Last night I completed the story mission that had sent me out to obtain a faster than light drive for my starter ship. This involved clearing a station of Phage-infected ore miners, and then paying 25,000 credits for the privilege of being able to buy the device.

In a game with 160,000 locations to visit, having an FTL drive is pretty dang important. In order to travel outside of the Achmedius* system with a FTL drive installed, all I needed to do was engage the drive from anywhere within the current system. Then, I was loaded into what looked pleasantly like the warp travel screen from Star Trek Online (our second callback to that wonderful game thus far in my write-up on Stellar Tactics, if you are keeping track).

In FTL space, the ship handles as it does in-system, with the exception that we don’t have micro-warp. Systems can be selected on the main map, by clicking on a mission that requires us to travel to a specific system, or by just rotating the ship in the direction of the destination. When the ship is close enough to a new star system, a button will appear in the lower left corner allowing us to enter that solar system. I haven’t yet flown too far; I visited a neighboring system last night because I was trying to sell some ore that I had mined, and wasn’t sure if I was doing it correctly in Archmedius*.

Manual mining is dead-simple: buy some mining lasers, fit them to the ship, and head out to an asteroid field. These are marked on the system object roster with “(AF)” as a suffix. Once there, activate the lasers, click on a rock, and soon small cannisters will float towards your ship to be auto-collected into your cargo hull. The quantities seem to be small, but that might be a factor of having run only one, basic mining laser. In advanced gameplay, ore can be refined to better materials if a “refinery” is equipped on the ship, but as I don’t have one, my only option was to sell the raw ore.

Selling is handled through the Trade-Net system, which is strangely available through the main galaxy map. There’s two ways to go about working with the market.

First, there’s “I want to sell something I have”. This is done by clicking on the item in the cargo column on the right. If someone is buying that item (and “All Contracts” or “Buy Orders” is selected), then it will display info like average price per unit, how many the location is willing to buy, and how long the price is good for.

Second, there “I want to buy something”. This time, clicking on a desired item in the right-hand column will display what is being sold, where, the price per unit, and how many they have on hand.

This is a very confusing system for buying, as you have to know what you want to buy before you can see if it’s for sale. I’d rather see a list of these commodities that are being sold and not the items which are unavailable, but I understand that the reason why the entire list is provided is because of the beacon system.

Like EVE Online, we don’t have universal visibility into the markets of every sector. Starting the game, the only system we have visibility to is Archmedius*. In order to “see” other sector markets, a beacon needs to be purchased from a ship equipment vendor and deployed to a “new” system. Once a beacon is deployed in this manner, we gain visibility to the market conditions in that system only. Viewing the available contracts in Trade-Net will show information for a selected item in all systems where beacons have been placed.

In addition to market visibility, beacons also act as “bookmarks”. We can jump directly to another system from within a system (i.e. we don’t need to travel there via FTL space). To do so, we need to approach any “jump point” from the system objects menu. When we get close enough, we’ll be able to bring up a list of beacon locations by pressing the “beacons” button that appears. Using beacon travel uses 5 fusion cells per jump, which is a commodity that can be purchased at a trade station. It’s a quick way to navigate between trade hubs, or to get back and forth between mission givers and mission locations.

Although the story and help pages say that mining can be a good way to make easy money, so far it’s been a serious let-down to mine manually. Mining is slow, the ore is collected in small quantities, and it seems to be hit-or-miss as to whether you’ll get valuable ore or just junk. The help pages suggest we jettison the junk to make room for the better ores we might collect, so I anticipate that manual mining can be a serious time-sink with a low ROI. Add to that the need to find a trade station that will buy the ore — you do have to travel to the specified system and station or planet to actually sell that item, so you will be visiting several stations and planets in several solar systems — so I am currently unable to see how manual mining is lucrative at all.

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