|So much more than just an incursion rat!|
Not only are the pirate battleships fearsome platforms in their own right, but given that these are some of the most expensive subcapital hulls in the game you can expect far more isk to be sunk into their fittings than you're likely to find on your average PVP vessel - a few deadspace or faction mods are almost a given on a ship of this calibre, and you'll even encounter the occasional officer fitting should the pilot be rich enough. This splash of isk serves to make your typical pirate battleship even more powerful than it would be otherwise, as well as providing you with a very juicy loot piñata should you manage to take one down.
Of all the pirate battleships, the Machariel is the one that you're most likely to encounter in a PVP environment. Like the other ships in the Angel Cartel line-up the Mach boasts speed and agility surpassing anything else in its class along with excellent damage projection, making it one of the best ships in the game for skirmish PVP. Its 8/5/7 slot layout is heavily low-slot biased, leaving plenty of room for speed and damage modules along with just enough mid slots for a nominal shield tank. You do occasionally see armour Machs, but they're very much in the minority. It's not that the armour Mach is a bad setup, it just doesn't really take advantage of what this ship is capable of - if you want an armour tanked brawler, there are much better ships for the job.
The Machariel's main damage output comes from its seven projectile turrets. Whereas most kiting boats have to make do with a somewhat weak damage output, that's not the case for the Mach - the turrets on this ship come with a fixed 25% bonus to rate of fire as well as per level bonuses to damage and falloff, giving the Mach both more damage and better range than any of the minmatar battleships it comptetes with. Thanks to its falloff bonus the Mach's damage projection is exceptional - with autocannons and a couple of tracking enhancers, you're looking at a typical range of 4+59km with close range ammo or 8+89km with and barrage - a feat which is matched only by the Vargur. This extra range comes in pretty handy on an artillery setup too. With close range ammo, an arty Mach can reach out fo 42+126km and gets a volley damage of over 12000 - the highest alpha strike of any subcapital ship. In addition to its gun damage the Mach gets a generous 125m3 of drone bay and 100mb/s of bandwidth. Allowing it to field a main 'damage' flight of drones with a wing of lights as backup. While 100mb/s would usually suggest heavy or sentry drones, most Mach pilots stick to multiple flights of medium, light, and ECM drones instead. This is partly to provide a more versatile anti-tackler defence, but the fact that heavy drones physically can't travel fast enough to return to the ship might also have something to do with it!
To say that the Mach's speed and agility are unrivalled would be a massive understatement. It's not just faster than every other battleship, it's also faster than any battlecruiser and most cruisers too. Without any implants or gang links, a shield Mach will still reach speeds of between 1500 and 1800m/s depending on the fit. With all the trimmings, that number can get as high as 3000m/s before overheating. The nano Typhoon, otherwise the fastest battleship around, barely does 2/3 of that. The Mach is also incredibly agile for a battleship - not quite down to cruiser levels, but on par with your typical shield battlecruiser. Combined with its speed this gives the Mach a much easier time evading tackle than you'd expect from a ship of its size.
Like most shield kiters, the Mach is a little on the fragile side compared to the other ships of its class. Your typical fit features a three slot shield buffer tank, although active tanks (featuring either a regular shield booster or an ancillary booster) are also quite popular, especially on solo fits. Don't expect the kind of ludicrous tank that you might find on some of the other faction battleships - the Mach simply doesn't have enough slots to dedicate to it, even with shiny modules. Then again, the Mach doesn't need to be able to tank as much as a brawling ship would - it has the speed and flexibility to draw out hostile gangs and pull range as necessary, relying on its tank only to deal with any damage that it can't evade by other means. Maintaining this element of control is key to piloting a Mach, and represents its greatest strength and its greatest weakness - fail to get it pinned down, and a well flown Machariel will run rings around you. Get it webbed and scrammed however, and you've taken away its main source of survivability.
When fighting a Mach, keep in mind the same things you would against any kiting ship - remember just how fast it can go if it wants to, and avoid getting lured away from whatever support you might have on your side. This is especially true against the Mach given its excellent damage output - even if you manage to get it tackled, there's a good chance that it'll still be able to kill you if your backup isn't within range to help. It's pretty rare for a Mach to fit a web, making it quite possible to get under its guns should you get one scrammed. Watch out for the heavy neut it's likely to be carrying in its utility high slot however, as well as its multiple flights of drones. Long ranged scrams and webs will help you a great deal when fighting a Machariel. Speed is life for the Mach - get it slowed down and it loses its biggest advantage. That said, make sure any key ships you're relying on to do this are properly tanked - the Mach can project its damage to just about anywhere on the field with relative ease, and a lightly tanked Huginn or Rapier is unlikely to remain recognisable as a Huginn or Rapier for very long! Don't assume that you'll be safe outside of point range either - almost all Machs carry a Republic Fleet point letting them tackle out to 36km with heat or 54km with Loki support (which is fairly likely, given how much the Mach benefits from skirmish links).
Given its fairly low mid slot count it's rare for a Mach to fit specific hardeners. An EM rig is a possibility, so the usual thermal/EM preference remains true here. As a projectile ship the Mach could put out almost any damage type and is likely to pick whatever works best against you, except for kinetic which you're only likely to see in large quantities from an arty Mach. At long ranges barrage (dealing explosive/kinetic) is a safe guess, but otherwise be prepared for anything!
The Vindicator is, quite simply, the ultimate blaster platform. While all of the Megathron variants are excellent short range brawlers, no other ship in the game really compares to the Vindicator when it comes to close quarters combat. The Vindi gets an 8/5/7 slot layout with eight turrets and 125m3 of drones - one mid slot and one turret more than the Megathron upon which it's based. It retains the Mega's tracking bonus, however instead of the usual 5% per level bonus to damage the Vindicator gets a flat 37.5% hybrid damage bonus (the equivalent of a 7.5% per level bonus at Gallente battleship 5). Combined with the additional turret, this gives the Vindicator a potential damage output substantially higher than either the mega or the Hyperion. While that alone would make it a noteworthy brawler, the Vindi also wields the same bonus to stasis webifier effectiveness that the other Serpentis ships received. In conjunction with the ship's tracking bonus, this allows the Vindicator to apply damage very effectively at close range, even against ships which might normally get under battleship guns.
Like most other faction ships, the Vindicator gets a sizeable boost to its raw HP when compared to its t1 counterpart. This allows the Vindi to mount a fairly robust buffer tank, particularly with the addition of a few faction or deadspace hardeners. While a buffer tank is the bread and butter of gang Vindicators, solo setups tend to go for an active tank instead. The Vindi's fifth mid slot allows it to fit dual cap boosters, making up for one of the weaknesses of the active tanked Megathron and allowing it to run dual large armour reps comfortably. While the Vindi may not look like an unusually good active tanker, it's amazing what happens when you start to throw isk at things (which solo Vindi pilots justifiably tend to do). Deadspace reps and hardeners can push the Vindicator's tank to really impressive levels, particularly when supported by Legion links and a strong exile booster. When you're taking on a Vindicator, call your friends - you'll probably need them.
While much less common than either of the armour variants, you will sometimes encounter shield Vindicators too. Since at least one of its mid slots pretty much has to be a web to take advantage of the ship's bonus, shield Vindis tend to be very fragile. They are however able to put out an incredible amount of dps, as well as getting a substantial range boost thanks to the addition of a few tracking enhancers. Typical range for a shield Vindi is 16+29km with null - not bad at all for a blaster ship. It's not just damage projection that the shield Vindi gains either - the removal of its plates and armour rigs makes it significantly faster, with your average shield Vindi able to hit speeds of around 1.2km/s before heat.
When fighting a Vindicator, one of the the biggest factors you need to consider is its web. Once you're hit with that, you're not going anywhere fast. Expect a Vindi to web out at least 18km (overheated Federation Navy web range), possibly longer if it has Loki support. A single web will cut your speed by 90%, equivalent to more than three standard webs. It's quite common for Vindis to fit a long point instead of a scram, simply because the web is more than enough to slow you down and allowing you to keep your MWD running serves the Vindi pilot by making you even easier to hit. If you can fight comfortably outside the Vindi's web range, that's probably a smart move; you're unlikely to outrun its tracking at that distance unless you're flying something particularly small, however with a typical range of 11+14km using null the Vindi's damage output should begin to drop off significantly at a similar distance to its web range. If you have to fight the Vindi inside web range, you'll want to be as close as you can possibly get. Orbit manually inside 500m if you have to, anything you can do to keep some angular velocity going. A smart Vindi pilot is going to do what they can to prevent this (and with a 90% web they're more than capable of doing so), however it remains your best shot. If you can get in that close and land your own scram and web(s) on the Vindi too, it's possible that you might keep it from pulling range enough to hit you. It's worth noting that the Vindi doesn't have the Mega's utility high slot, meaning you're not likely to be facing a neut. It also keeps the Mega's 125m3 drone bay, giving it less choice in drones than on its rival the Navy Mega. Usually the Vindi will carry either a single flight of heavy drones, or multiple flights of small/medium and ECM drones.
With faction and deadspace hardeners running the Vindi is likely to have fairly strong resists across the board. Active hardeners aren't uncomon either, although they aren't guaranteed. Explosive is usually still a good choice, with kinetic and thermal equal second. As a blaster ship, the Vindi will mainly put out kinetic and thermal damage (and lots of it). That said, you'll need more than just good resists to stand up against this kind of firepower!
The Bhaalgorn is unique among the faction battleships in that it's more commonly encountered in a support role. While it may share a hull with the Armageddon, the Bhaal has very little in common with the its progenitor at all. This is nowhere more clear than in the ship's hull layout - a much more balanced 7/5/7, compared to the mid slot starved slot layout which the Geddon is famous for. Like its smaller counterparts in the Blood Raider line, the Bhaal uses a marauder-like setup with half the number of turrets that you'd expect on a ship of its size (in this case only four), and a 100% bonus to turret damage to make up the difference. The Bhaal also shares its cousins' 15% per level bonus to energy neutraliser effectiveness, allowing it to stack its utility highs full of 175% strength heavy neuts for some intense cap warfare capability. Finally, and unusually, the Bhaalgorn receives a 20% per level bonus to stasis webifier range. This differs from the Cruor and Ashimmu, which both received their bonuses to webifier effectiveness in the same way as the Vindicator. Given that the Bhaal can both neut and shoot to well outside of conventional web range, this change of bonus makes a lot of sense and comes in quite handy.
While its 100% turret damage bonus gives the Bhaalgorn the equivalent of eight effective turrets to play with, the fact that it receives no other bonus to those turrets leaves this ship slightly lacking on the dps front. It also gets a smaller drone bay than most Amarr battleships - 75m3 and the same in bandwidth, enough for a flight of mediums and a flight of lights but no more. As a result the Bhaal isn't all that attractive as a damage dealer. Thankfully, that was never where its main utility lay - the true strength of the Bhaalgorn is in bonused neuts and webs that it carries, any damage it puts out is simply icing on the cake. In fact it's fairly common to see Bhaalgorns fit with no guns at all, instead going for a full rack of neuts for maximum cap drain. This kind of setup is particularly popular as a utility ship for small scale capital engagements, where one or two of them can swiftly cap out hostile dreadnaughts and triage carriers. Even when only fielding neuts in its three utility high slots, the Bhaalgorn still has very impressive neuting power - enough to drain another battleship dry in well under a minute!
Given its reliance on cap-intensive high slot modules and the fact that it's usually employed as a gang ship, it's pretty rare to encounter an active tanked Bhaalgorn. Most Bhaals are set up with a buffer tank; generally armour, although from time to time you may encounter one with a shield tank shoehorned on in order to run with shield logistics. Neither of these fits is particularly tough, although as you can probably guess the armour variant is much more resilient than its shield counterpart. The shield Bhaal does get to use its additional low slots for damage modules however, allowing it to wield a damage output roughly comparable to the other battleships in exchange for a much more fragile tank and fewer mid slots for tackle and cap boosting.
While those bonused neuts are definitely the bigger threat, the Bhaal's web bonus should not be forgotten. One or two True Sansha webs are fairly standard on the Bhaalgorn, allowing the ship to web out to 39km with heat. This fits nicely with the Bhaal's own damage output, typically peaking at around 45+10km with megapulses and scorch. Remember that the Bhaalgorn's bonus is just to range - it shouldn't slow you down that much, and faster ships may still be able to maintain some element of range dictation, particularly if you can land your own web. The main challenge when fighting a Bhaalgorn is keeping enough capacitor flowing that you don't just end up dead in the water, at which point you're unlikely to be dictating anything (other than perhaps your last will and testament).
In a gang environment hostile Bhaalgorns are likely to be priority targets, particularly if you have capitals, logis, or any other ships on the field which are heavily dependent on cap. In shield fleets it's likely that the Bhaal will be a weak link, although you should still expect plenty of high grade hardeners. A standard armour tanked Bhaal is fairly robust, although not unusually so for a battleship. Dedicated neuting Bhaals on the other hand are likely to trade in their damage mods for additonal hardeners, giving them strong resists and a very impressive buffer tank. One way to deal with a Bhaalgorn is to fight fire with fire, and use your own neuting ships to put pressure on its capacitor. Most neuting Bhaalgorn fits will include at least a cap booster and may also be receiving remote energy transfers from gangmates, however the Bhaal is a hungry machine and any pressure you can put on its cap (or the cap of whichever ships are feeding it) is going to make it more difficult for the Bhaal to keep its own neuts running.
As a t1 armour tanker, explosive and kinetic are your damage types of preference against the Bhaalgorn with EM/thermal being preferable against shield fits. Its own damage output will me mainly EM/thermal, however unless the Bhaalgorn is solo that's likely to be a fairly minor consideration if any.
The Rattlesnake is the most defensively oriented of the pirate battleships, and the only one to receive a bonus to tanking. Following the pattern of the other Guristas ships, the Rattler combines the shield tank of a Rokh with the drone capability of a Dominix, supported by missile launchers as a secondary weapon system. It receives bonuses to shield resists and drone damage/HP as well as a fixed 50% bonus to cruise missile and torpedo velocity (i.e. range). The drone bay of the Rattlesnake is actually identical to its smaller cousin the Gila at 400m3 (with 125mb/s bandwidth) - the largest subcapital drone bay in the game. The biggest difference between the Rattlesnake and its smaller counterpart is toughness. With the base HP you'd expect from a faction battleship and an impressive 6/7/6 slot layout, the Rattler has no difficulty mounting an incredible shield tank. The Rattler also has a lot more flexibility around fitting than the Gila, allowing it to make full use of its four launcher hardpoints and utility highs without compromising on tank.
Rattlers are rarely seen in PVP, with the vast majority of them found in hisec where they've carved out a popular niche as the ultimate semi-afk mission runner. The most common fitting for this is a huge passive shield tank, typically able to withstand well over 1000dps at peak regen. Should you encounter a PVE Rattlesnake in lowsec or nullsec, there's a reasonable chance that they're fit in such a way too - make sure you've got the dps on hand to actually break them if you catch them! With its resist bonus and high mid slot count, the Rattler is also capable of mounting a very solid buffer tank or an equally impressive active tank. These are what you're more likely to encounter on a PVP fit, and in either case you should expect the Rattler to require significant effort to break.
Offensively the Rattlesnake is less impressive, although I wouldn't necessarily call it a weak. A flight of bonused heavy or sentry drones will put out a strong punch, particularly when augmented by a couple of drone damage amplifiers. The four unbonused missile launchers are nothing special, but with torpedoes and a ballistic control or two they do add a significant chunk of damage against larger targets. And that's really the crux of the Rattler's problem - it can put out a lot of hurt against other battleships and battlecruisers, but struggles against anything smaller. Large missiles (and particularly torps) start to be much less effective the smaller their target gets, and when it can't use sentries or heavies the Rattler sacrifices a significant chunk of its drone damage too. Don't underestimate the effectiveness of a flight of bonused light or medium drones by any means, but given the choice between facing that or a 90% webbing blaster Vindicator, I know which one I'd choose! A word of warning of course is that the Rattler does have a pair of utility highs and plenty of powergrid to fill them. These are sometimes used for drone link augmentors or smartbombs, neither of which present much of a danger to you. If the Rattler is packing heavy neuts on the other hand, this can potentially make your job much more difficult.
When fighting a Rattlesnake, my suggestion is to keep your speed high. This will decrease the damage you take from whatever missiles it's carrying as well as making it harder for heavy drones to chase you or sentries to track you. If you're flying in gang and the Rattler is using heavies, it's a good idea for whoever is being attacked by them to burn off and kite the drones away from the fight - heavy drones are slow at the best of times, and will take their time returning to the fray. It's probably not worth killing the drones themselves given the size of the drone bay that the rattler has available, although if a particular flight is causing you problems it might be worth taking it out in the hopes that the next one is something more to your liking. Rattler's are more likely to use their mid slots for tank than fit a cap booster, so cap warfare of your own isn't a bad idea particularly if you're having trouble breaking the Rattler's tank.
With a resist bonus and plenty of mid slots for hardeners, expect the Rattler to have strong resists across the patch. EM and thermal are still likely to be better, but don't expect them to be a magic bullet. For the Rattler's part, expect thermal or explosive damage from drones, and anything at all from the launchers.
Like the Bhaalgorn, the Nightmare uses a marauder-like setup with four 100% bonused turrets and utility highs. Where the Bhaal received neut and webbing bonuses however, the Nightmare is all turrets - on top of the 100% damage bonus, it also receives per level bonuses to turret damage and tracking. With a 6/7/5 slot layout the Nightmare is a natural shield tanker, giving it plenty of low slots for damage and range mods and leaving this ship very competitive with the best of the Amarr battleship lineup in terms of sheer firepower.
As with the Rattlesnake, the Nightmare is more commonly seen in PVE than in PVP. In this case, it's especially popular for running nullsec anomalies thanks to its strong damage projection and utility high slots. That said, the Nightmare is no stranger to PVP - active tanked Nightmares (now with ancillary shield boosters) can be very fearsome opponents and went through a phase of being fairly popular among solo PVPers. With seven mid slots, the Nightmare is more than capable of mounting an impressive tank along with all the other modules generally required for solo PVP. Its two utility high slots also allow it to wield quite significant neuting power, although not in the same league as the Bhaalgorn.
With pulse lasers, the damage projection of the Nightmare is excellent - 52+13km is a typical range with scorch, or 17+13km with faction multifrequency. While this isn't necessarily any further than the other Amarr battleships, the Nightmare's tracking bonus allows it to apply damage much more consistently against smaller or closer targets (for context, megapulses on a Nightmare have roughly the same tracking as neutron blasters). Anything which gets too close to track will promptly be hit by double neuts, mitigating the risk of small ships getting in too close. The Nightmare's drone complement is nothing special - 75m3 of bay and bandwidth, enough for a flight of mediums and a flight of lights (one of which is likely to be ECM), however it's enough to fend off any tacklers that its turrets can't deal with, particularly once they're neuted.
The biggest weakness of the Nightmare is its capacitor - it doesn't get a cap use bonus to its lasers, and those combined with a pair of neuts makes it a very cap hungry ship. If the Nightmare is running a conventional active tank rather than a buffer or ancillary boosters, this problem is compounded. Almost all Nightmare fits come with at least one cap booster, however even then it's still very vulnerable to whatever cap warfare you can throw its way. With valuable mid slots being used for tank and capacitor it's unlikely that a Nightmare will be carrying a web, and that can go in your favour. Its neuts will present a significant problem if you're flying a smaller ship, however if you're able to keep your capacitor running there may be some benefit to just getting in as close as possible. There's definitely no more safety outside of the Nightmare's neut range, since at that distance most ships will be hit very consistently by its tracking bonused turrets. This ship isn't quite as easy to fit as some of the other pirate battleships, meaning it's possible that one or both of its neuts will be mediums rather than heavies - it's far from guaranteed, but it's a possibility that may work to your advantage.
Defensively, the Nightmare is strong but not exceptional. The greatest challenge you might face would be a dual XL ancillary booster active tank, evading the ship's natural reliance on capacitor as well as providing a very strong sustained tank. Regular active tanks on this ship can also be very powerful, however their vulnerability to cap warfare means that they're generally easier to break. Neuts will come in handy either way, and failing all else just keep at it until the Nightmare pilot runs out of cap boosters - one way or another, they'll be going through them very quickly!
Like other t1 shield tankers, EM and thermal damage are your friends when dealing with the Nightmare. These are also the damage types it puts out, keeping things very easy to remember! Tank well, bring neuts, and make sure your capacitor is up to the challenge!