StarSector is probably one of the best sci-fi open-world games ever created. Even if you don’t consider it one of the best, it’s still one complex game and a real hidden gem.
Initially called “Starfarer”, Starsector is being developed by Fractal Softworks and is still technically in development since it was initially released on April 26, 2013. It’s being developed by a small group of people, and the amount of dedication and attention to detail is amazing. Unlike most games that are still in development, StarSector feels more like a finished product and is only being more and more polished.
StarSector is not focused on your character but is more focused on the game world, more specifically the “Sector”. The game follows the region is known as the “Sector”, relatively untouched after the collapse of the Human Domain. For the last 200 cycles (years), humanity is losing control and is desperately trying to save what’s left.
You play as a space captain, and your only goal is fame and fortune, and there are numerous ways to accomplish this.
The universe of StarSector is populated by several factions, all vying for control of the sector. There are:
- Hegemony (a militaristic faction that considers then the successor to the Domain),
- Persean League (an alliance of planets, and a rival of Hegemony),
- Luddic Chruch (a religious movement that blames technology for the collapse of the Domain),
- Tri-Tachyon (a technology sophisticated faction, in conflict with Hegemony and Luddic Church),
- Sindrian Diktat (a military dictatorship, founded by the former Hegemony admiral),
- Independent (a fairly loose alliance of planets, which are scattered throughout the sector),
- Luddic Path (radical followers of Luddic Church, who think the Church is too weak. In conflict with everyone),
and of course Pirates (they hold several planets and stations, and are in conflict with everyone).
There are also some minor factions, but these are the main ones that you will encounter during your playthrough. You have a reputation with every faction, and they can range from friendly to hostile. The status with the faction can change depending on whether you trade, completing faction quests, fighting their enemies and of course destroying their ships. If the reputation is favorable, you can join the faction (and get a steady pay), have better deals and access to more quality ships. However, if your reputation is lower, the factions will refuse you to land on their planets and stations, scan your ship for contraband more frequently, and if things get worse they will shoot on sight.
Initially, you start with two smaller ships, usually one average ship (frigate, freighter, cruiser, etc.), and one small ship, usually a shuttle. You also have an option of a randomized start, but I would recommend this for your second playthrough. Once you begin the game, you are relatively weak and I would suggest that you complete exploration quests (those involving analyzing planets, probes, etc.), until you can get a more powerful ship.
If you do encounter a hostile ship you can deal with them in two ways. The first one is that you take control of your ship, and destroy the enemy by yourself. The other one is that you can issue orders on the tactical screen, and let the autopilot (AI), take care of the enemy. Also, on the tactical screen, you can give orders to the other ships in your fleet. Now, what is interesting, and a huge plus for the game, is that the tactical screen and issuing orders work perfectly. In the tactical screen, you can issue numerous orders, such as escort, eliminate, rally, defend, etc. Once you issue the order, you can sit back and watch as your ships execute the orders. However, this may take time as captains have different personalities and abilities, and some are more aggressive, while others are more cautious. In larger battles, that involve larger fleets you can expect that the battle will take a while (somewhere around 5-10 minutes), but for the most part, yours and enemy AI is up to the task.
After the successful battle, you can recover enemy ships (and make them a part of your fleet), and pick up whatever loot there was after the battle.
There is also a lot of micromanaging in StarSector, which can get a bit tedious. You must pay attention to your supplies, fuel, and crew. The most important item in the game is the supplies. They vital resource is used for maintenance, repairs and combat readiness. Combat readiness is a measure of ship status, crew fatigue, and so on. If this gets too low, you will at first experience more and more damaged ships and lost crew, and ultimately you will lose your ship and its cargo.
You must also have enough fuel before you go anywhere. Fuel is only consumed when you are traveling in hyperspace, and if it runs out, you will begin to drift to the nearest gravity well. This will leave you with one of two options. Either you can reload a previous save, or make a distress call and hope that the help will arrive (and be friendly).
Reading all of this you may think this is too much detail, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you have enough money, you can create your own faction and colonize planets. Once you establish a colony, you can assign a colony governor or assign an AI to run the colony (which is a big problem in StarSector). Establishing colonies will give you income (or expenses if it’s going badly), and you even produce goods and create ships. Eventually, colonies will become the inevitable target of pirate trades, and you can either protect them yourself or hire mercenaries to protect them.
StarSector also gives you the option of doing raids and destroying enemy stations and planets. You can also raid colonies or stations for more luxury goods, or sabotage them in order to weaken them, before attacking them. Destroying stations can be a bit of a challenge, especially if they have defenders, and this can easily turn into prolonged battles.
There are also a large number of items in StarSector. Numerous goods, weapons, blueprints, modules, etc. Every item has a detailed description, stats, price and everything that you need to know. You also have the option of refitting your ships and can choose different roles (such as strike, support, assault, etc.). You can also do this manually, but the game generously gives you the option to this automatically, saving you the headache. You can also buy, sell and repair ships (actually restore their damaged systems, which costs a lot of money). There is a large selection of ships to choose from, all with their roles, different layouts, stats and of course detailed descriptions.
StarSector can be best compared to Sid Meier’s Pirates but only expanded tenfold. At the beginning of the game, you can also select if you want a smaller or a bigger universe, its age and difficulty (choose easy, for your first playthrough).
However, the game is not without problems. The larger battles can last for a while, and you will be begging for a fast forward button. You can encounter several large fleets in one system, which can create a problem if you don’t have a good, and efficient fleet. You must also plan everything accordingly, and if you go on really long expeditions this can be more of a minor nuisance. The only minor problem is the AI captains that command other ships in your fleet. They can sometimes take time to do what you want, but once they level up, they become more and more competent.
StarSector is truly a hidden gem, and it is not available on Steam. Instead, you must purchase it directly from the developer’s website (for around 15 USD), but it’s worth it. The attention to detail, immersion, the freedom that the game gives you, all creates a memorable experience. If you are not satisfied and want more, there are also mods and a very active community. I fully recommend this game to everyone, just be sure to have free time so you can properly enjoy it!