Reading around the blogosphere you will see pilots from many walks of low sec life singing the praises of the ship rebalancing done to Tech I frigates. Merlins with Medium Shield Extenders or the new Ancillary Shield Boosters and their three damage bonused hybrid weapons; Incursi with blasters and duel armour reps; and Rifters are still good albeit no longer the king of Tech I frigate warfare.
I brought up Pyfa and played around with various fittings for the ship and compared it to its counterparts. Here are my opinions.
1) Its best suited to armour buffer tanking. But armour tanked buffer ships are slooooow.
Frigs need to be fast, but nearly any fit that takes advantage of the Punisher's 5% armour resistance bonus per level makes the ship significantly slower than its counterparts. Even with just a 200mm plate and no armour rigs it was slower than all other three frigates, only coming close to the Rifter with 200mm plate and a Trimark rig, and still was 150 m/s slower at top speed. This especially is painful in conjunction with...
2) Only two mid slots.
Considering a propulsion module is basically mandatory in PvP, that leaves you with one slot in the mids. If you go with a point, you can't web the enemy so your slow-assed armour tanked ship can't keep up with them and they get away. If you go with a web, they simply warp off. As a solo ship, the Punisher has issues.
3) Dual Light Pulse Laser IIs use 3 times as much capacitor as Light Ion Blaster IIs
Couple that with the fact that you have no spare mid slots for a cap injector and you are looking at a ship that has some issues with energy management. With my skills, running the MWD, point, and weapons drains the capacitor in 1.5 minutes. Now, this might be enough to get you through a fight, but it leaves no room for error. A buffer Merlin is cap stable with web, point, MWD, and guns going while an Incursus faces some issues with dual reps, he can pulse the reps as needed and has the room for a cap booster to keep the juice flowing.
4) Damage is lower
I tested setups with the mid tier small short ranged weapons for all four ships: Light Ion Blaster IIs for the Merlin and Incursus, 150mm Autocannon IIs for the Rifter, and Dual Light Pulse Laser IIs for the Punisher. All frigate skills at V, one damage mod and one damage rig on each of the ships. The Incursus with his single drone added in was tops, followed by the Merlin. That was expected since Blasters are really short ranged. The Punisher and Rifter were estimated about equal, but if you add in a rocket launcher on the Rifter that the Punisher can't fit, the Punisher moves to the lowest damage output of all four frigs.
Now, if you go with more standard setups on the Merlin and Incursus and no rocket launcher on the Punisher, it doesn't look so bad although the Punisher is still lower. It does have the best optimal range but the difference for such small ships is really negligible and the Punisher with pulse lasers is still fighting within scram and web range.
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So here's the short story: the Punisher is slower, less flexible because of the poor mid slot layout, has generally less damage, has capacitor issues, and best optimal range and best buffer tank does not help it.
For the Punisher to have a hope to be competitive, something like an armour version of the Ancillary Shield Booster needs to be created.