Always a popular topic up for hot debate among pilots, the defense slot for ESFs offers the choice between three certifications each coming with their own merits and shortcomings.
Besides the different airframes and, of course, choices between the different faction-specific airfighters, the defense slot probably holds the highest impact on an pilot’s individual play style. Each ESF, be it Mosquito, Reaver, or Scythe, comes with the option of equipping the defense slot with only one of following three certifications: Composite Armor, Nanite Auto Repair, or Vehicle Stealth.
But which to choose? Which is best and for whom?
In the following I attempt to compare the usefulness of each certification first in a vacuum and then by taking into account the current metagame in order to come to a more informed conclusion at the end of the article.
(Note: It is assumed that all the certifications mentioned are certed out to their highest rank for maximum effect.)
Description: Reduces damage taken from flak by an additional 30% and infantry small arms fire by an additional 10%.
Adds a significant layer of protection against anti-air perimeters on the ground (mainly flak and MAX fire)
Rewards air-to-ground play by allowing you to ignore enemy resistance long enough to finish off your target
Provides no benefit whatsoever in dogfights despite the armor buff
Nanite Auto Repair
Description: Nanites constantly repair damage over time at a rate of 8.33% every 5 seconds. Damage disables auto repair for 8 seconds.
Helps you stay in the air much longer especially between encounters and when part of a play group
Rewards a play style that builds upon the use of defensive reverse-thrust maneuvering
Convenience of auto-heal
Great combo with Fire Suppression (see here)
Provides no immediate benefit in dogfights when trading fire
Outlives its usefulness if your ESF loadout requires you to go resupply often
Description: Increases the time it takes to lock on to the vehicle by 1 second and prevents the vehicle from automatically appearing to hostiles based on proximity or radar detection.
Rewards a hit-and-run play style allowing for covert operations in vastly unfavorable territory or when operating alone without backup
Provides an advantage in encounters where orientation and vision is key and, less so, against anti-air perimeters on the ground
Doesn’t reduce the volume of the peculiar sound your ESF makes
Stealth ability gets nullified (for a short period) once you’re getting spotted
Due to a game bug the part of the skill with the lock-on timer increase doesn’t currently work at all so that the first rank of Vehicle Stealth is just as good as its maximum rank
To each his own. But perhaps it’s better to ask oneself this: What kind of ESF pilot do I want to be? What play style fits me best? The certifications for the defense slot provide the seed and soil for sometimes mutually exclusive play styles to grow on.
On the face it boils down to whether you’re operating alone or in a group. With group backup, Nanite Auto Repair provides infinitely more value, whereas Vehicle Stealth can really shine in the current metagame when you solo the continent as a lone warrior.
But the conclusion is not really that clear cut.
Advanced pilots who use defensive reverse-thrust maneuvering to great effect may want to opt for nanites nonetheless, no matter the group aspect, since they’re able to use the auto-heal ability of Nanite Auto Repair even during a duel and when evading enemy fire until the approaching target leaves itself wide exposed for a counterattack.
Since if you’re a Mossie pilot you don’t have to fear the wrath of the Terran’s Striker rocket launcher, those nanites also lend itself well for a fine cert combo in conjunction with Fire Suppression for the utility slot (instead of the usual Decoy Flares), basically granting you a health bonus of up to 25 % each time your Mossie is about burst into flames in a close dogfight. For more on this, see here.
And yet I can’t get rid of the feeling that Stealth really fosters a very peculiar play style, that of the interceptor, who lies in wait in the most unexpected places and altitudes, in ignorance of all front-line logic, just to dive down upon its prey swiftly stabbing it from behind, point-blank. Simply beautiful!
As to why exactly Composite Armor was made so situational merely providing a defense buff against flak and small-arms fire but not against, for example, nose-gun fire, is beyond me. It’s hardened armor after all, isn’t it? As it stands right now, air-to-ground pilots may still find this useful after all for their ground assaults. But, ultimately, compared to the wonders of Nanite and Stealth, including their potential to instill into the pilot a rather unique play style, Composite Armor can but pale in silent solitude for it unfortunately possesses no such miraculous powers.