Combat is one of Starmade's most enjoyable and core mechanics and lets players engaged in battles take down enemy frigates with their pesky fighter design or bring in the capital ships and slug them all to hell and back again.
Some weapons are better suited for certain situations and ships than others, for instance: Antimatter Cannons are great for taking down shields due to their high rate of fire and high damage potential, while SD-BBs are great at taking down maneuverable ships with disabled or no shields. I say no shields because missiles are currently a bad choice against shields, they do damage to a shield on impact, but can't even compare to the sheer damage potential of Antimatter Cannons. However, missiles do have a blast radius on impact, meaning that all blocks surrounding the impacted block take a percentage of damage too, this can wipe out a huge chunk of your enemy's ship in one bright flash and decimate its internal systems if placed right.
All missiles are fairly slow however, so do not expect them to outrun any ship with a reasonable amount of thrust.
There are a few different kinds of weapons in StarMade: the Antimatter Cannon, or AMC for short, that fires rapid energy bursts, the d-1000 dumb-fire missile, the SD-KB heat seeking missile and finally the SD-BB lock-on/dumb-fire missile, now let's go over each one and see what it does, how it works and how you should or shouldn't use it:
The Antimatter Cannon, or AMC, is your classic all-round energy weapon that fires bolts of energy at a relatively high rate that will increase (alongside its damage) by connecting more AMC blocks. They must be linked to a weapons computer that's been assigned a hotkey through the weapons menu in order to fire them, more on this a little further on. They will fire at where the pilot's cursor is currently pointing, unless he is pointing at an empty area of space, in which case they will fire straight forward.
The d-1000 is a dumb-fire missile launcher, meaning that upon launch the missile will fly straight forward until it either hits a target or hits its maximum range, and causing damage within its explosion radius, currently ignoring multiple layers of blocks (meaning that the explosion will damage all blocks in its radius regardless of the amount or type of blocks in between). These missiles do more damage than their guided counterparts to make up for their lack of guidance, making them more suited for attacks on big targets like capital ships and planetary bases.
The SD-KB is a heat-seeking missile that will lock on to the nearest non-friendly target and attempt to hit it, it will explode on impact or self destruct when it reaches its maximum range (like the d-1000). They have a limited amount of maneuverability, so nimble ships will be able to shake these missiles fairly easy up close. The SD-KB will however target ANY target within its range, meaning that it might lock on to a different enemy than you might have hoped, or even your own ships if they are not part of your faction yet.
They currently also still target turrets attached to the ship they came from if they do not belong to the same faction, making them almost useless if used by a ship with turrets and no faction.
Perhaps the most useful missile of them all, the SD-BB is a missile that can either be fired straight forward like a d-1000 or it may lock-on to any non-friendly target you aim at. To lock on to a target, select the SD-BB you wish to fire and aim at the desired target, your reticle will now slowly turn and shrink until it lock in place, indicating that the target has been locked, do not look away from the locked target for too long before firing or you will lose the lock. Once fired the SD-BB will retain its lock even if the the firing ship has disengaged.
Weapon Linking & Tweaking
Weapons and other usable modules need to be linked to a number on your hotbar (1-0) to be usable in flight-mode, here's how to do this:
Set up some weapons on your ship according to the guidelines above and open up the weapons menu with t to enter the interface through which you link and tweak your weapons. In this interface you will see a list of all available weapons on the left, click the weapon you want to link from this list and press a number from your hotbar to connect that weapon system to that number. Now this weapon will show up in your hotbar in flight-mode as the main block for that weapon type, select it with the corresponding number and click to fire it.
In this menu you can also tweak your weapons in the right pane, meaning that you can distribute the 100 points available in that weapon to whatever trait you see fit. You could for instance remove 10 points from weapon fire-rate and assign it to that weapons damage to increase the damage at the cost of fire-rate, the more points you allocate to that trait above the default value, the less of a gain you will see in the increase, meaning that you can shift around points but it is overall a better idea to keep at least some points in all categories and not waste them on a nearly maxed out one.
Tips During Combat
When you're actually in a combat situation, whether it is with another player or with pirates, you need to be sure to survey their ship against yours. If you are in a small ship, agile, with powerful weapons and you're facing a ship that is large and cannot turn quickly, with powerful weapons then you need to get as close to the ship as possible, this means that the other ship cannot shoot you, and will take a while to turn to the correct position to shoot you. If you are attacked by a large ship, they cannot turn quickly, so the best thing to do would be to go over or under the ship, then fly away.
If you're attacking a ship, it is best to see where the core is, then get as accurate as you can and try to get the core to overheat. Try to stay away from shooting from afar, as it gives your opponent a better view of you and if they have better weapons they can destroy your ship quicker than you can destroy theirs.
If you're in a large ship and a smaller ship starts to attack you, your best hope is to fly backwards as fast as you can, keeping your distance from the ship, that way it can't fly over or under you. Then you can fire your weapons and overheat the core.
If you're in a small ship, and you get attacked by a large ship, go underneath or on top of the ship and fly away. If you're attacked by a similar sized ship as yours, then you need to try to dodge it's attacks. Players are much harder to get away from so when it is a player never fly in one direction, this means that the opponent can get behind you and fire weapons in a straight line to hit you.