Understanding the capabilities of different ships is a great advantage in eve pvp. This is a valuable skill for anyone, but especially useful for FCs, scouts, and anyone engaging in solo or small gang pvp.
If you're like me, you've probably already spent hours poring over ship attribute tabs, talking to pilots, or EFTing fits for anything and everything just to see what they're capable of. If you're not... well... this article might just come in useful to you!
This is intended to be the first in a series which will eventually (I hope) expand to cover all ship classes that you're likely to encounter in a solo or small gang environment. I haven't flown every ship on this list and don't profess to be an expert in every one, however I have at some stage flown in, against, or alongside almost all of them, and hopefully know enough to give you a decent idea as to what they are capable of.
The rifter is generally considered the superior choice among t1 frigates, and with good reason. While it lacks the raw tanking ability of the merlin or punisher, the rifter boasts excellent speed and one of the best dps outputs of a t1 frig with very flexible range and tracking to boot. A versatile 4/3/3 slot layout allows the rifter to either armour tank or shield tank with equal flexibility.
The rifter has two common fits - a standard armour tanked rifter features a scram and web, with a 200mm plate and an optional armour rep. The combination of a web and exceptional speed makes the armour rifter excellent for range dictation. Beware of simply being held at 7-8km by a kiting rifter and picked to death with barrage, especially if you lack a web yourself.
The shield tanked variant loses the web in favour of a medium shield extender, and swaps out its armour tank for damage and range mods. This loses the advantage of range-dictation, but exchanges it for an excellent combination of tank and dps that can be applied effectively right out to maximum web range. The high base speed of the rifter will still allow some range dictation against targets who do not have a web of their own.
Thanks to the rifter's hefty tracking bonus, any attempt to get under its guns is generally a futile exercise. Keeping range will not treat you much better thanks to the generous falloff it receives when using barrage, if you're able to hold your range at all.
A very solid combat frigate, while the punisher is lacking in speed and offensive capability, it makes up for it with a very hefty tank.
The punisher's slot layout of 4/2/4 leaves it unable to fit a web, which along its base speed can make controlling range in an engagement quite difficult. However, the 4 low slots allow either a very strong tank, or a significantly improved damage output (with the former being by far the more common choice). Both pure buffer tanks and combined buffer/active tanks are popular.
The interesting thing about the punisher is that it doesn't receive a damage bonus to any weapon type. This doesn't necessarily mean lasers are a poor choice - the base damage output for energy weapons is naturally higher than projectiles (most projectile ships rely on a single or double damage bonus to bring their dps into line). However, the real strength of a projectile fit (more specifically an autocannon fit) is the level of cpu and powergrid it takes up - far less than the relatively grid-hungry pulses.
Whatever the fit, the punisher's combination of tank and damage output makes it an excellent up-close brawler, and going toe to toe with one in a lighter ship is often a poor strategy. It is, however, worth noting that the punisher does not receive a tracking bonus. This means that orbiting under the guns of a punisher can be a viable strategy, especially if they are pulse fit.
A versatile ship, the merlin boasts an enviable 4/4/2 slot layout. Offering the highest mid slot count of any t1 frigate (other than the griffin, which also has 4) along with a shield resist bonus, the merlin is a natural shield tanker, with a medium shield extender being the common choice of tank. Thanks to its mid slots, the merlin is the only t1 brawler capable of fitting a shield tank while still sporting the combination of afterburner, scram and web. Alternatively, the merlin can forgo the web in exchange for an invulnerability field to enhance it's already impressive shield tank, bringing this ship largely in line with the punisher in terms of both tank, dps and range dictation.
The 4th mid-slot also opens up a number of unorthodox fitting options such as dual propulsion (my personal favourite), or opting for an armour tank and using the extra mid-slot for either electronic warfare or an additional web for ultimate range control.
Like the punisher, the merlin's lack of a weapon damage bonus leads to a lot of fits with alternative weapon systems. Again autocannons are very popular due to their low cpu and powergrid requirement, however the less common laser merlins can also be surprisingly effective, making use of the long optimal range and high damage output of pulses with scorch to exploit the range-dictation ability granted by its web. Alternatively some users stick with hybrids, using the merlin's optimal range bonus to compensate for the short range of blasters, or provide additonal kiting/sniping ability with rails. Rockets are the obvious choice for the launcher hardpoints, mainly because standard missiles consume too much grid to fir them alongside a decent tank - if you spot a merlin using standards, the chances are they'll be an easy kill if you can catch them.
The downside of the merlin is its split weapon layout - 2 turrets, 2 launchers. Along with the lack of a damage bonus, this makes it difficult to fit a merlin with a strong damage output - one of the usual benefits of a shield tanked ship. This drawback also provides a slight benefit however, since it makes the merlin somewhat resistant to anti-turret tactics such as tracking disruptors or attempting to orbit under its guns.
At first glance, the tristan shares a great deal with the rifter - it has the same 4/3/3 slot layout, almost identical grid and cpu, and even the same bonuses (damage and tracking). However, it differs from the rifter on three key points.
First of all it's slower. This isn't a major problem since it's able to sport a web, but it's noticeable. Second, the tristan shares the merlin's split weapon system, making it difficult to enhance its damage output. Unlike the merlin though, the tristan does receive a damage bonus, and combined with the naturally high damage of blasters this actually leaves the tristan with one of the highest damage outputs of any t1 frig, and very much on par with that of the rifter. The third difference however is that the tristan's weapon systems consume much more cpu and powergrid than those of the rifter, meaning what appeared to be very similar fitting attributes actually leave the tristan dangerously short on both grid and cpu.
Despite having described these as disadvantages, the tristan remains a very capable frigate. It has excellent damage output, and is also one of the few frigates to receive a tracking bonus, making it adept at operating within the range blasters are designed for. While a shield tank isn't really viable due to cpu limitations, the tristan can sport a moderate armour tank on par with that of the rifter.
With lower base HP than it's brother the tristan and a reduced slot layout of 3/3/2, the incursus seems intended to be the gallente equivalent of the breacher/kestrel line rather than the race's top-end brawler. However, the uninspiring start hides some rather impressive characteristics.
First of all, the damage output of the incursus is excellent. With a blaster setup, the incusus can put out the highest dps of any t1 frigate, outmatching both the rifter and the tristan. Of the brawler frigates, it's also the only one which can match the speed and agility of the rifter. With a web, it can also make use of that impressive speed to dictate range against most targets, making a kiting rail fit a very viable option too.
Unfortunately without the slots and base stats of the other brawlers, the incursus struggles to fit a comparable tank, and this is its main weakness. Both a 200mm plate and a medium shield extender are viable options, although due to the incursus' low cpu a shield tank may require you to switch in a few named mods in order to squeeze it on.
As the primary missile users of Eve, you'd expect the caldari to have a strong missile boat, the the kestrel doesn't disappoint. With a slot layout of 4/3/2, the kestrel quite a versatile ship. Not only does it share the standard double-size damage bonus of the rest of the missile line, but it's the only one with 4 launcher hardpoints. That makes the kestrel the only t1 frigate with 4 bonused primary weapons.
With rockets, the kestrel has a very impressive damage output. Like the incursus, it is able to fit a light armour tank and opt for range control, or a more robust MSE shield tank. Neither setup is especially tough, however the flexibility of missiles combined with a dps output more commonly associated with turrets is nothing to scoff at.
Where the kestrel gets really interesting however, is when it's fit with standard missile launchers. While this its brings dps output down to about the level of the punisher or the merlin, the SML kestrel is able to apply that dps from up to 40km off, which is really quite impressive range for a frigate. Unfortunately the considerable cpu and grid required to fit standard launchers precludes being able to mount a decent tank too, so an SML kestrel caught at close range will generally die quickly. Of course with 40km of range to play with, catching this ship is easier said than done.
I'm going to roll these two ships into one since their capabilities are really quite similar. Like the kestrel, these are both missile ships and both gain a double-size damage bonus to their racial damage flavour. Unlike the kestrel, these ships only have three launcher hardpoints, leaving them unable to put out the same kind of dps as their caldari relative.
With rockets, both ships make a sub-par brawler. The inquisitor with it's 4/2/3 slot layout compared to the breacher's 4/2/2 performs slightly better in this role, able to fit an armour tank roughly on par with some of the other t1 frigs. The breacher is simply outclasses in this regard, and honestly neither of them are particularly effective for it.
Where they do shine compared to the kestrel however is their speed. Both of ships (and the breacher in particular) have high base speed, and are able to fit standard launchers along with a microwarpdrive. This makes these two frigates surprisingly useful as fast kiting ships - drawing opposing tacklers away and slowly picking them apart as they attempt to give chase. Don't hope for too much though, the dps output with standards is among the worst of the t1 frigate line.
The vigil boasts the highest speed of any t1 frigate by a considerable margin, able to hit the region of 4-5km/s without overheating. Because of this, the vigil generally sees use as a t1 pseudo-interceptor, rather than for its target painting bonus which is of limited use.
Given their common role as fast tackle, expect most vigils to be equipped with a mwd. While the vigil can actually fit a quite reasonable shield tank using a MSE (this is the fit I'd recommend), many people seem to fly them completely untanked under the mistaken assumption that their speed will keep them alive. Because of this, vigils are often far easier targets than they should be - assuming you can catch them, at least.
While it may be able to field a reasonable tank, with only two turret hardpoints and no damage bonus the vigil is very weak on the dps front, making it an uncommon choice for solo work. However, its speed can prove invaluable in a gang environment.
The maulus is a very capable frigate. It's primary use is as an electronic warfare ship. With a slot layout of 3/3/2 and excellent targeting range, the maulus is able to wield two remote sensor damps and severely hamper larger ships from a safe distance. Unfortunately damps are a fairly situational form of ewar, and as a result the maulus tends to be quite underused compared to the more broadly useful griffin and crucifier.
What is interesting to note about the maulus however, is that it's also a very capable combat ship. With two damage-bonused turrets and two drones, the maulus actually has quite a respectable damage output. It's still outshined by more combat-oriented ships like the incursus and is quite difficult to tank effectively, however don't be surprised if you tackle a maulus only to find it has significantly more bite than you were expecting!
Like the maulus, the crucifier is an electronic warfare ship first and foremost - it has a balanced slot layout of 3/3/3 and impressive base targeting range. Tracking disruptors and an incredibly effective form or ewar due to the prevalence of turret ships, and a crucifier sitting 70km away can easily take one or two turret ships largely out of the fight.
Unlike the maulus, the crucifier's combat ability is fairly minimal. That said, you may find yourself unable to hit the crucifier you just tackled once you have two bonused tracking disruptors aimed your way!
Due to it having a higher speed and more mid slots than the punisher, the crucifier is sometimes used as the de facto tackling frigate of amarr players.
The griffin is by far the most popular of the electronic warfare frigates, largely due to the effectiveness of ecm as an ewar type. The griffin's slot layout of 3/4/1 is perfect for its role, allowing maximum weight of electronic warfare to be crammed into its mid slots. This combined with the longest targeting range of any t1 frigate, makes the griffin a very specialised and very effective ship - capable of taking multiple larger ships out of a fight entirely.
However, this specialisation has its drawbacks. The griffin is the weakest of the ewar frigates both in terms of HP and damage output, and its ecm modules along with a signal distortion amp leave no room for tank. If a griffin faces hostile fire and is unable to jam out the aggressor, it generally isn't able to last very long.
One interesting variation is the solo griffin. This uses the frigate fishing tactic I discussed previously, usually armed with an afterburner and scram alongside a couple of multispectral jammers. Due to its fragility, many interceptor pilots will happily engage a lone griffin, only to find themselves scrammed, jammed, and slowly being torn to pieces.
Unlike the other scanning frigates, the imicus is also a surprisingly viable combat platform. The ability to field three light drones is unmatched among other t1 frigates, and allows for a not insignificant dps contribution without needing to put the ship itself in harm's way. The option of fitting an expanded probe launcher gives the imicus added utility in scanning down targets and providing drops.
Unfortunately, a 2/2/2 slot layout makes the imicus a poor fighter up close. While it can field a passable tank, it remains far more fragile than its brawler counterparts such as the incursus and tristan.
None of these frigates are really capable in a combat situation. Like the imicus, they have some utility as a cheap combat-prober, however none of these ships can can really present a significant threat otherwise.
These frigates all have high base speed, but low hp and minimal slot layouts (3/2/1 for the slasher and condor, 2/2/2 for the atron and executioner). They have a limited role as very disposable fast tackle, although they don't have sufficient hp to hold tackle against anything that's able to return fire. Given the low price of frigates in general there is little reason to use these ships outside of quick travel fits, and none of them pose a real threat.
These ships have no real application in pvp other than comedy or perhaps giving a lows-skilled can flipper a slight surprise, and present no real threat to a properly fit combat ship.