Here's my recommendations and thoughts on bombers!
The biggest problem about flying a bomber from a gameplay point of view is that if the player is caught, he's dead. And there's really nothing he can do about it. This leads to a mission design that must be extremely lenient in how the player is attacked, or have a very scripted way for the player to perform the mission in order to not die. Because of that I would recommend giving the player some "Cooldowns" to spice gameplay up a bit and give the mission designers some freedom.
# Massive afterburner acceleration and top speed.
The player has the option to use a special afterburner that allows for 500-600m/s speeds that effectibly allow you to escape fights. X uses per mission
# Shield overload
Every 2 minutes you have the option to overload your shield generation by something like 200-300% for around 10-15s to put serious damage on an enemy that needs to go down fast
Shift the focus from bombs to guns for anything below destroyer killing:
Flying a bomber (specially the heavier ones) should feel like https://youtu.be/XZ-EOg38t1o?t=47s
- When the player is facing something that thing is dying... fast. Guns should do absurd amounts of hull damage. This also relates to mission design, see next section.
- Guided ordinance should be the exception, not the norm against capital ships. Missiles are great, but from a gameplay perspective... boring, wait for targeting solution, press button, turn around, light cigarette. Pat each other in the back and yell GOT EM. I'm of the opinion that the dumber the missile, the larger the damage should be.
- Salvo fire rockets over 5-10 seconds depending on desired balance constrains that requires bombing runs to not waste ordinance but are deadly when properly executed.
With that said, not all missions have to be about killing capital ships. The lighter bomber variants could be tasked with other goals such as sentry deployment or mine laying while carrying extremely long range fighter supression weapons to repel incoming reinforcements from intra system gates while still being able to tear cruisers appart.
The buddy system:
Engaging a bomber from the front should be suicide for an enemy fighter. The bomber / fighter relationship should feel like a team working together. Bomber pilots should be encouraged to taking part in preventing a frontal volley from interceptors. And instead force a pincer move by the enemy which in turn should be handled by its fighter escorts. If the bomber is not attacking its intended target, namely capital ships, there should be a penalty in the mission design, but at the same time the bomber should try its hardest to avoid its escorts having to get too far ahead of them and help clear a path.
This type of interaction should be constantly reminded to the player through dialogue and consistant pilot escorts, it's much nicer when Jimmy the Ace has your back instead of Epsilon 4! It's a lot more fun when the AI fails misserably.
With all that said the bomber experience is greatly enhanced not only by the ship, but also by the design of the mission itself. The player needs to be useful in taking down challenges that fighters have trouble with. And those right now are basically.... cruisers?
- Add more and stronger sentry guns.
- Mine fields, which only bombers can detect or cost effectibly kill at long range.
- Missions that have multiple engagements (avoid fighters while killing a cruiser, jump somewhere else, clean a a minefield for another group of bombers that needs to do a run on a corvette. Bombers are, from the BP lore a very scarse asset and should work like surgical strikes, going in and out as needed. This helps create a sense of urgency and gives meaning to every action the player takes.
- Keep the player updated through dialogue of how things evolve after his actions in previous engagements. This is very reinforcing if coupled with events that track how well the previous engagement went and makes small changes on the next one.
- Raid a supply depot / facility before reinforcements arrive with massive firepower that would otherwise require several fighter wings.
- Hit and run missions where your goal is to take out as many important subsystems in the shortest amount of time possible by smart use of gliding against awkwardly placed ships undergoing repairs before a group of fighter escorts acting as a decoy gets killed. (This would fit really well imho with the "Steele attack heart in xx days theme")
Making it look cool: This might be unrealistic but would greatly enhance the experience.
When you are not constantly trying to get a lock on an enemy fighter the pace of the game slows down considerably which exposes some of the uglier parts of the game a lot more.
- Areas on ships hit by bomber weapons could look more damaged, on fire or have some indication that the player accomplished something other than lowering the hull by 5%. It doesn't have to be something like the BP frigates that start losing chunks of ship in certain areas as that is not feasible on every ship, but rather better decals of damage on the ships themselves.
- Shooting a bunch of dumbfire rockets should generate some pretty big explosions, not just a tiny flash and a shockwave. Multiple colors for different weapons should also help with giving each weapon a distinct look.