Back on topic: THIS GAME ROCKS. It’s like Pirates! in space with a little more complexity and a lot more depth. Or, as that combination is more commonly known, Starflight. It has what I really wish Pirates! had more of–a dynamic world that feels… well, less two-dimensional. You really get the sense that there’s this whole living, breathing galaxy going about its business all around you. Here’s an example:
In my game, I was tooling around the Betelguese system, looking for salvage with this guy Orion that I met in training (he’s also a Ranger) who was impressed by my combat skills and asked if he could follow me around for a while, when the Dominators invaded. I discovered this while heading to Astron to land and sell some minerals; the planet was surrounded by all these weird ships that were shooting at everything in sight. We took some hits landing, I sold my stuff and fixed my ship, and then went to the government office to see what was going on. The guy there was like “What are you DOING here? We’re under attack from the Dominators! Please help us fight them off!”
Now, my ship is not really a combat ship. I’m a merchant, and my starting ship has a decent-sized hold and a fast engine but only a single laser and not a lot of armor. But I figured I was going to have to run the Dominator blockade anyway to get out of there, so I might as well see if I could take some out on my way. I used some of my earnings to buy a second, better weapon (which sort of sucks, because it takes up half of my available space, which I really need for cargo), fuel up, and take off. Orion is already out there, dodging fire, so I radio him and let him know that we’re going to take these guys on. He says “okay.”
The Dominators then proceed to OBLITERATE us, in the space of about three turns. Whoops. Here’s an interesting aside: there’s a type of space station in the game called a Business Center. It’s cool for traders, because you can pay them to do various types of market analysis for you, which basically evaluates the current price of various trading commodities on known worlds and the capabilities of your current ship, and then they give you tips on trade routes that would be profitable for you, taking into account things like fuel costs and travel time and how much hold space you have (if you have a small hold, they’ll focus on commodities that take up less space, etc.). But, among that and other things, they also sell life insurance policies. In the event of your death, the money goes to either your next of kin or, if you have none, into a fund set up to provide assistance to new Space Rangers. I wonder… if you die and start a new game, does your new Ranger get a grant from this fund if your last Ranger had a policy? Because that would be cool. I’ll bet that’s how it works, because that’s exactly the sort of neat detail that this game has in spades.
Fortunately I saved on the planet, so I didn’t need to test that theory (not that I have a policy anyway… they are expensive). So I reloaded and decided that this time I would just blow through the Dominator armada, try to outrun them (I have a pretty fast engine–one of my two pieces of special starting equipment), and hyperjump back to Earth. Half the armada peeled off to pursue me and Orion, and we took quite a beating (though I discovered that I could target their incoming torpedoes with my laser, and was thus able to hold off some of the serious damage). I killed two of them on the way out, and spun around to grab some salvage, including some Dominator technology (which you can sell on the Sol Research Station, which is trying to develop ways to fight the Dominator threat) and some Nodes (energy… um, nanotechnology, er… thingies… (I wasn’t really paying attention in that briefing) which you can take to the Ranger Station and turn them into upgrade modules for your ship’s equipment). Then more Dominator ships started homing in on me, so I jumped out of there and back to the Sol system.
On my way to Earth, the news feed reported that the Betelguese system had ceased sending radio messages. Their last recorded message was an SOS. So now I feel bad, but I really don’t think I could have helped them. So I do the rounds, deliver my cargo to where it needs to go, and then notice a bunch of big combat ships convoying out towards Saturn. I hail one and ask them what’s going on, and they say that they are preparing to launch a coordinated attack to liberate Betelguese, and tell me that I’m welcome to tag along if I want to. I’m not sure how much help I’ll be, but I feel sort of bad for bailing during that invasion, so I decide to go with them. I figure that at the very least, I’ll have a better chance of surviving a battle with the Dominators if I’m part of a big attack fleet. They tell me to meet them at the Betelguese jump point on November 11, which gave just over a week to prepare. So I went to Earth and made some modifications to my ship, and then took off and headed for the jump point…
…and then noticed that back in the real world, it was 3:00am. So I saved and quit. Holy hell, this game is fun. Do yourself a favor and GET THIS GAME.
- You do have stats. This wasn’t obvious to me until I played because no one directly mentioned it. There are 6 stats, you gain experience, and spend it upping them. They are Comabt (+dmg), piloting (-enemy dmg), Leadership (num of ships you can control), Charisma (affects dialog I beleive), Trade (sell modifier), and, uh…, I forgot the 6th.
Repair. Or Engineering. Something like that.
- You can customize all the components on your ship. Components are Diablo-ish in that there are base classes (“Hydro Feul Cells”) that have varying statistics (Space, Size, Fuel amount, etc.) They don’t have Diablo names, though (no “Godly Hydro Cells of the Whale!”) which is good in my opinion. There are 18 “slots” for ship components.
This actually varies based on the type of hull that you have. Some hulls have more slots than others. Combat hulls have more weapons slots but fewer hold spaces. Cargo ships have large holds but less room for weapons. All ships also have a size, which determines both your hit points and how much stuff you can carry. So a ship with lots of equipment slots but a small size might have trouble filling those slots (you’d need compact components, which generally have a higher tech level and are more expensive).
- You can research to improve your ship components. Consider it analagous to enchanting them.
Yeah, I have a module that will upgrade either my engine speed or my radar range. I’m saving it for when I have enough to buy a better engine, rather than burning it on my starting engine, though.
At the Sol Research station, you can also pay to have your ship systems overhauled by skilled mechanics (or, if you’re short on cash, unpaid interns). This improves their stats, but may cause them to require more frequent maintenance (especially if you go with the interns).
- In turn-based combat, you pre-plot each days movement and can scan enemy ships to see what their plotted movement is. This makes it very tactical without bogging down.
The game’s turn-based movement is really pretty neat–it’s a bit like Laser Squad Nemesis. You plot your actions and hit the end turn button, and then everyone in the whole galaxy moves simultaneously. In combat, you might want to advance one turn at a time, but outside of combat you can just double-click on a destination and the game will just run until you get there (at which point it pauses again), so you get the benefits of real-time movement when you need them. You can also hit the end turn button again during this auto-movement to stop and change your orders.
The game has a great interface. That little info bar is a clever tool for keeping track of game information.