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Author Topic: combat skills training thread  (Read 443 times)


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combat skills training thread
« on: January 17, 2021, 10:31:57 AM »

Can we start a sticky-candidate thread for helping players who have "given up" on the real-time combat and let the AI drive their own ships?  It pains me indeed to hear someone who loves this game and wants to pilot their own ship, then say that they believe (talked themselves into thinking?) that they are not good at the core gameplay.

I'm a mid-level player in terms of skill and knowledge of the game internals and will rely on the experts to chime in and correct/clarify.

1.  Winning the flux game.

The "flux budget concept" is the biggest learning curve.  Starsector combat can be subtle and deadly and, especially at the beginning when learning the flux mechanic, truly frustrating.  Flux basically is the "shared mana pool" that your ship uses for ALL OF THE FOLLOWING:

- to power shields and let it absorb hits
- AND powers your weapons
- AND when exceeded by either hits on shields or firing:  will cause an overload state that shuts down shields, weapons, and lasts many crucial seconds. 

a) Powering shields and firing all weapons at once AND taking heavy hits = you are trouble and don't yet know it until the overload occurs.  Then you die and pound your fist on the nice cushiony wrist rest.

b) The best case to engage:   your shields are down (thus no source of flux possible and you rely on your armor), you are firing at max rate (you set up your ship's flux budget to allow for max rate fire and verified this in the simulator, right?), and the enemy either has too much flux built up to return fire or your ship is out of their firing arc.  The result is: 

- the enemy doesn't have their shields up yet, and you begin damaging armor, and potentially hull and systems before they can do the same to you
- OR the enemy begins taking the hits on their shields.  If shields are up:
- ALSO their flux level may begin rising towards overload
- ALSO you are reducing the enemy's flux available to shoot back
- ALSO you are increasing the chance that the AI will drop their shields to avoid overload and thus suppressing their ability to even use their shields at all

(obviously, you have your shields up if you think you don't have enough armor and are taking hits.  The point of not having shields up is to use your flux budget for offense)

2.   Rambling introduction to space combat from a threat perspective:

a) The AI is very polished for one-one-one combat.   Prior to my joining the fun, Starsector appears to have been a pure ship simulator and the AI shines when it has only your ship to focus on.

b) They see you before you see them.  Your screen resolution, unless you have truly excellent eyesight and can use high resolution, puts you at a disadvantage to the AI.  This can have huge consequences as the weapons have firing arcs, and there are dash/teleport skills that can bring an enemy directly to a bad side of your ship, facing you, and perhaps entirely out of your firing arcs.

c) There is no magic icon that tells you which enemy ship is actually targeting you.  You have to track/respect/fear all enemy ships that are in range.  Their behavior will give away their current intentions but this can quickly change based on how close you are and what other threats that enemy "perceives".

d) It is difficult to tell what the enemy loadout is (perhaps sharp-eyed players can tell).  Sure, that's probably a missile-cruiser over there.  And that's a pirate freighter that probably has five Reapers waiting for me if I go head on, front-arc with it.  I could be wrong.  And so many other ships have a high variety of loadouts.

e) Respect fighters enough to bring your own and have at least SOME point defense in most arcs (on all ships).  Don't wander close enough, alone, to an enemy carrier group.  Read the radar for the smallest enemies...where are they going to/from?   Are there some that appear to loiter near distant enemies?  When I say "fighters":  that includes EMP fighters, rocket bombers, and missile bombers:  these are very bad news and you will learn to sight-read them very quickly.

3.  Staring out fresh, to learn to win in combat:

a) Set up your ship.  There are two general methods that I can think of:   
- a "flux neutral loadout" ship that can fire continuously, with shields up, without generating any flux.  This is a newbie-friendly setup.
- an "overloading flux loadout" ship that has a bigger weapons loadout that will build to flux overload during continuous fire.  This setup takes skill, and awareness of the "halt fire" key to use successfully.

Build your first ship, then take it into the simulator against a weak freighter.  Learn your flux limit for firing at max rate with shields down (and how many seconds your ship can do this before overloading, if you set up an "overloading flux loadout" ship).  Then with shields up.  Then also when taking a little bit of fire from the freighter.   Then: take on a frigate...quite the difference in flux management eh?   I think that you will graduate the simulator with a Fairly Skilled Rating, as a new pilot, when you can defeat a fairly equal-threat ship. 

Recommend to test again when you begin piloting the first destroyer, cruiser and capital classes.  The flux budget, and especially, the enemy's ability to affect your flux budget, Changes Dramatically.

b) A fast ship that has decent heft and a straightforward special skill.  My newbie fave:   a Hammerhead destroyer with a highest flux pool configuration and highest speed, with a small-sized all-ballistic loadout.  Only engage when the special ability is ready, and only get in long enough to get the damage or kill, then get out.  This ship is hard to die in if played safely.

c) Fight from a distance with friends.  Only travel with friends.  Help your friends.

d) Use your armor.  When armor is gone for a given ship side:  only take hits on other ship facings when possible (i.e. turn appropriate for incoming missiles).

e) Don't try to hold a bad position...fall back to another part of the map where the pursuer may get distracted.  Recover flux, note the sides of your ship that still have armor, and re-engage accordingly.

f) Overloaded ships draw deadly missile attacks.  Reapers, Hammers, Harpoons, Atropos all want to drop by for a visit.  You can also send these same visitors to overloaded enemy ships.

g) still overwhelmed by the "cockpit overhead" of a front-line ship?  Try some other combat roles:

- the "missile alpha striker":  support your AI-Hammerhead buddy by keeping its target in your missile range (say you have a pair of Harpoon launchers).  When the Hammerhead overloads an enemy or you think it is a good time...launch your birds, preferably at the enemy's rear when they cannot avoid or interpose shields AND the Hammerhead is right there to finish them.  Sabots are also good because they force either the enemy to drop shields, or risk an overload.

- the "pressure specialist":   Use a stream of non-flux weapons like Annihilator missiles, or long range beams like Tactical Lasers, to keep the enemy shields up.  When your friends engage...the enemy will have to keep their shields up to deal with your attacks.

- the "beamer":  set up a full Tactical Laser loadout in the front arc that you can fire continuously at flux-neutral with your shields up.  Then hunt for enemies to pressure, or, even they are slow and have weaker flux budgets, to get them to drop their shields or begin dying.  Have the speed to keep away from stronger opponents (like that Dominator cruiser over there).  An Eagle cruiser is a great candidate and IIRC can host four Tactical Lasers for continuous fire.  That's a fair amount of flux pressure for many enemy ship classes.

4.  General rules

a)  Up those twitch skills.  Refreshing/leveling up the arcade skills in order to succeed in this game is highly  recommended.  Recommend games like Synthetik, Neon Chrome, or Ultratron as trainers or warmups to get the "situational arcade skills and bullet hell game-on". 

b) Your role in combat:  kill SOMETHING.  It doesn't have to be the enemy's most powerful ship.  Your friends need to have less threats asap.  If minutes go by and you aren't damaging killing countering pressuring and crying havok, that is likely Bad.

c)  More on friends:  anywhere where I'm in space combat, there is a friend nearby.  I'm helping my fleet and they help me.  Said another way:   the threat axes to my ship must be reduced so that I can focus and win without worrying about a sneak attack.  The radar view is very much "object appear further away than they really are" and getting surprised while paying attention elsewhere is very easy.   And usually is why I take heavy damage or die.

d)  Avoid ship-to-ship unless you know you can win.  The developer has honed the combat AI to be very good at ship-to-ship due to the AI playing directly to the core mechanic:  flux management.   Do I want to take on that AI Safety-override frigate one-on-one, head on?   Noooo thank you, unless I really have to.  It will focus on me entirely.  And it's probably not even the biggest enemy threat.  A poor choice for a solo target unless I'm well positioned.

e)  Position to win.    That is:  close only at an advantage.  Fleet combat is where the AI can be defeated much more easily because it has to succeed in a battle line context, which the player understands, but it does not (at least, not as well)...that that SO frigate may pivot to react to something else and take me out of it's primary firing arc.  Now I dart in, using my speed/strafing to pressure from the side and rear.  It reacts to me...strafing and turning...and perhaps right into my friends, or perhaps away...saving another of my friends by giving it the room to get away its attacker.

f)   Reposition to win.   Always plan for being out of position only long enough to Do Something with an clear intent to return to safety.  A yardstick for improvement:  if you find that the only time you take damage is when you are out of position, then you have leveled up.

g)  Write down the last five times you died and analyze/adapt.  My last few times: 

reapers to the face, while closing with a ship that was too slow to evade
flanked and pinned against the side of the battle space by larger low flux ship, that I should have kept better track of
blasted by a Paragon, that I should engaged too early and got too close to escape from
stunned and shredded by fighters, because I imperfectly positioned myself as the closest threat to *all* of their fleet carriers
stomped by a fresh Conquest, because I got overconfident and wandered into the top part of the map, and straight into their spawn point

...each comma above is where I stop and assess how I screwed up.

h)  Have a dedicated backup ship in your fleet and know how to switch to it.  When the Combat Readiness has dropped low enough to get warnings:
- position your ship in a safe place, with a safe path for the AI pilot to retreat it out of combat successfully
- call in your backup ship
- switch to the backup ship

i) An intermediate ship tactic:  autofire weapons, and flicker shields.

- set your direct-fire weapons on autofire, and learn the key that will halt fire when needed
- only raise shields if there is a threat, drop them at all other times
- when you have the armor/hull available:  when under constant enemy fire...only raise shields to absorb dangerous hits and spare most of your flux for firing.  The idea is to rush the enemy to near-flux overload which will reduce their fire rate dramatically.
- turn the ship to absorb hits on other armor facings while keeping enemy inside your best firing arcs
- If you sense that you are losing the "flux battle":  halt fire, keep shields up, and fall back out of range and immediately vent flux if you think you can vent safely (that is, restore shields before enemy missiles reach you).  If you happen to retreat with less flux built up than the enemy, you can then rush back before the enemy has recovered themselves to zero-flux.  You are now "ahead" in the flux battle.

Best case for a close battle:  the enemy tried to use their shields during the entire engagement and died either to overload or flux-starvation:  you have nearly all of your armor left and have taken zero internal hits because you only used your shields when you had to.