So there has been a lot of discussion lately about tactics and dogfighting. As a disclaimer, I do not consider myself a top tier pilot but spend a good 90% of my time on SC seeking out legitimate fights for self improvement. This is mostly through lawful bounty hunting or in some cases when the game throws crimestats at me, boosting my criminal rating to 5 and making a last stand against waves of bounty hunters.
After at least a year of getting blown up and blowing others up, I wanted to throw my hat in the ring on this discussion because I feel that many facets of combat are not understood and people are having a difficult time finding where they belong in the grand scheme of competitive combat.
This is namely opinionated but may have value to people trying to “figure things out.”
First off there are things that you must have down before thinking about engaging in any type of ship to ship fight in SC:
1.) Be comfortable with your controls. You should be able to access the following keys as a second nature:
- -Comfortable control between all 6 of your axis.
- -Comfortable with speed control. You should not be using cruise for combat as you main method of locking speed and in most instances your speed regulator should be maxed in the middle of a fight. The following keys and instant access to them are critical for combat: BOOST, SPACEBREAK, DECOUPLE
- -Have at minimum 3 shield profiles set for max shields front, max shields rear, and balanced. You should have left/right set but side damage can be mitigated by rolling.
- -Chaff/Flare selection toggle and Fire Countermeasure are easy to access
- -Missile Lock and Missile Fire set to two different keys, not the same one. This allows you to lock multiple missiles on a target in a cluster before firing and is essential for finishing people or punishing jousters.
2.) SC has 2 flight combat modes: Coupled that allows your ship to fly like a WW2 plane as if you were in an atmosphere and Decoupled, which turns off the mav thruster autocorrect and allows your ship to continue drifting the the direction you are thrusting in (this is a true newtonian model).
So what is the difference between the two modes?
COUPLED: Greater stability for aiming, allows your to change your direction faster, has stronger built-in ESP that auto aligns the nose of your ship with the enemy’s target pip. It also puts you on a collision course with the enemy ship at high speeds due to overbearing ESP (you can turn ESP off but it only reduces the effect and does not completely remove it). Allows for formation flying.
DECOUPLED: Allows for highly advanced maneuvers and gives you the ability to turn while your ship is still flying in an opposite direction. This allows for you to have superior “guns on target” time if the enemy is passing you or chasing you. Breaks formation flying.
NOTE: One advanced tactic that all pilots need to learn in decoupled mode is controlling drift. For example, when an enemy circle strafes me and I am decoupled when he is in my front I am using backwards thrust. When he moves to my right side, I strafe left. In this manner, despite him trying to maneuver around me I am still gaining distance on him with my controlled drift. Controlled drift, allows you to control the fight. By drift controlling, you can lock the enemy out of combat maneuvers because you are mitigating the effectiveness of their thrust but increasing your own. This especially more important when flying a bigger and slower ship against a faster target, because it is critical to getting guns on target when you are at a speed and maneuvering disadvantage.
So what mode should you use? You need to use both. You have to be able to ambidextrously switch between them in order to become a good pilot. In my last combat against a Warden with a Freelancer MIS, over the course of the 3 minute battle I switched modes over 20 times (and totally owned that guy).
What makes a good pilot?
1.) You keep you guns on target longer + evade more enemy fire
2.) You rotate shield profiles and keep your weak points hidden from enemy fire
3.) You regulate speed better than your enemy
4.) You know your ship, you know your enemy’s ship
5.) You know when to fire missiles and how to fire them in a cluster
6.) You optimize your ship with meta components and weapons for your role
7.) You know what kind of combat pilot/style you are (see below)
Combat Pilot Types:
There are 3 distinctive types of combat pilots/styles in SC, it is important to know what these styles are and which one fits you. Each combat fighter in SC is tailored to one of these three styles. It’s important to find out how you play, where you are in terms of skill, and where you want to be. This lets you discover what ships are best for your style and what to expect from enemies.
There is one rule all pilots should be aware of:
(NEVER COME TO A COMPLETE STOP OR GO BELOW 150MS YOU WILL DIE. This is especially true when turning to re-engage an enemy after they pass you. If you boost in the opposite direction to face them and don’t enter a curve this is called TURN AND BURN and is BAD because it drops you to ZERO SPEED where enemies get free shots. Remember SPEED = ZERO MEANS YOUR DEAD this is a universal LAW of star citizen combat, sitting ducks die)
THE KNIFE FIGHTER
Knife fighting is as close as it gets to traditional dogfighting in WW2 and is basically the “cinematic experience” that Chris Roberts envisioned. A knife fighter pilot generally flies a highly maneuverable ship with the goal of getting in close, within 2000 meters of the enemy, staying close, and outperforming their target with superior maneuvering that keeps the knife fighter facing enemy weak points so that they can exploit them. Knife fighting entails:
1.) High mastery of both coupling and decoupling
2.) Engaging the enemy with the J turn maneuver in which you decouple as the enemy is passing, drop speed radically while turning in an arc, couple, then try to stay on the enemy’s rear or blind spot.
3.) Using J turns and rolling corkscrews to avoid enemy fire
4.) Generally takes place within 300-500 MS speed unless pursuing an enemy (a notch above normal SCM because you want to be beyond the enemy’s maneuverability).
5.) Using J turns and decoupled turns to arc around enemy ships in a “circle strafe” and attempting to force the enemy to “turn and burn” (in which the enemy has to reverse their thrust to face you, thus getting them to come to a full stop so you can unload on them).
6.) is a MANEUVERING CENTRIC style with less guns on target due to more focus on flying than gunning. So when guns are on target you need to be facing a weak point and make shots count. This means HIGH BURST damage weapons and OVERCLOCKED GUNS.
7.) Must retreat after taking damage due to generally using more fragile ships with less sustain. Are usually the wing or interceptors that engage FIRST.
8.) Good for chasing targets and forcing them into fights.
9.) Must use wing dipping and rolling tactics to ensure that the smallest profile of their ship is facing the enemy (e.g if you show the top profile of a saber to someone with big guns, your going to die so you need to keep your “wing” pointed at them -this is what I mean about “wing dipping.”)
10.) Dual stick is the best input.
Knife Fighting Ships Currently Flyable as of 3.7: Arrow (Best in the hands of a master), Sabre (Best all around once the shield hole is fixed and has stealth for first engagement), Gladius (Most Balanced), Hawk (High degree of skill required, somewhat of a weak choice as of 3.8, may bring good utility when the EMP is fixed), Hurricane (Extremely high skill required for both pilot and gunner), Blade
Brawlers use slower and more heavily armored “gunships” in combination with decoupled mode flying with the goal of keeping guns on target as the main priority. Brawlers are ok with taking damage and trading shots with the enemy because at the end of the day, if the enemy wants to DPS race with a brawler they will lose. Brawling is AIM CENTRIC and entails the following:
1.) A higher percentage of the time, you will be decoupled to keep guns on target. This is because you already know you will be outmaneuvered by faster ships, so drifting and keeping guns on them is the better play.
2.) Generally occurs are lower speeds, this is why decoupling is important because if you are in SCM and focus on aiming you may not notice your speed drop to zero -which will kill you because sitting ducks in SC die. Drifting in decouple allows you to avoid some level of fire while you are focusing on aiming.
3.) Uses GIMBALS with weapons that deal high, consistent damage, and track well (e.g. OC repeaters and gatlings, neutron repeaters).
4.) Is a defensive flying mode which forces the enemy to either continue to fight you and die or retreat due to your superior resilience and survival power.
5.) Simulates acting like a slower moving turret that’s nose is constantly tracking the enemy.
6.) Controls an area around the brawling ship, forcing enemies to get out or eat damage. However, is bad at chasing targets.
7.) Should use heavy shielding such as palisades with a shimmer backup.
8.) Mouse and Keyboard friendly due to being aim centric.
9.) Is the easiest role to master and is the most forgiving.
Brawling Ships Currently Flyable as of 3.7: Superhornet (most balanced and gold standard for brawling once armor comes in), Vanguard Series (easiest to use for new pilots, very forgiving), Freelancer MIS (best for heavy DPS, note the convergence issues on the guns so bad against many knife fighters -should not be used without the support of faster ships but devastating if ignored/not focused by the enemy), Cutlass (solid but not amazing due to lower hull HP - makes up for this by bringing utility).
THE DEFLECTION FIGHTER
Deflection flying is the most unique and MOST DIFFICULT of the styles. Deflection is both an AIM CENTRIC and MANEUVERING CENTRIC style of fighting that requires a high level of mastery. Deflection pilots namely use ships with high acceleration and max speed in combination with large sized weapons to remain OUTSIDE of the enemy’s firing range while still being able to hit them with a longer range weapon. A good way to think of this is “keep away.” An example of this is a Banu Defender with 4000m Tachyon guns staying out of a Superhornet’s 2000m for the entire fight and just pounding the hornet with blasts with it never being able to close the distance.
1.) You are basically a keep away sniper.
2.) Occurs are very high speeds and if you are passing the enemy you want to be passing with a wide berth and going over 700+ MS so they can’t hit you.
3.) When the enemy ship comes after you, run and circle around them in a wide arc with high acceleration.
4.) Never remain within the enemy’s firing range for long
5.) Capitalize moments where enemy ships turn to come after you, causing them to lose speed and be stationary. Relies heavily on prepositioning and anticipating/forcing enemies to “turn and burn.”
6.) Use missiles if they come at you in a straight line to force them off vector or punish them if they commit to coming at you.
7.) Is a support role, you basically want to be a third wheel in the fight that is too dangerous to ignore but too annoying to come after.
8.) Generally uses fixed guns to maintain range. Omniskies are good due to their fast travel range, slow projectile speed is an enemy of the deflection fighter.
9.) Should not be flown without a wingman that is a brawler or knife fighter, just like snipers of any other game -if you get isolated and focused you die.
10.) Requires good comfort with your stick setup.
11.) In an escort scenario, is the last line of defense for preventing enemies (which should be damaged by your brawlers and knife fighters) from reaching what you are trying to protect.
Deflection Ships Currently Flyable as of 3.7: Banu Defender (hands down best deflector, was made for this role), Scythe/Glaive (Hard to use, extremely punishing when used right, requires good aim due to fixed guns), 325A (recommend omniskies, good for this role due to the S4 nose gun but will generally need to fly fixed to outrange enemies. Great acceleration makes it easy to keep distance against all but the fastest knife fighters), Avenger Warlock (325A but sacrifices some survival for the EMP to punish enemies that get too close).
When you see the 3 major fighter roles in the game, it’s easy to see what the strategy would be. Knife fighters are always the battle initiators/interceptors. Their goal is to come in, take out the highest risk target, then withdraw when they take damage. This leaves an already crippled enemy force to face the wave of Brawlers - who are more than happy to trade hits with an already damaged enemy fleet. The deflectors support the brawler’s to screen against those that chase knife fighters and to provide support DPS by being an “unignorable threat that cannot be engaged.”
I think it’s important, for us as combat pilots, to figure out where we are and what ships/styles suit us best. Once you find your place, focus on that role.
When all three roles work together and are deployed in a proper way, we will dominate the enemy.
As an org my 2 cents is that we need to:
1.) Help people find their style and the ships they enjoy
2.) Build a combat dogma that optimizing use and deployment of the 3 roles. This includes engagement formations, when to decouple, and general organization.
3.) Create training exercises that capitalize on the roles and strengths of our pilots. Examples:
-Training knife fighters how to optimize their alpha strike by picking an hammering priority targets, how to conduct advance maneuvers to get in enemy blind spots, and training them to know when + how to retreat.
-For brawlers this would be training to cover for knife fighters, how to work as a group to minimize friendly fire, how to communicate to knife fighters to quickly target and focus the most damaged targets, how to not get isolated, and how to redirect fire on an enemy that breaks to attack a priority target -such as an allied deflector.
-For deflectors this would be how to prioritize enemy ships that try to break out of the brawler’s controlled area. How to escape if singled out and guide enemies back to brawler’s line of fire, and how to play keep away well + succeed at being an annoying bastard.