Starsector is an upcoming space based strategy/sim/RPG/action game from Fractal Softworks. It’s dense, detailed, challenging, and engaging. Still in its alpha phase, this one looks to be something to keep an eye on moving forward.

There is a massive amount of detail and information to be found in Starsector. The learning curve is steep and the build-up is slow but deeply rewarding. We live in the age now where most games we play can be deciphered without help from a tutorial or instruction manual (wow, remember those?), but believe me: Starsector will swallow you whole if you don’t prepare properly. Do the tutorials, because they go over all the basic procedures in layman terms and let you test everything first. The game is so richly detailed and deep that getting the most out of the experience simply makes it better.

Starsector has two main paths for you to take: Mission or Campaign. I initially jumped into the Campaign, and not long after regretted that decision. While the tutorials cover all the basic necessities for survival, the real-deal action of the game is far less forgiving. Missions allow you to find your comfort zone with controls, tactics, and battle strategies in preset situations with varying difficulties. Here, you won’t have to pick your own fleet, supplies, crew, or anything of the like; just jump in and finish your objectives. The lower level missions function almost like high-level tutorials. Not quite sadistically difficult, but a test of your ability to adapt nonetheless. Not enough can be said about how wonderfully Starsector is designed to build you from the ground up into a proficient player.

When you feel adequate enough for the all-out experience, the Campaign is bursting with content. Traverse sectors with your fleet, connected by the hyperspace overworld, and do your best to survive and conquer all that you encounter. You’ll spend a good amount of time in a larger space map, directing your fleet passively and directing them to do what you want. Once combat begins, you can leap into a tactical battle mode (as seen above) and take more direct control of the situation. The combat in Starsector is simply brilliant. It’s unforgiving, sharp, and tactical. It really feels like a space battle would: slow, relentless, and taxing. There’s an array of weapons at your disposal, and various ways to implement them like having them autonomously destroy incoming projectiles. Certain weapon types also work better against shields or the hull of a ship, so there’s even more strategy at hand.

When not engaged in combat (which can earn you money), there’s plenty more to do. Anything from trading, smuggling, surveying, analysing, scavenging and more can be done to earn cash. Oh, and don’t forget about stuff like fuel and your crew. Maintaining these is crucial to you being at optimal performance. One fantastic feature you’ll see if things go awry is the ‘Distress Call’ ability. Lose your crew, fuel, and all your supplies? Just use the Distress Call. A ship will come find you…after a while. But as Fractal Softworks points out, it might be a pirate and not an ally. It is truly the last measure of a dying fleet, so use it wisely. It’s also a stern reflection on the superb design of Starsector, because in this space, everyone can see you struggle.

Starsector is great fun for any fan of strategy-rich games that require skill, critical thinking and patience. There’s more on the way, too, with endgame content, construction/outpost systems, and more ships and weapons on the way in future updates. Fractal Softworks is really working with the community to deliver an experience that is as inviting as it is challenging, giving you the opportunity to hop on-board now in the alpha (for a discounted price), and receive all upcoming updates, as well the final game, when it’s all ready. It’s a great starting point that seems like it’s only going to get better.

If you decide you jump in, there’s even a handy little guide to get you started. In this sector of the universe, things are rough and unforgiving. But, I kind of like it this way.