Elite: Impressions – Asp Explorer

2015-02-13

DAT ASP

The Asp Explorer is the civilian version of the military model Asp Mk II’s (which first saw service in 2878). Lakon Spaceways now owns the licence to construct these ships and has marketed them heavily at customers looking for their first multi-crewed ships. The ship class has earned a solid reputation for long range missions and those requiring some discretion.   -In-Game Description

Introduced in the Beta-2 ‘Exploration’ patch, the Asp is the first Lakon Spaceways ship implemented that was not solely devoted to cargo hauling. Allegedly designed for long-range exploration, the ship instantly gained a solid fan base among Elite players.

APPEARANCE

Shaped like a slightly-flattened, asymmetric hexagon, the Asp has a distinctive, instantly recognizable profile. The strong lines of its hull are broken up by the rounded cockpit assembly jutting from the front face of the hull, flanked by a pair of square retrothruster mounts. Rugged heavy-duty armor and maintenance panels cover the ship’s sides, with hardpoint hatches and maintenance areas clearly marked off with text and warning stripes. A long strip of cooling vents runs along the spine of the vessel, while a pair of short slanted stabilizer fins jut from the rear of the ship’s dorsal surface, directly above the exhaust ports for a pair of big, sturdy, blocky double-mount primary thrusters.

The whole thing is by default painted in a cool neutral slightly-grayish blue, with a pair of white racing stripes running along the back of the hull – quite akin to the default paintjob on the Cobra MKIII. From the heavily plated hull and the sturdy blocky shapes of its thruster mounts to the stout short landing grippers, the whole ship gives a rugged, bulky impression – rather like a space HMMWV, looming in a way that downright fills the available space in your hangar. It is not the prettiest of ships, but is very distinctive and not really that ugly, in a utilitarian way.

COCKPIT

Wow. That was my reaction on first stepping into the Asp – just wow. Like with the Lakon Type-6 transporter, the Asp features a large, frontal bubble canopy.. and somehow, they’ve managed to improve on the view. The entire top and front three quarters of the bridge is transparent plating. The support struts are thin and minimally sized, with little lights and handles mounted on them. With the cockpit’s typical Lakon position at the very front ‘face’ of the ship, you have a most impressive view of the universe around you. The engine casings extending to the sides of the cockpit do limit your view just slightly to your lower flanks, but aside from that (and the obvious giant blind spot that is the rear of the ship) you can even peer down past your seat and look almost directly below yourself.

Aside from the extensive view, the cockpit is very neat and utilitarian. The command console is, again, much like the Lakon-T6, a shallow, minimal, crescent-like strip, while all the walls paneled in dark gray metal and studded with some yellow-orange warning labels. The cockpit bubble is actually quite spartan, though with the sheer bulk of the ship I can only imagine the interior contains a more comfortable cabin – especially as the Asp is designed as a long-term, long-range explorer ship. As an interesting little detail, the cockpit is actually two-tiered – there’s a second compartment below the pilot’s seat, large enough to function as a little observation deck.

HANDLING

At over 400 tons of mass, the Lakon Asp is near twice as heavy as the Cobra MKIII – and it shows. Although the ship is equipped with a rather beefy C5 thruster array, the Asp is honestly a little sluggish to maneuver – once you get to anything resembling speed, you have a lot of inertia to overcome, making your turn radius quite wide when compared to most smaller vessels. The ship is still maneuverable enough that you can get from A to B relatively easily (and certainly more manageable than the bathtub they call the Lakon Type-6) but keeping up with smaller ships takes solid effort and extra power in your engines. That said, I have no doubt that anyone who takes the time to learn the ship’s ins and outs will make for a respectable pilot on the battlefield, especially when you factor in the other benefits of the hull.

Besides being over twice as heavy, the Asp is approximately as wide as a Cobra – perhaps not quite, but it comes close at its widest point – and over twice as long. Paired with considerable inertia (especially when fully loaded), this can make the ship somewhat interesting to bring to dock – the first few times I was slipping into a station’s mailslot, I tried to start rotating my Asp to align with the pad too early and ended up banging the rear of the ship against the edges of the bay opening. While the Asp does fit on a medium pad, it’s something to keep in mind when you’re on a docking approach – especially if you’re carrying valuables.

For long-range travel, the Asp starts out fairly well-equipped. The ship comes with a default frameshift range of 13.12 LY unladen and 12.07 fully laden – it’s fairly good for a brand-new ship, but ramps up quickly as you improve your frameshift drive – it’s not difficult to build an Asp that can get unladen jumps of thirty-odd light-years in one go, as long as you have the money for the frameshift drive. Furthermore, the ship’s fuel tank can fit an impressive 32 tons of fuel, giving the ship a downright ridiculous travel range – the default frameshift drive eats up to 3.3 tons of fuel in a single jump, giving you a maximum of nine frameshift jumps between refuels – further extended by the use of a fuel scoop. This very much makes sense for a ship that’s been designed to function as a long-range exploration ship.

Lastly but definitely not least, the Asp’s maneuverability is paired with one of the most distinctive engine sounds in Elite: Dangerous. Most other ships in the game sound like futuristic jets; the Asp sounds like an old propeller plane in desperate need of a new muffler. The first time I took it out of the dock, I spent the next five or so minutes pulling all the loops and curves and twists I could think of in order to figure out what kind of noises I could get the ship to make, and it didn’t disappoint – the basic engine sound is a low, droning, rattling buzz that varies with maneuvers from ‘electric drill with a dying battery’ to ‘oldschool dive bomber with a busted bearing assembly’ and ‘extended mechanical flatulence’, and it’s hilarious.

HARDPOINTS

For an alleged exploration vessel, the Asp has a surprising amount of firepower – a whopping six hardpoints, a clear step up from the Viper and Cobra. You would think they’d be scattered more or less evenly around a ship the size of the Asp, but you’d be wrong: The primary Class 2 hardpoints sit on the top front edge of the hull, directly above and to the side of the cockpit assembly; the first pair of secondary C1 hardpoints (where the default guns live) sits neatly to either side of the cockpit, while the last two C1 points are located underneath the ‘chin’ of the cockpit. In practice, all six guns are clustered neatly and tightly together – the furthest distance between two different hardpoints is considerably shorter than the distance between the two wing mounts on a Cobra, and even fixed weapons are going to have little trouble converging on most targets at reasonable combat distances. All in all, the arrangement does leave you able to put out a lot of hurt on a target in short order – assuming you can keep them in your sights. On the flipside, the whole arrangement is considerably less friendly to turrets – while the multiple overlapping fire arcs would make keeping anywhere near your front arc a hazardous proposition at best, you have an absolutely ginormous blind spot to your rear.

Aside from weapons, the Asp also comes with a generous compliment of four utility hardpoints for secondary equipment. Three sit at the top of the hull – one at the very front, right above the cockpit, while the other two sit on the back edge of the ship’s blocky hull, next to the topside stabilizer fins. The last one, meanwhile, sits in a little socket of sorts in the back bottom corner, directly underneath the rear airlock. Put together, the four mounts can prove a fairly comprehensive defense against homing ordnance – about the only direction not covered is directly underneath the ship’s chin – or you could easily carry a mixed loadout of secondary scanners, heat sink launchers or chaff dispensers. There’s a lot of room to find the combination that works for you – myself, I go with point defense guns in the top rear mounts, with a chaff dispenser and a k-scanner in the other two hardpoints. Note, however, that the twin rear mounts sit on the inside of the two stabilizer fins, limiting their fire arcs towards the sides of the ship. (They are, however, capable of firing forwards over your cockpit, if you dip your nose down a bit).

Here we have a fellow Commander kindly showing off his new Asp, with the hardpoints deployed and highlighted (amber for weapons, blue for utility). Note the distinctive spinal heat radiator array, the central positioning of the cargo scoop, and the hatches for the landing gear:

 

FITTING

A powerful frameshift drive, six weapon hardpoints, four utility mounts, seven internal compartments – an Asp can fit a ridiculous amount of onboard equipment for various roles. Thankfully, it’s also designed to provide for said equipment. The Asp’s class-5 power plant puts out an impressive 13 MW of power – and the ship’s default configuration uses up less than two thirds of it. There’s plenty enough performance left in the unit to fill up those hardpoints and plonk in a couple of system upgrades before you need to consider expanding the power generator. The same goes, up to a certain point, for the rest of the onboard equipment – the frameshift drive and thruster array are both powerful enough to handle some extra weight – but of course, with the sheer size and mass of C4 and C5 equipment, upgrades won’t exactly go amiss here. Sadly, the default power distributor is a bit undersized to truly and constantly handle six guns, and should probably be one of your first priorities.

For actual guns, the Asp is a flexible ship indeed to carry your chosen instruments of death and woe; even six basic pulse lasers (gimbaled or otherwise) will do a surprising amount of damage for a low investment and an absolute nonreliance on ammo reserves. Multicannons are more friendly towards the default configuration’s  limited power distributor and function as nice jack-of-all-trades guns – the relatively low shield damage of an individual multicannon is of little consequence when you have six of the damn things, and the so called ‘dakkasp’ will absolutely maul smaller hulls and savage critical systems on larger ships. Personally I go for pair of fixed C2 beam lasers to carve through my opponent’s shields, paired with quad C1 gimbaled multicannons for a reliable, if simple, one-two punch.

Another good thing about having so many different hardpoints is that you can feel free to get creative with the loadout – nothing prevents you from dedicating a hardpoint or two for more situational weapons while still retaining sufficient amounts of firepower – like, say, carrying a pair of railguns, missile launchers or torpedo pylons for particularly tough targets, and relying on your other four hardpoints for the remainder of the time. (This would also mitigate your power distributor issues up to a certain point, at the cost of carrying around weapons you may or may not end up actually using). Ultimately the choice is up to you; the sheer flexibility and plentiful power of the design should make it easy to fit the Asp to your liking, as long as you remember to respect the relatively limited fire arc of the weapon hardpoint cluster.

Meanwhile, the four utility hardpoints give you plenty of options for whatever task you feel like fitting the Asp towards – while the Cobra and Viper are limited to just two and have to specialize, you can feel free to take a bit of everything. Kill warrant, cargo and wake scanners will benefit mercenaries, bounty hunters and pirates alike, while a heat sink launcher is a natural compliment to heat-heavy weapons like rail guns and plasma accelerators, along with letting you coast along far more stealthily than anything the size of the Asp has right to. Chaff launchers and point defense turrets will simply increase your longevity on the field, and a defensively suited and competitively flown Asp can be a surprisingly difficult target to take down. Note that the ship is big enough that chaff is of limited effect at best at short ranges – the sheer size of the ship means that while popping a chaff pod will still foul the aim on gimbal/turret weapons, there’s considerably more Asp to hit in the first place.

To finish off this theme of flexibility, the Asp’s compliment of multiple lower-class internal compartments (a total of five C3 and C2 slots) mean you can carry along an impressive variety of secondary equipment – frameshift interdictors for pirates and bounty hunters, limpet controllers for privateers, discovery and surface scanners for explorers – along with fuel scoops and shield cell banks and field repair modules for the ultimate come-prepared ship. Meanwhile, the two large C5 and C6 internal compartments give you the ability to pack a respectably-sized shield generator while also carrying a neat load of trade goods for profit – an Asp with a single 64- or 32-ton cargo bay in an otherwise combat-oriented outfit makes for a superb long-range rare trader that most people simply won’t bother messing around with.

Speaking of flexibility, it bears to mind that the Asp’s relatively low (for its size) hull mass of 180 tons means it can (just barely) operate with a class-3 shield generator. While this makes the ship’s shields rather fragile, it does mean that you can feel free to devote those C5 and C6 slots to cargo space in case you feel like driving around a trader with some actual bite to it. Alternatively, upgrading from a C5 to a C6 shield will cut down on your available cargo space while making you an even harder nut to crack.

Of course, the downside to the sheer size and flexibility of the design becomes apparent when you look at the accompanying price tag. The basic hull of the Asp alone costs over six million credits, with an appropriately high insurance cost – and once you start upgrading the design, the price shoots up rapidly. An A-grade frameshift drive for the ship will cost a whopping five million by itself – a ‘moderately’ kitted out Asp will easily fetch a ten, fifteen million credits, and should you wish to upgrade everything to A-grade – it’s easy to sink in the neighborhood of 45-50 million credits into an Asp. While smaller ship hulls are very cheap and affordable, the larger designs quickly pick up a hefty price tag – and the Asp is a prime example of the ever-steepening price curve in Elite: Dangerous. You’ll also be needing to carry a certain amount of liquid cash on you at all times – the rebuy costs on a moderately kitted out Asp will easily outgrow the 200,000 credit insurance loan limit, meaning that if you manage to get your ride shot out from under you.. better to carry that 10% with you rather than start over from scratch.

COMBAT

A commander I know described fighting in an Asp as ‘being the biggest bully in the sandbox’ and I’m going to be entirely honest – he hit the nail head-on with that one. Six hardpoints of various sizes give the ship a degree of firepower smaller vessels simply cannot match or withstand for any period of time – paired with the flexibility and the sheer number of defensive equipment you can carry, a well-flown Asp can be a deadly opponent. Although the sheer mass of the ship makes it more sluggish to maneuver than most lighter combat ships, it’s still agile enough that a biut of creative maneuvering can land even Eagles and Vipers in your sights – and ships of that scale will not survive the firepower you can put out for long.

On the flipside, to complete the analogy, although the Asp packs a fair amount of firepower and durability, it’s also big and slow enough that maneuvering out of somebody else’s firing arcs isn’t quite as easy as it might sound like. This, paired with the sheer bulk of the ship, means that it does make for a very, very tempting target for larger combat-oriented hulls out there – ships like the Imperial Clipper, Python and Anaconda outgun the Asp by an order of magnitude and getting caught in one’s sights can mean an expensive repair job at best and ending up cashing in your insurance policy at worst. As a rule of thumb, the Asp can easily handle opponents up to about its own size fairly easily, but against anything larger than it – a fighty Asp pilot should keep on his or her toes and be ready to bail if things go pearshaped.

That said, combat in an Asp is actually rather fun. Certainly you have to work to target smaller, more nimbler ships – Eagles in specific can be a very, very frustrating target to draw a bead on – but six hardpoints in such a neat, tight convergence can put out absurd amounts of hurt in short order. Even going with a full fixed weapon layout isn’t much of a problem with the Asp – the tight grouping of the guns means that you can actually bring all six weapons to bear on a roughly Cobra-sized target at once. Should you go with gimbals, the protruding bubble canopy does hinder the middle gun mounts’ lateral traverse some, but in general the guns are well-positioned to bring bear on your opponent – as long as you can see your target, you can probably bring at least a couple of your guns to bear on them.

Also, while the stock power distributor has trouble keeping up with a full complement of six guns – at least, unless you’re going for a kinetics-heavy layout – the Asp’s systems do scale up nicely and let you tote around all sorts of interesting combinations. I’ve seen players rock six railguns on an Asp and while the recent heat nerf on them makes the loadout a little bit more difficult to handle than before, the ship can supply the raw power you need to actually fight with them. Railguns, plasma accelerators, torpedo pylons, missile launchers, frag cannons – there are all sorts of interesting options out there, and the sheer amount of hardpoints on the Asp does allow for experimentation with ‘secondary’ weapons without badly compromising your ability to carry more conventional guns. You can also absorb damage that would put smaller ships out of commission and just keep on swinging, especially if you switch out the C5 shield generator for a C6 model – though be aware that the increased power drain (your reactor is C5 afterall) can make fitting certain weapon systems more.. challenging.

That said, the hull does have its weaknesses as well.

First off, the Asp is an ‘armor tanker’ – unless you go for a C6 shield generator, your shields aren’t the kind of a defensive bulwark you might be used to with ships like the Viper. While your hull can absorb a lot of damage before you start losing subsystems, this does mean that actively fighting in an Asp can and will build up plenty of repair and maintenance costs – and considering the ship’s basic loadout costs over six and a half million credits, well.. you get what you pay for, and in this case you pay a lot for firepower and flexibility.

Secondly, while the big Lakon frontal canopy blister does offer you a particularly good view of your surroundings, increasing your situational awareness – especially convenient for those pilots who utilize the Rift or a headtracker solution of some type – it’s also a big juicy target, and you can be sure that more accurate players will be aiming to pop your canopy. It’s heavily recommended that you upgrade your life support systems to at least D-grade (the more the merrier) and get ready to bug out if you see your canopy spiderwebbing after an impact.

Third, the tight clustering of weapons hardpoints around the cockpit does make for a nasty killzone at the ship’s front arc, but leaves you relatively exposed when it comes to your rear arcs – in effect even turreted weapons won’t prevent the Asp from having a big blind spot behind it that you simply will not be able to bring your guns to bear towards. (Of course, if you wanted to get clever about it, you could go for four actual guns in the top and middle mounts and a pair of mine dispensers in the bottom C1 mounts to discourage close pursuit…) In general, with all your frontmounted guns, the Asp makes for a powerful combatant in an offensive role, but suffers in defensive capacity.

Last, but definitely not the least, the sheer size of the ship does make it an easy to hit target – even if the Asp is relatively mobile for its size, you’ll be absorbing quite a lot of damage smaller ships would’ve been able to avoid. This is particularly visible with chaff dispensers – while popping chaff will mess with your opponent’s gimbal/turret aim just as much as if you were in something smaller, the ship’s not-inconsiderable bulk means that there’s still a good chance that at least some of his or her fire will be finding its mark.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

A rugged, flexible ship, the Asp is much like a larger version of the Cobra MKIII. Honestly put, there’s very little you can’tfit an Asp to do with a bit of creativity. Going for a heavy weapons loadout and an upgraded shield generator makes for a powerful offensive ship; aiming for a lightweight build with a powerful frameshift drive and plenty of cargo space gets you a trader with cargo capacity comparable to a Type-6 with superior mobility and firepower; and the extensive fuel tank and frameshift range, paired with the multitude of small equipment slots for scanner arrays, fuel scoops, shield cell banks and field repair units makes for a superb explorator ship. Besides these, I’d say the Asp can particularly shine in a ‘rare trader’ role – the extended frameshift range and fuel tank makes it easy to haul rare goods long distances while you can easily set up a fit that can still carry fourty to eighty tons of cargo and retain enough combat efficiency to make most pirates rethink their life choices. The only downside to the ship is its sheer price – while the basic hull costs about six and a half million credits, having it ‘properly’ fit can easily double that price note. This, of course, leads to repair and upkeep costs to match – the Asp is not a cheap ship to fly.. and after it, the gulf of credits between each hull just gets wider and wider.

NUMBERS

Lakon ‘Asp’ Explorer

Price: 6,661,153 CR

Shields/Armor:  140/210

Hardpoints: 2x C2, 4x C1, 4x Utility Mounts

Internal Compartments:  1x C6, 1x C5, 3x C3, 2x C2

Mass:  406.0 t (280.0 t hull, 476.0 fully laden)

Cargo Capacity: 32 t (128 t maximum)

Fuel Capacity: 32 tons

Jump Range: 13.12 LY (12.07 LY unladen)

Top Speed: 252 m/sec / 343 m/sec boost

Power Plant Output: 13.60 MW (8.62 MW / 63.4% used)

DEFAULT LOADOUT

2x class 2 weapon mounts: Empty

4x class 1 weapon mounts: 2x C1F fixed pulse laser, Empty

4x Utility Mount: Empty

Power Plant (Class-5): C5E

Thrusters (Class-5): C5E

Frameshift Drive (Class-5): C5E

Life Support (Class-4): C4E

Power Distributor (Class-4): C4E

Sensor Suite (Class-5): C5E

Fuel Tank (Class-5): C5 (32 tons)

Internal Compartments:

Internal Compartment (Class-6): C5 Cargo Rack (32 tons)

Internal Compartment (Class-5): C5E Shield Generator

3x Internal Compartment (Class-3): C2 Cargo Rack (4 tons), Empty

2x Internal Compartment (Class-2): C1 Cargo Rack (2 tons), Empty

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by CMDR Zhor and originally apeared on TheMittani.com under his byline.)

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