As a miner, I rely on drones to defend my ship against belt rats, and I’ve recently been running missions in a Prophecy, an Amarr drone ship — possibly not the best drone boat in the game, but it’s so pretty. I’ve read a few guides to using drones, and have been experimenting with them for a while, so I’ve condensed what I’ve learnt down to this post. If you have any suggestions or corrections, please leave a comment!
Basic drone skills overview
In rough order of usefulness, but to be honest you’re going to end up training all of them eventually, right?
- Drones allows you to control 1 drone per level to a maximum of five
- Drone Interfacing adds 10% damage and mining yield per level
- Light / Medium / Heavy Drone Operation allows use of those drones and gives a 5% damage boost/level. Mining, EWAR, repair, sentry, fighter and bomber drones also have specific skills to unlock their use that work as you’d probably expect.
- Drone Avionics increases drone control range by 5,000m/level
- Advanced Drone Avionics adds an extra 3,000m/level
- Drone Durability gives a 5% bonus to drone shields, armour and hull hit points / level
- Drone Navigation adds 5% drone maximum velocity per level
- Drone Sharpshooting increases drone optimal range by 5%/level
- Racial Drone Operation unlocks tech II variants for each empire and gives a 2% damage boost to those variants.
Fitting a drone boat style ship
Here’s a list of items that are commonly found on PvE drone boat fittings. Obviously go for the highest meta level or tech II you can fit/afford to lose.
- Drone Link Augmentors increase drone control range.
- Fitting a turret of some description can help aggro rats onto your ship. On a drone boat your own guns are largely for show and attracting attention at range. Drone ships often have no bonuses to turrets, so your drones will massively outperform them.
- Drone Navigation Computers improves the MWD speed of drones, helping them get to targets quicker.
- Omnidirectional Tracking Links improve the optimal range and tracking of drones, helping them apply DPS. These are more useful for sentry drones than regular drones, which have pretty decent tracking already [thanks to @JoffyAulxGao for the tip].
- Usual midslot items: a prop mod, cap rechargers if needed, etc.
- Up to three Drone Damage Amplifiers — remember diminishing returns means more than three is pretty much a waste.
- Many drone boats are armour tanked, so there’s a trade-off here between DDAs for DPS and your usual mix of DCU, resistance plates, reppers and the like for your tank.
- There are rigs for drone control range, durability, scope (optimal range), and speed that affect all drones, plus rigs that specifically improve mining yield, repair amount, stasis webbing, and sentry damage for those specific drone types. But you might want to stick with rigs like the Trimark Armor Pump or something to plug resistance holes.
Racial drone comparison
Each of the four empires have their own drones, and each have their own advantages and disadvantages.
|Empire||Damage type||Damage||Velocity and Tracking|
Star ratings above are relative. Amarr and Caldari drones have the most HP, but that’s not really a huge consideration in PvE, your drones will be taking very little damage if you’re managing them correctly.
Using drones in PvE
When I arrive in a deadspace pocket for a mission or combat anomaly, I immediately turn on my afterburner and damage control unit, then I drop a Mobile Tractor Unit and start orbiting it at 30km. As my ship is establishing orbit, I start locking targets, and use my guns to aggro any rats that aren’t flashing at me. Apparently using any kind of EWAR against rats is also great for grabbing aggro, but I haven’t personally tried this.
Once I’m happy all the rats have their attention on me, I launch a flight of light drones and start using them to kill rats in size order, small to large, prioritising anything that’s doing EWAR debuffs or actually managing to hit me — due to the distance at which I’m orbiting, most rats won’t be hitting reliably if at all. For cruiser sized rats and larger, I swap to Medium or Heavy drones as appropriate.
When using drones, your ship should be taking all the incoming damage (or at least, the attention) while your drones do the work of fighting; compared to your tank, your drones are fragile. Between waves of rats, I recall all of my drones and use my very presence and guns to re-establish aggro on me before launching drones again.
You can toggle between passive and aggressive AI using the menu on the Drones window. Aggressive drones will merrily bound after anything that aggros after they’ve been launched, while passive ones will wait for your command. You can always order drones, even aggressive ones, to return and orbit (even if that’s what they’re already doing) and they won’t engage until you direct them. “F” is the default keybind for engaging your target. If they haven’t been told to Return And Orbit, aggressive drones will automatically switch targets when their current one dies. Once everything is dead, they’ll return to orbit around you.
Sometimes your five drones will divide their attention amongst two or more rats, so it’s best to tick the focus fire check box, as well as directing them manually to targets.
Managing drone groups and damaged drones
No matter how careful you are, sometimes a rat will get it into it’s head to start shooting a drone. When that happens I recall that specific drone, shoot that rat a couple of times, then launch a fresh drone. Drone shields will recharge after being docked with you for a minute or two.
Once launched, you can see drone health as three little bars for shields / armour / hull. Annoyingly you can’t see the health of drones that are docked, and the game sometimes seems dozy about sending out damaged ones. To get around that, I place my drones in groups, so:
- Groups Light and Light_2 each have 5 light drones in them.
- At the start of combat, I launch group Light.
- One of the drones starts getting damaged so I recall it. It returns to my drone bay.
- I launch a replacement drone from group Light_2.
You can place your drones in groups by highlighting them, right-clicking and selecting Move Drone > New group.
Always try to remember to recall your drones before warping off! Drones will follow you on grid but they can’t warp. If you do leave some behind by accident, once you go back to them you can right-click your own ship and select Reconnect to lost drones. You can also scoop abandoned drones (yours, or anyone else’s!) to your cargo bay.