Thargoids pose a significant combat Threat in Elite: Dangerous. To effectively destroy Thargoids it is imperative that players are aware of the mechanics and fundamentals of AX combat.
Fighting Thargoids is hard until it is easy. Prepare to die and face the rebuy screen. Medium ships are faster, cheaper to (re)buy, require less engineering, and pack roughly the same firepower as large ships due to the weapons cap on experimentals (4). Flying without using a recommended build puts you and your wingmates at risk. Be courteous to your fellow pilots! Engineering is not optional, and flying without Guardian Gauss is not recommended. As always, never fly without a rebuy. For information on how to put together a AX Ship, head to our Ship Builds Section.
To destroy a Thargoid, it is important to understand its shield and regeneration capabilities. There are four variants of Thargoid Interceptors: Cyclops, Basilisk, Medusa, and Hydra. Thargoid Interceptors are protected by a shield which deteriorates over time. It takes 1 minute 45 seconds for a Cyclops shield to fall, 3 minutes for a Basilisk, 4 minutes for a Medusa, and 5 minutes for the Hydra. The rule of thumb is 2, 3, 4, 5. The shield will decay on its own; do not waste ammunition on the shields.
The interceptor will not deploy shields until after the destruction of the first heart. Use the flight timer in the top right of your HUD to time the shield.
Once the shield is down, you must damage the hull of the interceptor to “exert” the heart. At this point one of the “petals” will glow red (or become smokey in the case of the hydra). You must hit the glowing part of the petal to damage the heart. You will know when you have destroyed it.
Thargoid weapons deal phasing damage, which means they will deal a percentage of damage directly through your shield, ignoring all resistances.
When you engage a Thargoid, it will deploy a swarm. The Thargoid will also deploy another swarm every time a heart is destroyed. However if a swarm is still active when a heart is destroyed, the Thargoid will bank the swarm, holding onto it until the other swarm is destroyed or depleted to a very low number (which it will then proceed to refill with the new swarm).
Only one swarm can be banked at a time.
Ensure you have heatsink reloads, ax flak reloads, and gauss reloads.
Once you drop into the Non-Human Signal source, the Thargoid will approach and scan you. Either let it scan you and turn away (if you wish to scan it), or begin firing just as it closes within 1.5 km while reversing slowly away. Stay within 1.5 km to avoid the damage falloff at range from gauss, deploy a heatsink, and begin firing, using the reload indicator on your hud to ensure you are firing immediately after your cannons reload (1.6 seconds). After you hear the sound of the heatsink eject, fire another.
Always ensure you are protected by a heatsink when attacking the Interceptor. Orbiting the interceptor while under 20% heat allows you to entirely dodge the main cannons so long as you remain roughly 10-15 degrees out of its bore sight with high angular momentum. i.e: moving sideways or orbiting.
The interceptor will begin firing on you; depending on your shield strength (and pip management skills) boost and begin an FA-off orbit to avoid some damage.
Continue firing until the heart is exerted (glows red and is listed as exerted if you have a xeno scanner equipped). At this point aim at the heart and fire. It should only take 3 direct gauss impacts for a Cyclops, 4 for a Basilisk, 5 for a Medusa, and 12.5 for a Hydra with regular ammunition.
Once the heart has been destroyed, transfer pips 2-4-0. Boost past the Thargoid if within 1 km, and away from the Thargoid if outside of 1 km. The Thargoid will charge yellow and begin chasing you, if it gets within range you will be hit by the lightning which will disrupt your systems, kill your momentum (Regardless of FA-OFF), and drain your shields.
From this point on, fights are divided into two phases: swarm and heart destruction. Each Thargoid has a set number of “hearts” (4 on a Cyclops, 5 on a Basilisk, 6 on a Medusa, 8 on a Hydra). After the opening, you have destroyed one heart and have ~7 minutes until the Thargoid becomes “enraged”. An enraged Thargoid will launch a new swarm, and keep replacing it as soon as it is destroyed. The entire swarm will also turn into missiles at once, destroying less armoured ships outright. Enrage means you have likely lost.
Prior to attacking the next heart, you have a set time period during which the Thargoid is protected by a shield (2, 3, 4, 5 minutes for the respective Thargoid variant). In this time period you have three objectives, destroy the swarm, re-arm, and recharge your shields. After this time period and before the 6 minute mark (7 for Basilisk and Medusa, 8 for Hydra), you must exert and destroy the next heart. Otherwise the Thargoid will become enraged.
After you have cleared ~4 km, transfer pips to 4-2-0 and continue boosting. Your maximum speed without boost is likely less than the 450-530 m/s top speed of the interceptor and swarm. This time period is an opportunity to deploy a repair limpet, utilize your AFMU, and replenish your heatsinks/gauss cannons/flak launcher ammo (in roughly that order). If you have managed to put at least 6 km distance between you and the interceptor, check the position of the swarm.
4-2-0 pips will ensure your shields regenerate as quickly as possible while still allowing you to remain outside the interceptor’s weapon range of 3 km.
If you are not using shields, you will not need to worry about regenerating shields, but make sure to recharge your SYS cap fully.
Often due to the speed of the Interceptor (specifically, the Basilisk variant), you can find the Interceptor between you and the swarm. It is imperative you do not engage the swarm until your shields are recharged and you have at least one heatsink available.
To put the swarm between you and the interceptor.
This disrupts the aim of the swarm. Use this same strategy if at any point you cannot outrun the Thargoid(s). Shields are encouraged, but optional.
If the swarm is between you and the interceptor, turn around in FA-off and face the swarm. You are now in a maneuver known as the reverski (demonstration right). Keep an eye on your distance to the interceptor, if it gets closer than 5 km, put it directly behind you and boost.
Note: Wait until your boost terminates to make any course adjustments, otherwise your boost will partially kill your relative velocity to the interceptor.
Despite your weapon status on the HUD, you can target and attack the swarm with remote flak at an effective range of 7 km. When the swarm is between 4-6 km away, it will proceed in a straight line towards you. Fire your remote flak and release when the reticle turns red (accompanied by a beep). You should see green “sparks” as the swarm is destroyed. Once the swarm is closer, it will begin evasive maneuvers. At this point, attempt to notice the pattern of movement and preemptively fire at where the targeting reticle is moving towards rather than to where it currently points.
Keep in mind that the swarm, much like the Interceptor, also periodically goes to ‘rearm’. One attack run lasts 25 seconds, after which the swarm will fly away from you for 5 seconds and then resume chasing you. While it is flying away, do not attempt to flak it. It is practically impossible to hit, so just wait until it resumes its normal movement.
There are a few important differences across the Cyclops, Basilisk, Medusa, and Hydra swarms. The number of Thargons increases from 32, 64, 96, and 128. This increases their damage output and the time required to destroy them.
The Medusa and Hydra swarms are also capable of forming a ring formation. If you fire at the reticle while the ring is moving directly towards you, the AX shrapnel will not hit the members of the ring. (see: Swarm Mechanics)
One key tip to hit the ring formation is to position the “leading target reticle” off-center, approximately the distance to one of the two “brackets” on your HUD. Take a look at the Reverski Maneuver video for a visual example.
For a complete guide to swarm mechanics check out the Swarm Mechanics guide.
By now, your shields, ammo, and heatsinks should be fully restored. Face the interceptor and monitor its approach. Transfer pips 3-0-3 or 0-2-4 depending on your build and boost towards and vertically from the Thargoid in FA-off. Once you are within 4 km deploy a heatsink to reduce your heat signature below 20%. Your objective is to utilize your vertical thrusters in combination with your boost to “orbit” the interceptor within the effective range of your gauss, ~1.5 km. Remember, orbiting the interceptor while under 20% heat allows you to entirely dodge the main cannons so long as you remain roughly 15 degrees out of its bore sight. Try to avoid getting closer than 1 km, else the Thargoid will try engage its lightning attack which will heavily damage your shields, render you immobile, and knock out your systems.
If you get hit by the lightning attack while a heart is exerted, do not try to flee, the Thargoid will be not moving and in the perfect position to destroy the heart and once it breaks you will have about 10-20 secs to fly away without any further damage.
Continue pumping gauss damage into the Thargoid while orbiting and deploying heatsinks upon each heatsink ejection.
When fighting a Medusa or Hydra, try to time your shots as such to only fire your gauss after the Thargoid begins a salvo. This will ensure that your heat signature only raises above 20% while the interceptor is reloading. You can also map 1 or 2 of your gauss to the primary/secondary fire to prevent your heat from rising above 20% after firing.
After the heart is exerted quickly fire your gauss at the heart. The trade off between convergence and damage is best between 1-1.5 km. Prioritize aim and positioning rather than quantity. Once the heart is destroyed, transfer pips 2-4-0 and boost away. Your objective after the destruction of each heart is to get 3 km away from the Thargoid as to not trigger its special attack. Rinse and repeat until destruction of the last heart.
Fire gauss directly at any part of the Thargoid as quickly as possible. You should be able to get roughly two rounds in before the shields return (after destruction of the last heart, the interceptor will not regenerate). This should be enough to destroy a cyclops. Boost away and kite the swarm, await the degradation of the interceptor’s shield, and fire your gauss until the Thargoid is destroyed.