Thursday, June 19, 2014

Guide to Ranking

Weapons Updates are live:
If you missed my series analyzing the changes, or if you want to take another look, the links are:

Ballistics and Torpedos:
Mortars and Rockets:

And now on to ranking your fleets:

With the changes to the ranking system, I've heard a lot of questions about how the VXP system works.  I'll put this article together with some reference material on rank, VXP, and then follow it up with some strategies for ranking your fleets efficiently.

Rank Bonuses:
The new rank has 25 levels of advancement.  With each level, a bonus is given to Reload Time and to Turn Speed.  Each ship gets a yellow icon to denote its rank.  

I'm not going to post all the pictures & levels here - a good list of all the ranks is at:

What I will describe here is that there are diminishing returns as you continue to level up.  
Rank LevelsDescriptionIconBonus for rank up
0 - 4RecruitChevrons+5%
5 - 9HunterStars+4%
10 - 14EliteShield+3%
15 - 19VeteranStar on Shield+2%
20 - 24SpecialistAnchor+1%

As shown in the table above, the lower levels give you more of a bonus when you rank, and as rank increases the bonus drops.  At Rank 25, your bonus maxes out at 75%. In addition, the number of VXP required to gain a rank increases as rank increases.  See the wiki page I linked above for some data on that - it varies per hull.

Getting VXP:
To increase in levels, ships have to earn VXP from battles.  All battles will give VXP, but it always has seemed like base hits give less VXP than I expected - so I'm not sure these rules apply to base hits.  Raid, weekly, and dredge targets do seem to follow the rules I will describe below.

The Salty Dogs rogue crew (Common) gives double VXP while active.  Double all the numbers you see here if you have a Salty Dogs active.  They are obviously nice to use while ranking ships, but I'm not going to mention them again in this article.

  • In a battle, each ship is awarded VXP independently.
  • The formula for VXP earned is based on the ship's total armor points.  
  • For dealing damage in a battle, each ship can earn up to 10 VXP based on the formula below
  • For receiving damage in a battle, each ship can earn up to 10 VXP based on the formula below
A = ship armor rating
D = damage dished out
H = damage taken (hits)

VXP earned = D/A * 10 (limit 10) + H/A * 10 (limit 10)

So that's a maximum of 20 VXP per ship per battle if you sink, 10 VXP per ship per battle if you don't take a scratch.

VXP is awarded and stored as a decimal number, not an integer, so sometimes you will see rounding artifacts across a few battles.

Strategies for getting VXP: 
I start my shipbuilding process thinking about how I will rank the fleet.  In this article, I will use my Harlock Carrier build as an example.  The build I want to end up with is 4 of these:

I might tweak this build a little more (one more Hornet instead of a Dragonfly, allowing more armor or a heavier countermeasure), but you get the idea.

This build takes just over 2 weeks per ship, and will be a 4 ship fleet.  I have started each build with:

which only takes about 8 days per ship, and has only 6095 armor points instead of the full 14200 when done.

This lets me do a few things:
- Less build time means I get the ships in the water earlier and can start the ranking process sooner.
- Lower armor points per ship means it can gain rank faster from lower level targets (remember A above?)
- No engine means that a decoy spectre can get out ahead of it more quickly on auto.

So as I have built these ships, I put them in a fleet with a Decoy Spectre and a Navigation Array arbiter.  With just 1 Harlock built, I could take level 40 salvage with no damage, and with 2 built I could take a level 51 with no damage.  With 3 I can take a Level 71 with no damage (usually) if the ships are arranged properly (Arb in slot 1, sub in slot 3 or 4).   In general, when ranking up new ships, I start trying to auto small salvage, watching the battle the first few times to see what happens, and then work my way up if I am successful.

Once my 4th Harlock is built, I will put the first one (with the most VXP) in refit, to either finish the build, or possibly just add a few more pieces.  I will keep my ships rotating through the shipyard until all 4 are complete.   This will take the exact same amount of shipyard time as a straight build, but I get more time to play with my fleet as the ships are building, and the partial builds are easier to rank.  

HP per salvage:
This matters because this limits how much damage you can do, and thus how much VXP you can get.  If there is less HP in the salvage than you have on your fleet, you will never get 10 VXP per battle. This info is from an old post on xnih's blog.

17: 2024 HP
23: 5399 HP
31: 6297 HP
40: 13417 HP
51: 34490 HP
71: 59740 HP (approximate - guessing from another post here and here)  

UPDATE: Check a new post by xnih which gives values for all salv fleets, including Elites:

As an example of how to use this list - one of my half built Harlocks with 6095 armor will get 10 VXP from killing a 31 (or higher) salvage by itself, but just under 9 VXP from a 23.  Three of my half-built Harlocks (18285 HP total) will be able to get 10 VXP each from a 51, but not a 40 (assuming they each do similar amounts of damage).  Three of my Harlocks when fully built (42600 HP total) will not get 10 VXP each from a 51, but will only get around 8 VXP each.

Helper ships for ranking:

Decoy Spectre: The simplest build for this is a spectre with Havok 1, Reaver Scout Engine 3, Battery 3.  This ship will get out in front of your ships, be seen, and draw fire.  When your ships have no engine upgrade, there is enough separation that mortars (usually) won't touch you.  I always watch my first few auto battles to be sure.  If you use a regular Engine3 on the decoy, you often wont get far enough away quickly enough to let the ships avoid mortar fire.  You may need some anti-mortar in this case.

Navigation Array Arbiter: Unfortunately, a ship with no engine upgrade will be slow on the map.  My Arbiter build has just the Nav Array 3 module, Engine 3, and a Phalanx 1.  It took under 2 days to build.  Using the Phalanx instead of an offensive weapon means that the ship will not move when the battle starts, so it stays out of weapon range.  Engine 3 is needed to keep its own map speed up - you could use Hull Streamlining instead to save some build time.

Countermeasure Ship: Often, the decoy is enough to keep your fleet safe while ranking it on auto.  If not, you could add a countermeasure ship to intercept incoming fire.  Salvages don't have a lot of mortars or missiles, so the requirements here aren't too extreme.  A Triton with its extra range is the best hull to use.  If that's not available, the Mercury makes a nice countermeasure platform and builds quickly.  On the build, you will want: 
- Countermeasure 3 special: ensure your countermeasures have maximum range and effectiveness.
- 1 weapon with similar range to the ships you are ranking.  I used to use a Negotiator 1 on my CM ships, which is light, with nice range and a quick build time.  1 Launcher or 1 UAV could also be used for range, but would take longer to build, and vulture more VXP from the ships you are trying to rank.
 - Then load up with as much phalanx and Hailstorms as you are willing to pack in.  I've used 2 Hail B and 3 Phalanx 3 on a Mercury with some success (I used to use that ship in Weekly Missions), but I would rather have more Hails for this special purpose.

Dead Superfortress:  Carry cargo if you have the space.

Obviously, if you use all of the "helper" ships, you don't have much room for the ships you are ranking - what you need in the fleet depends on what you are ranking.  For ships with long range weapons, just the Decoy Spectre is sufficient, and the Nav Array Arbiter will speed things up.  For ballistic ships, you may need to use countermeasures, get more creative, or actually drive them.

Some other ships you may be ranking: 

Countermeasure ships: Ranking ships that only have countermeasures is difficult, because they don't deal damage.  If you don't want to sink them over and over, do an initial build with Thud 4s and Cannon System, then refit over those items once the ship is ranked to your satisfaction.

Submarines: With less armor, and no need for a decoy, these can usually be built all at once, and ranked with the Nav Array Arb as the flagship.   The arbiter does double duty - pulling the enemy in to be killed more quickly, and also to speed the fleet on the map.  

Enforcers: With low map speed, the Navigation Array Arb will really help.  In a combat, the very slow speed might result in trouble on auto if the sub gets in range too quickly, and the enforcer doesn't close in before the sub surfaces.  You'll have to try a few things out, and be ready to pull your sub back if you need to.  A countermeasure ship might be a better option than a decoy.

A couple more tips to speed things up:
- Clean up after yourself.  Just send out a fleet or two to pick up after you've opened a few - you don't have to leave cargo fleets laying around.  This lets the ships respawn in the area you are working, instead of having to travel the map.  Offering the res to your neighbors works fine too.
- Join the battle right away and then leave, even if you are autoing.  There is usually a 20 second countdown timer before the battle starts.  Joining lets the battle start right away so it finishes sooner.  Even the occasional lockup or crash won't hurt when you do that, as long as you are on auto.