Air Strategy Guide (Piratez)

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Plundering landed targets and missions will only get your pirate enterprise so far; beyond that point, you make your own opportunities by downing lucrative shipping targets with the assorted weapons and craft available to you. This article is meant to be a starting point for effectively managing and using an air force. It is not a comprehensive guide to interceptions, as experimentation is best to determine effective strategies and tactics for your play style.

Crash-landing an enemy vessel can be broken down into a process of answering four questions:

  1. Can you detect the shipping?
  2. Can you identify the target?
  3. Do you have sufficient firepower to down it?
  4. Can you get that firepower to the target?

The answers to these questions will change frequently throughout the game, dependent on your looting, time investment from your brainerz, and some good old-fashioned luck.

Early Game

Early game, you’ll find there’s not much you can do with the Airbus but chase targets in your radar range and hope they land. The first priority for a successful air campaign is expanding your coverage of the globe. Early research limits your options to building new bases or purchasing a better craft. With a little bit of research, namely, Contacts: Car Thieves, you get access to two more battery-powered vessels, the Aircar and Airspeeder. Both have better radars and are faster than your bus, so either works if your goal is to use them to tail an enemy until it lands, and then send a strike force in the bus (or use the gals in the tailing craft, if you’re certain they’ll be enough for the mission). The Aircar has one distinct advantage over the speeder though: it has a slot for the Charger Laser in your stores. The laser, paired with a decent pilot, will be capable of shooting down all but the medium-sized civilian vessels. Looting civilian vessels can soon make up for the sunk costs into your new craft, and start paying out in training for your gals, both in the air and on the ground. The Charger Laser also outranges Runabouts, a fact to keep in mind if they look like they’re not landing close enough to your hideout. The Airspeeder’s missile slot may eventually boast better damage output, but unless you loot some Seagull missiles early, by the time you need to field bigger warheads, you’ll have better craft for the job. Therefore, other than being a stopgap measure to get looted missiles to a target (a poor economical choice versus civilians), the speeder is likely best used as a faster radar with more fuel capacity than the Aircar.

Getting to your first Hellerium-powered craft is a major milestone in any campaign, as the Pachyderm’s crew capacity is a vast step-up in firepower on the ground, and the combination of the Shark Jetbike and the Pachyderm allows for global tracking of any shipping to its landing point. The Jetbike replaces the Aircar easily in the civilian shootdown department, even saving some ammunition with its extra firing accuracy. Any looted cannons you have should replace the charger laser to ensure a kill against the higher-damage-capacity civilian craft.

Some focus should be spent on training pilots, as the bonus to craft approach speed, accuracy, and dodge, due to bravery, firing accuracy, and reactions, can mean all the difference in later interceptions, and starting early is a must. Reactions will be most important on lead interceptors, and is often difficult to raise without forethought. Bravery comes into consideration for the window of time between reaching an enemy shipping’s weapon range and closing the distance to bring your shorter guns to bear. Firing accuracy matters most for light weapons and early heavy guns, but means nothing if you can’t safely reach your weapons’ range! It’s also easiest to train out of the stats - just make sure your pilots get some ground missions. One suggestion is to start making your second base your primary interception and strike team headquarters, so that your pilots are immediately available after a successful splashdown to go on the ground mission for even more training.

First True Interceptors

The air game changes once you start seeing military transports, raiders, and light gunboats. These vessels rarely land but offer great assets to a growing pirate empire when assaulted, such as heavier armor and improved firearms, and in some cases, useful craft weapons. At this point, you should be well on your way to having the capability to cobble together a Hunter-Killer or two, or even manufacturing the Swordfish or Predator. Which interceptors you should use largely depends on what weapons you have available.

If you’ve managed to loot a number of Runabouts, Hoppers, and Cutters, you should have a supply of light cannons, a Seagull launcher and missiles, and possibly some Spike rockets. A Hunter-Killer armed with a single missile launcher and a pair of light weapons can take down these lighter shippings - Raiders are especially nice targets for improving the air game, as they often have more Seagull missiles to loot. Your first sets of Spike rockets should go on the Bonaventura if you have it, or on the Pachyderm, but only to provide supplemental firepower for a Hunter-Killer leading the attack, so as not to endanger your transports. If you bought and kept the Jetbike, add it to the backup interceptor list - any additional firepower shortens repair times for the lead craft. The Swordfish isn’t as useful at this stage as a Hunter-Killer, since the Spike Rockets cannot put as much damage on target as Seagulls, and the Swordfish lacks the cannon backup. Use its higher damage capacity to play lead for the Hunter-Killer, and maybe throw a few Spikes to save your Seagulls.

The usefulness of a dedicated heavy-weapons interceptor changes quickly as you research more craft heavy weapons; the 105 mm Rocket Launcher far outstrips Spike Rockets, and the Swordfish’s accuracy boost makes for a deadly fire support combination. A case can also be made for equipping a pair of Ramjet Cannons; though expensive to use and light on damage, they outrange the Light Gunship, Gunship, Raider, and Military Transport, allowing for completely safe long-range interception. If you have the hangar space (and you should if you’ve been expanding to new bases for radar coverage!), a Hunter-Killer or Predator armed with looted weapons, a Swordfish with 105 mm Rockets, the Bonaventura carrying Spikes and cannons, and a Jetbike/Pachyderm carrying whatever’s left over make a formidable fleet against whatever you’re willing to compete with in a DPS race, including some lighter military targets, such as Escorts, Gunboats, and Fighters - these can augment your arsenal with Gauss cannons, a serious upgrade from any light weapon you’ve used up to this point.

When in the interception window, use the aggressive stance (“Ramming Speed!”) to get the highest DPS for your missile launchers - launcher-type weapons and a few other heavy weapons boast a boosted firing rate when in aggressive stance. A good rule of thumb is all aggressive, all the time, unless you can outrange the enemy. Also, pick which interceptor on which you’re most willing to take the damage and repair time; early on this will be making sure your dropships don’t take damage and can therefore be refueled quickly. Later on you’ll have dedicated tanking craft that will repair faster - these are the best lead interceptors for minimizing repair times. You can use up to four interceptors per target, so it’s better to make sure you have the firepower by launching as many craft as you can up to this limit and waiting to start the battle until they all reach the target. If you’re worried that you might lose an interceptor, make the decision to abort early. Generally, if the enemy’s weapons greatly outrange yours, they’re also powerful enough to take down your early interceptors. Either break off the attack soon after reaching their weapons range if you’re going to abort, or go for the kill as quickly as possible. Trying to retreat a craft from point-blank range is likely to get it destroyed.

Mid-Game Upgrades

If you want to take down heavier targets, you’ll need to start diversifying your craft and specify roles within the fleet. You will start to lose interceptors against dedicated military vessels, so new tactics and more powerful weapons are in order. Though slow and expensive to arm, with its extra-accurate three heavy weapon slots, quick-repairing thickened hull, and shields on top of that, the Kraken makes for a solid cornerstone to a mid-game air force. Given a full complement missile-toting fighters and heavy weapon gunships for fire support, all but the heaviest of enemy vessels will fall. And you will start having to deal with them, either through Peacekeeping missions or the Crackdowns you've inevitably called on yourself by shooting down everything that flies. Fill the cockpit of this monster with pilots showing the highest reaction scores to reduce the damage the craft takes, and make sure they’re brave enough to keep the approach speed at least that of your other craft. You don't want a flimsy interceptor speeding ahead of the tank into enemy weapons fire!

On the heavy weapons side, upgrading to the Naval Gun gives you firepower that will last until well later in the game, if you’re willing to dedicate the runt-hours to churn out 120mm shells. Stingray missiles are a great staple to replace Seagulls, especially in being able to afford arming your interceptors. The Bulldog 50mm cannon is again a significant boost in raw DPS over the Gauss cannon, but you’ll start finding the weapon range an important factor against larger targets - front-loading damage with missiles and big guns is more useful for lowering repair times than the sustained output of a light cannon. The light weapons still have a role in quickly downing small targets while saving your heavy munitions for more hardened ships.

Researching Lancer missiles gives you a risk-free option for attacking Fighters and Terror Ships. Three hits will take down a Fighter, and with some lucky damage rolls, the Terror ship goes down to a Brave Whaler armed with nothing but Lancers, though having a follow-up bird in the air is recommended.

Downing Heavy Military Ships

While it is certainly possible to win the fight against a Bomber or Cruiser with nothing but massed Naval Guns and plenty of Stingrays, Railguns and Hammermites will make this a much more regular occurrence. Once you can take these down, you’ve pretty much won the air campaign. What’s left at this point is getting even more powerful weapons to reduce repair times, and slowly upgrading your interception craft. The Dragon is a welcome replacement to the Kraken with one more gun, higher speed, better shields, improved accuracy, and more damage capacity - it will become the de facto method of delivering heavy weapons to a target. The Crab deserves mention for being able to tank military craft up through the Gunship easily with almost as high speed as your missile interceptors, and the single light weapons slot begs to be filled with the shield generator to further extend its longevity.

Once you achieve the level of Avalanche missiles, interception becomes a matter of how many warheads you can safely put on a target. Eight will always crash even a Battleship except in the case of extremely poor damage rolls, six are enough for Cruisers if they hit. The question will be having the economy to support nuking everything you see. To save some resources and ensure a hit on even Large targets, a hyper-wave targeter can be placed in a missile slot - the Brave Whaler and Drakkar are the best craft for this tactic, both having enough slots for equipping two accuracy-boosted Avalanches.

Late Game Weapons

The rest of the craft tech tree and weapons are about increasing economic efficiency and decreasing repair times. Lascannons are a step down in firepower in the light weapons category, but the increased range and accuracy coupled with the strategy of front-loading DPS and the zero-cost ammunition means they are a worthwhile choice over the Bulldog or Ripper. Same goes for the Craft Beam Laser, although it’s recommended to use only one or two on a craft to leave space for more powerful weapons when they’re needed. The Gatling Lascannon is useful so far as the parts are available before the Beam Laser, and it has higher damage output against larger targets, but the lackluster range means it's best for sustained dogfights, which do not favor the survival of your interceptors. A Crab with a shield in its light slot may make use of it to attack Small and Medium targets that have a hard time punching through the shields, saving you the cost of other weapons and repair time on more powerful craft. Though the Plasma Beam and Spitter require hellerium to operate, the damage is phenomenal, and the economic savings comes in the form of not requiring manufacturing the ammunition - the time can instead be used for making money, and hellerium can be bought with the excess cash if necessary. The Plasma Bomb Launcher looted from Bombers and Battleships is really only useful as a finisher against Cruisers and more Battleships - enduring the incoming fire of getting into range for the bomb, you had better hope its yield is enough to finish the enemy. If you’re wondering why heavy weapons slots don’t get anything like the Avalanche, the Fusion Ball Launcher is there to fulfill your desires with even greater accuracy and 50% more overall yield. Obliterator Cannons are for those who couldn’t get enough of their Naval Guns, and want an alternative to the hellerium-hungry Plasma beams, boasting high damage and lower-cost ammunition, if you can manufacture it.

Interception Simulation Spreadsheet

If you want to know exactly what combination of craft, weapons, and pilots will be able to take down a specific target at your difficulty level, this spreadsheet calculates the average outcome of any interception, at least up to the point either the target or your lead interceptor crashes and burns. The second page of it also ranks weapons by damage output for a given craft, accuracy bonus, and target size, as well as calculating how much it cost to do that damage.

Loot tables

The following lists shippings by the weapons that may be looted from them.

25 mm Cannon
Freighter, Hopper, Raider, Runabout
30 mm Cannon Parts
Cutter, Freighter, Hopper, Raider, Raider Fighter, Rebel Fighter, Runabout, Smuggler Ship
50 mm Cannon Parts
Cutter, Excavator, Freighter, Hopper, Light Gunboat, Military Transport, Raider, Runabout
Gauss Cannon Parts
Assault Transport, Corvette, Escort, Fighter, Frigate, Gov’t Fighter, Gov’t Fusion Cruiser, Gunboat, Gunship, Heavy Gunship, Ordinator, Raider Gunship, Sentry, Shrine Ship, Supply Ship, Terror Ship
Plasma Spitter Parts
Battleship, Bomber, Cruiser, Envoy, Destroyer, Messenger
Seagull Missiles
Courier, Cutter, Freighter, Hopper, Raider, Raider Gunship, Runabout
Spike Rockets
Cutter, Freighter, Hanabu, Hopper, Raider, Runabout
Gat Lascannon Parts
Battleship, Corvette, Destroyer, Freighter, Smuggler Ship, Smuggler Ship (Milenio)
Plasma Bomb Launcher Parts
Battleship, Bomber