A warning before we get into this: It's a long, rambling essay about what standards a potential Space Engineers combat update would need to satisfy to be effective, as well as my own concept for a solution for the current state of SE combat.
First, I'd like to go over the main problems that we currently face in Space Engineers combat. These are the kinds of issues that we need to address before or during making additions and modifications to the current system.
- Rockets are effective, but impractically expensive. You could deal good damage, by burning through days' worth of power in seconds.
- Small ships are useless. They get torn apart without careful piloting and great acceleration, and often don't have the ability to deal effective damage while surviving the onslaught. I'd also note that, at a certain point, pilots are more valuable than resources, which negates one of small ships' main advantages.
- Suits are overpowered. Suicide missions cost effectively nothing, jetpack acceleration is high enough to often evade enemy fire, and placed blocks can function as kinetic missiles capable of dealing effective damage to stationary enemies.
- Ranges are sharp. If you're within 800 meters, you're getting shot at. If you aren't within that range, enemies have to get closer to deal damage. I don't exactly know how to deal with this, but fixing the next point might help with that, or even make it into something interesting to play with.
- Disengages are even sharper. The Jump Drive's activation time coupled with the hard 100 m/s speed limit means that it's almost always possible to punch the accelerator, dial in home base, and get away with only a few scratches barring overwhelming force.
- Defense is almost entirely a contest of decoys and additional layers of armor, unless you brought a grav drive for strictly impossible stunts. It isn't exactly an interesting fight, especially with speed limits to make moving in and out of engagement more difficult.
- Offline raids are easy pickings. I'm going to state flat-out that I don't have a solution for this any better than deep space or a Safe Zone. People will get through automated defenses, whether through attrition or ingenuity.
What am I aiming for? It's a little complicated, depending on exactly what I'm trying to achieve in a major addition or change. This is my list of priorities, which I believe is a reasonable representation of the requirements of an effective non-QoL suggestion:
- Gameplay. A suggestion, if implemented, would need to add new content in or near the central focus of Space Engineers. This is why I'm not suggesting, for example, several dozen handguns and variants. Space Engineers is about designing and building ships, and the adventures you can have with them. Combat is only relevant as it pertains to those ships and adventures, usually as a design challenge.
- Practicality. A suggestion has to be actually possible to code and run. Moreover, it has to be worth the dev time expended on it to implement it. This is why I'm not suggesting realistic water with fluid mechanics and evaporation. It's just not worth the effort.
- Thematics. No Space Engineer would be using a Star Wars blaster without a good reason, and no self-respecting Space Engineer would be caught dead using a sharpened stick as a weapon. Jump Drives, Gravity Generators, and Safe Zones are advanced tech with those good reasons, but not all ideas are so lucky.
- Realism. While it's at the bottom of the list, it's still important to keep in mind that we can't just ignore the laws of physics in a game that prides itself on being very accurate.
I'll start by outlining the proposed changes, and explaining why I'm doing them at the end.
A Jump Drive is 3x3x2, stores 3 MWh of power, and charges at 32 MW.
A large grid Gatling Turret has a range of 800 m and fires at 600 RPM, dealing 150 mass damage or 33 health damage per shot.
A large grid Large Ion Thruster has a max power consumption of 33.6 MW.
Overall speed limit is now 80 m/s. Large ships can use sustained acceleration at this cap to go up to 100 m/s, with diminishing returns, while small ships can do the same up to 120 m/s and suits can reach 130 m/s. The additional speed decays quickly without thrust.
You can no longer place blocks without a base while moving. (ex. addition to existing grid is fine, small landing gear frame locked on a large ship is ok, new grids are otherwise not allowed.)
Jump Drive Jammer (large grid): 3x2x2, internal power storage (3 MWh, 32 MW charge rate), 1 km range.
When activated and fully charged, reacts to a jump within range by discharging both itself and a random Jump Drive involved in the jump. This also cancels the jump. All active Jammers act simultaneously to one jump and don't interfere with each other's operation (closest ones get priority). This does not prevent the enemy from choosing a new viable jump target and attempting to jump again, if they still have readied Jump Drives.
Defense Laser (large grid variant): 3x3x3, internal power storage (60 MWs,10 MW charge rate), 200 m range, fires at 660 RPM.
When activated, fires hitscan beams at enemy projectiles, cameras, and suits within line of sight, for a cost of 1.10 MWs/round from its power pool. At max charge rate, this gives it roughly 30 seconds of max performance, about 60 seconds of one-to-one countering with a large Gatling Turret, and about 540 RPM during sustained fire.
Defense Laser (small grid variant): 5x5x5, internal power storage (300 MWs, 5 MW charge rate), 100 m range, fires at 900 RPM.
When activated, fires hitscan beams at enemy projectiles, suits, and cameras (in order of priority) within line of sight, for a cost of 1.10 MWs/round from its power pool. At max charge rate, this gives it roughly 30 seconds of max performance, 45 seconds of one-to-one countering with a Gatling Gun, and 270 RPM sustained fire.
I'm not crazy enough to suggest a component list for either, so just assume it's similar to the other turrets with superconductors and bulletproof glass somewhere in there.
Set range to 400 m.
Now has remotely effective targeting against missiles.
200 mm Missile Container: No longer costs Platinum or Uranium to make. Add 0.1 Cobalt to the recipe.
Decrease thrust by ~30%.
Set range to 400 m.
Remove upgraded variants.
Rocket Launcher (handheld variant): 800 m range, clip size 1.
It shoots rockets.
The main idea here is to create a balance between the three turret options. Gatling guns can drown out lasers en masse and win against them in a sustained fight. Rockets are now cheap enough to outdamage gatling guns affordably. Lasers can largely negate poorly-screened or poorly-timed rockets, and blunt the impact of gatling guns. Of course, it's more complicated than that, because of the ship design aspect of SE, but that's what the variable numbers are for.
I intended the Interior Turret changes to allow them to be an early-game replacement for lasers, because rockets no longer require rare resources.
The suit and camera targeting for lasers is intended to give them some utility against grid missiles, especially with a skilled pilot, and make suicide grinding functionally useless against a well-defended ship.
The mobility changes are to make them a relevant factor in ship battles. Jump Drives currently have no counter and are a hard disengage without truly overwhelming firepower. Jammers give a good reason to actually attempt to escape an attacker, while thrust differences ensure that they aren't just eternally stuck at 100 m/s.
The additional speed limit for small ships, combined with the powerful defense laser, should hopefully allow them to run operations within range of enemy large ships without getting melted immediately.
While the differential speed is a hard hit to realism, I think it's necessary for ship battles to be worthwhile. It also stays as close to reality as is practical by allowing ships with more thrust to catch up to slower ones.
The decrease in jetpack thrust, combined with the whole concept of defense lasers, nerfs suit attacks into the ground. I think this is fair, because the difference in invested resources in one of these attacks would commonly be measured in orders of magnitude.
I felt like the variants on the Automatic Rifle are a great example of "junk" content that don't actually add much to gameplay. Future weapons might be expected to follow the same pattern, when it might not work for those same weapons, so I just decided to do away with it.
If rockets end up too weak, there's an easy solution: give armor blocks damage reduction per hit. Notable values to balance around:
The Automatic Rifle and Interior Turret both deal 30 damage/shot.
The Gatling Turret deals 150 damage/shot.
The Rocket Launcher deals 500 AoE damage on hit.
So, as an example, giving Heavy Armor 50 damage reduction is effectively a 33% nerf to Gatling Turrets and a 10% nerf to Rocket Launchers, while making it invincible to small arms. This should make it possible to effectively balance rocket weapons in relation to the other weapon types.
It's also possible to rework the stats on Defense Lasers for more interesting gameplay. The constant charge rate still should be below the amount necessary for one-to-one countering, to prevent stalemates and keep the laser/bullet balance, but lowering it while raising charge pool and rate of fire creates a sharper dropoff in damage differential during longer engagements, allowing maneuverability to have a greater effect on the battle compared to raw firepower.
I'd caution against extremifying this too much, however, because this kind of limited-strength, unlimited-capacity defense causes massive gameplay issues that I'd be willing to clarify in the comments if necessary.
So that's my idea. Three main turrets, a balance between them, and pursuit mechanics. Thoughts? Questions? Concerns?