The Caracal is one of the most popular early-game mission running ships for newer players, due to the ease of use and aptitude for running level one and level two missions. Though it shines brightest when inflicting kinetic damage, the flexibility of missiles lets the caracal custom-tailor the damage it deals for the specific kinds of NPCs that it will be fighting.
Why Fly The Caracal?
The best part about the caracal is that you can be flying one in missions within a day or two of starting EVE Online, and run missions as your learning skills train up. A lot of new players will train up learning skills before they start on combat missions, and I consider that time wasted. Running missions during your first few days will give you a crash course in how to play EVE, and get you started grinding your standings with an NPC corporation, which is something that most EVE Online players will want to do sooner or later.
The caracal is a great early mission-running ship, and you can stay in it until you are ready for level 3 missions.
Out of all the tech one cruisers, the Caracal is the best at using missiles, and the relatively high damage output allows it to run many missions without even having an active tank. It also has a smattering of light drones, which can be useful for getting rid of NPC frigates.
All this for a minimal cost. As of this writing, the hull can generally be obtained for less than three million ISK. Even if you botch a mission, the cost of the lost ship will be so low that even fairly new players should be able to handle it.
Bare Bones Caracal Skills
The following skills are the minimum required to use a caracal for running level 1 or 2 missions. For pilots eager to dive right in, I recommend the following skills:
- Hull Skills: Caldari Cruiser I, Caldari Frigate IV, and Spaceship Command III.
- Missile Skills: Missile Launcher Operation II, Standard Missiles I, Weapon Upgrades I, and Gunnery II (this last so that you can use some "Ballistic Control System I" modules in your low slots).
- Shield Skills: Shield Upgrades I, Tactical Shield Manipulation I, Engineering III, and Science I.
- Drone Skills: Drones II and Scout Drone Operation I.
- Propulsion Skills: Afterburner I and Navigation I.
The only skill you need to train to level IV for this is Caldari Frigate, though fittings may be a pain without training Engineering, Electronics, and Weapon Upgrades up to at least level IV, each.
High Slot Modules (Missile Launchers)
- x5 Assault Missile Launchers I
Assault missile launchers are used by cruiser-sized ships to do a bit more damage to frigate and destroyer-sized ships. They're great for low level missions because those missions are largely filled with NPCs within that class.
Your default ammunition of choice with these launchers is "Bloodclaw Light Missiles" which inflict kinetic damage. You may want to shake this up a bit depending on whom you are fighting in a given mission, but once you have Caldari Cruiser trained to IV, it is probably best to stick with kinetic damage to fully benefit from your damage bonus, unless you are fighting an NPC that is especially strong against kinetic damage.
Medium Slot Modules (Propulsion and Shield Tank)
- x1 10mn Afterburner I
- x2 Large Shield Extender I
- x2 Invulnerability Field I
An afterburner is important for moving around missions in a timely manner. In lower-level missions, this is more important for not letting NPCs swarm you, or getting within range of a wreck containing mission-critical loot.
Your shield extenders and hardeners are to give you a whole bunch of extra hit points. Hopefully, they will be enough that you don't need to warp out of a mission and wait for them to recharge. For level one missions, the invulnerability fields should be quite sufficient, but for level 2 missions you will probably need to change them out based on what mission you are doing. Use a site like EVE-Survival to check out what kind of NPC you will be fighting, and change your shield hardeners accordingly.
The damage-specific shield hardeners and their associated damage types are as follows:
- EM Damage: Photon Scattering Field I
- Explosive Damage: Explosion Dampening Field I
- Kinetic Damage: Ballistic Deflection Field I
- Thermal Damage: Heat Dissipation Field I
Low Slot Modules (Extra Damage)
- x2 Ballistic Control System I
There isn't too much flex, here. Your strength is in your damage output, so favoring it with a couple "BCS" is a good idea. If you find that your damage output is over-abundant -quite likely in level one missions- then you may want to swap one or both out for an "Overdrive Injector System I" in order to boost your speed, which can also be handy if you are having fitting problems and are short on CPU.
The caracal is probably the best overall Caldari cruiser, from amongst the tech one roster.
- x2 Warrior I
Though customizing your drones depending on the NPC type is always a good idea, warriors are pretty darn flexible, since they are the fastest light drone. Your bonus to kinetic damage with missiles does not apply to your drones, so there is nothing to be lost by switching away from kinetic-dealing hobgoblins.
Rigs will be a bit of a pickle if you are looking to boost your damage output, as would probably be most effective. In lieu of that, it may be best to use shield rigs. I would recommend "Medium Core Defence Field Purger I" rigs, which improve your shield recharge time at the expense of your signature radius. That means you will take full damage from attacks, which is probably happening anyway while you have shoddy skills and are fighting frigates. A passive-recharge caracal is a lot like the drake, when you think about it.
Running Missions With The Caracal
The main thing to keep in mind while using the caracal in missions is that you want to get the low-level missions done as quickly as possible, and not futz around with loot more than you need to. Every hour that you spend looting and salvaging wrecks from level one or level two missions is an hour that could have been spent salvaging level four missions, down the line, if you had run missions faster. Spend that time grinding instead of salvaging, unless you are really hard up for cash. Even then, it is probably better to run missions than salvage low-level missions. If you have a friend that will let you salvage his high-level missions, that's a different story, of course.
A thing newer players sometimes forget to do is to pull drones when warping out or using an acceleration gate. Actually, older players do that all the time, too, so don't be too embarassed. The main point of your drones should be taking out the zippy little frigates that get closest to your caracal, and start orbitting it.
Rather than swap out ammunition and shield hardeners for every mission, you might find it convenient to keep a spare set of caracals, with each specialized against a particular damage type.
If you have surplus of cash and are training up missiles already, you can always try using a "Caracal Navy Issue", which can cost 85mil ISK or more, but does not have the intense skill requirements necessary for flying a "Cerberus", which is the tech two version of the caracal. If you are the sort of person that does not mind selling a timecard or two for ISK, and you do not think you will lose your ship through carelessness, a navy issue might be for you.
In any case, the caracal is not going to be the boat you spend the rest of your time in, in EVE Online. It's a stepping stone toward a drake, and then other mission running ships. As you learn more about EVE Online, you may want to try other ship types, or you may want to aim for running missions in a raven battleship or even a tech two version of the same. It's all about what you like, and while you are figuring it all out, the caracal is a fine place to spend some of your time.