A Drone is an automated robotic spacecraft designed to augment a ship's arsenal in combat, or assist with mining operations. Drones are carried aboard a drone bay available in most ships, and controlled by that ship, or (in advanced cases) delegated to other ships in the owner's fleet. A skilled operator can launch multiple drones to create a miniature fleet all of their own.
Drones fall into several major classes:
- Mining Drones -- which nibble at asteroids, allowing slow but steady mining capability for those who lack the heavier power of strip miners.
- Combat Drones -- available in three sizes; Light Scout (5 m3), Medium Scout (10 m3) and Heavy (25 m3), and four damage types per size class; Electromagnetic, Thermal, Kinetic and Explosive. These drones attack enemy ships and structures, on a pre-programmed basis.
- Electronic Warfare Drones -- which perform ship-equivalent functions such as electronic warfare allowing the owning ship to do other things with itself
- Logistic Drones -- which offer systems support and repair for ships within a fleet.
- Utility Drones -- which offer remote support for ships within a fleet.
Some drones cannot be used to affect the owner's ship. Use of the repair drones constitutes an "attack" -- use of them on an "enemy" ship will therefore invoke Concord retaliation.
Any ship with a Drone Bay may load any combination of these drones, up to the maxiumum volume of the bay, much like loading cargo into the cargo bay. From here, the Drones may be launched via the Overview menu and controled in a similar manner to other weapons. The size classes are equivalent to 'S', 'M' and 'L' in guns, and the Drones have similar pros and cons, re: Tracking Speed, Damage, Agility, etc. Many ships, right down to Frigate-class, have Drone Bays, and any ship with a Drone Bay should try to make use of it, as it can be an extra weapon that doesn't need Capacitor or Grid.
Drone control requires training and skill:
Drones: This skill is the basic requirement, and a pilot may control (launch) one drone for every level of this skill, up to a maximum of five. These may be any size-class or damage type, or combination.
Drone Interfacing: This skill requires Drones V, and increases drone damage by an additional 20%.
Additional Drones may no longer be fielded using specialist ships with Drone Control as a ship bonus (e.g. Vexor, Dominix, Arbitrator), as these mods have been removed, now only Carriers / Motherships can control upwards of 5+.
Destroyed Drones may be replaced from the Drone Bay stock as long as there are Drones left to launch. Drones may not be launched from the Cargo Bay, and can only be transferred between the two in a Station.
Additional skills in the Drones category can help improve Drone damage, maxiumum operating range and so on. Drones travel at Microwarp speeds to engage a target, and may automatically pick out next targets, so careful control is needed for multi-cluster deadspace work.
Drones are 'FOF', so can be useful in PvP against Jamming Frigates, but are extremely vulnerable to Smart Bombs, as they tend to orbit their targets very closely. Drones do not tend to survive long if they pick up 'agro' from NPC ships, so Drone users do best if they launch the Drones after the target(s) have engaged the mothership.
Disconnected Drones: If for any reason a drone controlling ship warps out of an area without Scooping the Drones back up, the Drones will become inert. Upon return, the pilot will not be able to control them, and must pick them up and reset them in the Drone Bay before they can be used again.
Mining Drones: These are quite simple to use; simply have the rock targets, right-click the drone and select 'Mine Repeatedly'. They'll then round-trip with small ammounts of ore they've dug out until your Cargo Bay is full. As a rule of thumb, two Basic Mining Drones are about as effective as a single Civillian Mining Laser, but the Drones are working in addition to the laser.
Generally it is not practical to mine soley using drones, but they augment mining lasers well. All the above rules about Drone Control and Drone Bay still apply to these drones as well.
Rogue Drones Edit
The recent discoveries of Deadspace pockets have uncovered a new menace, self-aware hive-minds, made up of individual stray drones, all operating without a controller. These drones are universally hostile, and present new challenges for pilots.
The key feature to be aware of when dealing with these rogue drones is that they are very fast, and very small. This means Large ship weaponary will be almost useless fighting them, and even Medium guns have trouble. To combat this, use smaller guns with a higher tracking speed (Blasters, Autocannons, Pulse Lasers), a Webifying Module to slow them down so that the bigger guns can hit, or launch drones of your own. Smart Bombs are not terribly effective as the rogue drones tend to orbit quite far out.
Also, be aware of numbers; it is very easy to become swamped in Drone Deadspace areas, and despite being 'Drones', some of the more advanced variants can give a Battleship troubles.
(The Rogue Drones are quite fascinating creatures to study; be sure to find time to use the 'Look At' option on them, and their asteroids, as combat and safety allows.)