A Ship's role defines the behaviour of a starship during combat. A ship’s role will set its targeting priorities, defending priorities (where applicable), and where it will spawn in battle.
When a ship is created using the Ship designer, a default battle role is assigned to the ship based on various factors. User-created ships will be assigned the default battle role when saving the design, but the role can be manually changed to any role the player wishes when saving the design.
A ship's default role is determined by the following attributes:
All ship equipment has at least one attribute assigned to them. Threat is assigned to weapons (beams, kinetics, missiles), Fortitude is assigned to defenses (hull plating, shields, point defense), and Value is assigned to other equipment (drives, life support, modules).
As equipment is added to a ship, these attributes are added together to decide what role the ship will have. If threat is the largest it will be an attacker, if fortitude is largest it will be a defender, and if value is larger than the sum of both threat and fortitude, the ship is labelled as support.
The hull size also influences what role a ship will have, though all hull types with value as the highest attribute will be support. Tiny ships can be Interceptors (threat) or Guardians (fortitude), small ships can be Assaults (threat) or Escorts (fortitude), medium and large ships can be Capitals (threat) or Escorts (fortitude) and huge ships will be Capitals regardless of whether threat is larger than fortitude.
Target and defend priority
Ships will begin combat with the highest priority enemy as their target. If their target is out of range, they will fire on any other enemy ships within range until their highest priority target ship is finally in range. You can see which enemy ship is considered their target by hovering over the ship icon in the lower part of the screen while in the battle viewer or by selecting the ship on the battle map.
Ships will fire on targets highest on their priority list. This could result in loss of focus fire when ships with different ship roles have different priority targets within range. A ship will also stop firing on an already damaged enemy in favor of its higher target priority ship coming into range, even if the previously damaged enemy is near destruction. For example, interceptors that have a guardian as their primary target will fire upon enemy interceptors while they pass each other, but will continue moving towards the entire time and eventually start firing on the guardians.
Defend priority causes a ship to stay near an ally ship that it is protecting. It does not affect the primary target of the ship but only whether or not the ship is willing to move forward towards it. If the ship it is defending has started moving forward, it will follow.
Because of the defend priority, a guardian will not move forward and join the battle until its support ship starts to move forward. (Support ships remain at zero speed at the map edge until all ally interceptors, assault ships, and capital ships have been eliminated.) It will, however, attack any enemies that come into range.
An escort will move forward and attack enemies if it is defending a capital ship. An escort that is defending a support ship however will remain in the back out of combat, similar to the guardian as described above, and the escort ship will only move forward once the support ship starts to do so.
Each ship's position at the start of a battle is determined by the ship's role. The higher the starting position number, the closer the ship will start near the enemies.
Tactical speed determines how quickly a ship moves during combat. You can view a ship's current speed by selecting the ship on the battle viewer. Most ships start out at a low speed when combat begins, about 1/4 maximum speed, moving towards the center of battle. Once any ship starts firing, all ships that are moving will increase their speed and advance toward their primary target as quickly as possible.
Support ships start the furthest back and will not advance forward until there are no ally attack ships (interceptors, assault ships, and capital ships) left in its fleet. As long as at least one of these ship types remain, the support ship will maintain a speed of zero. Any vessels defending the support ships will move around at low speed but will remain in the back with the support ships as well. As soon as there are no remaining ally attack ships, the support ships will begin moving forward to join the fight, along with any defending guardians and escorts that are there as well.
A few things to think about when you are assigning ship roles:
Defenders & Attackers Doctrine
A fleet can become more resource effective and take fewer losses if some ships specialize in defense and others in offense. In a regular fleet, the defenses are spread out on each ship; in the Defenders & Attackers Doctrine, the defenses are concentrated on one or more ships at the very front of the fleet, so that an enemy must cut through all the defenses first before they can kill any damage specializing ships. This allows a fleet to take a lot of damage without losing its momentum. Damaged defenders can be swapped out for fresh ones after battle, and if the enemy switches to different weapons, just change the defender design to counter it.
There are 2 role combinations that work for this doctrine:
Note that Escorts (defenders) + Support (attackers) would also work (as long as there are no assault, interceptor, or capital ships also in the fleet) in terms of forcing all defenders to be killed before the attacks can start being damaged, the escorts have a starting position too far in front of the support ships for this combination to be effective.
A variation of the Defenders & Attackers doctrine is Capital or Support ships equipped with Assault drones (Escort role, small hull, mixed weapons and mixed defenses). The special thing with drones is that they are both offense and defense rolled into one, and the more drones a fleet has, the more protected it is.
Lost drones are replenished over time, and this doesn't seem to cost anything, and carrier modules have a very low maintenance cost considering the weapons and defenses it brings. To create strong carrier fleets, get the Transportation Specialization technology (the very first specialization in the engineering tree's top branch, -30% mass for carrier modules). The cargo hull has a pre-made carrier design, which becomes a beast when it can equip two carrier modules for only five logistical points. To make a carrier fleet even stronger, consider adding supportive jamming modules. The Interceptor drones (Interceptor, tiny, beam) will not protect their motherships, and Guardian drones (Guardian, tiny, kinetic) do too little damage, so the Assault drones seem the more effective alternative.
Blueprints are predetermined ship designs that are automatically adapted in order to take advantage of your empire's latest technological advances.
Prototypes are ships that use one or more copies of a galactic resource to mount powerful versions of beam, missile, and mass driver weapons that are far more effective than anything else at an equivalent tech level.
Many blueprints have support variants, which sacrifice raw firepower and defenses for support modules that boost their entire fleet's combat capabilities.
Blueprints are defined in the game's XML data files. Experienced modders may be able to alter blueprints to suit their needs.