ELITE: IMPRESSIONS – FER-DE-LANCE

2015-03-10

Rich Man’s Toy

The Fer-de-Lance is another classic design that has now been in production for two centuries. The ship became famous for its popularity with top business executives and wealthy bounty hunters, being a fast, well armed vessel, with luxurious accommodation and high quality components fitted as standard. Early models were built by Zorgon-Peterson but more recently limited numbers have been upgraded by Saud Kruger in a rare collaboration, resulting in even more lavish creations without spoiling the original design and specification requirements. -In-game description

The second ship introduced in the 1.2 ‘Wings’ update, the Fer-de-Lance (French for ‘spearhead’, literally ‘iron of the lance’, and also the name of a particularly nasty type of a pit viper) is a longtime fan favorite, debuting in the original -84 Elite but not seen in-game in the sequels. A luxurious – if not downright ostentatious – design, in the original Elite the FdL was described as a ‘sophisticated craft, capable of both limited trading, combat, and leisure function’. The question is, how does the modern adaptation of the ship fare under closer examination?

Note: As with the Vulture, this review is currently based on the 1.2 beta version available to E: D beta backers. I’ll update new information as necessary.

Appearance

Well, then.

Every ship manufacturer in Elite has their own distinctive style, common design cues all over Faulcon-DeLancey goes for the classic ‘space wedge’ look, Lakon likes their bubble cockpits, Core Dynamics goes for harsh angles and metallic colors.. Zorgon-Peterson’s ‘thing’, apparently, is that all their ships are the same ship all over again.

Seriously, the Fer-de-Lance looks like a larger, pointier Adder. The general shape and proportions are much the same – a long, rounded, triangular ‘space shuttle’ shape with a pointy nose, short wings with upswept tips, and diagonal stabilizer fins at the top corners of the hull. The FdL is merely bigger, sleeker, more pointed – the wide, flat hull has a soft, gradual slope to it, all rounded smooth curves and very few straight lines or harsh angles, a very Imperial touch (and fitting for a ship co-produced by Saud Kruger, responsible for the Orca). Where the Hauler and Adder have a forward-mounted ‘van’ cockpit, the FdL’s bridge is in a sleek little armored bubble-deck rising from the back of the ship.

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Viewed from behind, the rear of the ship appears to have a subtle bend to it, as if the cross-section was more of a crescent in shape – dominated by a sloped cargo hatch/embarkation ramp and a pair of gigantic multi-nozzled engine cells, each built with a larger primary engine port flanked by four secondary cells. The ship’s thermal regulators, meanwhile, are hidden in little nooks around the engines – as an interesting little detail there are two ‘thermal stacks’ on the back of the ship that pop up and rotate when the ship runs hot enough. Even the hardpoints have been aesthetically worked into the hull – the multiple utility mounts are set in subtle circular depressions on the top and bottom of the ship, and the various weapon hardpoints neatly and seamlessly hide themselves underneath the ship’s curved armor plating. All in all, the Fer-de-Lance looks sleek, sexy and expensive, like an upgunned luxury yacht – which, to be fair, is pretty much exactly what they were going for.

Meanwhile, the paintjob is a nice departure from the usual dull, muted, somber grays and blues you see on stock ships – the Fer-de-Lance’s default paintjob is a rich, deep blood red. Choice segments of the hull are painted a warm, bony off-white in contrast to the red, bound together by dark gray wings and panel lines, while the very tip of the ship’s conical nose is painted a deep glossy black. All in all, the FdL is a very distinctive sight, even straight off the factory floor – it might not be to everyone’s liking (space wedges ahoy!) but it’s far from an ugly ship either.

Cockpit

Stepping onto the bridge deck of the Fer-de-Lance – despite being a ‘medium’ ship, the FdL gives the impression of being much, much bigger than it really is. The bridge – not quite a cockpit anymore – is designed for two crew, but is actually downright spacious – I can only imagine how it’ll look on the Oculus Rift or similar. Interestingly, the two pilot seats are offset from one another – the primary pilot seat is at the very front of the cockpit space while the secondary copilot’s seat is actually behind and to the left of the main seat. (Yes, yet another ship you control from the right-hand seat – ZP must be a British company!). Looking over your left shoulder, you can see there’s a lot of empty space behind the pilot seats, along with secondary consoles and the like – the back half of the bridge might function as a little observation deck for VIP passengers or the like.

Aesthetically speaking, the bridge feels neat, sterile, luxurious in a futuristic kind of a way – elegant, even, in a simplistic kind of a way. The cockpit console resembles the Hauler’s and Adder’s when it comes to the same basic shape – a bowl-shaped impression before the pilot for the radar hologram (and flanked, once more, by what look like the speakers for a fairly powerful sound system). Smooth rounded curves and simple geometric shapes are sheathed in silver and gray-blue plastic, along with pale gray leather – considering the sheer price and the celebrated luxuriousness of the ship, chances are we’re talking about hand-stitched stuff here. The pale blue lights of the secondary consoles, paired with the light gray paneling, remind me of Imperial ships while avoiding the while iMperial aesthetic we’ve come to know and love. All in all the general air of the FdL bridge is elegance without plain showing off – there’s actual style here.

Meanwhile, the view from the bridge is.. actually pretty damn good. The main viewport is wide, wrapping around the front half of the ship in a crescent shape – while the sheer size of the ship prevents you from seeing below you, you have very good visibility far to your sides – you can easily peer ‘behind your shoulder’. Meanwhile, the hull of the ship curves down at just the right angle to not hinder your view outside – though the bridge itself is relatively far back along the hull, you can’t actually even see the nose of the ship (although this can be a slight hindrance when you’re maneuvering in tight spaces). Above, your view is slightly more restricted – there’s a narrow, long strip of transparency above the pilot seats, letting you look directly above yourself, but your rear diagonal angles are slightly hindered by what looks like hefty protective plating. Factoring everything together, you have a very, very good view of the outside world, perfect for navigation, sightseeing and combat – though the relatively large cockpit panels might make for a tempting target in combat. Plan accordingly and consider upgrading your life support systems.

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Handling

Actually flying the FdL in, the ship’s reputation for speed and maneuverability is quickly proven well-deserved. Despite the size of the ship – physically, the Fer-de-Lance has roughly the same mass and dimensions of the Asp – the ship handles very fluidly and smoothly, especially when it comes to pitching the vessel – the maneuver thrusters feel rather powerful. It’s hard to make a true metric for a ship’s turn radius and agility – at least one that’s easy to measure in-game – but from the feel of the ship, I’d place it closer to the Cobra than the Asp when it comes to general mobility. At standard ‘idle’ two-pip engine power, you get a reasonable 244 meters per second top speed ; fully-powered you get up to 265 m/sec, and firing your afterburners will push you to a respectable 356 meters per second – not quite as good as the Cobra, but very speedy for a vessel nearly twice as fast. The peak boost doesn’t last as long as with the Cobra, either, but all things considered the, Fer-de-Lance is a pleasant, smooth ship to fly.

As a note, thanks to the other features of the hull, the cargo scoop sits all the way at the very back of the belly – with the size of the ship, there’s a lot of hull in the way. If you find yourself scooping cargo, you’ll have to aim yourself slightly above your target to scoop it up, or risk simply bouncing the container off your nosecone or underbelly.

Of course, you can’t have everything – and while the ship is a joy to fly tactically, the FdL is.. I wouldn’t call it crippled, but woefully underequipped when it comes to inter-system movement. The Fer-de-lance gets a whopping 7 LY of a jump range, on the nose, in its default configuration.

Seven. With an empty cargo hold.

For comparison, the much-maligned Viper gets 6,92 light-years when empty – and once you fill both up with cargo and fuel, the FdL actually comes off worse with 6,59 LY of a jump range (compared to a Viper’s 6,66 LY). Essentially the problem is that the FdL carries a class-4 frameshift drive – in its default configuration, the E-rated FSD has an optimal mass of 280 tons.. while the ship itself masses an 376 tons. With an empty fuel tank, and in its default configuration that leaves the vast majority of its gun mounts empty. Adding insult to injury, the class-3 fuel tank only holds 8 tons of fuel, and the C4E frameshift drive horks up a quarter of it in one go – you’re limited to a maximum of four jumps between refuels. Furthermore, initial upgrades won’t make things much better – you need at least a C4B frameshift drive to drag your FSD optimal mass above the FdL’s default tonnage, much less after doing other upgrades and addons to the ship. With a C4A frameshift drive, you’ll probably be getting in the ballpark of 11 to 13 LY of a jump range, depending on the rest of your configuration – and a C4A will take up to three tons of fuel per jump, further limiting your travel range. Also, for some pants-on-head-stupid reason, they’re probably mixing crushed diamonds or something into the fuel tank – fully refilling the 8-ton tank will cost you about 30K (While a Sidewinder’s 2-ton tank will fetch you something like 100 CR per refuel). All in all, with the FdL, a fuel scoop isn’t just a convenience – it’s downright mandatory, especially if you’re the kind of a player who likes to move around much.  (They just took out the hull price modifier for fuel, so that part’s no longer valid. Fuel scoop’s still a good idea if you intend to travel any longer distances, though.) A rich man’s toy, indeed – it feels like one of those fancy monster SUVs who’ve never seen a dirt road, much less actual terrain.

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Awfully pretty for an SUV, though.

As for the sound of the ship, the FdL is surprisingly noisy for a ‘fancy luxury ship’ – the primary thrusters have a soft dull rumble to them, but there’s a distinct buzzing flutter-hum to the maneuver thrusters – something you’ll be very much familiar with if you’ve spent time behind the wheel of a Hauler or an Adder. (The FdL is louder, but at least it doesn’t sound like it’s trying to summon Cthulhu when you’re pulling off a barrel roll). I think the most distinctive noise in the Fer-de-Lance’s repertoire is the boost sound – hit the booster and there’s a high-pitched whine that builds into a roar of the primary thrusters, a fluttering whirlrlrlrlFOOM! that pretty much sends the ship rocketing off like God himself reached down and slapped it on the ass. (Incidentally, the ship can flip around ridiculously quickly with full power to engines and an active boost – way, way faster than anything the approximate size of the Asp has any right to).

Hardpoints

Alright, so getting around between systems on the Fer-de-Lance is a lot harder than you’d expect from a luxury liner. The main draw in the design isn’t interstellar travel, though – it’s the firepower. The FdL features four C2 hardpoints along its pointed snout. Two are located in the classic ‘nose’ position – about a quarter down the length of the hull, sitting fairly close to one another. The second set sit slightly behind the first, lower down along the side of the hull – right below the front of the bridge. In practice, the guns are well-positioned – it’s perhaps a little difficult to get both ‘side’ guns on a  Sidewinder-sized target, if you use all fixed guns, but the positioning and arc of the weapons does favor gimbaled weapons as well. The middle pair, meanwhile, run fixed guns very, very well – it’d be easy to run fixed nose guns and gimbaled side mounts for a nasty, accurate punch, and four C2 guns HURT when positioned right.

Besides the four C2 hardpoints, the Fer-de-Lance comes equipped with a single ventral C4 hardpoint.

Pictured: Single ventral hardpoint. Note the position of the cargo scoop at the very back of the ship.

That’s not a typo. C4. Huge, the kind of a weapon you until now would only see on an Anaconda. A gun that is, for a ship this size, hilariously, obscenely, ridiculously powerful – and oversized. Even retracted, the hardpoint is visible as a distinct protruding ovoid hatch on the ship’s underbelly; once deployed, well, yes, it is indeed very happy to see you. The hardpoint sits pretty much smack dab at the middle of the belly, behind the front landing gear and a long embarkation ramp; for the few gimbaled options available for C4 weapons (cannons, for the most part), the gun will have trouble tracking targets above the ship’s waterline. Fixed weapons like the C4 plasma accelerator, of course, won’t care. Either way, the final aimpoint for the weapon is slightly below the arc of the four C2 mounts, but not enough to make aiming impossible – it takes a bit of getting used to, but actually hitting your target with a C4 cannon or plasma accelerator will certainly make them feel it.

Besides the downright obscene firepower for a ship its size, the Fer-de-Lance comes with an impressive complement of six utility mounts. Two of these sit in little circular depressions on the top of the ship, behind and to the sides of the bridge; the other four sit on the belly of the ship, forming a neat semicircle around the back of the c4 gun mount. With the hull’s flat underside, the four belly mounts will have trouble targeting anything above the wings, but have a complete hemisphere for a fire arc under the ship; meanwhile, the two topside utility mounts sit pretty much directly on the top of the hull’s arc and have a near-total coverage above the ship. Put together, the six mounts give you near-complete PD coverage – most angles will be covered by at least two guns – and give you all sorts of options for interesting secondary equipment.

That’s one ookin’ big gun. Note the distinctive off-axis positioning of the pilots’ seats on the bridge module.

Fitting

The first order of business for a new FdL owner is upgrading the frameshift drive – no exceptions. You’ll preferably want at least a 4B one to get your optimal mass rating above the ship’s actual mass – a C4B FSD module will fetch about half a million credits at most dealers, so thankfully it’s not too big of a project. A 4A will be more expensive, naturally, at about 1.6M CR. This’ll extend your jump range to a reasonable, if far from record-breaking, 12 or so LY.

Thankfully, the power generator is perfectly capable of handling an upgraded frameshift drive – the C5 generator puts out a respectable 13.6 MW of power by default, and can be upgraded to go as far as 20.4 MW. Paired with an impressive C6 power distributor unit, the ship has plenty of power and a juicy enough distributor to send it all where it needs to go – although kitting particularly heat-intensive weapons like beam lasers and railguns is still capable of overtaxing the cooling systems, especially if you went with the C4 plasma accelerator. As usual, upgrading the distributor should be one of your first priorities for a combat pilot. The hefty power generator is also very much capable of supporting a more powerful shield generator – if you can afford it, switching the default C4 shield generator for a C5 will considerably increase your survivability (at the price of making it more difficult to fit particularly  power-hungry weapons).

Internals-wise, the FdL has an ‘alright’ compliment of internal compartments – it doesn’t really impress, but neither are there any glaring flaws. Five internal bays (ranging from C5 to C1, two of them C4) give you enough space to fit some interesting equipment on while retaining some useful cargo space – the ‘Lance will never be a top-end trading ship, but you can fit it to transfer some cargo or interesting scoopables every now and then. Alternatively, those same internal spaces can be put to work by adding hull reinforcement packages and shield cell banks for a truly durable space yacht.

Likewise, having six different utility mounts with overlapping arcs of fire gives you plenty of options – plain point defense is certainly a workable solution that should serve to render your ship near-invulnerable to missile/torpedo fire,  and you have enough mounts to carry along a couple of other utility tools without sacrificing PD coverage. Paired with the hefty power generator, you can carry all sorts of interesting kit – though again, you don’t have so much space as to get wasteful. Decide the role you want to play, kit yourself accordingly, and use whatever space you have left over to patch up your weaknesses.

Combat

Alright. With relatively limited cargo space, you don’t exactly make the perfect trader – and the less said about the FdL’s exploration potential, the better. Where the hull really comes together is its pure, sheer combat performance – the ship appears to be designed purely for combat and any other possible affinities are mere side benefits at best.

First of all, the FdL might be about the size of the adder, but it’s much sleeker and faster. With four neatly-grouped C2 hardpoints – and the giant fuckoff C4 hardpoint underneath – this makes for a fast, maneuverable (not quite equal to the Cobra, but close) vessel with a lot of firepower at its disposal. Four C2 guns HURT when you can get them all on your target, and weapon configurations like quad C2 fixed beams will simply rip through the shields on most ships you’ll face (although such a fit demands much from your power generator). Much like on the Asp, the guns on the ship seem to be optimized for fixed or gimbaled weapons – although unlike on the Asp, the positioning on the side guns would make for good overlapping fields of fire all over the top and front hemisphere of your ship.

Meanwhile, the C4 gun is absolutely ridiculous for a ship the size of the ‘Lance – the current options (plasma accelerator and cannon) might be difficult to aim at most ships, but anything big enough to be easily hit will also certainly feel the impact. A gimbaled C4 cannon is near-perfect for sniping Anaconda subsystems, while the more fixed variants might not be as easy to aim with but will rip through shields and hulls alike – the plasma accelerator, in particular, might cost well over 5 million credits but will simply annihilate the shields on most ships. You literally have most of the firepower of an Anaconda on a much, much smaller and more agile chassis. (There’s been talk of adding to the different high-grade weapon options, so something like C4 railguns or torpedo launchers might be an option in the future, as well).

Just the drive the point home, the FdL is also much, much tougher than the sophisticated exterior might indicate – especially if you upgraded the shields to C5. A ‘Lance with C5 shields can absorb downright ridiculous amounts of firepower before its shields fail – and while the generator will take its sweet time to recharge, the hull is tough enough to weather fire until they’ll come back online. Mounting the appropriate type of a shield cell bank or two will honestly make you damn near invulnerable to most ships your size and smaller.

Putting It All Together

A powerful combat ship that hides impressive firepower under a pretty shell, the Fer-de-Lance is only hampered by its chronically poor frameshift capacity. I can see this ship being very, very powerful for players who’ll stick to a certain area – few ships will want to go toe-to-toe with the ‘Lance, and its well-sized generator, tough shields and well-positioned hardpoints let you kit it out with all sorts of interesting implements of death and woe. Honestly, poor FTL capability aside, the ‘Lance feels almost too good – chances are it’ll be somehow nerfed in the near future.

Numbers

Zorgon-Peterson ‘Fer-de-Lance’ Multi-Role Ship

Price: 51,567,040 CR

Shields/Armor:  300/225

Hardpoints: 1x C4 Huge hardpoint, 4x C2 Medium hardpoint, 6x Utility Mounts

Internal Compartments: 1x C5, 2x C4, 1x C2, 1x C1

Mass: 376 tons (250 t hull mass, 408 t fully laden)

Cargo Capacity: 24 tons (max 70 tons)

Fuel Capacity: 8 tons

Jump Range: 7.00 LY (6.59 fully laden)

Top Speed: 265 m/sec / 356 m/sec boost

Power Plant Output: 13.60 MW (9.55 MW / 70.2% used)

Default Loadout

C4 Huge Hardpoint: Empty

4x C2 Medium Hardpoint: 2x C1F Pulse Laser, Empty

6x Utility Mounts: Empty

Power Plant (Class-5): C5E

Thrusters (Class-5): C5E

Frameshift Drive (Class-4): C4E

Life Support (Class-4): C4E

Power Distributor (Class-6): C6E

Sensor Suite (Class-4): C4E

Fuel Tank (Class-3): C3 (8 tons)

Internal Bays:

C5 Internal Compartment: C4 Cargo Rack (16 tons)

2x C4 Internal Compartment: C4E Shield Generator, C3 Cargo Rack (8 tons)

C2 Internal Compartment: Empty

C1 Internal Compartment: C1E Basic Discovery Scanner

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