Watching replies on various factions and playing through the various factions I realized a trend. And most feedback seems to imply this problem. It's not just that hulking ships is too easy. It's that the main guns are far too weak.
So far I've only encountered like three fleet types that rely on and beat other factions exclusively through their main guns and positioning. That would be AP Macro Fleets. An extremely carefully micro'd lance Chaos fleet. And quadruple crit Protector fleets. And as for the Quadruple crit Protector fleets, it's not even the main guns you're worried about. It's the sheer number of bombers and missiles that they bring that will crush a battleship in one massed volley if you run outta turrets.
But even these fleets, which rely on massing around a single gimmick, still get insta hulked.
Special Weapons in general have been the go to win mechanic of the game since its inception it seems like. Bombers, torpedoes, nova cannons, bombs, etc. do significantly more damage to a ship than your cannons ever could over a full sustained minute of firing. Including for the above three factions. Boarding actions, which act as limited "Special Weapons", can instantly hulk a ship in the first 60 seconds of a fight. Or two if you're playing nids. The fight devolves into playing tag with your ships. But a ship with 1 crew is dead in the water anyway. Star Pulse wave used to be in this group and technically, it still is. The damage it does is still far greater than the cannons themselves.
I ran an experiment. I wanted to see just how effective armor really is for mitigating damage. I switched from fielding a few big guns and special weapons to fielding massed fire. Merchant Tau with 7 Gravitic Hooks across a battleship and 6 light cruisers. Meaning I had a metric ton of escorts since each hook reinforces the next, right alongside what should have been a respectable source of damage on their own. They trade launch bays for that hook, but they still have 6 weapon groups. Each Orca escort has 4 weapon groups. Tried it out a few times, and had every single ship in this like 30 ship fleet target one ship at a time. Just wanted to see if it even registered. Not a single ship. I blew up, not a single ship. The IN players I ran into took literally zero damage from this. No amount of guns I could bring could overcome a lack of special weapons. Even though some brought no way of dealing with massed ships, focused fire for the big guys, it didn't matter. Because the main cannons do not hurt. So add that to the list of options in this game that doesn't work I suppose, Gravitic Hooks are an expensive waste of points. But the real problem again is that Main weapons are the Support weapons for the Support weapons.
I'm not saying completely gut how special weapons work. I'm not saying make boarding a losing option. I'm saying that there needs to be some normalization between the systems. Boarding shouldn't instantly kill you, it should take just as long to get to that point as sustained cannon fire from a well positioned fleet. Especially given the penalties you take from getting boarded alongside the threat of getting hulked. Make bombers more persistent entities, out and about for longer and doing more than one run at a target. But greatly lowering their damage per run encouraging you to use your fighters to screen properly. Assault Boats should primarily be used for causing fires and disabling systems on opposing ships, not a massed insta hulk option. Make Bombs, Nova Cannons, and torpedoes/missiles do slightly less damage overall than they currently do, but better at knocking out systems on ships that get hit without shields. They support your ability to beat the enemy fleet by rendering their ships out of the fight, not instantly win you the fight. Support Weapons in general should aid you in deconstructing enemy ships, and not through zeroing out their hull, so your main guns can get in there to do the work.