With the rising popularity of Afterburner Armor HACs and AB Armor HAC gangs, a number of people (including myself) tend to include Faction cruisers as part of the HAC group.  In general, while they don’t get the excellent secondary bonuses, they often were easier for the lower SP players to field, and still held strong damage bonuses.  Some of these ships could even hold their own against their T2 cousins, often earning them the monikier of a “1.5x HAC”. 

However, how do these ships really stand up next to their T2 brethren?  Do their numbers, cost, and ease of access make up for their lack of secondary bonuses?  Well, let’s go through, both on a group level, and on an individual level how well these ships operate in an AB Armor HAC environment.

At the Group Level, Faction Cruisers provide a nice alternative to the typical HAC having the following advantages:

  • Lower Skillpoint requirement:  A pilot needs only the racial cruiser skill to fly one, not the additional HAC skill on top of it.  This can be very helpful to your pilots who want to be useful in fleets and have a good amount of isk, but not alot of combat skills (think carebears who finally see the light…).  These ships tend to be serious upgrades from their T1 counterparts, so as such, aren’t a bad substitute.
  • Slightly less Cost:  The price of a typical Faction cruiser is roughly 15% less than your typical HAC, though HAC prices vary substantially.  The Faction cruiser also has somewhat of an advantage in that you can also purchase them with Faction Points.. making it easier for some to jump into the PVP ring with one of these ships and also recover from their loss.
  • Strong Combat Bonuses:  Often a Faction cruiser will have good combat bonuses that make it nearly on par with HACs.  Pirate Faction ship bonuses often easily put it on the same level with HACs.  One such example would be the Cynabal, which is probably most feared cruiser in the game at this point as it is able to scare even veteran Vagabond pilots with its effective combat range and damage output.
  • Three Rigs slots:  This is a BIG bonus, which can make up for the lack of the T2 bonuses, and allows you to configure your ship a little more to your style and needs.  
  • More locked targets:  Not a big issue, but it allows you more options when attacking.

However, there are problems as well.  These aren’t small issues and should be seriously considered, especially if you are deciding between a Faction Cruiser and a HAC when buying and flying one.  Faction cruisers, as a whole, have the following disadvantages:

  • T1 damage resistances:  These resists make it much harder to Omni-tank and you still will have a sub-HAC tank.
  • 3.0 AU/S warp speed:  This may not sound like much, but consider, HACs have a 25% speed improvement over T1 cruisers in warp speed.. meaning they can travel farther distances, get to the combat zone quicker, and easily outrun a typical pick-up fleet.
  • Purpose-built to their Faction:  In the HAC world, its pretty cut and dry if a ship will work with a particular group or not.  No one in their right mind is going to think that a Vagabond is a good idea in a Sniper HAC fleet.  However, a HAC is ALWAYS a direct combat ship, nothing else.  Unfortunately, Faction cruisers suffer from a curse of Purpose.  And sometimes that purpose really doesn’t have much of a place in fleets you are in.

Pirate Faction Cruisers you should look into (as of June 2011):

Cynabal – Combination of Gallente and Minmatar technology has produced a ship that is considered the Premier Small gang Assault Cruiser.  As fast as a Vagabond and far more damaging, it carries a 10% per level skill bonus for Projectile Damage AND Falloff pitched in with a hull bonus of 25% additional damage to Projectile Turrets.  In addition, the Cynabal can field an entire wing of medium drones or two wings of light drones.  However, the price of these ships are so high you can probably purchase at least two, maybe three outfitted Vagabonds.  Configurations are pretty basic and fairly easy to figure out, but its quite versatile in that it can be both well shield and armor tanked. Highly recommended for small gangs, but make sure both your Minmatar AND your Gallente Cruiser skills are at least IV and ideally at V.

Ashimmu – The Minmatar and Amarr combination here has produced a powerful effective ship, when presented with the right circumstances.  I have developed a couple good Ashimmu configurations that can be used, however, it should be noted that you’ll be feeling a little disappointed when flying one.  The Ashimmu’s has a 100% hull bonus to Laser weapon damage, giving it some impressive damage and it is coupled with a 15% per level Vamp/Neut drain bonus and a 10% bonus to Web Velocity.  However, you’ll notice that there is no range bonuses to any of these.  It’s a ship meant for combat up close and personal.  The downside is that the typical passive armor tanks for these ships really make getting “up close and personal” a difficult task.. and with the 3.0 warp speed, just keeping up with the fleet will be a challenge.  This ship is much cheaper than the Cynabal and so losing one won’t break the bank.  Plus, since the damage and tanking bonuses aren’t tied to either racial cruiser skill, you can fly these ships fairly effectively even at skill level III, though IV would be better.

Phantasm – The mix of Amarr and Caldari technology produced a ship that from the outside (and in previous patches) appears to be a good knife fighter.  Though, once you realize we aren’t in a knife fight, you find out pretty quickly that the Phantasm isn’t as a great ship as it seems it could be.  The powergrid and CPU force you to use Pulse lasers, and its slow base speed makes it difficult to keep up in sub-warp speeds.  The ship’s strange combination of faults force it to use a lot of cap.  First, its slow base speed means more MWD use.  Second, Lasors which use the most cap of all weapon systems.  Third, Smaller sized capacitor.  Because of this, most configuration use at least one (and usually two) vamps in the highs, and a medium cap booster in the midslots.  The plus to these is that while it doesn’t have long legs, it still does quite a bit of damage with Pulse lasers and can be picked up for fairly cheap.  If you have excellent navigation skills, you could alleviate at least some of the speed negatives and still be a fairly effective member of your fleet.

Gila –  This ship is another “almost” great like the Ashimmu, only with a Gallente/Caldari mix to it.  The ship has plenty of room for drones (400 m3!), a hull based 50% velocity bonus to all medium and light missiles, 10% bonus to drone hp and damage per level, and a 5% shield resist bonus per level too.  However, it has only three launcher hardpoints, and much of its damage is drone based.  This puts the Gila in the same class as the Ashimmu as it is ideal for solo operations, but requires considerably more work to use with any effectiveness in fleets, and a real pain in high speed gangs.  The ship itself runs about 100mil, so it is rather good for PVE work.

Vigilant – This is a ship I am the least familiar with, however, its high cost certainly promote this ship as a viable ship for fleet operations.  The bonuses reflect a fairly quality use ship, with a base speed of 196km matched with 5 turret hardpoints, a hull bonus of 75% damage to hybrids and a per level bonus for falloff and to web velocity factor.  However, the problem remains that it is armor tanked (which slows your ship and agility down), and whether you think it is for good or for bad, the ship is practically a better version of the Deimos, the T2 Variant.  The Vigilant appears to trade MWD cap and targetting range for greater damage, tank, and mid utility.  Still the down side of both is that they aren’t particularly fast using the more common passive armor tank setups.  So while you can do more damage and stay in the battle longer with the Vigiliant, you are more likely to get into the fight in the first place with the Deimos.

Navy Faction Cruisers you should look into (as of June 2011)

Stabber Fleet Issue – The hardier version of the Stabber is a favorite amoung lower SP Minmatar pilots who want to join Armor HAC fleets.  The ship is ideally armor tanked, and fields five, double-bonused turrets (5% Rate of Fire per level and 10% tracking speed per level) as well as 40m3 of drone space.  The ship is fast and generally has little problem keeping up with fleets.  The price is usually around 100mil and is thus may be too much for beginning pilots to risk.

Scythe Fleet Issue – A mini-typhoon that has the same problems as the Typhoon.  It’s a ship that is cheap and somewhat fun to use, but if you are skilled enough to fly it effectively, you can easily fly a better ship.  The ship is geared around close range combat with a 5% Rate of Fire bonus for both the Projectile Turrets and the Missile Launchers as well as a very high base speed.  The price is around 40mil isk for the hull.  My own experience with this hull has been that it is worth what you pay for but be sure you don’t get caught by yourself.

Omen Navy Issue – Probably the most popular Navy Faction ship around, the higher damage Pulse lasers blend with this ship’s bonuses of 7.5% rate of fire per level and 10% bonus to laser cap use per level, mixed with five turrets and enough drone space for a flight of light drones.  As most Armor HAC Fleets revolve around the Zealot, the Omen Navy Issue fits right in for close range fights.  Typical price for this hull is between 120 to 150 mil isk.

Augoror Navy Issue – Simply a tank and is reasonably cheap, with bonuses more focused toward defense.  The Augoror Navy Issue gets a big 10% per level bonus to hitpoints, giving configurations using a 1600mm plate a high amount of defense.  The CPU and Powergrid also allows for use of lighter T2 Medium Pulse lasers with it, and with the 10% per level bonus to Laser Cap use you can be a fairly effective porcupine.  Still, it wouldn’t be as effective in roams because of its mass.  Might be good for use on mining OPs, where your enemies will have to come to you.

Vexor Navy Issue – One of the more popular solo PVP ships and the Vexor Navy Issue’s bonuses reflect this.  The Vexor Navy Issue get several nice bonuses to this effect with 100m3 of drone space, Five bonused Hybrid Turret hardpoints, 5% per level Hybrid damage increase, 10% bonus to Drone damage and hitpoints per level.  This ship remains one of the more popular pirate ships because it maintains and improves upon the strengths of the basic Vexor.  Its use in solo or small gang work would certainly make it valuable.. but that value is limited in Fast attack gangs, and non-existant in fleets.

Exequror Navy Issue – A mystery to be sure.  The bonuses indicate that this might be a reasonably good brawler (like the Gallente need another brawler) with a 5% damage bonus and Rate of Fire bonus to Medium Hybrid turrets, plus it is faster than a Thorax.  Yet, even battleclinic had only three fits, with two being just lolfits.  There were no forum comments on this ship and the price of this ship on the market is rather high for how little it is used.  Considering the cost of this ship, for the damage potential, you would be better off flying a Thorax.

Caracal Navy Issue – A popular PVE choice and sometimes compared favorably with the Cerebrus, the Caracal Navy Issue touts the 10% bonus to missile velocity per level as well as a 5% bonus to Kinetic armed missiles per level.  From the outset, it looks like a ship like this would do well with Tengus, Cerebruses, and Drakes.  However, the price of the Caracal Navy Issue pretty much prices out of typical missile lobbing fleets.  While it has a larger tank than the Cerebrus, the Cerebrus has better targetting range, higher resists, and greater damage.  The Caracal Navy Issue is usually about 2x more expensive than the Drake and the Drake has more launchers and a much bigger, higher resist tank.  The Tengu simply is a class of its own where the Caracal Navy Issue would simply be a detriment to is operation.

Osprey Navy Issue – Much like the Exequror Navy Issue, the bonuses indicate that this ship should be an excellent PVP ship, however the practical application of this is considerably lacking.  The Osprey Navy Issue gets a 5% per level bonus to missile rate of fire and a 10% bonus per level for missile velocity which should translate to at least a good anti-frigate platform.  The Powergrid and CPU clearly hamper the possible configurations.  Because of this, the actual combat ability is less than a standard issue Caracal.

In Conclusion

While there are multiple faction ships out there for a pilot to purchase and use in PVP, the simple fact is that not all of them are worth the ISK to purchase or use.  Some, like the Cynabal, are ships that exceed even the abilities of T2 HACs.  Others, like the Osprey Navy Issue, are actually no better (and possibly worse) than a T1 Cruiser.  Keep these things in mind:

  1. “Does the ship I want to purchase actually do what I want it to do reasonably well?”  Just because you think a Phantasm should be a sniper, doesn’t mean it can do the job well.. or even effectively.
  2. “Can I fly it well?”  Remember, all the pirate faction ships require two racial cruiser skills and for full effectiveness, those skills should be at least at level IV.
  3. “Will this ship have a place in the fleet/gang/solo?”  Probably the second most important question to ask yourself.  No sense purchasing a 400 mil Shield Faction ship for close range work, when your fleet plans on long range armor ships.

In the end, a lot of the Faction Cruisers’ effectiveness will depend on the skill of the FC and the overall speed of the fleet.  And the effectiveness of the gang or fleet is what determines whether you go home in your pod, or if you make someone else go in theirs.