|Preparing to enter a stargate as hostile ships approach.|
The beginning of Hard Nova is difficult enough that I feel like I must be missing something, though I've pored through the documentation several times and I'm not seeing any hints. The essential problem is that the first quest is nearly impossible for an early-level character, but I've found only one opportunity for grinding experience, and no opportunities to upgrade equipment even though I can make plenty of cash.
When I closed the first post, I was prepared to spend some time in the "robomaze" on the opening base to grind for experience and gold. It turned out to be a decent place for experience grinding, but there was really no way to make money because I spent way more on entry fees (which increase with every level) and ammunition than the "bronze flags" restored.
After I gained a couple of levels and was almost out of money, I decided to head to the Starkiller base for my first assignment. I landed at the base (the "D" key was what I was missing before), which was a small structure with a shop and three NPCs: a human communications technician named Janai, a "Darcator" (flying species that looks like a manta ray) named Leod; and the "highest visible official" in the Starkillers group, Gerard Kendall.
Kendall ribbed me about the way I've been treating the ship he gave me and then gave me my first quest: a water tanker was hijacked somewhere near Ciberan and was last seen heading towards the stargate. He wanted me to get aboard and wipe out the thieves without damaging the ship.
|Accepting the first quest.|
(Incidentally, I got the impression from the backstory that Nova had joined the Starkillers after they rescued her from the disaster that killed most of her crew. But the dialogue makes it seem like Nova was already a member, and she was on a Starkiller mission when it happened.)
|The Darcator Starkiller member indicates that he knew me before the disaster.|
The map showed that Ciberan was two stargates away from the opening Mastassini system. I followed it to find the location of the gates and jumped through with no problem. The Ciberan system was swarming with hostile ships that surrounded and destroyed me if I went too far from the gate.
|This really didn't work out for me.|
I located and boarded the water tanker, which is when it became clear that I would need to do a lot more grinding before I'd succeed at the mission. The enemies killed me almost instantaneously, and even when I tried to isolate them and take them on one-by-one, my weapons damaged them slower than their bodies healed the damage (more on that below). I was also nearly out of fuel by this point, and didn't have enough money to re-fuel, so clearly I needed a new strategy.
|I got this screen a lot in the first few hours.|
Let's talk about the combat mechanics before I get into the rest of the adventure. Neither ground combat nor space combat have advanced significantly since Sentinel Worlds, where they both sucked. In ground combat, you basically use two keys: SPACE to select your target and ENTER to fire. NPCs attack automatically. Or, at least Ace does. A'kri's only skill is with melee weapons, and since characters never break formation, you have to walk right up to an enemy before he'll attack.
Combat occurs in real time, though the PC, each enemy, and each NPC, has to take a timed break between attacks dependent on his or her "Agility" score. Health--both yours and the enemy's--regenerates quite quickly in real-time (it did in Sentinel Worlds, too, but you had to have a doctor in the party), so combat is only dangerous on an individual-enemy basis. Essentially, you have to do enough consistent damage to overwhelm his regeneration process to kill him, and he has to do enough damage to overwhelm your regeneration process to be dangerous to you. If you can survive a single enemy or group of enemies in the same area, you just have to wait a bit to get back to full strength. Since enemies (and the party) can't shoot through doors, if you can put a door between you and the foes and stand right next to it, they can't enter and you can heal as long as you need to.
|I'm safe as long as I stand behind this doorway.|
Thus, the only "tactic" I can discern is to try to isolate enemies. This is hard, because they wander around randomly even when engaged in active combat (this is the second game in a row where this happens) and will happily wander on- and off-screen while you're trying to kill them.
Enemies don't seem to respawn when you move on- or off-screen, but they do respawn if you hit the F10 key to save the game, at least in the robomaze. Sometimes, they respawn right next to you, in large groups. In the case of the robomaze, where I'm trying to gain experience, I guess this is a good thing.
Your ability scores affect two major combat factors: how often you can fire (there's a small delay between moments where you can press the ENTER key) and your accuracy, represented as a score between 0 and 100%. Damage seems to depend solely on the type of weapon. I've noted that increases in both the "Firearms" and "Tactics" skills increase my accuracy. A higher "Agility" reduces the delay.
|This shot shows that at my current ability level, I hit 55% of the time and do 4-12 damage. I don't know how the speed actually translates to seconds-between-shots, but more speed is better.|
Space combat isn't much more sophisticated. You use SPACE to target a foe, G to fire lasers, and ENTER to fire missiles. Lasers consume fuel; missiles are in limited supply but cost on a small amount to re-stock. The prime difficulty of space combat is that the window is extremely small and the enemies move extremely fast. It's nearly impossible to keep them on the screen, and I can't even begin to target missiles effectively. [Edit: As Redleg_FAO reminds, there is a "shadow" option that keeps your ship flying close to the target. This does make tracking ships a bit easier.] (Missiles always fire from the front of the ship, but lasers just automatically target the enemy.) The "Star Gunner" skill for anyone assigned to the "gunner" position seems to govern accuracy in space combat.
The ship is damaged a lot in space combat, and so far I don't have an engineer to effect quick repairs. Fortunately, repairing at a space station doesn't cost very much--considerably less than replenishing fuel. So far in the game, I've defeated a couple of hostile ships in combat (and had to reload after getting killed by a lot more), but you don't get any money for it, so I'm not sure if there's any point until I get an explicit mission that requires me to fight ships. I guess maybe the gunner gets some experience.
|Buying repairs at a space station. Everything but "Avionics" needs to be fixed.|
I'm a little confused about how experience is allocated. The manual only says that each character gets experience by "succeeding in combat" or "in the performance of duties on the spacecraft." The former is the more obvious; it seems to be awarded to the character who makes the kill. The latter is a little more nebulous. A'kri's one duty on the spacecraft is to navigate stargates, but he doesn't seem to gain experience when we go through them.
Leveling up allows you to allocate a handful of points to your abilities. The number of points you get for each level seems to be governed by the "Aptitude" ability, so I've been putting one point into that at each level and then distributing the rest as makes the most sense, mostly in ground combat skills. I'm trusting that I'll eventually find another NPC with high "Mechanics" and "Electronics" skills, or else I'm in trouble.
|Nova after this session. I really hope I didn't need to be investing in some of the other abilities yet.|
Based on my failure in the first mission, I knew I'd need to increase that accuracy and speed of my guns. It also would have been nice to get another NPC--someone who could relieve the useless A'kri on the ground party. And I would have liked some better weapons and armor. The problems were that a) I didn't have any money for better weapons; b) the only two shops I've found, on the opening base and the Starkiller base, don't sell better weapons or armor; c) I don't know where to find more NPCs; and d) the only place I know to grind against enemies is in the robomaze.
The only one of these problems I was able to successfully solve is the first one. Each space station offers a group of lucrative "smuggling missions" by which you agree to accept a certain cargo, then fly it to a specified set of coordinates on another planet, at which point you're immediately paid. These are analogs to the "science foundation" quests of Sentinel Worlds.
|Accepting a smuggling mission.|
The most lucrative of the bunch pays $29,000 to smuggle fuel cells to Ciberan. I had already been to the area, so I knew it was hard, but not impossible. The only danger comes once you exit the second stargate and hostile ships start attacking. My strategy was to ramp up to max speed, blow past them, and quickly enter the planet's orbit. At that point, you're "safe." The specific set of coordinates where I had to drop the supplies was blocked by a "drop shield," but it was easy enough to go to a more remote set of coordinates, drop, and then fly to the supply zone.
|Reaching the drop point. There's nothing visual there, but the text at the top tells me to press...something...to unload the cargo.|
After the mission, I had to spend a lot of money on fuels and repairs, but I still made about $24,000 net. I repeated this a few times, interspersed with less dangerous missions, and soon had more than $100K--a nice bank for ship upgrades and equipment upgrades, if only I could find a store that sells the latter. I did buy an "A7 comet beam" for my ship, which is supposed to be the best laser weapon.
The obvious thing to do was to explore random worlds looking for NPCs, combats, and shops, but the worlds are quite large, and it seems unlikely that I'll find anything by flying around randomly. From space, there don't seem to be any beacons that show you the locations of settlements (or maybe I just need a higher "Star Comm" skill first?). Also, in a comment, Dariel says that visiting locations before the plot sends you there can break the game. I scoured the documentation looking for some list of coordinates for cities and bases, but I don't see anything.
With nothing else to do, I just spent a lot of time grinding in the robomaze, especially since I have plenty of money for ammo and entry fees. Leveling slowed down quickly, though, and the robots were insanely boring even with The Rockford Files playing in the background. By the time Nova reached Level 7, I'd had more then enough. I decided it was time to try the first quest again.
|Grinding in this area is very boring.|
I flew back to Ciberan space, found the tanker, and boarded, saving just inside the door. It took me several re-loads, but I was finally able to clear out the opening area, which had 3 enemies, which gave me some breathing room to engage the rest of the ship. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that I didn't have nearly enough ammo for the mission. I had to abort, head back to the opening base, and fill every empty slot in both individual inventories and the party's "pool" inventory with magazines.
Returning to the ship, I was surprised and happy to see that the enemies already slain hadn't respawned. The rest of the enemies, while not impossible, were very annoying. They kept ducking into single-square rooms in the middle of combat, regenerating health while I was powerless to kill them. The enemy AI in the game is maddening. They just move randomly. They don't advance, so you can't lure them. They don't retreat. They just bumble about. In an area with a lot of doors, which cut off your ability to hit them, it's infuriating.
|Enemies hiding in little cells where I can't get them.|
But eventually I picked them off, and on the bridge, I found my first weapon upgrade, a "SMG-70X," along with a belt of ammo.
|Equipping my new, slightly-better weapon.|
The captain of the hijackers was by himself, unmoving, in a room where only one character could fit through the door. With my new SMG, I was able to kill him with only about 5 reloads. Once he was dead, I had the option to take his head as proof of completion of the mission.
I returned to Kendall, who was unhappy with my choice of "proof," but he gave me the $5,000 reward and told me to "go smuggle or something" until he called again. I hope that's soon, because otherwise I really don't know what to do except go out and make a lot of cash that I can't spend.
|A somewhat realistic reaction to being given a bloody, severed head.|
A few other notes:
- Death is gruesome and permanent. Since there are a limited number of NPCs in the game and you want to preserve those with special skills, it's also an occasion for an immediate re-load.
- Dariel mentioned that there are abandoned military bases on Holbrook that you can explore. Flying my hovercraft randomly, I did discover one, but it just contained rooms full of ammunition for weapons I didn't have. Easier to do smuggling missions than to pick up and sell all of these.
|Okay, granted, this would come in handy now, but this was before I found the SMG.|
- When I entered one sector of space, the "Glorious world of Ariel" demanded a $16,508 tribute. I refused, and I didn't notice any changes in the number of hostile ships.
|The second game in a row where navigation success rests on differentiating between colors of tiny dots.|
Thus ends my first quest in Hard Nova. Given the sophomoric combat system and facepalm-inducing dialogue, I don't have a lot of high hopes for this one. (Leveling up is, admittedly, satisfying and instantly-rewarding.) Here's hoping the plot, at least, turns out to be better than Sentinel Worlds.
|At least this game avoids the trope in which you're wondering why your character is running around doing side quests when there's a pressing main quest to do. Now, if there were only some side quests.|
In other news, I was going to offer a bonus post on the Intellivision Swords & Serpents (1982). I saw that if I completed it, I would have played every western-released RPG, computer and console, through 1982. Moreover, there aren't any more console-only RPGs in the west until 1987, and there's only one that year; the next one is in 1990. [Edit: As the discussion made clear, I was misreading my own data. I should have said "there aren't any more console-only RPGs released by a western developer," not "released in the west."] Anyway, I downloaded it and played it for a bit, and it appears to me that it's not an RPG at all. It offers no character development, combat seems to be all action-based, and the only "inventory" is treasures that you collect for a score. It's basically an arcade game or an early version of Gauntlet. If anyone has any experience with the game and can refute this, I'm listening, but otherwise I'll conclude that I have played all western RPGs through 1982 (barring ones that no longer exist in playable form).