Unless you choose to devote your entire life to trading and courier missions, sooner or later you'll have to get your guns dirty and get stuck into some dogfighting. Assuming you've mastered the basics of getting around in space, the principles of space combat aren't actually too tricky. Here are the basics, from choosing the right target, to keeping them in your sights 'til they explode.
Reading the scanner
Slap bang in the middle of your cockpit is your radar scanner. Your ship is represented by the triangle in the very centre of this device, along with a 90 degree cone directly in front of it. This represents everything currently in front of your ship.
Other objects of interest (such as enemy ships) are represented by squares which have a line protruding from them. This line shortens or lengthens based on the object's height, relative to your own ship. When the line disappears, you're on the same level as your target. When the target is in the upper half of the scanner, it's in front of you. Orange squares on the scanner are neutral, and won't attack unless provoked, red squares are hostile units, and green squares are allies.
The best way to get an intuitive understanding of the radar scanner, and your ship's position relative to other objects in the universe, is to simply practise. Try heading to a Nav Beacon in friendly space and play around with targeting ships and changing positions. Just don't fire unless you really mean it!
Acquiring a target
When it's within your targeting reticule, hit T by default to lock onto your ship of choice. Having picked a target, you can find some basic information about it in the bottom left-hand corner of the interface.
Pay close attention to the pilot's ranking for an idea of how tough the fight might prove to be, not to mention the ship they're in - don't bite off something bigger than you can chew. Our ship guide will give you a good idea of what kind of trouble you can afford to get into using your current craft.
Managing your ship's power
Over to the right of your ship's cockpit are three columns of light marked SYS (system), ENG (engines) and WEP (weapons). The first provides power to your shields and other defensive units, the second controls your ship's agility and maximum speed, and the final one controls how much power goes to your offensive units. You can use the left, right and up cursor keys to divert power around these different areas of your ship. The down cursor resets everything back to an even power distribution.
How you choose to divert power around your ship depends very much on your particular loadout, not to mention your current circumstances. If you're in immediate danger, it makes sense to boost your shields while you prepare to escape, but you might want to add juice to your weapons if you're dominating a fight. A combination of good judgement and experience will help you route power around your ship correctly.
Basic combat manoeuvres
The objective in combat - unsurprisingly - is to keep your target in front of you at all times so that you can keep your weapons firing into the ship's shields and hull. Should you find your target slipping away from you, simply re-angle your ship until your target is front and centre once more. This is where being able to read the scanner quickly helps, as you can use it as a guide to reorientate yourself with your target quickly, without getting confused by any other targets in your immediate vicinity.
Speed management is another important part of winning every dogfight. You need to constantly juggle the acceleration and deceleration of your ship to keep your target just close enough to hit, yet you must also be prepared to turn at all times to keep the fight in your favour. Keeping your throttle indicator within the blue zone maximises your ship's agility, making it easier to get your victim in your sights once more. The art of constantly shifting your speed to match your target is one you'll master with practise.
Note that if you've added power to your engines, the blue zone for maximum agility will be adjusted automatically, so you don't need to make any allowances for the extra juice being diverted into this area of the ship.
Read on for all of our trading tips and tricks.
Head back to the first page of this article for the rest of our Elite Dangerous guide.