This article is the first of a series presenting a general overview of combat in EVE Online. This article deals with the basic weapons systems and general capabilities of each player race, and provides a foundation of knowledge to use when evaluating ship types and weapon choice.
Weapon Size And Range
Each major class of weapons has a close-range and long-range version. The general rule is that that close-range weapons inflict more damage and are easier to fit on a ship, while long-range weapons inflict less damage and have a harder time tracking targets.
Weapons are also grouped according to size. Versions of each turret and missile system exist for frigate-sized ships, cruiser-sizes ships, battleship-sized ships, and for capitals and super-capitals. Each weapon excels at hitting ships of their own size and larger. Thus, weapons sized to be used by frigates can potentially hit any ship, while cruiser-sized weapons will deal radically less damage to frigates, and battleship weapons have a hard time hitting smaller targets, at all.
The Four Damage Types
There are four flavors of damage in EVE Online. Namely: EM, Explosive, Kinetic, and Thermal. EM is good at damaging shields but weak against armor, while explosive does a lot of armor damage but is less useful against shields. The other two are more subtle, depending on what race a ship is and what it is prepared to fight against. Each race excels at inflicting a particular kind of damage.
There are a bewildering number of ships available to pilots of each race. Each of these ships has special bonuses, a module slot layout, and statistics that allow it to excel at one or more roles. Although some ships are genuine lemons or are less effective than ships requiring more advanced skills, most ship excel at their task when properly fitted and piloted.
To this end, one of the best things to be done is to improve efficiency as a pilot is to compile a list of the most common ships used in PVP, and to print it out for hasty consultations during a fight. Eventually, the list will no longer be needed except when encountering the most rare ships.
Knowing the specifics of each ship is not necessary if the role of each race's ships is known. Here is an overview of each race and what their ships generally specialize in. Each race specializes in a particular weapon category, a particular kind of electronic warfare, and, with the exception of Caldari, has a few ships that specialize in a kind of "secondary" electronic warfare.
Amarr ships armor tank, use lasers or the occasional missile launcher, and tend to have ferociously powerful capacitor. Their primary racial ewar is tracking disruption, and their secondary racial ewar is energy vampires. Amarr hulls tend to be slower than those of other races, and to have fewer mid-slots, allowing them to specialize in absorbing or dealing damage, but with little flexibility, making their ships more predictable. Their ships tend to inflict EM damage, which excels at damaging shields but has trouble chewing through armor.
Caldari are the most popular race in EVE. Their ships shield tank, use missiles or hybrid turrets, and usually have a large number of mid-slots. Their primary racial ewar is ECM, and they do not have a "secondary" ewar type, but this is for the best as ECM is the king of ewar. Their ships tend to have a large number of mid-slots. This, and the unique ability of missile launchers to inflict any kind of damage make Caldari the most flexible race. Their ships tend to inflict kinetic damage, which does all right against both shield and armor.
Gallente ships armor tank and make heavy use of drones, often in tandem with hybrid turrets. Their primary racial ewar is Remote Sensor Dampening, and their secondary ewar type is warp disruption (or warp scrambling). They tend to have more balanced slot layouts. Their ships tend to deal thermal damage, which is generally considered the hardest kind of damage to protect against.
Minmatar ships shield tank and use projectiles, though they often have missile bonuses as well. Their primary racial ewar is target painting, and their secondary ewar type is stasis webifying. Their ships tend to have fewer low-slots, but more high and mid-slots. Minmatar are often considered to be the "speed race" because a number of their ships have gained notoriety for their effectiveness at speed-tanking. Minmatar ships tend to inflict explosive damage, which is great for damaging armor but less effective against shields.
Turrets and Tracking
Gun turrets include lasers, hybrids, and projectiles. They strike (or miss) their targets instantly. Their limitation lies in tracking, the idea being that the faster a target is moving, the harder it is to hit. What's more, the closer a target is to the attacking ship, the harder it is for the turrets to follow the target. A target that is holding still and is far off (yet still in range) is much easier to hit than a target that is nearby and orbiting at a great speed. Turrets have an optimal range, indicating the distance within which they are most likely to strike a target.
Turrets also have a falloff range beyond that, in which they have a reduced chance of hitting a target. The closer a target is to optimal range, the higher the chance a turret will hit, and the more damage it will do when it does. Additionally, turrets inflict reduced damage to targets with small signature radiuses (see below).
The names and damage types of each turret type are listed here:
Lasers: Lasers inflict heavy amounts of EM damage, with some thermal damage mixed in. Their short range Pulse lasers have very good optimal range and tracking, while their long-range Beam lasers have good optimal range and excellent damage. Lasers require high amounts of capacitor to use, and are difficult to fit. Without exception, only Amarr ships can effectively make use of lasers. Lasers do not require ammunition, but instead use crystals. The basic kinds of crystals are not expended with use, and can switch between different types nearly instantly. This allows competent laser-using pilot to optimize their weapons for whatever range their target is at.
Hybrids: Hybrids inflict a mix of thermal and kinetic damage. The short range version, Blasters, are very short range but inflict the highest damage of any turret type. They mostly find use on station undocks and gates, when mobility is less of an issue. Railguns, the long-range option, have exceptional range but poor tracking, making them most effective against larger targets. Hybrids require energy to use, though not at much as lasers, and can be used by most Gallente ships and some Caldari options.
Projectiles: Projectiles inflict a hodge-podge of damage types that always includes a large portion of explosive damage. The close range version is Autocannons, and have good tracking and rate of fire, insuring a steady stream of hits. The long range version is Artillery, which has decent damage and poor tracking. Projectiles are the only turret type that does not require energy, and are very easy to fit. As a result, even though it is only Minmatar ships that receive bonuses to their use, ships from other races will sometimes use them if energy or fitting is an issue.
Missiles and Explosion Radius
Missiles are a general category including missiles and torpedoes. They must travel through space to strike their target. If a target is within range it is always hit. Unfortunately, missiles can sometimes be outraced by speedy targets, and inflict reduced damage to fast targets or those with small signature radiuses (see below).
Missiles are unique in that they have completely free rein with regard to choosing damage types. Thus, if a pilot knows that his enemy is flying a ship that will be weak against kinetic damage, he may load the correct type of missiles to inflict that damage.
It is mostly Caldari ships that have bonuses to using missiles, though several Minmatar and a few Amarr ships have a bonus to that effect. The flexibility of missiles allows them versatility not only in PVP, but also in PVE, permitting the optimization of damage type based on the weaknesses of a particular NPC group.
Frigate-sized launchers include the close-range Rocket Launcher and long-range Standard Launcher. Cruiser-sized launchers include the close-range Heavy Assault Launcher, long-range Heavy Missile Launcher, and a special long-range, rapid-firing, anti-frigate Assault Launcher. Battleship-sized launchers include the close-range siege launcher, and the long-range cruise launcher.
In addition to the customization possible regarding damage type, missiles also have some very specialized tech two ammo options, for shooting larger or smaller targets. There are also rather inefficient "F.O.F." versions of each missile that will shoot random enemies within range, without needing a lock, as well as rather bugged and ineffective Defender missiles that can be fit into any launcher, and attempt to intercept incoming missiles.
Drones are a special weapon system possessed to some degree by most ships. They are small pet-like machines that orbit and attack targets as their controller commands. There are drones for each ship size, and that inflict any of the four kinds of damage, or a mix thereof. There are also a variety of specialized drones that use marginally effective forms of electronic warfare or repair armor or shields. Drones must travel to their targets, and cannot be used beyond a maximum range that is based on the skills trained by the pilot that controls them.
Drones are difficult to hit because they are usually very small, and killing one only partially reduces the total capabilities of swarm of drones. Normal ships can field up to five drones, depending on how much bandwidth the ship has. Drone-using ships have a maximum bandwidth of drones that they can control, along with a drone bay that can store reinforcement drones. Gallente ships tend to have a bonus to using drones, and the ability to field the most drones. Other races use less drones, though Amarr are noteworthy for having larger drone bays.
With the exception of the long-range Sentry Drones, drones need to orbit their target at a very close range. This renders them vulnerable to smartbombs (see below).
Special Weapon Systems
Smartbombs cause damage to ships that are close enough to the ship that is using them, usually around 6000 meters. Unlike nearly every other weapon system in EVE, they do not cause less damage to smaller targets, making them excellent for warding off frigates or cruisers that get too close, or destroying orbiting drones. Unfortunately, they are very hungry for capacitor, and cannot determine friend from foe. Incautious use can result in injuring friends or destroying friendly drones. Their limited range forces smartbombs to be used as a primarily defensive weapon.
Smartbombs are high-slot modules that work by causing damage in an immediate radius around the ship that uses them. This does not require a lock, and can cause serious damage. It is avoided by staying more than 6500 meters away from the ship that is using them.
A recent addition to EVE, bombs are launched from a special launcher that can only be used by stealth bomber ships. They do not require a lock in order to function. Instead, they fly straight ahead from the ship that fired them for about 30 kilometers, and then detonate, causing damage to all ships within 15 km of the detonation point. Because they take about ten seconds to detonate, it is possible for smaller or well-prepared ships to warp out or speed away before they go off.
Because they were introduced relatively recently, and are used by the newly-buffed stealth bomber class of ships, these are something of a fad right now. It takes a great deal of practice to use them effectively, and though the damage they cause is impressive, they inflict limited damage to ships with smaller signature radiuses (see below). Thus, they are best used en masse.
Exclusively used by the massive titan class of ships, a doomsday inflicts up to three million damage to a single target, that is usually completely destroyed. After using a doomsday, a titan is locked in place, in space, for thirty seconds, and cannot cloak or jump out of that system for ten minutes. I mention this only as a point of interest for newer players.
Major Concept: Signature Radius
A signature radius is a quantification of how large a ship is. The larger a ship is, the more damage it takes from turrets, missiles, drones, and bombs. A ship with a small signature radius will often take only negligible damage from attackers, especially if it is moving quickly.
Signature radius also determines how long it takes to lock or probe out a ship. Ships with larger signatures will be locked faster or probed out with probing systems faster.
With the exception of smartbombs and doomsdays, every damage-causing weapon in EVE inflicts less damage to ships with smaller signature radiuses. This is so that the best weapon to use against a given ship is one of its own size category. E.g. a cruiser-sized weapon will deal the most damage to a cruiser-sized target.
The shield tanker's lament is that shield extenders also increase the size of one's signature radius. This trade-off is something of a balancing factor -- while armor tankers go slower when they use plating, shield tankers are easier to hit.
The Inertia Stabilizers are a low-slot module that also increases signature radius, in exchange for an improvement in maneuverability. These are often used by smaller ships that want to achieve a closer orbit, or larger ships that want to be able to enter warp faster.
The Target Painter module is the Minmatar electronic warfare specialty. It increases the signature radius of the target, causing him to take more damage from attacks.
Last and most commonly, Microwarpdrive modules dramatically increase one's signature radius. This partially offsets the great speed boost imparted by the module. Without this increase in signature radius, frigate-sized ships using "MWDs" would be impossible to hit.
A Final Word
I hope this overview has helped provide a basic understand of the weapon types found in EVE Online. In future articles, I will cover other major aspects of combat, including ship roles, tanking, and so forth. See you then.