Elite Dangerous Circle Strafing Guide

Elite Dangerous Circle Strafing Guide by Cmdr_Truesilver

There has never been a better time in ED to learn how to circle-strafe. The combination of drive mods, lightweight mods and (for smaller ships) enhanced drives make circle-strafing more enjoyable and achievable than ever before.

What is circle-strafing?

Originating from first-person shooters (I’ve been circling since GoldenEye) it’s the action of moving laterally whilst simultaneously using a ‘look’ control to maintain time on target.

Imagine a tennis player pointing at the ball whilst they step sideways around it in order to change the angle of attack. That is a circle-strafe.

What does it look like in ED?

This VR vid is an extract from near the end of a very long ‘fer real’ PvP duel between my lightweight Courier and a Fer-de-Lance with 4 x Plasma and 1 x Huge Multi.

With my opponent on one ring of shields I elect to close range and circle-strafe: with 4 pips to engines and massive thrust from my g5 dirty enhanced drives, I open up with my rail gun while my own shield recharges (73 point blank rails = one ring on a bi-weave … honey, we need to talk about shield resistances).

Note that the circling becomes more and more pronounced as the vid goes on and I find the sweet spots.

Circle-Strafing VR PvP Vid

What does circle-strafing achieve?

As above, my shield is recharging while my opponent’s is broken. Circle-strafing takes you outside your opponent’s fire arc while keeping them inside yours.

It can achieve the ‘holy grail’ of a shooter – to shoot without being shot.

Circle-strafing confers most benefit against an opponent with mainly fixed weapons. But it can also take you outside the arc of gimbals and with enough speed it will hamper turret tracking.

Also, depending on the ship, you may deny the opponent key weaponry. They will roll so that you are so far as possible within their vision (i.e. above them). You can’t stop them doing this but it means that, for example, a FdL or Anaconda will only get limited use of its huge hardpoint. Plus, if their shield is down, it puts you in the perfect position for module sniping (varies by ship but most critical subsystems are more vulnerable from above).

How does circle-strafing achieve this?

By combining lateral thrust with pitch (or yaw, or both, but let’s stick with pitch for now) it puts your opponent in a position where their pitch cannot match your thrust + pitch.

Obviously, ships and loadouts matter. A T9 will not circle-strafe a DBS. However, with drive mods, circle-strafing is accessible in most combat ships against the right target. The Python, for example, which has limited pitch but excellent thrusters, is well able to circle-strafe a Cutter.

Preparing to circle-strafe: (a) your controls

You will need control of all six axes of motion. These don’t all need to be analogue but they should be easily available and not overly-sensitive. In particular, you should ensure that you have access to forward/reverse thrusters not just throttle.

Preparing to circle-strafe: (b) ship, outfitting, modding

Don’t outfit, don’t delay, just jump straight into the first Training Scenario and get circle-strafing by reading what follows! Bear in mind though that what you will achieve there a fraction of what can be achieved with a serious ship and modded drives.

For the main game, it all comes down to maximising your ship’s ability to vector.

That means choosing a ship with powerful lateral thrusters and, ideally, excellent pitch (Viper III has lateral but not pitch, Clipper has pitch but not lateral, FdL is pretty good at both, etc.)

Then you should be modding up to g5 dirty, if you’re serious about this.

And, in a small ship, you should first be fitting Enhanced Drives: the Enhanced + g5 Dirty combo is what you see in the vid.

Finally, depending on weight sensitivity of your loadout, you may well want to be modding down and dropping down. My Courier in the vid had a D-rank FSD and various lightweight mods.

But please note that although all of the above is strongly advised for serious combat duties, none of it should be treated as a complete pre-requisite.

First steps: find your asteroid

If using the Training scenario, just jump straight in. In fact, do this first.

In the main game, fit a small fixed laser and a good distributor. This will allow you to ‘trace’ the practice target. (Don’t use a mining laser due to limited range.) If your distributor can handle it with one or two pips, choose a beam laser.

Fit a good shield and HRP’s for accidents.

Drop into a ring, in the sunlight, not in a RES. Boost away from any NPC’s that spawn.

Find a stationary asteroid with safe clearance around it to minimise the risk of a crash.

Let’s circle-strafe!

4 pips to engines.

Start thrusting down while pitching up.

You will notice that you start to drift away, backwards, from your asteroid. In combat this would defeat a large part of the object as you’re now re-entering the enemy firing arc. (It will make you more difficult to hit but it’s not what we’re after today.)

Practice synchronising the two inputs to minimise this drift. It will vary by ship.

At this point, though, many start to think, ‘Doesn’t work or too difficult.’

To some extent, pre-Engineering, this was true. Modded drives have made a big difference, particularly with FA-on. But there is a missing input.

The missing jigsaw piece: forward/reverse thrust

What I hope some will draw from this guide is that forward and reverse thrust are the missing part of the jigsaw.

What follows, with FA-on, can be done with forward/reverse thrusters or throttle. With FA-off you can only use forward/reverse thrusters, not throttle. I advise using thrusters for both, therefore.

So: return to the exercise. Counteract your drift away from the asteroid by using forward thrust. If you get too close, use reverse thrust.

Practice, practice! Find the sweet spot.

Use your beam laser also.

You’re now pitching up while using down thrust and measured input of forward thrust. You’re circle-strafing!

On to yaw

Now stop and start again using side thrust and yaw and, as appropriate again forward and reverse thrust. This is of course the same exercise in a different plane.

You’ll see that against a stationary object it is still perfectly achievable but the limiting factor is yaw rates, which are so much worse than pitch. Again, find the sweet spot.

In real combat, yaw strafing is generally better combined with pitch strafing (see below) and may require more FA-off than pitch strafing (see later).

Five-input ‘diagonal’ circle-strafing

Now let’s go for it: down and sideways – diagonally, in effect. Apply down thrust plus side thrust, use pitch and yaw to match and forward/reverse thrust to control distance. Now you’re flying in space, Cmdr (and hopefully imagining how you’re going to go and wreck everyone, although it is a bit more difficult when a skilled enemy is trying to kill you with Engineer-spanked weapons, lol).

Of course the five-input, diagonal strafe above is harder and may be a bit more jerky, particularly if like me you have yaw on digital input. It is extremely confusing for most opponents to face but I would recommend saving it for ‘when necessary’. The effect is more confusing to them but can also hamper your speed and control.

It is, though, a superb defence if facing a skilled rammer who may predict a three-input circle strafe correctly and so achieve a collision.

Personally I go with three input as default and start to use five when threatened.

Is circle-strafing ‘I win’ / OP?

No, of course not, lol. This is a Beginner’s Guide not a complete guide to all manoeuvring. A Cmdr using FA-off and their own full control of the six axes will break a circle strafe. But you might re-establish it, or switch to another tactic. It is another weapon in your armoury, another string to your bow.

Application in PvP

Learn to gauge the optimal tactic for the scenario. I make no claims for my own piloting save that it is usually ‘considered’. If the other guy is gimballed and you are fixed, then keep him at 2 km and keep 4 pips to shields. You’ll likely win with or without anti-aimbot countermeasures.

However, if the other guy has high alpha fixed weapons, consider close-range circle-strafing with 4 pips to engines to break that fire arc.

A note about your weapons

Think about your weapons. They must match your tactics.

If you are in a FdL, the chances are that circle-strafing will really hamper the ability of a gimballed large weapon (particularly if kinetic, especially cannon) to track unless you strafe in the opposite to normal direction, by using up thrust and down pitch (which is great for your weapon but not your vision).

Consider using fixed rather than gimballed in that example.

On the other hand, if using frags, stick with gimballed by all means.

Learn what works for your strafing and your ship. Often practical difficulties can be overcome by a change in outfit and one hour of practice (it’s the latter part we can all be a bit reluctant to do!)

A note about FA-off

FA-off increase thrusters’ lateral acceleration and speed while reducing thrusters’ deceleration (I know that doesn’t make IRL sense because really it’s all the same thing in different directions, but that is what it does.)

You’ll know that controlling the additional movement FA-off introduces takes time and practice.

Pre-modding, FA-off was pretty much essential to a successful circle-strafe. Post-modding, in the right ship, as you can see from the vid, it may not be necessary (in the vid I use it just to get back on line).

Ultimately, your circle-strafing will only improve with mastery of FA-off but that is beyond the scope of this Beginner’s Guide!

It is worth noting though that there are ships like the Python (which has excellent thrusters, as noted) that only really come alive with FA-off, so perseverance will open up a new range of options.

Moving from asteroids to the real thing

Probably non-threatening NPC’s are your best stepping stone: find lower threat targets in an anarchy and bear in mind that ‘civilian’ NPC’s will not attack you unless you attack first, following interdiction.

Obviously if you have wing mates, they can help. Randoms will often help too if you explain what you’re doing and you may make a friend.

Combat NPC-wise, the bad guy under fire in a High RES by the cops is a great target for a circle-strafing kill-steal … just watch those asteroids.

Then there are the other Training scenarios but approach with caution and don’t be put off by them – remember that you don’t have your modded thrusters in those.

Beyond that, surprisingly, you may find NPC’s in Conflict Zones easier to circle strafe than 1v1 NPC’s – because the CZ NPC’s attention may be on other targets, not just you.

I’ll admit that I’ve barely fought an NPC for over a year so there may be more options here that others can post – but please bear in mind one crucial thing –most players are much easier to circle-strafe than most high-ranking NPC’s! So don’t be discouraged.

A note about VR

In the vid I was using an Oculus CV1.

Nothing will improve your control of range like VR, because rather than watching numbers (to tell you how far away they are) or a range-less simulacrum of range made using size on a 2D screen, in VR you can really see how far away they are because you’re in a 3D binocular galaxy.

And as I hope you’ve gathered by now, circle-strafing is all about control of range. That missing bit of the jigsaw.

Obviously VR also opens up the field of vision, too – better than just relying on the scanner when they move off line.

So, go for it, if you can.

For those that can’t, you might wish to give headtracking software a look (for the off-line tracking) but I haven’t tried it myself, so can’t comment further.

And finally …

I hope you’ve found this guide helpful.

For those who’d now like a belly-laugh at the author’s expense, you may have heard the ominous ‘Main fuel tank drained’ warning at the start of the vid.

Yes, shortly after I finally downed the other guy’s shield, my own plasma slug rail gun shot me out of fuel.

I said it was a long fight. Um … how do you call them Rats again?

See you in the black (if someone will refuel me),


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