Cannons versus Beams

Let the fighting begin đŸ˜‰

beam cannonI have noticed that many people are heavily invested into the idea of DPS and maxing the DPS of their ships. There are a variety of forums where this is hotly debated. There are even DPS leader boards whereby players can challenge the best damage dealing fiends in the Galaxy for ass-kicking supremacy.

Let’s make no mistake about it, DPS is important. For the benefit of any gaming newbs, DPS stands for “Damage Per Second” and it is the standard benchmark for determining the ability of your toon to lay waste to enemies. DPS alone however does not tell the whole tale. I have noticed that many players that achieve insanely high DPS do so utilizing beam weapons and multiple instances of ‘fire at will’. To be fair, these masters of destruction also have great ship and character builds that squeeze extra damage from the ship’s weapons. The prevailing theme lately is that beams are the only way to go for maximum DPS. Although the argument in favor of “King Beam” is strong, it may not be the best ultimate killer after all.

The primary argument in favor of beams lies in a couple of absolute beam truths. First beam weapons do not lose nearly as much power over long-range. In fact studies conducted by a variety of hard-core gaming geeks show that beams lose roughly 4% per kilometer of range bottoming out at around 65% damage output at the limits of the 10km range. This compares favorably to cannon weapons including turrets that fall all the way down to around 35% efficiency at the 10km limit. I found one guy who went to great lengths to chart the data and you know how much I love me a good chart đŸ˜‰ Check it out here. The next “truth” about beams is the wide firing arc. Beam Arrays have a 250 degree firing arc and the more powerful dual beam banks cover 90 degrees. This compares well to cannons at 180 and dual cannons at 45 degrees.

If you look at the DPS masters however you will notice that they are typically using ‘fire at will’. Against multiple enemies this ability randomly selects targets. This is fine for a tanking engineer in a cruiser trying to draw fire away from flanking raiders and escorts. But it does bring the heat on as it increases the threat from multiple angry bad guys. It also keeps the player from focusing on a single target. Sure the DPS numbers look great, but not concentrating fire on a single target allows the shields to recover on the primary target while fire is wasted on other targets like targetable torpedoes and wimpy carrier pets. This is not necessarily a bad thing depending on your player group in PVE matches or PVP, but it is a genuine limitation at times.

The beam weapons are great for cruisers and science ships that have limited tactical officer abilities. The maximum power for beams is achieved in the Lt. Commander spot. Fire at Will I and Beam Overload I are available at the Ensign level. Cannon abilities require higher ranking BOFFs starting at the Lieutenant rank. Beams can also be used with subsystem targeting where cannons cannot.

As good as Fire at Will and Beam Overload are, they are not as strong a power as either scatter volley or rapid fire. Cannon weapons are very weak at long range but they are actually stronger up close especially inside of 2km. Cannon weapons do not begin losing power until beyond 2km. The drop off is more sudden losing approximately 8% per kilometer from beyond 2km according to several sources including the source referenced above. Cannon Rapid Fire works in a similar fashion to Beam Overload in that it hits only your primary target. But Beam Overload suffers from the possibility of a miss. It is a one-off, if you miss you get ZERO if you hit you do serious damage between 5 and eight times normal beam damage. Rapid fire works with a burst of fire, some shots may miss but most will hit.

This idea that one is better than the other is complete BS. People get real aggro over it too. It depends on your play style and the ship you are flying. Beams are definitely easier as your piloting skills need not be as acute to effectively deal big damage. A good pilot with a set of dual cannons will execute an enemy, mafia style, and scary quick. A poor pilot with dual cannons will fly around not firing his weapons very often đŸ˜‰

I have argued on this very blog on more than one occasion that the boffins on the Cryptic dev team need to increase the damage output of dual cannon weapons. To have a weapon with a 45 degree firing arc do only 20% more damage than a similar weapon with a 180 degree arc is just total bull shit nerfing. Many people do not like the range fall off but I actually like it in that it forces ship captains to strategize how they build the ship and how they use it in combat. I think that cannon weapons should do MORE damage but have a shorter overall range and large drop off. Say 30% stronger single cannons and for DHC, DC 50% stronger than current output. Then cut max range to 8km. Zero falloff to 4km then a precipitous drop to 50% damage at 8km. Beams should remain the same as they are now but have a little less fall off than they do now maybe only losing 25% at 10km max range. This would offer excellent pilots an opportunity to do tremendous up close damage that would offset the time spent repositioning the ship for the next attack run. You hear that Cryptic? But if they are to leave everything as is, dual cannons should still be 30-50% stronger than they are now with a higher weapon power drain to compensate.  I discussed this in the ‘Dual cannon Conundrum’ last year.

I still believe that cannons, be it dual or single are the best weapons for an escort or raider. Actual gross DPS not withstanding, the enemies die faster with cannons on my escorts. As I mentioned above, DPS is important but it is an abused stat. Beam boats with “Fire At Will” aka ‘FAW’ are dealing hardcore damage all the time and will likely produce greater raw DPS values, but are the enemies dying faster? Shields recover every 6 seconds, the trick to exposing the hull is concentrating heavy fire on one shield facing, random targeting is wasteful. Again if you are a tanking, threat generating, capital ship it is perfect, if you are flying an escort it isn’t about gross DPS it is about precision DPS. Escorts are also about burst DPS. Burst DPS is created in two ways. Damage per volley aka DPV and heavy damage over a short time. The latter is where dual cannons are king. They have a very narrow firing arc which means they are often not on target. Overall DPS can be low but short-term burst DPS is unrivaled. This is attack run damage. Doing 10000 DPS for 5 seconds versus 5000 DPS for 10 seconds yields the same gross damage, but the former has a higher burst damage which will be more effective at killing the shield facing and exposing the hull. DPV is the amount of damage on each firing of the weapon. Dual heavy cannons have the same DPS as dual cannons but fire bigger blasts at a slower rate of fire. They hit hard, less often. This gives the heavy cannons a bit of a burst DPS advantage. I like heavy cannons with rapid fire and dual cannons and single cannons with scatter volley. Rapid fire concentrates fire on your target and does more damage than scatter volley on a single target. Scatter volley does a cone of damage to multiple targets in the arc. Not random like FAW but in a predictable and semi-targetable cone around the actual target.

One of the reasons I use the Patrol missions as a testing ground for weapons arrangements on various ships is because I believe it is about how fast you take down your enemies, not how much DPS you produce. If I fly into Japori or Carraya and wipe out all five waves of ships in less than 90 seconds with one setup but it takes 3 minutes with another, which is actually doing a better job of combat? My beam boats do not create the same level of mayhem as my tactical cannon setups despite the fact that they are dealing a higher rate of total DPS. If you have ever fought the Tal Shiar Mogais they always are turning to show you a fresh shield facing. DPS needs to be high burst to punch through the shield and nail the hull before the ship turns away or the shields regenerate. A beam boat wastes a great deal of damage on fresh shield facings and in the case of FAW other enemies. That said, the beam boat and FAW do a great job of taking out those annoying high yield targetable torpedoes, tractor mines, buzzy little carrier pets, and other distractions such as the Tholian webs. You know, it’s like six versus half a dozen.

So here is what I recommend you do: Take your ship and load it up with cannons, then beams and fly each setup in a couple of rounds of a Patrol mission. If you don’t have a lot of resources just use common grade weapons for the purpose of testing. Make sure that all the weapons are the same mark and quality. Now you can fly these missions and in a an hour or so you should get a good feel for which setup YOU do the most damage with. I like to use Japori and Carraya because they are close to each other and you can do 4 missions per hour with the 30 minute cooldowns. The reason I like to do these missions is that they are consistent. In PVP and PVE you have variables such as other players on your team and variable levels of skill in the arena from your opponents. The patrol missions are essentially the same each time. Be advised that there is a random chance of a NPC back up ship warping in to help you and that will skew the results for that session.

2016-02-10_19-23-53My personal best for clearing out all the enemies in Carraya is about one minute and that is twelve seconds per wave! That was with an Andorian Kumari loaded with single cannons plus the wing cannon up front and using scatter volley and torp spread. My best ever with a beam setup was about a minute and a half with the Tholian Meshweaver and dual beam banks up front.

So all you beam lovers, don’t take this the wrong way; in many ways beams are in fact better than cannons, but it is just not simply as absolute as so many people on the forums seem to think.


10 thoughts on “Cannons versus Beams

  1. You may want to try turrets in the back two cannons in the front, one dbb and 1 torp. I find that works very well with overwhelming force with the shield punch and quick destroy (one, two, punch)!

    1. I like the dual beam bank and I am not afraid to mix beams and cannons. I have several cannon-beam hybrid setups but this layout you describe is intriguing. You need to have a lot of tactical BOFF abilities when you have both beams and cannons as they of course do not share powers. But you could be on to something big here. Since there is no shared cooldown between the beam abilities and the cannon abilities you can start with beam overload on the DBB then follow immediately with rapid fire or scatter volley and finish with a big fat torpedo sandwich. I am going to set up an escort class ship like this and try it out. I’ll probably write a blog post about it when I have some experience with it and a little data.

  2. BTW if you are a feddie and you are going to use my testing idea, there is also a Fek’lhri Foundary mission that is just several waves predictable Fek’lhri enemies on one map. This mission is near the entry point to Japori. And for those unaware Japori and Carraya are near New Romulus.

  3. For the classic 4/3 escort set-up, I run 3xDHC +1 Torp and 3 Turrets in the back. If using a reputation gear set, I use the reputation DHC, same energy class 2xDHC and 1xTorp plus 3xTurrets rear. For powers I use KLW1, CSV1, TS3, APO3 and for the second Tac I use TT1, APB1, CSV2. Or you can switch CSV for CRF. I find that this, plus doing the “figure 8” for piloting to maximize time-on-target, plus learning to slow down on the attack run, and speed up as you go away, melts NPCs.

    I also do 2xDHC, 1xDBB, 1xTorp and 3xTurrets, and replace CSV1 with BO2. The BO2 strips the shields, or nearly so, and the cannons/torps waste them. I tend to leave all my weapons on autofire, as triggering my BOFF abilities and flying takes up all my time.

    DOFFs are used to maximize uptime, so 2xConn (TT reduction), 2xDCE (Eng CDR), 1 Torp CDR, and either my Zemok, or a CritH DOFF, or another appropriate one.

    For slow cruisers, I fly beams. For escorts and those that can turn without too much help, cannons all they way. I don’t have any trouble doing around 15K DPS, and do advanced STFs and have fun.

    The whole, “Lets hit 75K dps and finish an elite PVE in < 1m" is not my style.

    Good hunting!

  4. Really good overview of beams v cannons. I agree that cannons are as good as beams. It all depends on the ship & pilot skills. This review may be null & void once the new Captain skill tree is released as I believe there is a option to improve a cannon’s range.
    I also see you have used the misleading ‘beams 》cannons ‘ blog. All the info is correct but it should have a graph of graph 1 & 2 combined as well as the % difference.
    Also have you ever considered posting your blogs on the sto Facebook page?

    1. STO facebook page doesn’t give a shit, so neither will I post my guide on anything else then steam. When the devs start to listen to the people will I reconsider my position.

  5. Hi. Very nice, informative write up you did there.
    I used to play STO regularly from late 2012 to 2015. Those were happy times. However, all these stuff about DPS and the insane repetitive grind for marks really got to me and i quit the game. Last ship i was using was an Undine Nicor with 3 DHCS and 1 Neutronic torp. Full turrets at the rear or i would outfit a grav torp at the front/ rear if necessary. As far as i recall, i could survive engagements adequately and still deal a decent amount of damage. Having GW1 really helped in crowd control.

    Ultimately, this game is about completing missions and not failing. Whatever gets the job done is most important.

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