Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hostile Takeover - what to get?

The only reason I didn't title this one "Are Mortars Back?" is that I wanted you readers to know what this would be my usual pre-raid article.  

The reason for that question is that there were a lot of build time reductions that went along with Tuesday's release.  Many of them were mortar-related.  They included some really large build time reductions on hulls - the Dreadnought X is down to 6 hours, the Novastorm is 1 day 18 hours, the Triton is 12 hours and the Juggernaut X is down to 2 days 12 hours.  The Novastorm also had its 150% repair modifier reduced to 100%, which is quite welcome.

Many mortars had build time reductions, so that the previous 1.5+ day build time on many heavy mortars is now down to half a day or less.   Specials like Explosive System, Siege Targeting, and Siege Battery also had reductions.  If you haven't seen the full list - I suggest you go over the Kixeye release notes here.

But does making mortars a better deal make them more attractive?  Fundamentally, a Novastorm loaded with Siege B or Pandemonium Mortars is no more effective than it was 2 months after its release, although it is lighter & will repair quicker - and you could improve them a bit with Explosive System 4.   Using mortars in FvF will still be a problem, since you are more likely to be outranged by missiles, launchers or ballistics, and faster ships will have an easier time outrunning shells.

It may be that the best way to take advantage of the new quicker building hulls is to load them with weapons other than mortars.  The Dreadnought X, with its 8/4/4 configuration, might be the new "best value" ship out there (taking the crown from the Mercury).  Launchers or even Missiles might be viable loadouts when you have the 4 specials to work with.  The Triton is owned by many players since it has been available in the Forsaken Mission lower tiers for a while.  With only 3 special slots, it might not be as flexible as the DNX, but certainly might be "worth building" again.  Clearly the Juggernaut X can be a useful tank for those who don't have a better option (one with high deflection numbers).

I'll continue by looking at the new prizes, and comparing them to what we already may have.

Citadel

This hull gives remote targeting capability to mortars, with a large 100% range bonus.  The defenses are good in some areas, but missing in others... I'd call them "focused".  And then the other notable feature of this hull is its relatively slow speed & turn rate compared to other recent hulls.

When I think about it, I'd look at this hull as similar to the Mastodon when it first came out.  Its defenses and speed are not where you want them to be for this ship to sit in the front & take fire, especially when considering mortar flight time.  Back when Mastodons were new, Frostburn Interceptors were the best tank choice, and today the deflection hulls will be the best choices to pair with (and spot for) Citadels.  I am particularly fond of the Punisher in this role, even though the Neptune has slightly higher Siege Deflection.  (Draconian Carrier and Heavy Cruiser are your other best choices for those of you who have been hiding under Drac Bases for the last few months.)  Just like pairing the faster Frostburn with slower Mastodons took some driving skill, pairing Citadels with any of those (much faster) spotters will also take some driving skill.

The hull comparison looks like this:



The limited hull build times are not modified to match the regular versions, so they look pretty bad in comparison.  Don't overlook the anti-mortar evade on the Novastorm.  One area the Citadel falls short on compared to the other mortar hulls, is that it lacks a splash & spread bonus.  Splash is a key component to mortar effectiveness, so we will have to see what kind of penalty that works out to in practice.

Judgment Mortar
This mortar has a couple new features that set it apart.  It has a higher range than any previous mortar, but 90 is still not as far as other weapons like Missiles, UAVs, Ballistics, and Launchers.  It is claimed to have a higher projectile speed than previous mortars - which has been the biggest weakness of this weapon type.  And finally, the MIRV capability gives it a sort of resistance to countermeasures.  With one hit, the shell breaks up into three shells with lower total damage.  So really this shell takes 4 hits to shoot down, although its damage output is reduced with each hit.

What we really want to know about is projectile speed.  So let's see what mortars have what Projectile speeds:

78: Judgment 
65: Negotiator, Chaos, Pandemonium, Searing Barrage
60: Assault 
46: Diplomat
45: Shockwave 
40: Peacemaker
35: Siege (all levels/types in a class of mortar have the same projectile speed)

(and as always, thanks to the educated guesses from darkalliance.org)
So the new Judgment Mortar is only 20% faster than the previous fastest mortars.... I'm not sure these things are going to be that amazing.

For DPS, the new weapon comparison looks like this:


I changed the chart a bit - I used to use a 45% rank for computing DPS, but now with VXP weekend, I think using the 75% Legendary rank is more appropriate.  I also changed the reference ship to be a Citadel with Explosive System 4 - it used to be a Hellhound with Incendiary Shells.

There are some real notable points from this chart...
  • The Heavy mortars are all getting similar build times / weight... there aren't any "unfair" weapon build times like there still are for missiles and other weapon types (the worst ballistic build times have also been fixed this week, but I haven't taken a close look yet to evaluate the whole group).
  • DPS/hton still has a fair spread, and this chart is built looking at fleet damage.  Siege mortars will look even better and Assault mortars will look worse against buildings.  The shift to using Legendary Rank may be behind this, as the Siege & Assault Mortars have salvo 1.
  • Even with the DPS/hton spread, heavier weapons will generally have more damage output.
So although the Judgment looks like it is in the middle of the pack here, its higher range & projectile speed may make it more effective when used.  If using the Citadel, a mix of mortars with one Judgment and multiple mortars of other types will allow the ship to "self-spot" and effectively increase the range of all the mortars to 90, just like mixing a Harrier Missile with Tridents on a Rhino.

I'm starting to think that DPS isn't really the right metric to evaluate mortars.  What you are really looking for, instead for damage over time, is "How soon am I gonna kill that thing?"  So what you want is a high amount of damage from the first shot, and a high projectile speed.  

(note: I was going to compare against the Siege B... but that Projectile Speed.... WOOF!)

If I compare the Pandemonium and the Judgment Mortar, I see that the building damage per salvo from the Pandemonium is 5934 vs the Judgment with 6100, but the Pandemonium weighs less than the Judgment - so if you are weight-limited the Pandemonium might be a better choice, but the Judgment will be better if you are weapon slot-limited.  When playing around with Citadel builds, I'm seeing that whether you hit the ship's weight limit depends on the armor & special choices.  The Pandemonium also has higher splash but slower speed and more vulnerability to countermeasures.  

This situation is much like the Railgun release last month... although the Railgun has some advantages, there were a lot of situations where the Arbalest worked as well - if not better.  So choose your weapons carefully for the situation.  I expect to see this more and more often going forward, as (I hope) Kixeye doesn't want to break the weapon balance it implemented with the recent changes.  A new weapon with vastly more damage output than previous weapons of that type would put us back on the unsustainable cycle of "get the new weapon, everything else is garbage".  We don't want that.

Frostbite Turret


This rocket weapon turret is like a baby Coldsnap.  It has shorter range which requires that it be on the front lines in order to be effective, and it has a shorter suppression time with a longer reload.  

Since this is a front line turret, I think of it in the following way:  Its range is 105, which allows it to outrange any ship-based weapon.  When I compare it to my other non-limited frontline options, like the Pyroclast or the Gargoyle, I know this turret will get one salvo off (unless splashed or retargeted), which makes it more effective.  But unlike those weapons, it won't make an attacker stop, since there isn't a point to stopping.  But most turrets haven't been able to survive long enough to force an attacker to stop anyway.  

So I have two thoughts on whether to go after this:
If you have the Coldsnap:  This turret isn't really very necessary, as the Coldsnap with Eruption Pyre should keep fields suppressed.  But it might do some damage where your other front line turrets won't, so it might be useful to drop these in.  They even hit underwater targets, so you could replace Gargoyles for more damage AND more range.  The slow reload means that you'll very likely only get one salvo off from the Frostbite before it dies, but that's better than zero salvos, which is what you probably get from a Pyroclast or Gargoyle currently.  

If you DON'T have the Coldsnap: Get it.  You can put these all up & down your front line of turrets, and with smart placement possibly keep incoming fields suppressed at some key times.  Put a special to improve reload (Eruption Pyre, Fire Support X, Slide Loader, ...) and as much armor as possible on them.

This turret has a 5 day build time, which is "moderate" compared to some other options... shorter than a Gargoyle 2, but longer than a Pyroclast.

Prize Recommendations
I kind of went back & forth on whether I should do my usual red/yellow/green on the prizes.  There seems to be a real progression & grouping of prizes, so it may be more useful to talk about them in those groups (this time).  The fact that I want to do this means that I think this prize list is actually a well thought out set of prizes, and players (who don't have everything) should consider what direction they want to be building before grabbing prizes.  Tiers 1 -3 have a three prize limit, Tier 4 has a two prize limit.  

So if you want to get involved in mortars, here's my prize priority.  I didn't rate any of these (with one exception) green, because I'm just not sold on it yet:

Tier 5: 
Citadel (13M): This new hull has some weak points, like lack of splash bonus, relatively low speed, and inconsistent defensive strength.  But the 100% remote targeting range may open up some new mortar strategies.
Judgment Mortar (9M): This is now the mortar with the fastest speed projectiles, so it is probably the most desirable even though it doesn't have the largest damage output.  It's MIRV capability gives improved countermeasure resistance.

Tier 4: 
Pandemonium Mortar (5.5M): After the Judgement Mortar, probably the best balance of range, damage, and speed.  the radioactive damage adds some diversity against anti-explosive targets.
Siege Mortar D75-B (5M): Nice damage output, terrible projectile speed.   These used to be so desirable, but I'm just not sure they will be effective when coming under fire from any recent weapons.
Assault Mortar D73-X (4.5M): With a pretty good projectile speed (for mortars), but poor Building Damage, I'm not sure you really want to invest in a mortar FvF fleet.  There are better choices for hitting non-moving targets.
NovaStorm (4.5M): With the build time reduction and the repair modifier reduction to 100%, this hull may be usable for mortars, if you can't get the Citadel
Combustion System (4M): Projectile speed is real important for mortars.  You'd rather have Explosive System 4...
Incendiary Shells (4M): unless projectile speed isn't real important, in which case making fire fields will be really cool.

Tier 3:
Siege Targeting 3 (1.75M): I like Siege Battery better for its defensive ability.
Splash Upgrade (2.25M): You'd rather use one of the other specials, like Explosive System 4, Combustion System, or Incendiary Shells.

Tier 2: 
Siege Targeting 2 (500k): I like Siege Battery better for its defensive ability.  (and get the bigger version if you can)
Siege Mortar D75-V (450k): Well, if this is all you can afford, then the speed upgrade is nice.

Tier 1:
Dreadnought X (150k): For this few points, and a 6 hour build time, you have to pick up this hull.  With 4 special slots and decent defenses (for an old ship), you could use it for plenty of non-mortar tasks, like Launchers, Countermeasures, or even Missiles.  Get it retroed if you are serious about using these.

Siege Targeting 1 (150k): I like Siege Battery better for its defensive ability. (and get the bigger version if you can)
Siege Mortar D75-D (60k): This one takes the longest to build, and defense won't help you if you can't kill anything.

There are some important prizes that you should consider if you are planning a Ballistic fleet:

Tier 4: 
Assault Disruptor D33-DR (6M): This is a key weapon if you plan on using Arbalests or Railguns against moving targets - slowing your enemy down will really improve your damage output. 

Tier 3:
Nuclear Accelerators (2.5M): If you don't have these yet, they are critical for an effective Ballistic fleet.


And then all the other prizes:

Tier 5: 

Frostbite Rocket Turret (9M): Really useful if you don't have the Coldsnap, but still possibly good if you do.

Tier 4: 
Rhino (7M):  Still the premier missile hull in the game, and likely to remain so. 
Zynthonite Armor D5-E (5.5M): Maybe not the "go-everywhere" armor it used to be, but still really useful.

Tier 3: 
Heavy Plating 3 (2M): I like speed on my open water ships, but HP3 is on most any ship I put on Guard duty in my base.
Alloy Armor MX-3 (1M): MC-3 used to be the most popular of the alloys, but with mortars more prevalent, this one might be more useful.  I still prefer D5-X (or D6-A) as my armor special. 
Speed Upgrade (2.25M): There are better ways to get a little speed bump than using up a special slot. Streamlined Cadmium Armor and the Siege Cannon S come to mind. 

Tier 2: 
Juggernaut X (1M): This hull will make a great tank, and with its build time reduction is even more attractive.  I looked at a build with all D3-E armor that took just under a week to build.  Don't forget to retrofit it to get the armor ability upgrade, but that will not affect the Deflection on D5-M armor.
Zynthonite Armor D3-C (500k): D3 Armor always hits the sweet spot for build time, protection, and weight for me.
Heavy Plating 2 (500k): Get the bigger version if you can.
Alloy Armor MX-2 (400k): Get the bigger version if you can.

Tier 1:
Zynthonite Armor D1-X (40k): This can come in handy if you want to add explosive defense without much build time or weight.  I put a bunch of this on the Mastodons in my base guard to protect against rockets.
Heavy Plating 1 (55k): Get the bigger version if you can.
Alloy Armor MX-1 (40k): Get the bigger version if you can.


Good luck in the raid pirates!