct disadvantage in maneuverability compared to fighters. The primary difficulty for an attacking fighter is avoiding the turret weapons long enough to kill the corvette before your own shields evaporate. Hit-and-run tactics and figuring out where the turret coverage is weakest are the order of the day. The comparably glacial turning speed of a corvette often mean that a fighter can simply stay out of the firing arcs of the scariest frontal turrets, and only have to deal with a ship that has overwhelming shields relative to a fighter, but is a large target with no speed and few weapons that can be brought to bear.
Technically, TS, TP, and TM-class vessels are also corvettes. Their turret coverage is often more odd, and only covers the rear, and has large weapon capacitors with tiny weapon recharge. Against a TS, just staying out of their rear arc is easy. Against a TM, make them waste their weapon's energy shooting at you from a range where you can easily evade, and pounce when their weapons energy is drained, as it takes minutes to recharge their capacitors.
Capital ships typically sport massive arrays of weapons. However, their turrets are usually packed with anti-capital ship weapons. The deadly exceptions are often the top and bottom turrets which sport vicious area effect flack cannons. It is usually recommended that fighters study capital ship designs to seek out blind spots in their flak coverage, or better yet avoid them completely and attempt saturation bombardment safely outside of flak range.
Getting caught by flak is usually difficult to escape from, as often times the first warning is the ship rumbling, at which point the shields fail and the hull starts taking damage. Hull damage reduces speed and makes you an easy target. Light fighters will often just explode if caught by flak, so be wary.
Simply put, most fighters simply won't have the capacity to harm a capital ship. Not alone, at least. No amount of player skill will help you if your weapon capacitor doesn't give your guns enough juice to outpace the rate at which enemy shields recover. Most fighters won't have enough cargo capacity to carry missiles that would even those odds, either.
The Plasma Burst Generator is notably very effective against capital ships. (To the extent that their ship can support the energy drain.) The area-effect is essentially impossible to avoid for a cap ship, so long as you can get someplace on the ship not covered by turrets. Weapons that are good at destroying equipment, like the Ion Disruptor may actually give fighters something to contribute, even in the middle of a capital-to-capital battle, as stripping guns out of a capital ship is just as possible as against a fighter.
Swarms of fighters might work, but usually only in OOS combat, where they aren't constrained by their strafing AI script and the constant collision-avoidance routines they would need to go through when attacking a capital ship in sufficient numbers to matter. Even then, flak weapons will easily area-of-effect destroy many fighters quickly. Usually only waves of M3+ ships like the Eclipse can muster the firepower and durability to even threaten a heavy ship.
Some attempts have been made, however, at using Teladi Falcon Haulers (or reverse-engineered Blastclaw Prototypes) as dive-bombing missile boats that launch Tornado Missiles or stockpiled Hammerhead Missiles to overwhelm capital ships.
Corvettes are sluggish and less maneuverable than fighters, but usually sport several turrets which gives them much better weapons coverage. You can't out run or out maneuver your foes, but you'll last much longer and it only takes a few mis-steps by a fighter before you can finish them off.
Fighters follow a predictable routine, however. They like to get a certain distance away from you, swing around, then go for a strafing run before running away again. They only start maneuvering when they take fire. Try taking advantage of this if you can't maneuver fast enough to keep up with a fighter by purposefully presenting your back to it, so that when it flies by, you have a clear shot at its own aft quarters.
Alternately, just pack wasps to crush the M5s if they bother you, and focus on the M3s that can actually threaten you.
Similar to the heavy fighter with turrets versus heavy fighter with turrets fights, corvettes are oftentimes like a much slower version of fighter combat. Whereas fighters are often about getting on an enemy's tail, where there is (usually) no turret coverage, corvette battles often involve figuring out where the turret coverage is weakest, and trying to stay in those arcs. Due to the slower speeds and turning radius, strafing often becomes much more important to a corvette than a fighter. Likewise, a corvette has the shields to just absorb a lot of the damage from a minor turret, the way that a dogfighting M5 or M4 simply couldn't withstand an M3's PAC fire to the face, even if they could consistently outmaneuver their target. So long as you're using your best guns against their weakest, you should come out fine.
Corvettes are at horrible disadvantages vs. capital ships. Corvettes are fast, but not as fast as a fighter. They're tough, but not enough to take many hits from a capital ship weapon. However, corvettes are just small and fast enough to avoid capital ship primaries and heavy enough to mount weapons that can hurt a capital ship, for example:
- You should fly from gate to enemy ship.
- Then if you are near to this ship (about 6km - depends on approach speed and weapon ragnge) begin jumping to gate behind.
- About 5s later when is this ship in your weapon range you should use your weapons and use all of your laser capacity.
- 10s after 2. ship will jump to gate and your laser capacity will be refilled.
- Do it again until you destroy enemy ship.
PS: It is better to use gate near the enemy and if you think that enemy ship is too close to your gate you can use another gate.
An alternative strategy is to focus your M6 on anti-fighter weapons, and then carry missiles just for the capital ships. Typhoon Missiles are compatible with most M6s, are easy on cargo capacity, and, if launched in sufficient numbers (which means dozens), can take down even the Terran super-ships. Missiles have ranges usually an order of magnitude greater than those capital ship weapons that will squish you like a bug, so simply never go in range.
Although there isn't the same critical need, knowing where your turrets are when facing fighters in a cap ship is important, as your flak weapons often have ranges that hardly reach past your bow. (Or don't reach past your bow.) Your turrets may be a kilometer or more from where "you" are in a capital ship, so sometimes, a 2km-range flak weapon will be in range when a fighter is 3km away from where you, the pilot, is, or other times, not in range at 1km away. Be sure to have a good balance of weapons (flak weapons usually fit in the top and bottom, and occasionally, rear turrets,) and have your turret commands set to target capital ships with your capital weapons, and fighters (and missiles) with your flak weapons.
Unlike fighters, capital ships often rely upon turrets not under the direct aiming control of the pilot, and you won't need the focused forward view. Try switching to the external camera, so that you get a better idea of what your turrets are shooting at, and where everything else is in relation to you. From there, it's simply a matter of rolling and strafing to try to make sure that all those fighters about to start a strafing dive on your ship are going to do so directly into the boresight of flak turret.
Fortunately, unlike OOS combat or when you fly the fighters, there's almost no chance that an enemy fighter wing will use the proper strategies to overwhelm a player in even a well-equipped TL, much less a M2. You can usually just wait for them to run into flak range, yourself.
Also, your ship is often going to be at least a kilometer long, if not 5 km. If you have any turning speed at all, a perfectly viable defense is to simply swing your bow around while strafing as a massive cudgel against a fighter. The damage to your ship will be insignificant, and it stomps those pesky fighters. Just... try to keep this in mind when flying around allied or civilian ships, as well, as you can easily roadkill friendlies.
Corvettes are basically treated as bigger, easier target versions of fighters. Corvettes are often easier to destroy than fighters, since not just your flak, but also your anti-capital weapons have a good chance of hitting them, as well. A battery of IBLs or PSPs will vaporize them almost instantly.
These battles depend to a significant degree on the characteristics of the particular capitals in question. Your capital ship's strengths may be in a main battery, broadsides, all-around coverage, or, in some cases, (even outside M7Ms,) missiles from range. Consider that even smaller frigates often have the storage capacity to simply load up on Typhoon Missiles and spam their way to victory. Ships with broadside-heavy weapons can simply circle around a target, but forward-heavy guns are often hard to bring to bear in combat that gets in close, as backing off means having to pull your forward guns off target. If you have all-round firepower, like on an M2, the trick is often finding an angle where as many turrets as possible are on-target.
Regardless, speed is important in capital ship battles, as it lets your ship decide at what range you will engage the enemy, or if you engage at all.
Capital ship battles then start turning into significantly more slow-paced versions of corvette-to-corvette battles. You should study the weapons layout of your target, and have a good idea of where the enemy packs its anti-capital weapons, and avoid those turrets, while trying to keep your ship in the weapons arc only of the weaker flak turrets. Again, if your ship has no main weapons, it's often better to turn to external camera, and get a better idea of where your ship is positioned relative to the enemy. Because strafing moves at the same speed, regardless of ship speed, strafing in a capital ship is far more potent than in a fighter, and should take up that portion of your attention that aiming your weapons used to take up. In all but the most ponderously huge ships, the slow-moving anti-capital weapons are actually quite easy to avoid by strafing.
It is possible, ironically, to actually use hit-and-run tactics in a capital ship, so long as you have the faster ship. A frigate can easily unload all its weapons fire, then disengage to try to recover its weapons capacitor and shield strength before coming back around for another try. So long as you can take down shields and do hull damage before having to run, and get out of there before taking hull damage, yourself, an M7 can slowly break down M2s that otherwise would outclass it.
Deserve a category of their own. These ships are glass cannons of the highest order. They lose to almost anything at actual weapons ranges, but are the doom of whole sectors outside of normal weapons ranges. Their use is predicated on keeping one's distance, (missiles fire omni-directionally, so there is no reason to be facing anywhere but AWAY from all targets,) and keeping one's cargo bays stocked. 60 hammers ends even the mightiest Terran ships, but takes up 900 units of cargo space for the missiles. A single flail swats up to 8 M5s, and quickly dropping 1 flail per M4, and 3 flails per M3 means that you don't have to even look at enemy fighter coverage for more than a few seconds of fire-and-forget combat. On the other hand, if anything DOES get into range, or you run out of missiles, the missile frigate is often quite fragile for its size, and nowhere near maneuverable enough to save itself with anything but a jump to safety.
Missile Frigates are a rich (wo)man's toy. They turn combat into an exercise of logistics, rather than combat skill, and functionally give the wealthy merchant player an out on combat skill. On the other hand, there is no way you're keeping this ship stocked for all but the rarest engagements without having a massive self-sufficient complex and at least three or four factories for each type of missile, plus have dedicated logistical support to ferry fresh missiles and e-cells to your missile frigate.
All this means that most players typically don't use a missile frigates often, just because it makes combat boring.
Missile frigates are also the choice method of capturing enemy capital ships, as their boarding pods are essentially required to cut through the thickest hulls. Hammers are excellent at stripping heavy shields in mass wave barrages, and flails are just strong enough to keep shields down for the marines. (Problems occur against weaker ships with only 800 kJ or less shields, however, as the range between shields being too strong and dealing hull damage will be less than the 40k damage a flail does.)
Using bombers against capitals is generally a good tactic. However, of all the anti-capital tactics this one takes the most planning and situational awareness of where the target is. The three golden rules for capital atomization are:
- Get a suitable number of bombers and escort fighters for the raid. A good template is 8 bombers and 16 escorts. Outfitting them may be very expensive but at least they wont vanish after fighting the capitals. Afterwards they can be kept later for against capital incursions into your space or if you're really desperate for cash, sold;
- DO NOT SKIMP ON JUMP DRIVES AND ENERGY CELLS. Having a jump capability in case of emergencies could mean the difference between getting away without a loss, or losing the entire wing. It's generally a good idea to research the amount of energy cells needed to get to a friendly sector;
- Once you've made allowance for energy consumption load your bombers cargo bays with Tomahawks(Phantoms if using Terran) and their rear turrets with Particle Accelerator Cannons(Electro-Magnetic Plasma Cannons if using Terran) to destroy long range missiles.
If possible have M5s check where the enemy capital's escorts are (if they have any,) to make sure you don't run slap bang into a group of M3s. After having a quick look at the escorts positions have your M8s form into a wing (quite important to be able to control the entire group at once if requiring to jump).
Then (it's best to personally lead your bombers at this stage, you can always transfer to your ship of choice later once the capital ships are done) with the rest of your bombers in a suitable formation that allows for a free field of fire forwards lead your M8s towards the capital.Once you get within firing distance order all bombers within the wing to launch their Torpedoes. Then turn around, fast (It's best to wait a few seconds before jumping out as the NPC bombers require much more time to fire off their missiles than you do).
If you have the Aran, you can carry a whole fleet of bombers and their fighter escort in the hangar of the Aran, saving the need for (non-emergency) energy cell space. You could even dock a carrier that contains their fighter escort, so you can take in 29 bombers and a carrier. (Or even an Aran docking 29 bombers and a Valhalla docking 10 Hyperions with 70 total fighters, if you have absolutely nothing better to do than spend the thousands of hours it takes to create the most obscene death fleet to ever exist all docked to one clown-car of a ship.) Any of these mean more bombs for your bomber to do their job, and often, a clean and easy getaway.