Edit: My own post below is now redundant, as it is clearly not a fair description of how armour is supposed to work. See Erik's post a little below, to see a good description of the way armour works. Hopefully Erik's post might be extracted and put in a sticky somewhere.
There are a few other threads relating to the issues I want to discuss, but since I’ve taken a particular approach to the subject, I have started a new thread. Hope this doesn’t end up too confusing.
I recently realised that you can use the planet editor to set up fights between ships of your own design, and you can check the damage that's being caused. So, I’ve been doing some experiments with armour, shields and weapons to see if I can figure out how it works (I haven’t seen a definitive explanation elsewhere). My conclusions are based on the evidence I’ve seen in my own tests. I freely admit my tests could be inadequate, or my conclusions could be flawed, so I’m not trying to say that I have any definitive answers. Others could repeat what I’ve done to verify my findings (or otherwise).
Note that I’ve only tested beam, projectile, missile and torpedo weapons. I haven’t tested area weapons, or gravitic weapons.
The available armours are:
Standard – rating 10; reactive rating 2
Enhanced – rating 18; reactive rating 4
Reactive – rating 25; reactive rating 7
UltraDense – rating 40; reactive rating 10
I had thought that UltraDense armour would be 4 times as effective as standard. But it’s not. I’d also thought that the reactive rating indicated the level of damage that would be ignored before any damage is done. But it’s not.
What I observed was this:
(1) Every single unit of armour you add to a ship counts as one extra ship component. If you add 100 units of armour, it counts as 100 components. By "unit" I mean a single piece with a size of 1.
(2) When an unshielded ship is hit by a weapon, at least one component will be damaged by each attack. Yes, every single time, regardless of the weapon or the armour level. Every single weapon in the game is capable of damaging at least one ship component (where the term “ship component” includes armour) every time it hits a ship. Furthermore, to all intents and purposes, a “damaged” component seems to be synonymous with a “destroyed” component. A single pulse blaster can take down a ship armoured with UltraDense armour. Every time the pulse blaster hits a unit of UltraDense armour, it will damage/destroy the unit it hit. Given that pulse blasters hit for 4, while UltraDense armour has a reactive rating of 10, this indicates that the reactive rating does not ignore the damage of any weapon with a damage below 10. (Interestingly, the Galactopedia says "absorb"; the word "ignore" is mine, and the difference may be significant.)
(3) The more units of armour you have, the more likely it is that the armour will be hit instead of another ship component. You have 1000 units of armour and 10 other components? Then your other components only have a 1% chance of being hit. You have 1 unit of armour and 9 other components? Then your other components have a whopping 90% chance of being hit! That’s why you often find ship components being damaged before armour.
(4) Sometimes weapons will damage more than one component when they hit. The likelihood of this seems to depend on the weapon damage: higher damage weapons have a greater chance of damaging more than one component. Furthermore, higher level armour will reduce the chance that more than one component will be damaged.
These findings suggest that it is virtually useless to add just one or two units of armour. They also suggest that armour is likely to be most useful on big ships where you can place a lot of armour, or on planetary bases where you can place an almost unlimited amount of armour.
I also found that UltraDense armour is nowhere near four times as effective as Standard. In practice, I found that an unshielded ship armoured in UltraDense armour would survive about 1.5-2 times as long as an equivalent ship armoured in Standard armour (i.e. with the same number of units of armour). The armour value you see in ship design seems to be meaningless. According to the ship design screen, 400 units of Standard armour has the same strength as 100 units of UltraDense armour (4000 armour each), but you put these two ships in a fight and the UltraDense ship might be dead in half the time it takes to kill the Standard one.
I’m afraid I was unable to discern the effect of the reactive rating other than to confirm that weapons with lower damage than the rating do get through. I have a theory that reactive rating relates to the amount of damage the armour can take before another ship component is damaged. So if you damage armour with a reactive rating of 10 (UltraDense) with a weapon of rating 4 (pulse blaster), the pulse blaster will never damage a second component in one hit. But if the weapon damage is above 10, then it can damage a second component. This theory matches what I observed but I'm unsure of it. If it is true, then it makes me wonder whether the armour value itself has any effect at all.
I also looked at the effect of rail guns, as there has been a lot of discussion of those recently. The in-game notes say the following about rail guns:
(1) They have a -10% targeting handicap
(2) The can partially penetrate shields
(3) They are 50% less effective against armour.
You would expect from (1) and (3) that rail guns would take longer to kill an armoured target than an equivalent strength beam weapon. I tested both a Maxos Blaster and Rail Gun, both upgraded to strength 8. I tested at close range to reduce/eliminate the effect of distance on the Blaster. I found the two weapons took about the same time to kill an identical ship with 30 units of standard armour. The Rail gun was quicker on UltraDense armour – didn't understand that.
I also tested the speed a single Rail Gun could take down shielded and unshielded ships. The unshielded ship had 30 units of standard armour, no shields, 38 components in total. The shielded ship was the same as the unshielded, but had three Corvidan shields, i.e., 41 components altogether. My tests suggested that the rail guns were getting through the shields something like 80-90% of the time. Haven't tested whether more shields would have an effect.
So, on the subject of rail guns, I would say three things:
(i) It’s possible they are more effective against armour than stated.
(ii) It’s also possible that they are too effective at piercing shields.
(iii) Even if (i) and (ii) don’t apply, the fact that armour is relatively ineffective on smaller ships makes it inevitable that Rail Guns are going to give them a hard time, until you can get a large enough ship size to coat it with a decent helping of armour. So I think my findings support the views of others that the present game design strongly favours an early game bias towards rail guns.
< Message edited by Osito -- 6/14/2013 10:40:48 PM >