I believe that I’m down to the last three systems that bear mentioning in Stellar Tactics, at least for the current iteration. As the development progresses, the dev has promised refinements and some additional features, so this might end up being out of date or incomplete in the end.
The back of the box mentions that exploration is a big part of Stellar Tactics, and while it’s going to be difficult for a game to really live up to that idea, we’ve got a pretty OK implementation here. When you enter a new star system, you can select planets from the system browser and scan them. This will yield one of three things: mineral deposits, outposts, or missions. Outposts are previously unknown bases (unknown to you) or ruins that you can land to and run around in. Missions are dynamic events that are basically opportunities to engage in ground combat when you weren’t expecting to. And mineral deposits allow you to deploy drones to automate mining.
I mentioned that mining seems kind of pointless, as you cannot target specific minerals and that you only receive them in small quantities. While this remains more or less true, I looted a refinery from an NPC and learned that I can work down ores if I have 30 or more units in the hold, which I’m only able to do by using drones.
Drones are specific to mining (at this time, and as far as I know). When you find a planet with minerals in a concentration that you want to exploit, you can deploy a drone if you’re in that system by selecting the location on the planet and using the drone UI. You are then free to wander away. Drones have two modes: auto and manual. With auto, the drone will fill it’s hoppers and will return to an outpost to automatically sell its cargo. I’ve done this once, and noticed that a single drone run netted me about 18,000 credits, which isn’t shabby for doing absolutely nothing. With a manual setting, I supposedly need to return to the planet and pick up the drone. I suspect this allows me to use the ore as I see fit, specifically with a refinery. I have yet to try this, however. The only downside to drones is that they are expensive: 98,000 credits for a single one. Good news is that they are a very worthwhile investment early on, and a few runs of drone mining, combined with some space combat, will net a fleet of the things that pay for themselves in no time.
The final system to mention is the game’s faction system. Each star system is controlled by either by a House faction or by pirates. You have a reputation with each faction which can be helped or hurt by missions you undertake in a faction system. Assisting NPCs with their ad hoc pirate issues will make pirates hate you more, but will increase your standing with the star system’s owners, for an obvious example.
Factions manifest themselves in two ways. The first is through Agents. These are NPCs that can be found at many stations and outposts, and who offer you dynamic missions in either short (40 minutes), medium (1-2 hours), or long (3-4 hours) increments. Yes, that’s a four hour tactical ground combat mission. Thankfully you can save in the middle of it. These missions can be simple “clear the facility”, or “go after the boss NPC”, or similar objectives. The areas you are sent to seem to be dynamically placed and generated. You must fly (FTL or micro-warp) there, dock or land on the planet, and you’re off to the races. You won’t really know that you’re done with the mission until you get a popup stating that you have completed the objective or, in the case of “kill all hostile” missions, a notification that you’ve completed X of Y total; there’s no static tracker on the screen that I could see to let you know how much more work you need to do. Generally, you want to visit every location on the map to ensure that you’ve done your due diligence, and that should suffice. Needless to say, while I’ve only done the short missions which were comprised of two “rooms” (areas connected by loading screens, and which are tracked on the screen), each “room” can be very large and ensuring that you’ve covered every corner allows the mission length to be an accurate report. Once you’ve completed the faction mission, you are rewarded with loot you found during the run, some additional loot provided by the Agent, and faction tokens. These tokens are the second point of factions, as they are specific currency that can be used to buy faction specific goods from faction vendors. Each faction is known for a specific type of tech — engines, say, or weapons or shields — which I assume should be better than what you can get on the open market or make yourselves. I don’t have enough tokens to participate with any one faction at this time, so I am not entirely sure on the specifics.