|Meet the new ISS Bolingbroke. I've already managed to overload her.|
In a comment a couple of days ago, Giauz suggested that maybe I hadn't done such a great job summarizing the plot of Star Command, so even though Kellandros replied with a good summary, I thought I'd recap. My group of federation officers and noncoms is part of Star Command, the last defense of humanity, whose denizens are confined to a "triangle" drawn among three starports. The frontiers of the triangle (and I talked about the silliness of these two-dimensional terms in my first Star Command posting) are being assailed by three hostile groups: pirates, insect aliens, and robots.
I haven't heard anything about the pirates since I killed their leader, Bluebeard, on a previous mission, nor have I encountered any more of their ships, so I'm assuming I dealt with them. I started to encounter the insect aliens late in the pirate missions, and my latest batch of missions has dealt with them exclusively. Then, towards the end of that batch, I started to encounter robot ships, so I assume the game will progress to this more serious threat.
Shortly after my last posting, I recorded a narrated video to highlight the various gameplay elements. In it, you can see me explore some planets, fight some ships, engage in melee combat, and ultimately sell my old ship and buy an upgraded one. The rest of this posting takes place, in narrative terms, after the video, so watch it if that's your thing. If not, I've put most of this information into my postings already.
The antitoxin mission that I mentioned at the end of my last posting was a bit of a milk run, but I did encounter my first two robot ships at the end of it. It was a good thing that I upgraded my vessel, as they were extremely difficult. More on that in a minute when I get to ship combat. The next mission after that involved the rescue of a princess (Really? Humanity still hasn't progressed beyond monarchy?) who had crash-landed after her ship was beset by aliens.
|Sergeant Cowboy developed a bit of a crush for her, but she just called him a "scruffy nerf-herder" and walked off.|
The game didn't give me any idea where she was; just that she had recently gone through a black hole. At first, I thought I was going to have to explore every system, but it turns out that the black holes really stand out:
|I had no idea that "black holes" were so colorful. And visible.|
I explored three of them before I finally found her.
|Women get treated like objects even when they're princesses.|
The next mission had me investigating reports that the insect aliens were trading with some other ships. These turned out to be more robots, and I destroyed them only after getting killed twice myself. There were a couple of fetch-and-carries after that, but ultimately I got to infiltrate the insects' main base. The game kindly alerted me to the unbreathable atmosphere in the base before I entered.
|Ultima just would have killed me.|
The base was guarded by a locked door. I've given one of my characters, Gelt, a lot of recon skill, but he never seems to be able to pick any locks. I had to make a couple trips back to starport to get enough chemical torches to finally cut through.
The base turned out to house a bunch of computers. Trying the different options, I was able to get out of them that the insect aliens think humanity is a plague and the insects are the cure. Also, they seem really interested in some psychic energy coming from a particular planet.
My next mission was to investigate that planet. The game tried to screw with me by giving me the wrong coordinates in my mission. Compare the screenshot above to the one below.
I don't know if that was a bug or if the game just wanted to see if I was paying attention, but in any event I found the base where the energy was coming from. At this point, the game tossed a dungeon at me that I really don't think I'm going to like.
|Who would build something like this?!|
In the upper-left corner is the "Space Hermit," who has some information for me if I bring him the gems in the other three corners. Passage through the maze is interrupted by robot warriors (bad enough) and radiation traps (even worse). I have a radiation detector, but all it does is help me find the traps. I still have to disarm them at that point, and my scouting character only has a 50/50 success rate. Irradiated characters slowly die until you get them back to the medical bay at a starport, so setting off a trap is an immediate exploration-killer. Why does every damned CRPG have to have poison?
The maze remains where I'm stuck now, so let's talk about ship combat. As I mentioned, I upgraded my ship to a dagger-class escort. There are nine ships in the game, ranging in price from $57,600 to $516,000, and the dagger-class escort is about in the middle. Like everything in this game, however, bigger isn't always better. The most expensive ship, the warrior frigate, carries the most weight and fuel, but pays for it in a lower movement rate and defense bonus.
There are five classes of equipment to buy for the ship: weapons, shields, missile killers, defense systems, and armor. Weapons come in three types: missile weapons, torpedoes, and beam weapons. Beam weapons consume fuel, so I'm not sure if they're ever a good option. I've outfitted the Bolingbroke with three SS-28 "rogue" missile stations, which I think balance damage, weight, and cost. It fires two missiles per round from each weapon, each doing a maximum of 200 damage points. I probably won't get better weapons until I upgrade my ship again, as the ammunition for the better weapons weighs a lot. Some of the better weapons only fire once per round and require more frequent reloads.
For defense, I've got four shield stations, each of which can accommodate one of five types of shields, again increasing in protection and weight along with cost. I filled up the stations with cheap, light shields.
There are three types of missile killers which, as their name suggests, have a chance of blasting incoming missiles. The best only has a 50% chance, though. Armor is the last bit of defense, and it's measured in points. I try to keep the ship at the maximum of 1000. When it goes below 0, you're basically dead in the next couple of shots. Finally, there are five types of "defense systems" that increase your defense and movement bonuses; I was able to buy the most expensive.
All of this new gear has come in handy, because space combat became much more difficult when the robots showed up. Here's me facing one of them after destroying one:
Two things make them difficult: First, they have excellent defense bonuses, meaning that in order to hit them, I have to spend two or three rounds "aiming" at them to increase my attack bonus. That's what Nanelia is doing above. Second, their movement rate matches mine, so there's no hope of fleeing (without jumping to hyperspace, which uses 30 units of fuel) or even maneuvering so that you're fighting only one ship at a time.
Such is my normal strategy. Faced with these four insect ships, for instance...
Such is my normal strategy. Faced with these four insect ships, for instance...
...I would fly in the direction that my ship is pointing, until I'm away from the enemies. Then I'd turn around and engage the top ship, killing it before his friends could join in. I'd then dance around the edges of the other three ships, taking them one at a time. This isn't possible with the robot ships unless I downgrade to a faster ship, and I can't do that if I want to keep my guns and defensive equipment.
If you didn't already know that this game was made by SSI, you'd probably know from my description of the weapons and combat. I'm hard-pressed to think of any game that I've played on this blog that a) was truly tactical in its combat; and b) was not made by SSI. Wizardry comes closest, but its tactics are mostly about choosing the right spell. Considerations of weight, balancing accuracy and hits, movement rate, offense and defense...SSI has been working to master this since Wizard's Crown. They dumbed it down a bit in Shard of Spring and Demon's Winter, but found almost the perfect balance in complexity with the "Gold Box" series. The tactics in Star Command aren't on par with Pool of Radiance, but they're still quite good--a hell of a lot better than the brute mashing of keys that was Sentinel Worlds.
In the next posting, I'll talk about melee combat (and also about my characters and their skills). I really have no idea how far into this game I am. My highest-ranked character is a commander, which is 6th out of 13 ranks, so perhaps I'm about half way done?