This is a guide that aims to give an all-round appraisal of the abilities required to be a good combat pilot. Where possible, it will attempt to teach those abilities. The tutorial primarily focuses on laser/ion combat, but will delve into other areas as well.
Bear in mind that there is much that cannot be taught by text, only by action. Nothing is going to turn you into an ace overnight. It’s long, hard work, but if you’re motivated enough, you can be among the best there is.
Dueling, when considering simming into the equation, is probably the most common form of combat. Dueling skills can be applied in some ways to realspace battles, but it is very important to note that the ability to duel will not make you a good pilot. There are two major, all-encompassing skills required for dueling – aim, and maneuvering.
Aim cannot be taught particularly easily. It is largely a skill that can only be learned through practise, but there are a few things to bear in mind. Firstly, remember to always have your deadzone set to 0 – Your ship’s implementation of deadzones is poor at best. Make sure that your technicians have installed a high quality stick to enable precise control.
Try to make sure that any buttons that will be pressed all/much of the time (excepting the trigger) are not on the shaft of the stick. If you are constantly pressing a thumb button while aiming you may find that it detracts from your aim. My button setup on my FF2 goes like this (NB the hat is 8 way, but I find that I cannot use all 8 functions precisely enough to prevent errors):
Hat left: Nearest target
Hat right: Last aggressor
Hat up: Target cycle up
Hat down: Target cycle down
1: (Trigger) Fire main weapons.
2: (Big thumb button) Jump
3: (Left thumb button) Brakes
4: (Right thumb button) Teamspeak transmit
8: Target under reticle
Capacitors: Cap choice can affect aim to a significant degree. Most pilots find it harder to get a near-perfect aim using gatling fire. Volley fire, as well as enhancing aim, offers the benefit of increased damage. This is due to the damage of the initial volley. At any point except the moment at which all guns in the gatling have fired, gatling fire will have done less damage. Note that as the number of shots taken in a single engagement increase, the significance of this advantage (percentage-wise) decreases. If you are taking lots of break-shots, where contact time is very short, the advantage is significant, however. As a further point, this advantage is enhanced by low RoF weapons such as Vantages and Injustices.
This topic focuses on approaches used in a duel, and manoeuvring during the duel. It is suggested that you read the following subsections:
There are three methods for turning during a duel.
Pitch: The most common. Use the up-down motion of your mouse/stick. It doesn’t provide the speed of turning of diag-turning, but generally presents a small profile to the enemy, along with ease of aiming.
Yaw: In most circumstances, do not use yaw (left/right) turning. This will, with most ship profiles, allow your target a huge margin of error for hitting you.
Diag-Turning: Diag-Turning involves using both axis of the stick to rotate. This makes it harder to aim, but increases your speed of rotation. Commonly used by turn-rate impaired ships such as the Dragon, Intensity, and Barracuda.
There are various approaches used to a duel. The common ones are discussed here.
Joust: Very straightforward, and the approach everyone started out with. Simply head straight towards your enemy.
Circle: The standard circle. Assuming a starting distance of 5+k from your oppenent, point your nose at an angle to your opponent (holding them at the top of your screen is a reasonable guideline), accelerate, and bring your nose up up to face them between 3 and 4k range. If necessary, cut throttle to bring the nose up rapidly; this will give you time to draw a bead on your target prior to commencing firing. If your opponent does the same in the opposite direction, you will usually end up in a gradually tightening circle (spiral), between 800 and 1.4k range.
Tight Circle: This is usually accomplished with the aid of flashfires, in the combat of ships with poor turn rates. My method for doing this involves approaching at a slightly steeper angle than that used for a normal circle, moving to point towards the enemy at 4k. At 2.5k, I turn to point at 90 degrees to the target, and flashfire. Then, using diag-turning, I pull into the direction of the enemies travel just before they go past me. This will usually result in an extremely close range (50-200d) circle when correctly pulled off. Obviously the numbers are variable dependent upon enemy approach vector and speed – do it by feel once you get the hang of it. The lighter your ship is (and the better it’s turn rate), the better it will be at holding a tight circle. Be careful with this technique in realspace, as it will deplete your FF reserves.
Deep Circle: Similar to the standard circle, but held at a longer range (1.5k +). The only real difference is that your approach angle must be much wider. Don’t lose patience if you close range slowly. Pull up slowly to meet your enemy at the desired range (usually the max range of your guns). Deep circles are typically used by: Ships with good profiles, ships with poor turn rates, ships with long range weaponry (such as ions). Heavy ships are generally better at holding deep circles.
Circle Break: The circle break is most easily accomplished by imagining a point along your enemy’s vector where you will both meet. Fly towards that point, and what will generally result is a series of short mini-jousts. The circle break is useful for a large variety of situations – if you are flying no duelist, if your aim isn’t so hot, if your profile is large relative to your enemy’s, if your turn rate is good, if you have low RoF weapons. Be very careful using this technique in realspace, as it leaves you vulnerable to divebombs.
Choosing Approaches/Turning Method
Which approach and turning method should you pick? There are a large variety of items to take into consideration.
Profile: If your profile is large relative to your enemy’s, they will have an easier time hitting than you will. You thus want to lean more towards approaches that lead to easier vectors, or being close in. Consider tight circles and circle breaks. Useful, for example, when the Typhoon is fighting a medium fighter. Your profile is relatively large, so you want to minimise the effect of this. Get in close enough to the MF that its profile is less relevant, with both combatants hitting well, and your superior firepower/absorption will probably win out.
Turn Rate: If your turn rate is slow, you face the possibility of being out-turned by your enemy, and not being able to keep hitting them while they can hit you. Lean towards approaches that don’t require fast turn rates – deep circles in particular. Most notably used to great effect by the Intensity. Conversely, if your turn rate is good, you may wish to go for a tighter circle – often used by the Typhoon.
Aim: See profile. If your aim is bad, consider getting in close, or using a circle break for an easy vector. If it’s good, you may wish to stay out wide to maximise your advantage.
Rate of Fire: To some degree, low rate of fire weapons lend themselves towards circle breaks, because your weapons can reset themselves during the turn-around period, maximising the advantage that you get from the massive damage your low RoF weapons do in the initial volley. Try to time the mini-jousts such that you fire just before having to turn, to enhance this advantage.
Weaponry: Slow weapons (novas, ammo, and to a degree mortars) are enhanced in ability when aimed along easy vectors, and at close range. A tight circle will lead to a hard vector, but the range is so close that you should get a good hit rate. A circle break will generally give an easy vector.
Laser/Ion vs Laser/Ion: Because the percentage of hits in laser/ion combat is so high, the most important thing is to keep hitting your enemy. This means that unless you do it on the flashfire, do not turn away from your enemy where possible.
Laser/Ion vs Ammo/Mortars/Novas: Against the higher damage slow weapons, it is important to put the enemy in a position such that they will have trouble hitting you. This means that you may find it beneficial, once you have made the initial contact, to adjust your vector while in the effective range of the enemy’s weapons. If possible, try to do it while they are turning and not hitting you to decrease the amount of time you spend with your easier to hit faces under their guns.
The topic of realspace combat is hideously complex, and it’s unlikely that anyone knows all there is to know about it. The advice in this section is probably best applied to fast and/or agile ships, but I will make an effort to cover the full spectrum of ships. Note that the duelling abilities I described above will help you in realspace combat significantly. I assume functional voice communications on your ship.
Understanding Your Ship
It is extremely important to understand your ship’s abilities, and those of others.
Speed: Controls the ability to run and chase over long distances. A fast ship, assuming it doesn’t get killed before it accelerates, will always be able to escape, and will be able to chase down ships running in a straight line. Fast ships will generally perform well in large fights, but the speed may not be as useful in smaller ones.
Thrust/Mass (T/M) ratio: Controls the ability to evade, and the ability to run and chase over short distances. A ship with a good T/M ratio will out-accelerate less agile ships, and can use this to escape being under fire, and to catch up with running enemies. A good T/M ratio will also allow you to dodge in such a way that you cause the enemy to miss. A good T/M ratio is useful in all fights, but particularly as you tend towards the larger ones. High T/M ships will, in general, be good at evading ammo.
Damage/Second (DPS): Self explanatory – the damage your ship can do per second. DPS tends to decrease in importance in larger fights.
Shield: The larger the shield, the better. Every hitpoint taken off your shield can be regenerated. A ship with the same total damage absorption (DA) as another, but more of it in shield has an advantage – particularly in larger fights. Recharge rate is an important factor – the faster your shield recharges, the quicker any attack on you is nullified. Recharge increases in importance as battle size increases. Bigger shields are more of a benefit to fast ships – they are more likely to be able to escape to recharge.
Armour: Contributes to your total DA, but is non-regenerative. Armour increases in value as fight size decreases, but is, of course, never more worthwhile than shielding.
Profile: Profile is important for all aspects of combat. The more you get hit, the faster you have to run/die. Ships with bad profiles, as when as losing out in duels, will also get him more in snap shots (i.e. hitting a target travelling at a large relative vector to you during a brief contact period).
AB supply: Most two engine ships have enough AB to last the vast majority of fights, as long as they don’t waste it too much. Having double the AB supply in a single engined ship is an undeniable advantage, but it is mostly only over the long chase that it really comes to light. Be careful about going deep space if you are in a twin engine ship, as you may get caught. You’ll also be able to run better in a single engine ship.
ModX count: ModX are useful in any fight, but their import increases in larger fights. The flashfire is of course the most commonly used. It is the ultimate get out of jail free, chaser, or offensive tool. Dragon pilots may now wish to seriously consider the PWD. I’ve seen several pilots using it to great effect.
I will, in general, talk about ions and lasers as laser-esque weapons, and ammo/mortars as ammo-esque weapons.
Lasers/Ions: Lasers and ions should, in general, be considered the main weapon for group PvP. While ammo weapons sometimes do well in small combat situations, laser-esque weapons scale much better to group fights, because they are relatively easy to hit ships that aren’t engaging you with. This allows you to cover your friends well, which is key to victory in a group engagement.
If you have a good aim with ions, it is often a good choice to pick them over lasers. They have good efficiency (which allows ships like the Tempest to fire at close to full throttle), and great range. They much harder to hit flashfiring ships with, however, and they also cause your ship to be heavier, reducing your chasing abilities and making you more vulnerable to attack.
Ammo/Mortars: In general, ammo does not have the versatility of lasers and ions. This is largely because ammo is not great at covering your friends with as it is relatively hard to hit off angle shots with it. That said, in smaller engagements its damage can throw the balance in its favour. In general, I would not consider mounting ammo on any ship other than the Dragon, as the weight penalty in addition to the difficulty of hitting ships not engaging you is fairly painful.
Mortars (i.e vantage and peeler, all others are worthless as it stands) are excellent weapons. They are somewhat easier to aim with than ammo, and their low rate of fire gives them fearsome damage over short contact periods. Any ship that can carry them is a massive danger.
I strongly recommend that you read the following section if you wish to understand why particular weapons are effective.
This section details what factors control how a weapon behaves.
Velocity: The faster a weapon is, the easier it is to hit with. Faster weapons are likely to improve in effectiveness as fight size goes up, as they are better for covering your friends.
Range: Lifetime*Velocity. In general, longer range allows you to hit weapons at a higher range, but a more important case to be considered is effective range – the range at which you are likely to hit a significant proportion of your shots. Ions, despite having a shorter range than Novas, have a much higher effective range. Effective range is important in both duels and group fights, but increases in import in group fights – again for friend covering purposes – it’s not hard to close the range in a duel situation.
Damage Per Second (DPS): Fairly self explanatory – the damage a weapon does per second.
Efficiency: Damage/Energy Used. Efficiency is not of import for a ship with lots of power. For underpowered ships, better efficiency gives a higher top speed at which your weapons give full damage. This gives better chase potential, and also leaves you less of a sitting duck when you’re firing. You’re more likely to be concerned with DPS than efficiency in a duel, but efficiency is important in group fights.
Rate of Fire (ROF): Rate of fire is of great importance, for two reasons. Firstly, weapons with a low ROF are in general easier to aim for most pilots than fast ROF ones (you get time to aim between volleys), and secondly because a low ROF increases damage.
Choosing a Ship
As of the recent ship modifications by each of the factions, there are massive varieties of ships that are viable in realspace. Which one you choose depends upon the way you fly, and what skills you want to learn. In general, for pure effectiveness, you obviously want to pick the ships that match your skill set. For pilots with relatively poor aim and good evasives/combat mentality, pick light ships (LFs, MFs). Good all-rounders will probably prefer Fs or MFs. For the hit-em-hard people, who aren’t necessarily the best tactical thinkers/evaders, you will do best in Fs, HFs, or bombers, which maximize the effectiveness of your aiming skill.
For the purposes of self education on how to PvP, I would recommend:
Quants: Typhoon. The best educational ship in the game. Hell on beginners, deadly in the hands of an expert. It’s unforgiving, but it teaches you all the right moves.
Octs: Chiroptean. The Nix/Dragon encourage a few too many bad habits, and the raven under-emphasises aim. It flies like a mini-phoon, but it is a little more forgiving.
Sols: Interceptor, Intensity. I’d recommend a mix of these two ships. The ceptor under-emphasises the importance of aim, but the tensy can encourage a few bad habits (the so-called “spam and flee”).
One of the most important abilities in RS combat is situational awareness. This involves keeping as accurate a picture of where enemies are, where friends are, where objects are, and how the battle is progressing in your head. You should always have time to think during a battle – as more skills become automatic, you will probably find that your situational awareness picks up.
Radar: The ability to read the radar and track enemies on it, and their position relative to you and your friends is very useful. I’d suggest cycling your radar down to something below 10k, to make it easier to read. If you’re a fleet leader you may well wish to keep the range up to retain a better overall picture of the battle.
Target Cycling: Whenever you get the chance, cycle targets. Take a look and see if you’re a long way from the rest of the fleet, see if any enemies are pointing right towards you (indicating that they may be coming for you). See if there are any good targets around. I tend to cycle targets whenever I am chasing someone that I am not in range of, when I’m out of range while going evasive, and often when I am shooting at something large that isn’t shooting back (top side of a phoon, for example).
Targeting: Many factors control targets that you select (in no particular order).
- Proximity: You will reach a closer target faster, and hence be causing damage quicker and reducing ‘useless’ flight time.
- Damage: Already damaged targets are more likely to already be down on flashfires, and are closer to death – increasing the chance that you will down them before they make it away.
- Friends: Your target may be causing your friends trouble. If you pull an enemy off a friendly pilot, you obviously help your fleet. Best targets are often those that are busy engaging one of your friends – particularly if your friend is firing back. When you shoot at them, not only will you be helping your friend take less damage, but the enemy may not realise, at least initially, that they are taking damage from multiple sources – and will probably take significant damage before running.
- Enemy ship type: You will want to engage, in general, ships that are capable of dealing a lot of damage before others. This is not a hard and fast rule – because the Dragon, for example, is so poor at chasing and has such high DA that it is often not the best first target.
- Enemy pilot type: Some pilots are easier to down than others, some pilots are more dangerous than others. Generally, I try to force the really good pilots into running a bit first, then hit the pilots that are good offensively but die easily, then the all-round poor pilots while keeping the really good pilots at bay, then concentrate on the remaining pilots who are good defensively, and the good all rounders. This is discussed a little further in the ‘Mentality’ section.
- Are they targeting me?: If an enemy is not targeting you, you can often do a very large amount of shield damaged before they turn round and start shooting back. The initiative in a fight is one of the most valuable properties of fast ships.
Tracking Flashfire use: Try to track how many FFs each enemy has used. While you can’t notice them all on your own, make it a general policy, where it won’t interfere with other voice comms traffic, to say when a pilot uses a flashfire.
Target Under Reticule: This is a very useful radar feature. If you see pink trails following other engine trails, use the target under reticule function to see who the FFing pilot is, and who they are chasing. If one of your friends is under attack by an FFing pilot, let them know – it could save them. This button is useful for a multitude of other things, so keep it handy.
Nearest target: I frequently hit this button to get a good idea of what is near me.
Last Aggressor: I also frequently use this button to track the motions of those particularly interested in killing me.
The mentality with which you approach PvP is very important to your success. Firstly, try to fly for your fleet, not just yourself. Secondly, the level of aggression you fight with is crucial. There are multiple types of pilots, and I try to detail them below.
- The hideously over aggressive. Pilots such as these are likely to go for the first enemy pilot they find, and flashfire until that pilot is dead. They won’t care that much if they are getting badly hurt while doing it. Unlikely to disengage from their target. This type of pilot will often take one down with them, but are of little help to a fleet due to the rate at which they die.
- The slightly over-aggressive. This type of pilot generally makes sensible decisions, but when engaged in a 1v1 situation in a large RS battle will often stay in that situation well after it’s become clear that they are not going to win, or will die shortly after winning.
- ‘Just Right’. Generally makes good targeting decisions, and knows when to disengage and re-engage.
- The mildly cowardly. Generally a decent all-round pilot, but likely to disengage from battle for longer than necessary when hurt (For example, will wait for shields to get to 50% or more before recommitting to the fight).
- The hideously cowardly. Travels behind the main body of the fleet. Runs as soon as they get hurt. Even more useless than type 1 pilots.
As this list implies, type 3 is generally the place to be. Type 1 pilots will sometimes pull their weight, but don’t count on them to be alive to cover your back. They will also have big problems fighting high-firepower ships such as Dragons – they just don’t get that you can’t go head to head with them. Types 2-4 will usually be useful fighters, and you might as well tell type 5s to go away – they’re only interested in their kill ratio.
Don’t over commit when engaged with an enemy. If it looks like you’re going to get too badly damaged, you can always go evasive; you’re pulling at least one pilot out of the fight when they follow you. In addition, they’re distracted, and often a good target for the rest of your fleet. Equally, don’t run at the first sign of a little trouble – try to stay in the overall fight, but don’t get too bogged down in individual engagements. Try to avoid death, but don’t be so concerned about it that you won’t take a risk to help your friends – don’t throw your life away for the chance of a kill, risk your life on the chance of getting multiple people killed.
Kill Stealing: This one deserves its own little sub-topic. In general, don’t be worried about kill stealing unless you are actually only engaging with the intent of getting the kill shot. Don’t factor the possibility of you personally getting the kill shot into whether you target someone or not. If you happen to get the kill shot on a target you selected for legitimate reasons, there’s no reason to feel guilty.
NB, when I refer to slow ships I generally mean slow and non-agile.
Fast-ish Ships: If I get hit, the first thing I do is hit last aggressor, and whack on the AB. I then assess the threat the target presents. If I am 1.6k away from a laser ship and travelling perpendicular to it (use the vector indicator in the yellow circle below your aiming reticule, as well as the speed at which you are escaping), I can comfortably presume that I will be out of the way soon enough – I just juke a bit, and get out of range.
If the enemy is flashfiring on me, or is on the same vector as me and in reasonable range, the best thing to do is generally to turn and head back towards the enemy ship. The most effective way to ensure that you will escape from its weapons range is to fly right through the ship. This is inadvisable from the point of view that you will present them with an easy target, and possibly get divebombed, so fly towards them at an angle. This should get you out of range – although if they persistently flashfire after you may be forced to FF yourself. In this case, turn towards them before flashfiring, as you will gain a lot of ground on them.
While evading, always add a little juking, barrel rolling, or anything a bit unpredictable that you can think of. It will give your target a much harder time hitting you. It’s up to you at what shield point you will flashfire at. In a fast ship I will try to make sure to waste at the very least one of my enemy’s flashfires before doing so myself. I’ll generally not hit the FF before about 20 shield, unless the ship following me has extremely high damage weapons and I don’t think I can evade it.
Slow-ish Ships: Slower ships obviously have fewer evasive options than the fast ones. One of the biggest factors is that you are usually engaged by other ships, rather than the other way around. This isn’t too bad a problem in most cases, but when you are engaged by a faster ship with significant firepower (Typhoon, Monsoon, etc.), they have the initiative (the time you spend reacting and turning to engage), and the ability to hit you hard. For this reason, I am generally freer with my FFs in a slow ship – if I get hit by a ship with significant firepower I will often FF out, and use the rest of the FF to come back in and engage. This will often save 50 shields or more, and can be very much worth it.
Last Aggressor/Nearest Target: While going evasive, make extensive use of these features. It will let you keep track of what the pilot who attacked you is doing, and also possibly if he has any friends with him.
Evasive Mentality: Don’t be afraid to go full evasive if you have lots of enemies on you. If you pull three enemies away from the biggest action, you’re giving your fleet a big numbers advantage – they only lose one, your enemies lose 3. Equally, don’t get too far away – if you get into real trouble you’re going to need help to be close by.
Secondly, if you’re going evasive on just one or two people, and they aren’t being too aggressive, try to shoot at people in passing. The distraction is a bonus to your fleet, and you may end up with an even bigger trail of enemies following you.
Profile: Be very aware of your profile, and how you are presenting it to your enemies. For example, when in a Typhoon (or to some extent the Chiroptean) you want to show the huge topside as little as possible, as you become very vulnerable to being hit. Try to keep thin edges pointing toward your enemies at all times.
To stay ahead of an enemy, even if it’s slightly faster than you, fly in arcs. If they start predicting your arc, switch to a different direction arc and you will make up even more ground.
This topic is extremely important. It is critical that wherever possible you conserve your flashfires. This means that, particularly in the early stages of a battle, you should not be using your FFs to run people in down unless you are 100% positive you can do it in a single FF. When attacked, consider if you can go evasive to the extent that you will escape without taking armour damage – if so, try not to use your flashfires. Save them for when you _really_ need them – to stop yourself or your friends from dying. If your evasives and mentality are good, you shouldn’t find conserving flashfires too much of a problem. If you have flashes left at the very end of a battle, you can always use them to finish off the remaining enemies.
Know Your Enemy
Keep track of how your enemies behave towards you and others over the course of many fights. If you know that a particular enemy is very prone to try and kill you, be on the watch for them. If you know that an enemy has good aim but poor evasives, take them down early. Try to remember how your enemies fly – it can be used very much to your advantage.
Veteran pilots will have a whole host of tricks which they can use to gain an advantage. The files below describe just a few of them.
Running no duelist usually takes an extreme amount of practise, but it can often be worth it if you are a highly targeted pilot. Aside from those very few who can aim as well without as they can with, I wouldn’t recommend this for the average pilot. If you wish to use no duelist, this is what I’ve picked up from the experts to help you practise.
Do: Practise forever in the sim. Get involved in sim wars when you can to practise off-angle shots. If you really want to do it, expect many hours simming.
Don’t: Expect to aim quite as well as you will with duelist. It may well never happen. You just have to judge whether it’s worth it.
Don’t: Rely on jousting/mini jousts. Most of the no duelist pilots I’ve seen try to go for circle breaks, to minimise the vector. This is really, really dangerous in any ship with a large missile hitbox. Practise to the point that you can hit on large deflection angles – in realspace fights you will have to do this anyway. If you can’t there’s no point going no duelist.
Don’t: FF-whore when simming no duelist. If you do, you’re only providing a crutch for yourself that you won’t perform as well in RS.
An invaluable skill. The quick dock is performed by flashfiring in, and usually involves stopping as close to the docking tube as possible (the closer you get, the harder it is to perform), and a quick burst of speed to perform the dock. I’d suggest this as useful to any combat pilot who likes to fight the gank. It takes a lot of boring practise, but it’s worth it. Particularly with TRI’s new POS initiative, it’s hard to under-emphasise the importance of this skill.
The ability to hit other pilots with nukes or torps. Not a skill I’ve ever mastered, so I’m not really in a position to teach, but it is clearly useful to those who know it. The basic technique is: Line up the enemy extremely carefully. Turn towards them, and fly straight for them. Release the torps or nukes at (your speed + enemy speed + (200 to 500) range. If you release before that, they will evade them, if you release after they will not arm and do only kinetic damage (missiles have a 1 second arming period).
Other techniques include nuke ‘mining’. If you’re running gate to gate from someone, target the gate you’re heading to. Preferably as the enemy flashfires towards your ship, release the nuke. It will, due to its lack of thrust, slowly fall behind your ship. If the ship behind you is not paying attention (they get no missile warning), they will get hit and blow up in a very pretty fashion. Even if they are paying attention, they have to juke to avoid the missile – which may give you just the edge you need to escape.