Starsector Hands On Preview: A Space Sim RPG With Heavy Customization

Starsector Hands On Preview: A Space Sim RPG With Heavy Customization

Last updated on August 21st, 2017

Space sim/RPG Starsector (originally Starfarer) has been in development since November 2010.  It is a very in-depth 2D space simulator that features RPG progression and deep ship customization.  If I had to compare it to another game, I’d say it’s a 2D version of the X-Series.  There’s a lot of different systems here, and a lot of different ways to play.  There’s also a lot of different ways to fail. It’s presently in early access on the PC and I recently went hands on with it to learn more.

Starsector Hands On Preview

Genre: Space Sim/RPG
Developed by: Fractal Softworks
Published by: Fractal Softworks
Release date: TBA – 2018
Platforms: PC

Story & Setting

The story of Starsector concerns a dense region of space in the Perseus Arm left relatively unharmed by a calamity that destroyed the Domain. For over 200 cycles, humanity has been losing its grip on civilization and struggling desperately to hang on to what is left. The game is a single player, gritty, dystopian sci-fi setting with classic top down gameplay. You will explore a procedurally generated sector of the galaxy, seeded with well-known core worlds and factions. Your character can be shaped however you choose, as you explore the universe and outfit your ship to customize your playstyle.


The crux of Starsector is this formula: fly around with your highly customizable fleet, explore, build stuff, blow stuff up, advance your character. It’s all a sandbox designed loop.

To Fight Or Not To Fight?

In general, you’ve got two main approaches to the game: Blow stuff up, or trade and salvage stuff.  Regardless of which path you want to focus on, you will be doing a little bit of both.  The pirate factions in this game are very aggressive, so you will have run-ins with them as a trader/surveyor.  On the other side of the coin, even if all you want is to blow stuff up, you’ll need the occasional cash infusion for your fleet, and some of the survey and trade missions are really lucrative.

Starsector Preview


The Life of a Trader

Trading in this game works like it has in every space game since Elite.  Find a system that produces a good and buy it.  Now find a system that consumes the good, and sell it.  Rinse and repeat.  Now in theory you can try and do things like destabilize trade routes and factions to mess with the flow of goods, but I was never able to see that in action.  The information flow they give you on planets is a bit of a double edged sword.  While you’re on planet, you get some truly beautiful information screens, showing you what the world produces and consumes, and how much overage it has.  However, once you leave a planet – almost nothing.  You get a tiny line of text about how ‘two weeks ago this was X at y’ when you mouse over the good at a market.  You’d think that we’d figure out some better way to handle market info after solving FTL travel…


This annoyance with the trading system is balanced out with the non-trading activities you can participate in.  Most systems have debri fields that you can scavenge, which can yield some truly good stuff if you’ve dedicated enough skill points towards scavenging.  You can also find derelict ships to salvage as well because, well, space is dangerous, ya know?  You can also easily find missions to survey planets for a healthy sum of credits (and why is it almost always credits?), with the most profitable missions only being available to fleets and captains that are geared and skilled towards such activities.

Starsector Preview

The Life of a Dashing Starfighter

Well, actually that should be ‘Fleet Commander’ because there’s no fighter hijinks to be found here.  Combat in this game revolves around fleets, with the advantage going to the fleet with the biggest ship. You can take direct control of a single ship, typically your flagship, and I strongly recommend you do this and you can customize your ship’s loadout before battle, based on what you’ve acquired.  Perhaps better AI was burried in the Leadership skill tree, but unless the battle was overwhelmingly in my favor, I had very limited success with letting the AI take the helm. You will bolster your fleet by hiring officers to give skill bonuses, pilot auxiliary ships, and oversee your operations.

Starsector Preview

Combat in this game is actually a rather involved affair.  First you have to manage Flux, which is basically heat building up.  Just about every action in combat generates this, and you really don’t want it to overload since that’ll paralyze your ship for a few seconds.  Next, you have to keep track of the weapon type you’re using.  Some weapons are really good at taking down shields, others at damaging hull or armor.  Finally, everything has a firing arc, so depending on your ship getting lined up just right to unload a massive volley becomes a strategic point.

Movement however, is janky.  Perhaps long-time players will disagree with this, but the control scheme on this game is a weird combination of mouse and keyboard.  I haven’t spent time trying to reconfigure the keys, but it’s probably something that is needed.

Starsector Preview


While I haven’t gotten into any of the mods since I feel reviews/previews should be focused on the base game, I would be remiss to not mention it.  This game has very deep modding support that has been in there from day 1.  As a result, there are quite a few mods out there, from basic cosmetics to deep overhauls.

Starsector Preview

Is it Worth Getting Now?

Whether or not this is worth jumping into now is really going to depend on how badly you’re hankering for a fleet simulator, as at it’s core that’s what this game is trying to be.  It is very playable at the moment, but there are some definite rough edges that require a certain amount of dedication to deal with.  While the game never crashed on me or corrupted my save, I have read multiple reports of this happening to others.  I also run into multiple situations where the RNG really screwed me over hard.  Always a danger with these types of games true, but it could use some more tweaking. In its present state, I’d be cautious but optimistic and for 15 bucks, at 25% off its final price, it’s certainly not a bank breaker for those who love space sims. As for me, I will get that blasted planet surveyed, being at the edge of the known universe be damned.

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Tea. Dragons. Cartography. Video Games. These are a few of my favorite things. Still waiting for someone to combine them all into a holy gestalt of entertainment, but until then I'll just keep playing and analyzing games.

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