Video Game: Starsector

aka: Starfarer
Starsector is an independent role-playing/sandbox/strategy/trading/exploration/space combat game by Fractal Softworks.

You start your captaining career with nothing to your name but a few thousand credits, a small crew, and a single light frigate. Or two ships if you choose the easier start. Through blood and sweat you will gradually build an army, amassing control of dfighters, bombers, interceptors, carriers to repair them in, various frigates, supply transports, fire support ships, battleships, cruisers, destroyers, all the way up to massive capital ships. And almost every single one of these ships can be further customized to fit your needs.

Combat is hectic and extremely detailed, feeling like the love child of Star Control and MechWarrior. You have direct control over your flagship, and use a tactical map to set objectives and standing orders for the rest of your fleet. Your AI officers will then assign available ships to complete those objectives, leaving your flagship to support the fleet however you feel is best. You have a limited amount of command points to set objectives with, and for the most part you can't regain them - once spent, the points are gone for the rest of the encounter. While this sounds like a Scrappy Mechanic, it actually works well due to some rather good AI.

Larger battles have an element of Capture the Flag to them, with various types of control points appearing on the map that give bonuses when captured. Taking them grants more command points, extra fleet points to call in reinforcements from your main army, and even direct boosts to your fleet such as maneuvering bonuses and radar extension. Capturing these early (and preventing your enemy from doing the same) helps to turn the tide of battle in your favor immensely.

The game is still in early development, with new versions arriving every few months. Don't be scared away by the fact that it's still in alpha; there is a massive list of features implemented so far, and combat is already more rich and rewarding than most finished games. At the moment it's still less than full price to pre-order, which gives access to the alpha.


Starsector provides examples of:

  • After the End: While the game's lore is only explained in blog and forum posts at the moment (and subject to change if/when the devs decide on something better), this is the current state of things. The sector of space where the game takes place was in the process of being colonized by the Domain of Mannote  when every jump gate connected to the Domain shut down simultaneously. Most of those living in the sector were simple colonists, completely reliant on technology yet lacking any understanding of it. Many planets were only partially terraformed, and the collapse of the gate network left them borderline unlivablenote . Everything quickly went From Bad to Worse, much worse. It's now been just over two hundred years since the Collapse, and ever-increasing amounts of technology have become Lost Forever due to the constant conflict.
  • All There in the Manual: There's an in-game Codex that gives a good level of detail on every ship, class, and variant in the game, down to individual weapon systems, ship stats, and even the in-universe history of that particular ship or weapon. It's missing a few entries in the current version that the campaign fleet overview shows, but nothing major. Just about the only combat-relevant information it doesn't tell you are the firing arcs of a ship's weapons. Those you learn from experience. Painful, painful experience.
  • Arbitrary Maximum Range: Sometimes the range of a ship's weapons will be barely more than the length of the ship itself.
    • The Tachyon Lance justifies this by saying that, despite the weapon's theoretically unlimited maximum range, the projectile is 'hardcoded' to disintegrate and become harmless beyond a certain distance in order to reduce the chances of severe collateral damage. Several projectiles remain dangerous beyond their listed range — missiles in particular can still damage anything they collide with even after they run out of fuel.
  • Artificial Brilliance: The space combat has been the focus of development so far, and it really, really shows. Enemies flank, micromanage flux and shields, viciously take advantage of any momentary weaknesses, and otherwise perform well in combat. You can also set your own ship to autopilot and reap the benefits of flawless precision - it's actually recommended for large scale fights.
    • Toned down a bit since the introduction of crew - most enemy ships will only have regulars manning them, meaning their AI is artificially degraded. However, that same update also gave another boost to combat AI - enemies won't fire heavy flux-generating weapons when near overload, and they keep track of such things as where your weapons are pointing versus how long it would take them to raise shields. Omni-shielded ships border on Demonic Spider levels sometimes.
  • Asteroid Thicket: Battlefields contain asteroids in surprising quantities. Unusually, they do next to nothing to your ships, so you can simply ram them and continue on your merry way, although they can deal significant damage if struck during the initial "burn" phase. (Collision damage is based on relative mass, and the largest asteroids are only about the size of the smallest frigates, and they also do kinetic damage which is greatly reduced against armor.)
  • Attack Drone: Wasp Interceptors. They have the largest squadron size (six ships), are extremely fast and maneuverable, and armed with a PD laser that makes mincemeat of missiles and unshielded fighters. Unfortunately, they are made of tissue paper.
    • Wasps have crew now, but that same update also introduced true drone systems. A few ships can now summon a swarm of tiny drones to defend them. The drones can be repaired if recalled, but unlike fighters, they are lost for the rest of the battle if destroyed. The sole exception is the Tempest, which can summon a single very powerful attack drone that will eventually regenerate if destroyed.
  • Awesome but Impractical: A savvy forum-goer realized that bomb baysnote  count as ballistic weapons. One of the most common frigates in the game, the Lasher, has five ballistic mounts. Bomb bays cost a very small amount of build points, meaning you can afford hull mods to boost ballistic ammo and range. Since each bay fires once per second, one of these bad boys can send dozens of bombs (each doing 600 damage) hurtling towards a target. It's kept in this trope because bombs are ridiculously vulnerable to point defense - to the extent that a well-defended capital ship might not get hit by a single one - and even with the ammo boosting hull mod, you can only make four or five runs before the ship becomes a flying paperweight. Not to mention, flying directly towards anything that requires this level of firepower tends not to go well for you if you miss. But against an undefended or disabled target, it's absolutely devastating.
  • The Battlestar: A given, as the gameplay intentionally resembles modern naval combat in space. The Astral and the Odyssey in particular combine flight decks with massive levels of firepower.
  • Boring but Practical
    • Energy weapons. They bypass the Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors used by other damage types entirely. They tend to have decent range, and there are multiple cheap hull mods to boost this further. Most energy weapons either don't use ammo or recharge over time, making them very useful for protracted engagements. The only real downsides are that they generate more flux and are somewhat micromanagement-heavy due to the gameplay mechanic mentioned under Charged Attack below.
    • The Harpoon MRM is a fairly generic missile with a HE warhead that works reasonably well against most unshielded targets. It does however really come into its own when fired from multiple pod launchers at once for a swarm of twelve or more missiles that will kill any non-capital ship caught with a high flux bar and no flak.
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: Fuel is required to travel between star systems, but navigation within a star system consumes no resources and costs nothing other than the supply upkeep for the time taken.
  • Character Customization: You can refit your ships with a wide variety of weapons, depending on what type of mounts they have (using a slot system reminiscent of MechWarrior 4). If you have leftover build points, you can use them to upgrade ship subsystems or flux capacity/venting speed. You will also be able to customize your character in a later version, but at the moment all you can change is the name and portrait.
  • Character Level
    • Characters can gain a wide range of skills that allow them to run larger, more powerful fleets or greatly increased the combat capabilities of the piloted ship. Combat skills also turned up in the captains of AI bounty fleets, which can make them extremely dangerous. The Starsector+ mod applies skills universally to AI commanders.
    • The ship's crew gradually level up as you fight (Green - Regular - Veteran - Elite), becoming more accurate in combat, speeding up repairs, and even increasing the efficiency of ship subsystems (represented by a slight boost to ship stats). You can reassign crew to different ships, where they will be just as proficient. Hull damage will kill crew members, meaning heavily damaged ships have basically undergone a Level Drain.
  • Charged Attack: An odd example. Energy weapons get a hefty bonus to damage (up to 50%) if your flux meter is high. This is the only situation where a high flux is useful.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Various weapons are colored according to their damage type. High explosive rounds are yellow or orange. Kinetic weapons are white. Energy weapons are visually distinct enough to not need color coding. You can identify missiles by size, color, and how bright the exhaust is.
  • Continuing Is Painful: If your fleet is wiped out, you lose everything and are reduced to a single frigate. Since it's likely that you've pissed off several factions by this point, you'd actually have an easier time starting over with a new game. Players with foresight who've played far enough can store ships at markets or the abandoned station for such a contingency.
    • Not to mention that if you win a difficult battle, chances are you'll have lost several ships - probably valuable ones - and seeing as the chances of an enemy ship being in well enough shape to be boarded and used are very low, it's unlikely the ships captured and loot is valuable enough to compensate for the loss of your ships. Something one should also remember is that to be able to board the more valuable ships you'll probably need a good amount of marines that cost quite a bit as well if you buy them in bulk.
  • Controllable Helplessness: This is the main effect of a flux overload, where all you can can do is try in vain to get out of the way of oncoming attacks. Flux venting is similar, but voluntary and with beneficial effects.
  • Crapsack World: Constant war, loads of piracy, and planets that can't survive without trade (which tends to get disrupted by the previous). Not a fun place to live. Even ignoring the immediate threats, the entire sector is in a downward spiral due to the gradual decline of technology.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Very possible with the customization system due to the limited build points on most ships. Many default ship variants can only perform one role well, and get torn to shreds if they try to do anything else.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Any Subsystem Damage apart from armor damage is only temporary, so ships can still perform at peak efficiency in terms of speed and firepower as long as they have even 1 point of hull integrity left. However, a diminished Combat Readiness rating leads to ships generally performing more poorly (including the possibility of equipment malfunctions).
  • Damage-Sponge Boss: Or at least the closest thing to a boss in this type of game, capital ships. Early on, you can have your entire fleet ganging up on a single capital ship for several minutes before it is destroyed. Special mention must go to the Onslaught, which has 1,750 armor and 20,000 hull integrity. There's a reason they form the backbone of the Hegemony System Defense Fleets.
    • Ships with 360 degree shield coverage are worse, since they're immune to flanking. Have fun trying to take down that Paragon before it wipes out half of your fleet!note 
  • Deflector Shields: Many ships have them, and they come in two types: omni and frontal. Omni can point in any direction and can be rotated towards threats, but tend to have a narrow arc of protection. Frontal only point forwards, but tend to have much wider coverage - sometimes up to 360 degrees. Shields work by transforming damage against them into flux. However, flux added from shield damage does not drain over time like regular fluxnote , meaning ships have to drop their shields eventually or risk overload.
  • DRM: In-universe, DRM is largely responsible for why everything has gone to hell. The only remaining way to produce advanced technology is with an autofactory, and they can only function if a Universal Access Chip containing the relevant blueprints is inserted. The ancient corporations that produced these chips included specialized code and circuits that made unauthorized duplication next to impossible, and very few were shipped into the sector before the Collapse. The end result is that required technology like tractors became increasingly rare, and every autofactory or UAC lost is a permanent blow to the sector's tech level.
    • In a more meta sense, pirated copies of the latest alpha (.53.1a at this writing) will occasionally display messages like "Food for thought: The RNG knows you're playing a pirated copy of the game. Enjoy the paranoia!". It's unknown whether the game actually does negatively impact the games of pirates, or if the messages are just there to psyche them out.
  • Easy Logistics: Ammo and missiles are replaced for free after every engagement. A single item type ("supplies") represents all necessary items for keeping a fleet and its crew in working condition. Ship mods and refitting do indirectly cost some supplies in the field (and temporarily reduce performance). Any ship, no matter how damaged, can be (eventually) repaired provided there are enough supplies in your inventory.
    • A recent update added accidents, which occur when you go over capacity in any of the four supply types (fleet size, cargo, fuel, crew capacity), or when you run out of supplies to maintain your ships. Since everything is shared between ships, this means the loss of a capital ship (and its massive storage space) forces you to make some very hard decisions on what to toss out. The effects of accidents range from minor cargo loss to hull breaches and the complete destruction of ships.
  • The Empire: The Hegemony, founded by a Domain of Man military task force that coincidentally arrived in the sector just after the Collapse. They tend to use ancient, battle-tested designs, and favor large fleets, heavy armor, and lots of ballistic and missile weapons. The Hegemony control some of the best worlds and have plenty of resources, but it's hinted that the gradual loss of technology is starting to take its toll on them.
    • While the Hegemony is neutral towards the player, the task force that founded the Hegemony was mainly composed of disgraced soldiers being used for a glorified science experiment, and the devs have said that they aren't nearly as nice as they appear. Hence them being listed under this trope instead of The Federation.
  • Expy: The Hound, a converted cargo freighter with two wide-spaced engines, with the main armament being a huge gun bolted to the top of the ship. Sound familiar?
  • Fixed Forward-Facing Weapon: Very common, though they actually have a five degree arc to make lining up a shot slightly less frustrating.
  • Flechette Storm: The Needler family of weapons, which fire concentrated bursts of large needles. They excel at dropping shields and overloading targets due to the high burst damage.
  • For Massive Damage: Reaper torpedoes, at 4,000 high explosive damage a pop. For reference: the Onslaught, the most durable ship in the game, only has 1,750 armor (and high explosive does 200% damage to armor). Nothing in the game even comes remotely close in terms of pure per-shot damage (the closest runner up is the Plasma Cannon at 750x3, and that's a large weapon). It has a variant for each mount size, from a single torpedo for small mounts to twenty torpedoes fired in pairs for the large one. They are also one of only three missiles with a travel speed described as 'very fast', so they aren't easy to shoot down or avoid either. There's a squadron that mounts these, the Dagger-class, which consists of three ships armed with a single torpedo each. They are somewhat fragile, but the ability to do 12,000 damage in one run (and being able to rearm at a carrier to do so again) makes them amazingly devastating strike craft.
  • Game Mod: The game has excellent mod support, especially considering it's still in alpha. Several mods have already been created that add new ships, stations, and even factions to the game. It helps that much of the game's content is stored in easily edited text files and spreadsheets, and there's a mod API allowing you to implement new features into the game.
  • Heavily Armored Mook: Ships that lack shielding usually have higher armor and hull ratings to compensate. However, since shields can regenerate and armor plating can't, it really isn't enough to make them worthwhile.
  • Hero-Tracking Failure: The most visible symptom of low-level crew is the complete inability to accurately lead their target. You can fly in circles around them for eternity; they will never adjust their aim the few degrees it would take to hit you.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Ballistic weapons generally have far superior flux efficiency and/or range compared to energy weapons. The tradeoff is limited ammo and the fact that the low-tech ships that mount ballistics are otherwise weaker than the high-tech ships that mount energy weapons.
  • Lethal Joke Character: The Hound. It's one of the pirate faction's basic frigates, and is so ridiculously easy to kill that most players never even consider piloting one themselves. Just looking at the stats paints a pretty bleak picture: it has a flux pool a third the size of the average frigate, one small rear-facing ballistic turret, a single medium ballistic forward facing mount that will max out your flux meter in about seven seconds of sustained firing, two very large and easy to hit engines, and to top it all off, it's completely unshielded. But then you realize it's tied for the top speed of any pilotable ship in the game - with the 'augmented engines' hull mod, it outruns interceptor squadrons. The AI just doesn't know how to play to the Hound's strengths; it's pretty much built for kiting (being made of paper doesn't matter when the enemy can't hit you in the first place). It really shines when you rip out the default assault chaingun and install a long range, slow firing weapon such as a Hypervelocity Cannon or a Heavy Mauler, both of which deal significant amounts of damage and come with plenty of ammunition. The Hound is fast and maneuverable enough to run ahead of a target, spin around to fire a shot, then turn and keep running, and your high speed means the single turret has plenty of time to take out any missiles they send your way. It takes a while, but you can eventually whittle down even destroyers singlehandedly with this tactic.
    • Not to mention that since the Hound is a converted cargo hauler, it carries about 50% more fuel, crew, and cargo than other frigates, so you're less likely to run out of supplies at a crucial juncture. It even has the hangar space to support its own squadron of Talons, making it critical for a frigate and squadron only run.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: To a much lesser extent than most examples (as even single missiles can be deadly in this game), but certain squadrons and some of the larger fire support ships can send multiple salvos of missiles your way. Cue Oh, Crap.
    • The Hurricane MIRV deserves a special mention, as each missile fired splits into seven smaller projectiles. There's also the Annihilator Rocket Pod, which fires two missiles per second. And since the Annihilator's a medium missile, many ships can have several of them mounted.
    • When a ship is in extreme danger, it can go into 'panic fire' mode, where it launches most of its missiles in quick succession. The Buffalo Mk II, which was in previous versions something of a Joke Character, has become fairly dangerous due to this change (as lacking shields, it almost always registers as in mortal danger).
    • The new Fast Missile Rack subsystem takes this to a whole new level. It allows you to almost eliminate the cooldown between launches, meaning ships with this system can fire almost a dozen salvos in the time a normal ship could fire two.
  • Mega Corp.: The Tri-Tachyon Corporation, which predates the Collapse. They have extremely high-tech ships (with matching high prices), and favor fast ships, energy weapons, and powerful shields.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: Tri-Tachyon Corporation's eventual goal.
  • Overclocking Attack: The defining trait of combat in the game. Ships have a stat called 'flux', which raises when they use certain weapons, take shield damage, are hit by ion cannons, etc, and drains slowly over time. If the flux hits capacity your ship overloads, leaving you to drift helplessly while very slowly venting flux. At any time you can vent it manually, causing it to drain several times faster than normal but disabling your weapons and shield for the duration. One-on-one combat against shielded enemies usually revolves around dealing kinetic damage to their shields to force them to either drop shields, vent flux, or cause an overload, leaving you free to unload everything you have into the now helpless ship. Venting speed borders on a One Stat to Rule Them All since it affects combat so drastically.
  • Over Drive: If a ship has an empty flux meter and doesn't have their shields raised, they get a hefty bonus to top speed. This makes retreat feasible, as your enemy can't fire at you without losing their own speed bonus. There is also a hull mod that boosts your top speed and map travel speed, but it is extremely impractical as it costs a ridiculous amount of build points and cripples your flux dissipation.
    • The Burn Drive system is this trope taken to an extreme. It disables shields and steering while active, but allows certain glacier-slow low-tech ships to temporarily outrun most ships in the game. You never forget the first time you run into a Hegemony Defense Fleet and see two or three Onslaughts come screaming in.
  • Point Defenseless: Strongly averted. A good point defense system can usually take out the majority of missiles in a salvo, as well as wreak havoc against fighter squadrons. Most capital ships have several of them. As a consequence, missiles are highly situational, and are usually only fired at disabled targets.
    • This is one category where the low-tech ballistics have a distinct advantage. Flak cannons have an area-of-effect, rendering any ship that carries them almost immune to bombs, interceptors, and missile spam. The low-tech Gemini freighter is considered a capable combat carrier solely because it can be fitted with two dual flak cannons.
    • With a certain hull mod, even small weapons not tagged as point defense can auto-target missiles. This includes tactical lasers, whose long range, high accuracy, and decent damage make them very useful for this purpose.
    • Crew level has a noticeable effect on point defense. Since crew experience affects accuracynote , and missiles are small and hard to hit, an unskilled crew is very vulnerable to missile strikes. And since large ships have crew requirements an order of magnitude higher than frigates, they tend to be staffed with cheap rookies. This makes assigning point defense frigates as escorts very useful.
  • Shows Damage: Ships glow orange where they have taken heavy damage, which means their armor plating has been stripped away in that spot. Yes, you create your own weak points in this game.
    • The glow eventually fades, but if you watch carefully you can see flashes of light emanating from the ship, and the hull shows cracks.
  • Space Fighter: Squadrons are the only unpilotable ships in the game, being multiple tiny ships fighting in formation. They have two unique abilities. First, they can fly through (technically over) other objects, including your shields. Second, they can revive and rearm the entire squadron in the middle of battle if any member manages to make it back to a friendly carrier. These can make fighting them somewhat frustrating.
  • Space Flecks: It's either this or there's something very wrong with the 'starfield' that serves as the map view's background.
  • Space Friction: On the one hand, ships don't slow down if you let go of the 'forward' key. On the other hand, they do have a strictly limited top speed. How exactly that works is anyone's guess.
  • Space Marine: You can hire them by the dozens, then use them to take over disabled enemy ships.
  • Space Pirates: A surprising amount of them. They have fairly outdated tech, though, and are a great way to grind crew experience and loot.
    • Ironically, the pirates are the least technologically stagnant of the factions, having several unique ships that are crudely retrofitted combat versions of the cargo haulers they steal from traders.
  • Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: Ships are categorized as fighters, frigates, destroyers, cruisers, and capital ships, though there are further subcategories of each.
  • Starter Equipment: Other than the armaments of the frigate you start with, none. You buy ships as empty hulls, then have to track down the weapons separately. If you want the good stuff this often means a trip to the well-defended pirate outpost.
  • Subsystem Damage: Most weapons can be temporarily disabled if enough damage is done to them. This also works against engines. If a ship has two engines and you disable one set, the ship spins helplessly until the engine comes back online.
  • Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors: Ships have up to three layers of defense: hull, armor plating, and shields. Only hull damage affects the ship, so most of a fight is spent breaching the other ship's defenses to get to the vulnerable crew inside. There are four types of weapons to help with this: high explosive, which is excellent against armor but very weak against shields; kinetic, which is the opposite; energy, which is somewhat effective against all types of defense, and fragmentation, which does little damage against any defense, but will tear hulls to shreds once those defenses are gone (and is also good against missiles and squadrons, since they rarely have much defense). There are also EMP weapons, which easily disable ship systems but do minimal damage otherwise.
    • A new addition is the Phase Cloak, which allows you to pass through solid objects at the cost of constant flux buildup. It replaces shields on ships that have it, though, so you'd better have good timing!
  • Taking You with Me: Large ships go out in absolutely massive explosions when they die, dealing heavy damage to other nearby ships. Capital ships are easily capable of one-hit killing frigates when they blow. Thus, it's beneficial to get as close as possible to your enemies when you realize the battle is a lost cause to at least inflict some damage as you go.
  • We Cannot Go On Without You: Averted. You don't even need to send your flagship into an engagement in the first place. Even if your flagship is destroyed, you can transfer command to any other ship. This is accomplished by escaping in a personnel shuttle and flying across the map to dock with them.
  • With This Herring: As the intro states, you start out with only a single frigate and a small amount of credits. You have just enough to buy two squadrons of weak interceptors, but it will be quite some time before you can afford a carrier to repair them in.
  • X Meets Y: The developers describe it as Star Control meets Master of Orion 2 meets MechWarrior. With the .50 beta campaign release, it adds a touch of Mount & Blade as well.

Alternative Title(s):

Starfarer
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