Classic Elite, with its roots set deep in the history of space trader sims, was especially focused on finding and capitalizing on the most efficient way to gather in piles of space bucks for that next space truck upgrade. While it is true that Elite: Dangerous has come a long way from its roots and expanded the career options available, the fact is that it is still largely a traveling merchant sim will cause boredom and many players will still struggle to be very efficient at the less obvious choices.
WHY WE GRIND
Greed. It is largely the single most common driver in any given video game. MMOs are particularly well known for exploiting this underlying fact of the human condition to force players to perform a repetitive task over and over for infinitesimal gains in currency.
The most universal forms of the grind in MMOs is the senseless genocide of NPCs of all races. Millions of pixel bandits, soldiers, and helpless animals have fallen to the gods of the grind over the years. EverQuest, in its heyday, had an entire social etiquette built up around the holding and waiting for monster camps. Eve has turned the art of belt and anom ratting into a precise science focused on squeezing out every last bit of ISK per hour.
ELITE BELT RATTING: FINDING WANTED TARGETS
Elite has lifted a page directly from Eve in regards to belt ratting. Like Eve the first step is knowing where to go to find the rats that will pay out the most for the least amount of risk. The first choice a player must make is what system to hunt in. The type of government in a system can be seen from the galaxy map (under the view tab) is the most significant part of making a selection of hunting grounds. As in the classic version of Elite, the worse the government the more the rats will breed. Additionally, systems in a state of anarchy or no government type mean that a player can shoot any other ship without incurring a bounty.
After a player has selected a system they will be faced with some choices. There are 3 main ways to find and hunt rats in a system. The first, and least efficient, way is to interdict NPCs from supercruise and kill them directly. This introduces a significant delay time between kills as a player will need to leave and enter supercruise for every kill.
The second way for players to find things to shoot is to find the signal sources that spawn randomly throughout deep space and near celestial bodies. These signals also come in three different types. Faint sources are usually a couple of canisters of some type of contraband. These are used for missions and smuggling so a rat hunter can safely skip them. Unknown signal sources can have a wide range of options ranging from smugglers and traders who are looking for goods, a police checkpoint, or a small scale skirmish between rats and an NPC trader. These sites are very unpredictable in terms of cr per hour, but they tend to be pretty easy and can make a good jumping off point for a hunter with limited resources. The final flavor is the strong signal sources. These are almost always about 6 to 10 ships that are either engaged already or lying in wait for someone to stop by. These fights can be very challenging for a solo player but can offer significant bounties.
Finally, hunting at navigational points offers the most efficient hunting grounds to players under the 1.3 version of E:D. Currently, there are three different types of navigational points offering different amounts of risk and opportunity.
STATIC NAVIGATIONAL LOCATION HUNTING
Before explaining the different types of static hunting grounds, a note on engaging NPCs in a wing. NPCs at the first two types of static sites will generally not come to each other’s aid unless they are in a wing. So a wanted Sidewinder will generally not attack you for shooting the Eagle next to it, despite being members of the same NPC faction. However, extreme caution should be exercised when engaging even small ships in a wing. That extra Eagle that, by itself, is not a threat will tear a ship out from under an unwary pilot who is attacking the Python in the Eagle’s wing.
Near the entry point to most systems is a Navigational beacon. These represent the places with the fewest and least difficult rats. The majority of ships near the nav beacons will be trade ships that are “coming out of hyperspace” The rats that spawn at these locations will be towards the lower end of the difficulty spectrum for the system’s government type and only rarely will they be a wing. As with the unknown signals, these can offer a newer player an easy way to get started.
Resource extraction points offer players the next level of difficulty in terms of rats to hunt. The rats that spawn will vary across the spectrum of what is available according to system’s government, but will tend to be higher pilot skill, and as a result have bigger bounties, than those rats that are spawned at the signals or at the nav beacon. Resource Extraction Sites (RES) flagged as high intensity will also have a much higher number of the rats grouped into wings, which adds another layer of risk and reward. By and large, RES hunting will be the best place for most players to hunt rats as it has a good balance of risk to reward at a system’s given skill level.
The final static site to hunt rats in is the conflict zones. Similar to hunting on the RES, conflict zones come in both low and high intensity varieties. However, where conflict zones differ from RES is that they will always be filled with two different factions of ships actively engaged with each other. A player selects a faction to align with by going into the function window on the right hand control panel. The first option there will say faction where you pick a side and then half the area turns green the other half red.
Once that is done the player will be rewarded in combat bonds (mostly the same as bounties). However, once a pilot is aligned with a faction all other ships of the opposing faction can and will engage the pilot while they are in the combat zone. In other words the whole zone will behave similarly to being in a combat wing. So you can and will be shot in the back without warning and a players ship will need to be much stronger to survive. Conflict zones are constant fighting but it is very easy to get swarmed and overwelmed. Also, the systems in conflict can be hard to find. The news network in game is a good place to start but third party programs like the Info Limpet are almost always up to date
ASSETS TO RISK VS. REWARDS GAINED
While it is true that the only required equipment to start hunting rats is a ship with a gun, there are a number of things to consider. Obviously the system’s government will determine how far a player will have to punch above their weight at a given type of spawn. To do that a player will need to target the specific subsystems of the enemy ship and disable it. Generally speaking the hull HP of a large ship will be much greater than the HP of the power supply. However, once the power supply is destroyed the ship will blow up. But, there are rules to shooting subsystems.
To best understand how a small ship can easily kill a larger ship’s subsystems a player needs to examine the characteristics of two different classes of weapons. First a player needs to strip away the target’s shields to expose those subsystems. This generally means lasers. However, once the shields are gone lasers are not as effective against subsystems as ballistic weapons are. Damage to subsystems is modeled on a per strike basis so the more times a target is struck the more chance of those hits landing damage to the targeted subsystem’s HP and not just the HP of the hull. This gives multicannons a significant advantage when targeting subsystems over guns with slower rates of fire. There is some argument in the player community that the current method of hit modeling is not working correctly. Currently, hits to anywhere on a ship can hit any subsystem which is counter intuitive. If this is changed, using machine guns to hunt bigger targets may wane in popularity.
At its core, Elite Dangerous is still a space trucking simulator. The 1.2 and 1.3 content patches have expanded on this to some degree and given players more career options. However, trading is still far and away the best means to gather funds with the least effort and resources. Optimal levels of NPC hunting can yield anywhere from 1 to 3 million cr per hour. This is of course under ideal conditions only, and has significant peaks and valleys based on how lucky a player is getting heavy and skilled NPCs to spawn.
Overall, there is a great deal of fun and relief from the monotony to be found by partaking in pixel slaying. The flight skills required to keep your Asp on target to hit an Eagle will keep a player much more engaged than flying from point A to point B and turning on a docking computer.