|This was the most staggering moment of the game. My entire party died because the tow link was destroyed?!|
After my last posting, the game got so difficult for me so swiftly that I suspected I was doing something wrong. For every successful sortie from starport--and when I say "successful," I don't mean finishing missions; I just mean returning alive--there were five or six in which my ship was destroyed or my party was wiped out.
These deaths happened more often in melee combat than in ship combat, so I put some effort into upgrading my weapons and armor. Key to the difficulty eventually stabilizing (it hasn't by any means gotten "easy" yet) was purchasing better armor and targeting equipment to improve my characters' accuracy. Kellandros's tips on melee combat also helped quite a bit.
Cash remains exceedingly precious, however. As I've discussed repeatedly, I dislike games in which you pile up cash with no place to spend it. This is definitely not the case with Star Command. Most trips, after I resupply my ammunition, fix my broken equipment (some personal weapon breaks in every damned melee combat), and repair my ship's armor, I'm lucky if I have as much as when I left starport in the first place. I don't know if I'll ever save up enough for a new ship, or to explore some of the more costly options in the game, such as cloning my characters in case they die, or paying for extra training levels.
I desperately need a new ship, though. My current one is doing all right in ship combat, but its cargo capacity is awful. If I mount three guns on her, stock up with a decent supply of ammunition, protect her with a few missile-killers and such, she's too heavy to maneuver in combat. As soon as I have $150,000, I'm buying a dagger-class escort, which can accommodate twice the weight. I have $71,617 right now, but that's mostly because I got $50,000 from Blackbeard the Pirate's hoard, so it's going to take a while.
|This was a gratifying moment.|
Watching my personal weight was important in helping to win melee combats, too. Yesterday, I said, "I learned the hard way that I want to keep a couple of backup weapons with me, because they have an annoying habit of breaking in the middle of combat." Well, this turned out to be stupid. Carrying more than one weapon encumbered some of my characters so much that they were too exhausted to fight. Even one weapon with a decent number of reloads tends to exceed my maximum capacity, especially if the character has a couple other bits of equipment on him, too.
|Gelt couldn't carry another thing.|
I thought I'd talk a little about personal equipment in this game today, because I mostly understand it. My next postings will probably cover ship equipment and combat and then melee combat, in that order. I hope that by then, I'll be close to the end.
There is quite a bit to buy and use in this game. In this category, it is in the top echelon of games so far, around the range of Might & Magic and NetHack. First, we have weapons, which come in four categories: hand, light, heavy, chemical, and explosive. Hand weapons seem interesting--they include a "lightsword"--but I feel like I've done something wrong if my characters actually get in hand-weapon range of enemies. I haven't invested much money or skill points in these.
I gave my two soldiers skills in chemical and explosive weapons, and they've been using these exclusively. My three marines are are built up in heavy weapons; I couldn't see a lot of reason to go with light weapons, which do less damage, although I probably could have taken backups of those without overweighting myself. Anyway, as you can see from the above, there are multiple sub-categories of each type of weapon and about 4 or 5 individual items. I count 60 total weapons, which--like the long list that included every pole arm in Pool of Radiance--seems like little overkill. Among the choices I have to make on the list are, for instance, between a 9mm MAC-10 submachine gun and a 11mm "Lead Hose" submachine gun (the difference is 2 damage points and 1 pound) and 20mm flame thrower and a 25mm flame thrower. For chemical weapons, the two options are a nerve gas canister and a caustic mist bomb; the latter does 5 points more than the former but otherwise they're practically identical.
Figuring what weapon to use is a long process--although I'm not arguing that it's bad--of studying the large table that accompanies the Star Command manual:
Damage isn't the only consideration: you also have to consider the number of rounds it can hold, the weight, the range, the weight of the ammunition, the weapon's accuracy rating, and of course the cost.
Armor is a little easier. There are 16 types in the game, and the only considerations are protection, weight, and cost. When I could finally afford it, I outfitted everyone in something called "scout exo" which has an excellent protection/weight ratio, exceeded only by "electroactive armor," which costs $34,488 each; I won't be seeing this for a while. Like in Sentinel Worlds, buying a new set of armor simply replaces the old set.
Beyond weapons, ammunition, and armor, there are two other categories of things to buy: sighting hardware and "miscellaneous." For sighting hardware, which increases accuracy in melee combat, I waited until I had enough money to buy the best ("compusight aiming assistant") and just bought it for everyone. It greatly increased my effectiveness in melee combat.
|Essentially, these options modify my accuracy. I almost wish there were similar categories of equipment that modified other attributes.|
But miscellaneous items are exceedingly important. They include medkits for healing, repair kits for fixing weapons and ships, a "helmet scanner" (not sure what that does), motion detectors to get some warning while exploring areas, sonic and chemical torches for breaking through locked doors, and radiation detectors--I learned the hard way that I really needed to have one of those active at all times while exploring indoor areas. There are also oxygen masks, oxygen cylinders, and environment suits; I figure I'll need these eventually to explore space or atmosphere-less planets, but it hasn't come up yet.
In total, there's a host of stuff to keep track of, and to save money for. This is all keeping with SSI's emphasis on strategy and tactics in its games. You have to carefully manage your inventory, carefully manage your ship, and carefully negotiate your way through combat. It's a far cry from the relative simplicity of Sentinel Worlds.
|Finding Blackbeard's base.|
In plot terms, I haven't advanced much since the last posting. On Sunday, I had received a quest to go to Blackbeard's base and destroy him. This took me about 20 successful sorties; I died lots, lots more. I died so many times in Blackbeard's base that I got to the point where if I even mapped a new room, I would leave and return to base to save. Part of the reason that it took so long is that by the time I reached Blackbeard's base each excursion, my fuel was almost gone. I had to fight and capture a ship orbiting his planet each time so I could refuel.
There were several interesting encounters in the pirate base. I noted last time that exploring indoor areas is a bit like Phantasie, as a top-down map slowly reveals itself:
It's also like Phantasie in the nature of the special encounters you face. In the fortress, I encountered a kid who wanted to challenge me at a video game, a bar with several tables, a slot machine, an information kiosk, and a mechanical drill. Each of these encounters offered a set of default options like "demand information," "attack and destroy," "take," as well as sets of encounter-specific options and the ability to enter a custom command.
|The game has a lot of interesting special encounters in "dungeons."|
While playing, I lost so much money to the slot machine (it seemed to pay back $3 for every $4 bet), I blew it up, revealing a secret passage behind it. This led me to a series of five titanium doors guarding Blackbeard's chambers. I had no hope of getting through them. But in another part of the base, I found a rock drill with no fuel. It took a while, but I solved this puzzle, which was to buy the most potent alcohol in the bar and use it to fuel the drill.
|Only in a game would this be necessary, instead of, you know, bringing fuel from my ship.|
I drilled through the rock on the back side of Blackbeard's headquarters, entered, and killed him and his minions--after about 7 attempts in which I died.
|Blackbeard could stand to teach his information kiosks to be a little less forthcoming.|
My next quest was to visit one planet, retrieve some antitoxin, and deliver it to another planet. This sounded easy, but the coordinates were very distant from any starport--much further than I could hope to make on 100 units of fuel, which is all my ship can carry. I knew right away that I would have to take advantage of two other fueling options: planets that sell it, and the ability to steal it from other ships. I found a couple refueling depots on planets near Blackbeard's place, but so far they seem few and far between, and I had to carefully explore to find them and make my way to the distant sectors.
The manual notes that pirates are only one of several threats against humanity; another big one is a race of insect aliens. As the missions have progressed, I've been encountering insect scout ships in greater numbers. They haven't been very difficult so far--much easier than the pirates, in fact.
|Melee combat with insects after boarding their scout ship.|
As I sign off, let me say that I'm not sure what good my "esper" is. Granted, he's the only character. His psychic attacks rarely do anything, and I feel like his slot would have been better spent on another marine. I'll have more on that in my melee combat posting.
I think perhaps the difficulty of the game was a calculated decision on the parts of the developers. If it wasn't difficult, each of the missions would take about 10 minutes, and you'd win the game in a couple of hours. It might be that they intended the player to successfully complete each quest only after multiple tries. On the other hand, no one else seems to be corroborating my assessment of the difficulty, so maybe I'm just a bad player.