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Beam Overview

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This page provides a brief overview and comparison of Beam Weapons and CIWS. Beam weapon in Aurora refers to every weapon that isn't a Missile weapon or CIWS, and are operated by a beam fire control sensor.


Beam weapons are very short-ranged compared to missile weapons but they can do a lot of damage in a short space of time and they don't need ammunition. Beam-armed ships can be deadly when waiting in ambush at a jump point. Every ship suffers jump shock after a jump and a beam ship can do a lot of damage in that time, if it is experienced enough to respond to orders quickly.

All beam weapons work in a vacuum. Only Mesons will work through any thickness of atmosphere. All other beam weapons lose power as the atmosphere gets denser on a linear scale with 1 atmosphere pressure being the point where beam weapons lose 100% power. Similarly, Beam weapon effective range will be reduced in Nebulae systems.

Beam Weapons are designed components. Each component has several background technologies that can be set independently to configure a weapon for the desired cost-benefit balance. The balance between different weapons will vary as they all advance. In any event, Aurora is very situational and often you need the right weapon for the situation. There isn't a 'best' weapon for all circumstances.

Energy Weapon Types

Energy weapons usually has two paired techs: one that determines the weapon damage, and one that determines the weapon range, often with some interplay between the two. Additionally, all energy weapons are powered by a capacitor which draws energy from a ship-based Power Plants. Therefore, all energy weapons depend on the capacitor recharge rate technology. There are several types of Energy Weapons:

  • Lasers are the staple energy weapon. They have the longest ranges of any energy weapon at a comparable tech level, but they also have a steep damage drop-off with range. Lasers can be mounted in turrets. Focal size determines damage and wavelength determines damage fall-off. Both interplay to determine range.
Lasers are the yardstick for other beam weapons and are reasonably good at everything. Larger lasers can be used as offensive weapons and have a good damage output. Small lasers can be used as dedicated point defence weapons, or slightly larger ones can be used in a dual point defence / anti-ship role.
  • Particle Beams have no range drop-off, causing the same damage across their entire range. Their range is slightly worse than lasers, and at equal tech levels, a particle beam will out-damage lasers at its maximum range who will do only a portion of its damage. Particle beams cannot be turret-mounted. Particle Beam Range determines range and Particle Beam Strength determines damage.
A ship armed with particle beams should attempt to engage at longer ranges against other beam armed ships to take advantage of its fixed damage, while enemy damage decreases with range. This is a pure anti-ship weapon and would perform badly if used as a point defence weapon.
  • Mesons are short-ranged weapon, effective at bypassing defences. They do very little damage per shot (they are fixed at 1), but they ignore shields and armour causing Internal Damage. They can be turret-mounted. Focal size and focusing technology interplay to determine range.
Mesons turrets are quite a popular choice for point defence, partly because they are ideal against an opponent who uses armoured missiles and partly because they are a very good anti-ship weapon at point blank range.
  • High-Powered Microwave (HPM) are short-ranged like a meson cannon but effective against shields and electronic systems. HPMs also do little damage per shot (fixed at 1) and ignore armour. But, they do bonus damage (x3) to shields, and once shields are down, microwaves only affect electronic components. They cannot be turret-mounted. Focal size and focusing technology interplay to determine range.
HPM can be a powerful weapon, if used properly. Although it causes no damage to the majority of a ship's systems, it can blind the enemy, either forcing him to retreat or rendering him vulnerable to more destructive weapons. However, it is also quite expensive, costing twice as much as a similar size Meson Cannon, and difficult to employ effectively because of its relatively short range.
  • Plasma Carronade have the highest damage of any energy weapon, but are extremely short-ranged. They have only one background tech besides capacitor recharge rate: Plasma Carronade calibre, and there is no way to enhance range beyond increasing the damage output. They are generally larger than other energy weapons of equivalent tech level and thus more damaging, but their extemely short range renders them with limited use. They cannot be mounted on turret.
If you are outclassed technologically then build a ship with a few of these and wait for your opponent beyond a jump point. It cannot be turret mounted and is far from ideal as a point defence weapon.

Kinetic Weapon Types

  • Railguns shoot four projectiles at once and their total damage is approximately one third higher than a laser of similar technology. The damage falls off in the same way as lasers and their range can be extended by researching Railgun Launch Velocity. Because each shot does less damage than the total damage of an equivalent laser, the range is shorter and the damage is spread across the armour rather than penetrating in a single area. The range differential may not be an issue though if you don't have the fire control technology to take advantage of the laser's greater range. Although railguns cannot be mounted in turrets, they are still often used for point defence at lower tech levels because their high rate of fire compensates for their inaccuracy against fast moving targets.
  • Gauss Cannons are primarily a point defence weapon and in that role their performance is superior to the other weapons under most circumstances. They inflict only one point of damage but fire several shots per volley. They can be mounted in turrets and on a full size ship it is unusual to see a gauss cannon that isn’t turret mounted. Their background technologies are Gauss Cannon Rate of Fire, Gauss Cannon Launch Velocity and Gauss Cannon Size vs Accuracy. Unlike other beam weapons, there is no 'larger' version with a greater focal size. The max gauss cannon size remains 6 HS. However, you can reduce the size of the gauss cannon, while retaining its rate of fire, at the cost of reduced accuracy. This makes it useful as a weapon for very small spacecraft such as fighters. In a fighter vs fighter engagement the low damage output of the gauss cannon is offset by the fragility of the target. Another advantage of the gauss cannon is that it does not require reactor power in order to fire. It will always fire every 5 seconds.
  • Close in Weapons System (CIWS) is a fully automatic, self-contained, non-military defensive system. It offers lighter and cheaper solution compared to a dedicated gauss turret in the same role, however, it has a set tracking speed and can only protect the mounting ship. CIWS allows the designer to add a self-contained anti-missile system without having to worry about anti-missile-oriented sensors and fire control systems and the player doesn't have to be concerned with allocating weapons or fire control systems. Meaning, if a missile is about to hit the ship, it will open fire.
It is intended to be added to non-escort warships as a last-ditch defensive system. However, they are of limited use in large fleets. Since CIWS can only protect the mounting ship. Which means that for the mass of 5 CIWS systems, each ship only gets 1 CIWS worth of protection. By using equivalent turrets, for a small amount of extra mass, you can give 5 CIWS worth of protection to EVERY ship in the fleet at once, because turrets are able to protect not just themselves, but their fleet-mates as well.

Comparison of Beam Weapons

The following is an analysis of the beam weapons which have typical damage profiles, ie everything other than Mesons, which bypass shields and armor, Microwaves, which deal electrical damage, and CIWS, which are not offensive.

Also see Beam Weapon Range.

These are the relevant stats of each weapon system examined:

Weapon Laser Railgun Plasma Particle Gauss
Base Damage 16 5 6 40 1
ROF (increments) 4 3 3 8 1
Size 8 8 8 12 6
Range Modifier 5 5 24* 1 1
Num Shots 1 4 1 1 4
Cost 100 96 94 63 48
Crew 80 80 80 120 24
* At 240km the damage of this Particle beam drops to zero.

These weapons were created with reasonably early technology, but there has been some research along each line to give them a chance to grow into their strengths a bit. A more thorough examination would also look at a set of weapons later on in the game to make sure their balance is similar then as well. This is the amount of technical research used to attain each set of weapons. Each system got as close to the same amount of research as was possible.


Now lets start getting to the meat of the matter.


The first step is to look at pure damage per shot of a single weapon. This gives you a really good picture of the dynamics of the different weapons. First you have the Plasma Carronade, putting out an immense amount of damage with each shot that dissipates very quickly. The next highest damage level is the Railgun, which overpowers the laser with its four projectiles. As each of the projectiles’ damage dissipates with time, however, the damage level drops below that of the laser at longer ranges.

Next you have the laser, which does medium damage that slowly degrades over time, then the Particle Beam, which does constant damage which starts to surpass all other weapons at the mid-long range. Lastly comes the Gauss Cannon, which at this tech level fires four shots of damage one (constant for all tech).

So that’s all well and good, but that’s only part of the picture. Since armor and the penetration thereof is such a big part of the battles in Aurora let’s look at that next:


Since the Plasma Carronade has the least penetrating damage template and the laser has the most penetrating one, they are actually penetrating the same amount right from the start, even though the plasma gun does way more damage! Then, as range increases the penetration of the Plasma gun drops far faster than that of the laser. Next you have the Railgun and Particle Beam. While they each share the same damage template the fact that the Railgun’s damage is spread out amongst four shots means that they penetrate the same amount of armor regardless of their increased damage.

The big takeaway of this graph is to note that the advantage of the Plasma Carronade that seemed so enormous in the last graph isn’t as large as it appears, even at the smallest range.

The next step is to stop looking at individual guns and individual shots, but instead look at how many of these guns we can put on a ship, and how often they will fire. To do this I ignored Beam Fire Controls, since you can use many weapons on one Fire Control. But I did add the mass of the gun to the mass of the crew quarters needed to house the gunners, and the mass of the reactor of this tech level that would be required to power it (no power/stability boosts or penalties), I divided the damage by that hull size, and by the number of time increments it would take to fire for the Capacitor Recharge Rate of this tech level.


Now things start to look different indeed. The immense first blast of the Plasma Carronade is not followed by another shot for quite some time, and the weapon is larger than any of the others. The laser has a much higher DPS than the Plasma Carronade, and the same or better penetration. These adjustments have also made a big difference to the Railgun, further increasing its lead over the laser in close quarters. If you look closely you’ll see that the Coil Gun has done tremendous as well, helped along by its quick fire rate and lack of a reactor. Even with terrible armor penetration you could do worse.

For some background for the mechanics of that last slide: as the focal size of the various weapons increases, their total size increases roughly linearly as well. However their damage increases (even more) roughly by the square of the size, so you start getting a lot more damage per hullsize. At the same time though the power requirement is directly tied to damage dealt, so your fire rate is falling at the same time your damage rate is rising. When you add in a larger gun your DPS actually drops over time. The changes buy you two big things though. First of all, with higher damage comes higher penetration, this is the main benefit. It also entails higher resistance to range degradation, so though your Point Blank DPS drops significantly, your DPS at higher ranges isn't affected as much. At the higher range the larger guns have almost caught up from a DPS standpoint, so they are equal except with regards to their better penetration. As an example of this mechanic, take a look at the DP(I+S) of all of the sizes of lasers unlocked at this tech level:


We are definitely closing up on the end here, but for thoroughness let’s take a look at another mechanic. As range increases not only does the damage of most of your weapons directly degrade, but you also get a penalty of all beam weapons to your accuracy. What do these graphs look like if you take that into account?


Once you start taking account of those misses at longer distances you get a steep damage drop off. This is a useful chart to see because you can look at this and decide whether having longer-ranged beam weapons is that appealing to you. You may decide that you’re ok with doing less damage at 200k km because you are going to want to do all of your fighting at 50k km where all beam weapons do more damage, and the Rail Gun really shines. (Keep in mind the Rail Gun’s lower penetration though)

With the bonus to damage by being in close you may wonder why you’d ever fight at range, and it really just depends on who you were fighting. If they have no beam weapons then you can close as you wish, but if they have Plasma, or Railguns, or especially Mesons it becomes much more dangerous to close, and having the longer range weapon may help you completely avoid damage from those weapons.

The above graph doesn’t tell the whole story of the accuracy penalties, because the skill of your crew—called the Crew Grade—provides bonuses to the accuracy of your beam weapons. For example, a 20% crew grade bonus would turn an 80% chance to hit into a 88% chance to hit. If you have a relatively skilled crew with a Grade of 20% then the above graph is changed to look like this:


So with a skilled crew you aren’t going to have as much of a penalty at range, and that penalty will start later. Skilled crews also have other benefits: faster missile launches, quicker response to orders, faster recovery from jump blindness, lower chance of components breaking during maintenance checks, and more.