The Weapon Scaling Formula
So there was one constant that I found within the majority of the different weapon types I looked at. The following formula appeared
y = zx-x
x = Standard weapon damage
y = The difference between weapon ranks Standard->Advanced and Advanced->Prototype
z = 1.05
There are several notable points we can gather from this.
- A fully skilled commando using a standard light weapon does more damage than another dropsuit with a prototype light weapon.
- An advanced weapon with a complex damage modifier is slightly better than prototype weapon without one.
- A standard weapon with maximum specialization skills is slightly better against it's specific offence type (shields/armour) than a prototype weapon that is boosted by a complex damage modifier.
- Prototype weapons have a pretty bad price:performance increase ratio compared to using an advanced frame that provides an additional high slot for a complex damage mod.
- Skill points give a bigger improvement to damage over equipment.
Now there's some balance issues that weapons have right now, but generally the difference between tiers of weapons is reasonable.
But while this formula applies to most weapons in the game, there are a few notable exceptions.
The Swarm Launcher
These are every Duster's first anti vehicle weapon. Every player is given a militia variant of these on one of their starter fits. They also have both the best and the worst damage scaling in the game. With a z multiplier of 1.25, they get a massive boost of damage between ranks. This would be great, if it wasn't scaled from the top down.
What does that mean?
Typically when balancing competitive games, you want to make sure the game is balanced at it's highest levels of play. This is due to the fact that you want your game to either be as good or better as players improve at the game. It's also harder to balance lower levels of player skill, as it becomes harder to determine if there's an imbalance within the game or between the player's level of skill (although developers should try). In Dust, this balance also exists between tiers of gear, with standard vs standard, advanced vs advanced and prototype vs prototype supposedly being balanced against each other. This is all further complicated when you throw vehicles into the mix.
Because of this balance issue, the need for prototype to perform well against prototype means that scaling has to be fairly equal between the different tiers. In the case of Swarms, their huge scaling multiplier makes them weak at lower tiers. When there's nothing stopping someone from using a prototype fitted tank against a player who only has access to a militia swarm launcher, you end up with a situation where the new player's anti vehicle weapon deals negligible amounts of damage. Considering the gap between a basic swarm launcher and an advanced, it wouldn't surprise me if they weren't performing well enough to kill tanks at their own level.
In summary, the difference between most weapon tiers is a complex damage modifier. The difference between swarm launcher tiers is 2 complex damage modifiers and 5 ranks of specialization. This is really bad for new players and forces people to use prototype weapons to be competitive.
The Forge Gun
Unlike the swarm launcher, the forge gun benefits from having a more normal scaling system. With a z multiplier of 1.1, it tends to be balanced at different tiers. Forge guns were bugged when they entered 1.8, so it's hard to determine how balanced they are.
From a personal perspective, they seem to perform well at killing vehicles and at killing infantry. So maybe 1.1 is the correct z multiplier for an anti vehicle weapon? I'd be interested in hearing opinions on this.
If so, it puts the plasma cannon in a poor place. As the Gallente anti vehicle weapon, it gets stuck with a 1.05 z multiplier. The regular plasma cannon does a reasonable job against standard tanks, but considering it's level of scaling compared to other anti vehicle options, maybe it could do with being on the same z multiplier as forge guns.
These have a pretty crazy z multiplier at 1.66. If you're looking into using knives, you should definitely be using the advanced ones at least.
From a damage over time perspective, they also lose charge time between tiers. The base skill also increases this too, so they become amazing at the prototype level compared to the standard ones. Although it could be argued that the advanced ones already do enough damage to make the jump to prototype not worthwhile.
What's somewhat disturbing is that a Minmatar scout with maxed out suit and knife skills does less damage with standard knives than someone without bonuses using advanced.
I'll finish with grenades as it's getting late and I'll look at vehicle turrets another time. But these seem to be on a separate scale when it comes to damage.
The AV grenade has a z multiplier of 1.2, thus making it closer to the swarm launcher than other weapons. AV grenades fell out of fashion after being nerfed in Uprising 1.7, but can still do serious damage to vehicles when used as a group.
The other 2 grenades get a 1.25 z multiplier, so perhaps it's the role of a grenade that makes them unique for this. Flux grenades bring great utility beyond just their damage and said utility increases at a 1.1 multiplier due to their radius increasing. Locus grenades I'm not so sure about, since their biggest impact on me is to force me out of cover. They do this well regardless of their damage, since I'm trying (and get the opportunity) to avoid that completely.
Grenades have a fairly low cost at all tiers, so you could say they give the biggest bang for your buck when you upgrade to higher tiers.
So What Does All This Mean?
Well if you're looking for better performance at killing vehicles, I'd suggest that you work towards the better tiers of swarm launchers as the lower ones are under-performing right now. If you're looking for a lower level means of anti vehicle, both the forge gun and the plasma cannon have better standard level performance.
Nova knives scale like crazy and you should be using the advanced ones as they truly shine over the standard. Skills are less important compared to ISK investment and prototype level knives are mostly only worthwhile if you're looking to chew through health stacked sentinels.
Grenades are an extremely cost effective means of bumping up anti-vehicle damage, although they are more skill point intensive. If you're looking for other long term investments of skills, you should pick up weapon specializations and commando skills (for light weapons).
When it comes to other weapons, skills are king here too. Specialization You're also better off using standard or advanced dropsuits with complex modules, rather than upgrading your weapon from standard to advanced. Upgrading a weapon to prototype gives the lowest benefit for cost, so really the last upgrade to a suit you should make.