In the violent universe of EVE, there are two main ways for a capsuleer to inflict said violence; turret-mounted guns and missile launchers. There are other means of dealing damage I grant you, but let's not complicate the issue. What I'd like to discuss is why missiles are great and turrets are rubbish (mainly in a shameless attempt to elicit a comment backlash from the diehard PvPers).
Let me establish the basis for my outrageous bias.
Back when Greenbeard and I first started out, we decided to diversify our skill-sets and aim for different specialisations. So he became the turret expert (particularly projectile) and I was the missile monkey.
Despite early plans to become PvP menaces (we're still working on it), our corporate endeavours and the jump clones necessary for PvPing required high standings with an assortment of NPC corporations. As a consequence, much of our EVE time has been spent in the PvE environment.
I found my ever increasing missile-lobbing abilities to be more than adequate as I progressed up to level four missions. I could quite comfortably solo everything with a little patience and a Raven-class Caldari battleship. It was quite satisfying being able to hurl salvos of missile at an approaching but distant enemy fleet, whittling down their numbers before they reached their optimal attack ranges. It got the job done effectively and with the minimum of fuss. Corp and personal standings quickly rose and my wallet regularly flashed increasing numbers at me. All was good, if a little unchallenging.
Sometimes missioning would be a corp affair so I'd get to see turret-users in action. Greenbeard would come and help with his 'garage-door bangers' (I'm not sure what weapons he was using, but the first time he fired them near me I had my volume up a bit loud and nearly fell off my chair). Watching some of the turret batteries firing was quite impressive too, Long Jack's Battlecruiser laser batteries were particularly so. I'd hear the discussions on vent about "optimals", "fall-off" and ammo types, but much of the meaning was lost on me.
However, lately I became intrigued and curious about the mysteries of turret combat. Perhaps it was because I was comfortable with where my missile skills have got to, or maybe because I was sick at looking at my Raven (quite possibly one of the ugliest ships in EVE). So I treated myself to a nice shiny new battleship.
Enter the Rokh, stage left.
The Rokh is the Caldari tier 3 battleship specifically designed as a hybrid turret platform, perfect for my little gunnery experience. I found the Rokh to be quite pleasing on the eye (but then even an asteroid is a pleasant visual tonic after staring endlessly at the plucked robot turkey that is the Raven) and set about researching a decent fit for attempting a level 4 mission. Prior to my purchase I'd spent a bit of time raising some of my more general gunnery skills to improve damage, tracking and range.
In spite of my careful preparation, I knew that I couldn't compete with the effectiveness of my missile skills so I approached my first mission with caution. Luckily, it didn't involve an acceleration gate, so I could pick my warp-in range. I warped in at distance with artillery cannons at the ready. A single battleship-sized mining vessel presented itself. I checked my range, opened fire and sat back admiring the menacing spit-bang effect of the hybrid cannons. The first target exploded soon enough, prompting the arrival of three Amarr battleships.
And this is when it started getting a bit trickier.
I locked them, ensuring I maintained my optimal range and started firing. After a few salvos, it became clear I was just tickling the target's shields. Not a problem, I was using the longest-range ammunition and therefore the least damage, so I'll just load some higher damage ammo and close down the range. After some tentative ammo-experimentation and range adjusting I started to dish some more effective damage. However, so were the enemy and the increased capacitor demands of the close-range ammo and the required shield boosting to mitigate incoming fire meant a tactical withdrawal was required.
I quick bit of a loadout rejig saw me try a more aggressive close-range blaster loadout. This had better results, and although the balance between outgoing and incoming damage was difficult to manage, it was a much more exciting style of combat. Eventually I destroyed the initial three battleships only to have the next wave warp in at a distance that far exceeded my close-range blasters, but didn't seem to reduce their damage output much. By the time I'd closed the distance, the damage I'd sustained was too much and I had to warp away for repairs.
This went on for so long that reality intervened before I could finish the mission. Over the next few days several more attempts were made, the mission resetting after every server reboot. But eventually the only way to complete the mission in a reasonable amount of time was to elicit help or declare my turret experiment a failure and fetch the Raven. Nobody else was available and time was running out so I blitzed the mission with a hail of angry missiles. Job done - the Raven may be ugly but it's certainly an effective missioning vessel.
Some time later, whilst persevering with the Rokh/turret experiment, I got it blown up in another mission. Although embarrassing, to be honest I won't miss it and I shan't be buying another one. That heralded the end of my expensive turret experience.
Exuent the Rokh, stage right.
Although I appreciate that my gunnery skills were inferior which contributed to my frustration, especially when compared to my missile skills, what did I learn from my experiment?
Whereas missiles always hit any target in range and always do a predictable amount of damage, turrets do not. In order to successfully deal a reasonable amount of damage with turret-mounted weapons you need to take into account a number of factors, including range to target and the target's relative velocity. If any of these factors change, your weapons can become ineffective.
Missile ammunition is available in all four damage flavours (electromagnetic, explosive, kinetic and thermal) allowing damage output to be maximised according to the target's tank weaknesses. Whereas turret ammunition is limited to two damage types, possibly rendering a turret-fitted vessel less effective against certain types of tank.
Despite these apparent weaknesses in turret use, I was shocked to find that the path to being able to use Tech II battleship turrets is more than twice as long as the missile equivalent.
Skills Prerequisites for Large Railgun Specialisation:
- Gunnery V (256,000 skillpoints)
- Sharpshooter V (512,000 sp)
- Small Hybrid Turret V (256,000 sp)
- Small Railgun Specialisation IV (135,765 sp)
- Medium Hybrid Turret V (768,000 sp)
- Medium Railgun Specialisation IV (226,275 sp)
- Large Hybrid Turret V (1,280,000 sp)
Skill Prerequisites for Cruise Missile Specialisation:
- Missile Launcher Operation V (256,000 sp)
- Standard Missiles III (16,000 sp)
- Heavy Missiles III (24,000 sp)
- Cruise Missiles V (1,280,000 sp)
That doesn't seem very fair, does it? A battleship turret gunner has to specialise in frigate- and cruiser-class weapons and max out one of the supporting skills before beginning to specialise at battleship level, whereas the launcher specialist pretty much just has to know what a missile looks like.
In an attempt to find the positives of turret weaponry, I appreciate that one of the benefits of turret fire is the instant damage 'alpha-strike' aspect. In the PvP environment that is quite critical in certain circumstances and in group PvE situations it can be quite annoying to see your missiles flying off into space because your turret-using allies have alpha-struck your target into oblivion.
So to summarise, here's a quick list of the benefits of each weapon system as I see them.
Instant alpha-strike useful in PvP scenarios.
Looks and sounds more impressive from the firer's point-of-view.
Close combat is exciting.
Effectiveness easily undermined by range/speed issues.
Limited ammunition damage types available.
Slow skill progression.
Guaranteed hit every time, irrespective of target range or velocity.
Capable of firing ammunition of all damage types.
Skill progression much more accessible than turrets.
Shock and awe shakey-cam effect on victims.
Long range solo PvP not a viable option.
Graphical launch effect a bit naff.
So it seems to me that turrets are just too hit-and-miss, with each weapon and ammo type having a multitude of very limiting parameters that require constant attention for them to be effective. Add to this an unjustifiable amount of time required to learn skills to make up for other shortcomings and on the whole I'm glad a chose the missile path. Perhaps the rewards are there for the diligent, but I'd sooner just lob a boomstick and be done with it.
Maybe I'm missing something - I'd be interested to hear the opposite argument from somebody with more turret experience than me.