Fishbreath Plays: Starsector, Part I

Starsector, once known as Starfarer, is a 2D top-down space combat sandbox game.

After a trading-based start to the game, I’ve traded in my freighters and moved up in the world, with a moderately large carrier, some destroyers, and a cruiser, and I’ve found that there is money to be made in pirate hunting, so long as you hunt the right kind of pirate. Let’s take a quick look at my fleet, and at some of the things I have to consider before and between combat.

HSS Daring is my new cruiser, purchased and fit with help from the Hegemony military. (I’ve been doing a lot of my trading and pirate hunting in Hegemony territory, which improves my standing with them. Eventually, factions that like you open up their internal markets to you.) It’s the core of the fleet now—surivable enough to shrug off multiple smaller ships, punchy enough to plaster other things its size. ISS Bounty II is my carrier, with a pair of flight decks. I think it’s actually the fastest non-fighter ship I can deploy. HSS Aquilo II and HSS Juturna III are my destroyers. Aquilo is fit to hunt bigger ships: it has a large-size hardpoint for a forward-firing energy weapon and two smaller hardpoints flanking, along with some missile racks. Juturna is primarily made to get in close, overload a frigate or destroyer’s shields, and tear it up before it can recover. ISS Helle was my starting ship, an exceedingly tough combat freighter frigate. It didn’t have shields until recently, but now it does.

The major limiter on using ships in combat is combat readiness, which represents how well-maintained a vessel is. It doesn’t play a role on the overworld map, the assumption being that simple travel doesn’t put too much stress on the duct tape and bailing wire school of starship engineering, but if you get into combat, low combat readiness will see your ships performing poorly or outright falling apart. You lose combat readiness by deploying ships in combat, and also by taking hull damage (or by supply and logistical failings, but that’s another story), and you get it back by an expenditure of supplies. The major expense in keeping a combat fleet active is spending on supplies to restore combat readiness, and so the question for a bounty-chasing mercenary such as myself ends up being, how little can I deploy without losing?

For the moment, the answer almost always includes Bounty II. It’s fast enough to catch most destroyers. So are the fighters, which usually make an appearance too. (Fighters without a carrier on the field are one and done. With a carrier in combat, they can dip into a replacement pool. With no carrier in the fleet, either in the combat or in reserve, if a fighter wing runs out of ships, it’s gone for good.) Next up are Juturna and Helle, if I need more punch. Daring comes next, as it’s not significantly more expensive than Aquilo to deploy, and vastly more capable, and Aquilo comes in last. (Although I usually bump Daring up in the order, because it’s just so much fun to fly.) For when I need it, I have a light carrier and fighter wing mothballed, and they add a good bit of missile-based punch to the fleet.

It’s proven to be a really neat logistical challenge—how long can I stay out and fight, how much can I commit to this combat when I’m far from a supply source, should I buy that freighter with a flight deck to add to my far-from-supply longevity and provide a cheap launch platform for small engagements (that one’s a yes)? Updates come infrequently, but so far, Starsector has never seen a change that isn’t well-thought out and engaging, and I haven’t even begun to gush about how trading is an improvement on the genre norm. I was a little leery about recommending it to people on the fence before, but nowadays, there’s a sandbox game there, and it’s probably worth the $15 as it is now, to say nothing of how it’s going to end up.

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