An escort is a ship that a player either hires or captures to use alongside a primary ship. Escorts with weapons may be directed to defend the player's ship, while those with available cargo capacity can be used for bulk hauling (but not for mission cargo, however).
Virtually any ship may be captured by registered players and assigned to escort duty. Capture involves disabling the target vessel, boarding it and overcoming its crew. (By adding Marine Platoon outfits, you can improve your chances of successful capture.) You can upgrade captured escorts (when allowed) or sell them at spaceports with shipyards. Captured escorts stay with the player until sold, released, or destroyed in combat.
Escorts can be hired by visiting spaceport bars. The transaction involves a specified hiring price that varies by ship type, plus a daily fee (the larger and more powerful the vessel, the higher the fee required). If you fail to maintain a credit balance sufficient to pay the daily fee, a hired escort will depart without ceremony. Many faction-specific vessels cannot be hired until the player has met certain criteria, such as completing a mission string or achieving a sufficient reputation with that faction. Hired escorts may be released from service at any time. The daily fee is usually 10% of the hiring price.
Fighter escorts are bay-borne ships launched from a bay. These escorts must be purchased from the outfitters or, bay space permitting, captured. Any fighter that a player has a matching bay with space for, they can board and automatically capture, adding it to the bay. Fighters behave like ordinary escorts, except they must be launched from the bay and can be recalled for free repairs, recharging, and rearming. Some fighters return to the bay automatically when they run out of ammunition. Additionally, most fighters can be used in place of an escape pod should the player's ship be destroyed.
Finally, missions can grant players escort ships. These typically behave like any other escorts, except they only remain with the player for the duration of the mission. More often than not a player must protect the ships assigned to be his escort during the mission. Though on other occasions, the mission is reversed and the escorts are supposed to protect the player, which in turn means they can be destroyed without failing the mission. Mission escorts do not cost the player anything.
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Bear in mind that captured ships are free, compared to the daily and initial costs of a hired escort. Thus if you have a decent combat rating, always attempt to capture rather than hire (go after pirate vessels, to avoid harming your relations with local governments).
All escorts can be repaired by boarding them when they are disabled.
Escorts that have expended ammunition or fighters will automatically replenish their stores when you land on a planet, even an uninhabited one.
Escorts will also be scanned by interceptors, decreasing your chances of getting caught with illegal outfits and/or cargo.
All escorts are classified as either fighters, medium ships, warships, or freighters. Each classification of escorts can be given seperate orders as follows:
Attack-(f) When your target screen is blank, your escorts will attack the nearest hostile ship with all their weapons and fighters. Bay-born fighters will dock with you if they run out of missiles while "Attack" is in effect. If you hit "f" when a ship is in your target screen, then your escorts will attack that ship and ignore others until it is destroyed. Bay-born fighters may dock if they have run out missiles without destryoing the targeted ship, but will continue to attack it once redeployed. If you order your escorts to attack a ship, and it wasn't hostile towards you, then it will lose its hostility towards you once your escort is destroyed or recalled into its fighter bay provided that you have not fired upon it yourself. If there are no hostiles in-system, but you suspect that an ambush is forthcoming, order "attack" without targeting a ship and your escorts will remain in formation until hostiles appear.
Formation-(c) The default command when you gain a new escort, leave a planet, jump into a new system, or deploy a bay-born fighter. Your escorts will make every attempt to stay in formation as you fly around, ignoring their own speed and manuverability restraints to do so. This means that if you are flying a Mod Starbridge with an Auroran Carrier as an escort, then that carrier will stay on your tail no matter how fast you fly. The only exception is in 2X time (caps), your escorts manuvering speeds do not double, and it is possible for your escorts to fall out of formation if they move off of the screen. When hostiles are present, then your escorts will fire their primary guns if the hostiles are in range and they are oriented properly to hit hostiles with their forward-firing guns. If your escorts fall out of formation with hostiles present and the formation command still in effect, then your escorts will proceed to attack the hostiles with their standard manuvers, but still with only their primary weapons. Flying into a lead position in front of an escort that is pursuing a hostile while formation is in effect will return that escort to its formation position. Carrier escorts will recall their fighters when the formation command is given. "Formation" is most useful with anything armed with railguns. In fact, the best use for railguns is for your escorts to be big cruisers with lots of heavy railguns and for you to fly a fast, nimble ship to keep your escorts out of harm's way.
Defend-(d) Your escorts will stay in formation with you until you take damage from hostile ships, then they will attack the hostile ships with all of their weapons and fighters. Your escorts will return to formation as soon as you stop taking damage from hostiles. Bay-born fighters will redock when they run out of missiles while your ship is taking damage. If they run out of missiles while you are not taking damage, then they will wait to dock until you start taking damage again, which can be annoying when your fighters dock instead of protecting you. "Defend" is the only command that will return you escorts to formation when they have fallen out of formation with hostiles in-system, useful for when you just need to run. Carrier escorts will recall their fighters when "Defend" is issued unitl your ship takes damage. "Defend" is most useful for strafing with a destroyer, as your escorts will stay with you while you are out of range and attack your enemies while you are engaged.
Hold Position-(v) Your escorts simply stop right where they are. Carrier escorts recall their fighters. Useful for disabling ships that you don't want your escorts to simply blow to kingdom come, or to keep you long-range escorts out of the way while you dogfight with hostiles, or just anytime you want your escorts out of the way. "Hold Position" is most useful for leading hostiles past your escorts, and then turning around and attacking the hostiles while ordering "Attack", trapping your enemies in the "Hammer and Anvil" maneuver. Hostiles will attack the nearest ship in your fleet, so be careful not to lead them too close to your escorts. Also keep your escorts either on the radar screen or on your target screen while "Hold Position" is in effect, as your escorts will not fight back if attacked while this command is in effect.