Truthfully, I've been looking forward to this one!
Let me set the scene for you: I am sitting at home on my couch, grinding away at pirates, chatting with my squadmates, when one said something I didn't know how to respond to: the Dolphin is a glorified Yacht. Was it? All I had ever seen of a Dolphin was once near a Coriolis, and a few pictures on the wiki. There was some further back and forth that I also didn't respond to, when finally, after poking around a little on
"F**k it, I'm outfitting a Dolphin for smuggling."
Little did I know, this would spiral into some of the most fun moments I've ever had playing ED, as well as learning that just because something is specialized doesn't mean you can't break the specialty. After all, I built a combat hauler: how hard would a smuggling Dolphin be?
Turns out… pretty easy.
As always, this is purely an opinion thread, and is not meant to come off as stating information or facts. If you have any different feelings – or ideas – feel free to leave them in the comments below, I check regularly. With all that out of the way, let's dive right in!
TL;DR: The Dolphin is one of very few ships where I bought it purely for fun, and it delivers in every single regard. While not suitable for raw combat, it's still perfectly capable of defending itself against some softer targets, and the excellent heat management, a good MLF, fantastic jump range, and a sizeable cargo hold make it excellent for trade, exploration, and crime… at least, for me.
Let's begin first and foremost with the obvious: the Dolphin is a weak vessel in combat. It has pretty good agility for its size, and – on paper – superior shields to a Type-6, but like the Type-6, your shields still aren't awesome for a Class 5, and you still only have 2 small hardpoints. Nevertheless, I've found the Dolphin to be very very fast for a Yacht, and pretty nimble to boot: I can easily circle around an ASP or Diamondback, with a little effort. You have a higher Mass Lock Factor (MLF) than the Type-6, which supposedly means it's easier to get away in case of an interdiction – which is nice, except that your MLF is still just a 9, meaning pretty much any Medium sized ship can still mass lock you.*
*BUT with that said, let it be known that I've successfully killed a Viper Mk III and a Cobra Mk III in my Dolphin! It can be done!
The armor is pretty poor, but what did you expect, past-tense-jester? It's a cruise ship. The shields are good enough with Bi-Weaves to compliment the relatively poor armor, and a good set of maneuvering thrusters keeps you on your toes. The canopy presents both a blessing and a curse in a firefight, akin to the Orca: like the ASPX, your canopy is big, fragile, and functionally useless in combat, other than looking stylish. UNLIKE the ASPX, however, it doesn't extend out of the hull, meaning you can protect your canopy somewhat more so.
In terms of cargo, you technically carry a good amount less than the Type-6, but this comes with some notable trade offs (in my opinion): you are significantly more agile, have better shields, can actually keep your modules powered, and you don't look like a brick, which is always a plus. And of course:
The Dolphin has some of the best heat management I've ever had the pleasure of flying. The Dolphin is an ice cube. I managed to jump right next to a star and STILL didn't go above 80% heat! This was with no engineering! I haven't personally tried it, but I definitely see where all the expo-dolphins come from. You could easily explore the stars in style with a 5A scoop and a little bit of love on the FSD.
The good heat management combined with a nicely sized cargo hold makes for a fantastic smuggler.
Aesthetically, I didn't really care for the Dolphin that much, but I certainly didn't hate it. I tend to like sharper edges as opposed to rounded bevels, but the Dolphin certainly looks exactly like what it is: a glorified space yacht.
I would like to point out a glaring hole in this build: this will rapidly get outclassed. It's my understanding that there are some large(r) ships with good heat and better cargo holds that could easily eclipse this. There's no practical reason to use a Dolphin for anything outside of what it was designed for: hauling people from one place to another.
Here's the thing: I find passenger missions terribly boring. It isn't just a grind, it actively lessens my experience for that day. It isn't interesting to me, it's a lot of work, and it's really unsatisfying. In that sense, why would I even bother with a Dolphin or Orca? What's the point??
For the same reason I made a combat hauler: because I wanted to, and there's not really a lot the Universe can do to stop me.
Ship customization is a double edged sword: on one hand, you can outfit a flexible ship for pretty much anything you choose. On the other hand, you have megalomaniacs with far too much time on their hands (like me) taking a cripplingly specialized ship, completely screwing it up, and creating unholy abominations like my build above – which I nicknamed the Mafioso.
Allow me to condense this wall of text into just a few simple lines:
Is it useful outside of its specialties? Not particularly.
Is it practical outside of its specialties? Nope.
Is it just plain fun to fly a Smuggler Dolphin? Absolutely.
And really, that's all Elite's about. As long as you're having fun in your (my) unholy abomination of a ship, really, who cares? I had an absolute blast unlocking the Dweller using this ship, and I continue to use it today – I've racked up about 5,000,000 credits in fines, and I never intend to pay them. That's right: I'm committing tax fraud in Elite Dangerous!
As such, I would like to make the argument that even though the Dolphin is not the smuggling ship of the game, it's a fantastic option for beginners. It's just easy to use, and most everything about it makes sense for smuggling. You almost never overheat, even without heatsinks (which I use purely to avoid scanners), and at a modest 64 tonnes of cargo with a shield, a relatively low-profile design, and a nice style, I'd argue it's a fantastic way for new smugglers to learn the ropes. Yes, it's pricey, but cost is secondary for quality – at least, for me.
Once again, thanks for sticking around to the end. Next time, I will be going over my other least favorite vessel in Elite: the Eagle. (Not the Imperial Eagle: just the Eagle.) I look forward to reading the comments on this one – and I wonder how many people would be alarmed at my choice of build?
As always: Stay Safe, and Fly Dangerous. o7