Star Traders: Frontiers is a Tier 2 open-world game in which you have a starship and you go where you want and do what you want. You can be any or all of: A merchant who takes spices from one port and moves them to another port, an explorer of wilderness planets, a pirate who preys on shipping, a bounty hunter with a licence to kill, a scavenger, a spy, a warrior and more. You can take part in blood feuds or politics or steer clear of them as the eras fly by. There’s tons of room to have the experiences you want to have, rather than the ones the game wants you to have. And if you want a real challenge, there are difficulty levels and achievements for that, too.
Star Traders: Frontiers is available on your phone. You can play it that way if you’d like, but it suffers with the screen that small, so I recommend playing on a computer or at least a tablet.
The reason this isn’t a Tier 1 game is that there’s a lot of information to take in and manage, and a lot of necessary attention to detail. A serious mistake on one of many fronts can cause oversize harm and effectively ruin a playthrough even on lower difficulties where you don’t have permadeath. That makes the game easy to bounce off of and makes the game super long. I’ve only done one playthrough to the end of the main storyline, which was as a merchant. It took a crazy number of hours of playing time despite not maximizing for a lot of it in order to get to the end.
This is a game where you make your own house rules. You choose your difficulty level, and can customize it. You decide who you want your captain to be. You choose which parts of the system to ruthlessly exploit and which not to, and how many spreadsheets and maps you want to create. Then when you play another captain on Impossible, maybe you throw all those rules out the window and say everything is fair game.
This is also a game where you choose the balance between ‘look it up in the Wiki and see how this works’ against ‘do stuff and see what happens and learn that way.’ While also balancing ‘make stellar charts of every quadrant with detailed notes and spreadsheets of what you are doing with every crew member and every contact’ against the desire to get on with it and not get too obsessed. It’s important not to be afraid to make mistakes, and also not to be afraid to look things up or carefully plan them, and figure out how to maximize your fun.
The core experience of the game is that you have a ship, and choose to land on planets or navigate between them. At most planets, you’ll have the opportunity to trade in the market and refuel your tanks. Often you’ll be able to repair or upgrade your ship and heal your wounded, and recruit new crew. Then if you have a contact there, you can get missions from them or do various other things. You can also spy, blockade or patrol, or explore any wilderness planets, or if there temporarily is one available, salvage any orbitals. And you’ll encounter other ships as you travel between worlds, and can choose how to deal with them. Over time, you’ll recruit and level up your crew, forge relationships with contacts, make a lot of money, and choose what to get involved in and how, making friends and enemies. Or you’ll die trying.
Each captain will do their own mix of trading, exploration, spying, patrolling, blockading and various missions. You’ll balance ground combat versus ship combat versus being peaceful. The more different aspects of the world your team can handle, the more you can work efficiently and take advantage of opportunity. Doing the central things in the game requires handling a variety of tasks, but you can also lean heavily on whatever you do well.
If that appeals to you and you want to explore the game without further information, then stop here. The game is rather daunting, so it would be a disservice to people not to go into more detail with information and advice for those who would need it, and I plan to write more in-depth discussions distinct from this post, as well (and I’ve been meaning to do so for Slay the Spire and Monster Train, but found them difficult to write well).
So section two will be some information about how to best get started, and what to understand, and some thoughts on what matters, in ways that I do not think harm the experience much.
I recommend playing your first game as a Merchant. To me, that’s the core of the game, so learn that first, and also it’s quite enjoyable. Buy spices in one port and then ship them to another port, make a lot of money while using your talents to get contacts and reputation for free, and also do whatever else you’d like to do. But there’s advantages to a bunch of the starting configurations, and you should do what feels fun to you.
Basic Principles (Spoiler Level: Very Low)
- Time is a precious thing. Never waste it. Multitask trips whenever possible.
- Intel is a precious thing. Never waste it. Only sell it where and when you need the reputation boost, unless the intel is doing something else useful.
- Specialize in something, do it a lot, but also do other things.
- The early missions are very easy money, start with those plus trading no matter who you plan to be later on.
- Run away if you don’t want a fight. Be good at it.
- Early on you do not want a fight. Give up your cargo if you have to.
- Save an emergency fund at all times after year one.
- Morale matters. Don’t skip the spice hall, pick up an anti-desertion trait and don’t push your crew too far especially early.
- Things happen without you. If you want to get involved, don’t wait.
- Once you ask for a mission its deadline starts ticking whether or not you accept it, so don’t automatically ask for more.
- Plot your route to do as many things as possible as efficiently as possible.
- Don’t be afraid to sell cargo at a loss to free up space.
- Manually assign talents. Early on you need a lot of skill saves.
- If your crew doesn’t have the skills to fly your ship, you have to fix that.
- Save early, save often. Until you play at hard difficulty, and you can’t anymore.
- Care about your reputation. At -20 you can’t trade. At -30 you can’t refuel. That’s bad.
- Patrolling to fix negative reputation you don’t want is usually a very good idea.
- You’ll have to trade into that initial trade ban to get going, but try very hard not to trade into later ones unless you can usefully invoke Bold Statement, which takes a while.
- Starting with De Vantos will give you a strong economic start zone, and be good for having friends later, because *spoiler reasons*.
- You mostly need a squad of 4 to do combat. No more, no less. Plan one. Use officer slots. You’ll eventually need good equipment for them.
- Never be afraid to walk away from a bad hand of cards.
- Take all the contact-finding skills you can afford. Contacts are great.
- It is a free action to recruit some new people, check their stats, and probably not keep them.
- Don’t be afraid to rip out and reinstall prisoner cells and passenger cabins as needed.
- When you realize you’ve messed up your first game, restart and play for real.
- When you realize you haven’t messed up your game, but you’d rather play a different type of character, restart then too.
- Playing with permadeath (hard level or above) in an unknown galaxy is a very different experience. Try it at least once once you grok the basics.
Good Advice (Spoiler Level: Low) if you’re not going for an unlock
- Attributes/Skills in A/B/C, and Ship in B/C, Contacts at D, unless you have a specific plan. Attributes and Skills are forever, and Ships aren’t cheap.
- The Galtic Freighter is available at C if you unlock it and is the best commercial ship at that level. It’s worth unlocking, the process is fun and fast.
- If your crew members suck, fire and replace. Now. Before you waste experience points.
- Pick up the Arbiter.
- Do quests for the Prince and other initial contacts.
- Quickly buy at least a Level 3 Trade Permit and several official ranks.
- When you get the opportunity to get permits from another faction, take it.
- Upgrade your barracks before making other expensive ship upgrades. You can add a second passenger cabin or a prisoner’s cell first if you need those.
- Postpone the Arbiter quests a bit so you can stall pissing off a faction, and hopefully gain rep first to avoid it entirely.
- But don’t ignore those other Arbiter quests or let them expire, so you get the Arbiter as a contact after.
- Once the Arbiter leaves, do what you want locally for a while to grow stronger, then follow the Arbiter and do her quests for at least Cedar and Zenrith. The one for Maklumnue can wait a bit until you’re ready.
- If you don’t intend to ever win a fight yet, you can rip out all your ship weapons for cargo holds or help escaping or what not, since you’ll be buying better ones later before you actually fight anything.
- You can sell a full cargo hold of a commodity for full price at any port that demands it, if it’s all from the same faction. Exploit this, and don’t spoil the market for a small load if it matters.
- For example, you can buy expensive stuff like Gas Processors, stash them for now, then return, buy again, combine loads and sell them all at once.
- However, prices then take a while to return to normal, so once you do everything once you want to start heading to other quadrants.
- You have a lot of time to do most missions, and even if they’re overdue you still get the full reputation gain. Many don’t expire for a long time. Be efficient with your trips, and pick up package missions on spec even if you don’t know when you’re going to do them, unless you’re risking a level 4 trade permit and are actually worried.
- Once you’ve bought a new ship and have plenty of cash, you want to stash Basic Medicines and Advanced Medicines whenever it’s easy to do so. Wait for it.
- Generally good to stash Raw Spice and Vodka too, in case a merchant happens to ask for them, and if you have a merchant you know does these kinds of missions all the time, probably good to just build up lots of local inventory.
- Outfit your second ship with all the cool stuff before you take off on it, to save time with retrofits. Same with your third ship.
- You’ll want a dedicated fighting ship for the endgame that can deal with launched craft.
- That ship can assume it is going to fight at Range 4-5 almost all the time, plus Range 1 craft defenses. Nothing wrong with some insurance backup plans but space is useful.
- Have a combat plan that involves using all your action points each turn at every range you want to fight at.
- Once you have a free officer slot, you can recruit, promote the new recruit for $2,500, give them Discerning Eye and recruit again with increased stats until you run out of recruits. Very good value.
- Swordsmen fight well, and are plentiful, so you can use that to check far and wide for good stats and traits, then keep the ones you like.
- You probably want at least one each of Diplomat, Merchant and Smuggler.
- You will likely face one Xeno ship around year five before you can get your escape skill Skip Off the Void. Have a plan for how this fight won’t end the game. Also, the moment you can get it, grab Skip Off the Void, even if you have to retrain, and do your best to have enough fuel for it whenever possible.
The Merchant’s Journey and Considerations Walkthrough (Spoiler Level: Moderate to High)
This is the tale of my first full playthrough on normal as a Merchant slash guide to doing the same, including more explicit early moves and what I did right and wrong. I had several ‘false starts’ early before getting going, and this can help you to avoid that, and then either do more or less what I did, or do something different.
It will be a variation on this guide’s advice, which I mostly found quite good, but which can certainly be improved upon based on my experiences. Certainly for lower levels.
Then again, on lower levels there’s a huge margin for error, and you can do whatever you want.
I’ll do my best not to give away anything without a good reason, and also you can stop at any point or choose sections to read.
I played on the default map as De Vantos for several reasons.
The big reason is that De Vantos worlds are rich markets you want access to, the default map has a bunch of them in places you want, and there’s no other easy way to get access to trade permits for them. Their starting area offers solid opportunities.
The flip side of that reason is that there is a way to get trade permits for Cedar, Zenrin and Maklumnue, which is the Arbiter quest line. She will give you introductions to princes for all three along with quests that will give you enough influence with each to go straight to at least Permit 3. Add De Vantos and you have a ton of great trading options everywhere you go, even if you don’t get to pick up anyone else.
Attributes and skills are forever, whereas ships can be replaced, contacts can be found and experience is rapidly earned, so I went Attributes in A, Skills in B, Ship as Galtic Freighter in C (which I unlocked to do this by using the Smuggler and just doing every mission that didn’t require jumps), Contacts in D, Experience E.
We’ll be keeping the captain out of combat entirely, so I maxed mental attributes as recommended by the guide, including resilience, then put four into fortitude. That was unnecessary with the captain immune to death, and probably straight unnecessary in general. Resilience and Fortitude just aren’t that big a deal, and you can take 8 skill points instead.
Needless to say, you want the full 10 in Negotiate. After that, it gets trickier. Guide recommended Tactics and Command, but you’re never fighting so Tactics seems questionable at best to me now that I’ve played. The thing is, it’s not clear what else you need instead. If you’re going to hybrid into Explorer then take that, but you’ll be swimming in riches so it’s not clear what that’s doing for you. Command seems fine, it helps with missions. Intimidate seems like a strong move to help you with black markets, even though that runs counter to the Merchant getting bonuses for trading on regular exchanges, as it also helps with missions. You will want to be in black markets. It’s also very easy to fail early intimidate checks, and this can avoid that.
If I was doing it now, I think I’d go Negotiate, then Intimidate, then Command.
For contacts you have a lot of choices. I went with Spice Trader and Politician.
Politician gives introductions, Diplomat missions and Diplomat recruits. Diplomat missions use negotiate skill which you’ll have in abundance, are peaceful and mostly give you directions to travel while you trade. You also get introductions. It’s not a huge payoff, but it’s solid.
Spice Trader is for Merchant recruits. Yes, you’re already a Merchant, but I want more more more! I like having two backups, so you can trigger more extra profits, more extra contacts and more reputation. There’s diminishing returns, but the returns are super high. Note that an actual Merchant doesn’t give you Merchant recruits.
The other clear option is Smuggler. Smuggler gives you both a black market and rare trade goods, which are both great if they hit, smuggler missions which you’re happy to do, and Smuggler recruits which saves you from having to go in that direction – in which case I wouldn’t go Intimidate on the captain. They also buy intel so you can get reputation with them easily to max the black market. The big issue is that if they land on a world that doesn’t buy much stuff and/or doesn’t have rare trade goods, you’re missing out.
You could also take access to Spy recruits, on the theory that you’ll need to do a bunch of spying anyway. I’m not all that impressed, but spying for intel to access rare trade goods and trade permits without doing missions is sweet in the midgame.
Eventually you will need sources for weapons and armor. Taking a Weapons Smuggler (once unlocked) gives you smuggler recruits and a black market. You miss on trade goods, but chances aren’t that high you’ll be in the appropriate quadrant for that if you’re going in blind, and De Vantos will miss on the default map. There are a few options for armor, but none of them seem otherwise good. In any case you’re not in a hurry, and there will be lots of contacts. Eventually you’ll find the right targets. The missions you get here are pretty unappealing.
The first thing to do once you start is save, then manually assign traits. The guide has good advice here. Take two of every skill save you have access to except negotiate, plus at least one Signal Jamming and one warp navigation, and all the free landings you can spare. Captain takes Market Confidant.
Note that you should (if you’re optimizing) constantly be considering and comparing potential crew, especially for your ground combat team, and I didn’t do any of that. If you’re on normal, I’d suggest don’t bother doing that, just make sure everyone’s stats are reasonable and their traits don’t suck, and go with the flow. If someone is terrible, replace them, but that’s it.
Do pick up Discerning Glance early to improve your recruits. I didn’t do any filtering of recruits for my crew, and was lucky things didn’t turn out far worse than they did. The guide suggests doing that with the Captain, which locks you into the job and it’s not a job you especially want. That will also slow down your access to Garner Favor and Lucrative Wholesale unless you recruit higher level Merchants to do it for you (which I admit is a reasonable plan). Thus, I much prefer to use another officer, especially one you’re not planning to keep or who actually wants the job. So what if your engineer or doctor takes one level of Commander? It’s not like you had some amazing combination planned. I think I prefer the engineer if the doctor has reasonable stats, since the doctor can plan to be a combat medic and join your squad later, and Commander isn’t a great fit there.
The Early Game
The Early Opening
You have several goals in the early game. You’ll need to upgrade your ship, secure your trade permits, get the Arbiter on her way, fill out and improve your crew, and gather contacts and information to figure out where and how money can best be made, and whose influence and personal reputation needs to be pumped up. Helping your initial contacts will ensure you can buy high-level Merchants and Diplomats quickly, which will help accelerate your money making and reputation farming considerably.
I wasn’t playing hard difficulty and didn’t know about the semi-inevitable early Xeno ship (I’ve now had a playthrough on hard where it didn’t show up), so my plan for that was ‘run away with Rapid Getaway and hope’ and it worked, but if playing ‘for real’ this can be considered another goal. At some point adding some extra escape to your ship is likely wise.
The opening should be carefully choreographed to establish a baseline and get you off the ground quickly.
Quickly is the key. The game has a difficulty curve as the years pass, and your rewards don’t much scale to where you stand relative to the curve. If you fall behind the curve, you’re in deep trouble. If you get ahead of it, you can cruise.
Ideally you’re in the same system as a contact. If so land (efficiently, so assign your traits first) and check the two mission offers and see which is more convenient. You’re going to want to pick up the Arbiter soon for a quick 10k, and also check your other contact, so it’s good to go in either of those directions. While you do so, take the opportunity to trade. The best is being able to flip between two planets right away. In some cases you can make $15k or so before you even leave orbit. Once you’re ready to leave, pick up whatever you can sell wherever you’re already going, or only a little out of the way, but the missions largely take priority until you get a trade permit, because the goods aren’t that expensive so you can’t make that much profit. Thus, a premium on getting that permit quickly, and also confirming trade law in various places to see if you can ship Vodka, Raw Spice and the like. On your first runs, play it safe and don’t take anything that might get stuck (unless you’re willing to reload a save if it doesn’t work, which is up to you).
You’ll learn what the highest value goods are on each type of route, but mostly you want to carry bigger stuff rather than smaller stuff, and keep churning your hold as often as possible, and your margins are secondary. There aren’t default cycles or routes, so much as you want to go to different places quickly to check trade law and economy size and cycle your cargo, and note what profits can be had.
Be wary of ‘wasting’ a market. Never buy or sell a small amount of something highly profitable when you can hold out for a much larger one, unless you won’t be back for a while. Better to run Fuel or other low-level stuff in those last few slots and come back later. Often it’s right to do something like Industry -> Industry -> Pop if the route is fast, so you can sell larger loads. Of course, that means you really can’t do that again for a while, but that’s fine.
Anyway, the opening sequence depends on where your contacts and their missions offer to send you, but the core idea is you pick up Permit Levels 1+2 as soon as possible, moving the Arbiter and then doing the prince’s missions until you can do that. If you have leftover reputation consider a level or two of military rank. Later when you can, you’ll want to buy at least up to rank 5.
If you can bring in a second passenger cabin or a prison cell and right away use it to grab a mission, you do it. It’s three days to install and you get your money back on the spot. Swap out a weapon if you need to, see below for more about that.
The Late Opening
There are a few different things to buy, and you need to pick the right order. Circumstances will vary.
Permit Level 3 is great but it costs $26k, so it can wait until that leaves you enough money to buy the goods, and until you know what routes that makes available.
Permit Level 4 will be available soon if you do missions for the prince, but it costs $50k and goes away if you ever lose reputation with the faction, so it’s both expensive and risky. Don’t buy it unless you see a route that gets you back a bunch of the money right away, but it can pay for itself quickly with a few good routes. Once you get +100 reputation, it’s a lot safer, and all you mostly have to do is avoid missions opposing your faction and make sure you don’t let any missions expire.
Remember that independent worlds don’t require trade permits, and can be the ‘other end’ of any level 3-4 trade.
Barracks 4 is super great, letting you go from 24 to 30 crew for about $45k plus any costs for the new crew afterwards. Once you have the slots, you can use your contacts to get at least two Merchants and a Diplomat and go from there, and can temporarily use the remaining slots for extra free landings or skill saves until you find something better. Also note that the longer you wait, the higher level your new crew arrives at, and you can often level them up faster by waiting to buy them. There are a lot of jobs you’ll want to recruit if you get the opportunity, especially Explorer, Exo-Scout, Spy and Smuggler. Keep scouting for good Swordsmen so they can become two officers, one soon and one down the line. But again, this is all expensive, so don’t do it until you’re ready. I think you should usually buy this after Permit 4 and always after Permit 3.
Thus, the plan is by default something like Permit 1 -> Permit 2 -> Permit 3 at the first opportunity, then Permit 4 when you have about 80k and Barracks at about 100k in some order -> Grab the extra crew and also keep upgrading.
You probably don’t want to hold out on the Barracks until you can get the upgrade discounted, but you’ll want the discount talent queued up for the big upgrades later.
Meanwhile, every system, check the cards for patrol (ideally also spy and blockade, but this isn’t Impossible, you don’t need to do that and it slows down the fun). If you can pick up reputation at low risk with any faction but your own, it’s pretty great, especially if you’re getting rid of negative reputation. Don’t bother with your home faction. Remember to patrol with an empty cargo hold (or likely better, with 1 of something cheap to placate pirates).
The other thing you want to do is get more cargo space. Yes, 75 is the highest of all the starting ships. It’s not remotely enough. More cargo space equals more profit continuously. Sometimes you can dump it all each step. Other times, you can drop off at multiple places, or assemble compound sales, or you can stock up expensive stuff to sell when you get the opportunity without destroying your ability to do other trades along the way. It’s especially important to have enough room to trigger $5,000 trades whenever possible.
How do you get more cargo space? The expensive but great way is to upgrade your large cargo bays to Cargo Bay 4. Don’t settle for any half-measures here, it takes a long time to install so wait and get max value. That’s your first really expensive buy, but they cost about 180k each.
Meanwhile, you can get to that stage a lot faster with more space, so what do you do?
Rip out your weapons (and also the -2 Jump Cost, which is eating a slot for little benefit). Replace with cargo bays, plus a prisoner’s cell and/or second passenger cabin as needed to do missions efficiently.
How far you go with this is up to you. If you have the three missiles still there, you can still fire at full power at range four or five, and not that many ships will try to close range on you. If you take a few skills that help some stuff that stops them from changing range easily, it will be rare that the lost slots will matter, and as a bonus your skill checks get easier.
The galaxy brain move is to rip out all the weapons at the slightest provocation. The theory here is that you have zero intention of fighting, and less than zero potential to win a fight, anyway. If someone actually can’t be bought off in the early game as a Merchant, what was your plan exactly other than run away? And once you’re committed to running away, and don’t have much dedication to fighting, it’s not like you’re going to win the combat if they don’t let you run. So your weapons are actually useless, and they raise your ship requirements, so they’re actively harmful.
What about later in the game? Yes, you’ll need to fight later, or at least you’ll want to, but you want to do that with better weapons anyway. And often with a new ship to house them. Thus, losing your weapons for now is fine. Your missile Mark VII won’t be any more expensive writing over a cargo hold than it would have been writing over a Mark II.
Similarly, you can safely dump any of your ground combat crew that aren’t good enough to be worth long term keeping, because you’ll get replacements that are better at some point, and until then they’re taking up space. You don’t want to get rid of all your Gunners, though, because of Supremacy of Firepower, which means you need to keep at least three of them. I’d keep four unless I had a great need for something else. You don’t need five.
Anyway, you do the initial Arbiter missions until she departs (talk to the Prince to get them) but then stop, because you don’t want to tank your reputation further, and will instead be patrolling to repair it.
Then you keep making money, upgrade your cargo capability, take all the contact finding talents, and keep an eye out for a rare trade goods route.
The Early Midgame
Once you are ready to explore a bit, it’s time to go see the Arbiter. I waited too long – her mission deadlines are beyond generous, and letting missions be overdue is totally fine as long you don’t fail. If you get the hard one, you can do the other one while trading along the way to get ready for it. Failing is not an option here, though, the rewards are too good.
If you’re offered Cedar’s questline, do that first. You’ll need a reasonable combat crew, but otherwise all you have to do is pick up the prince and drop him back off two years later, in the meantime you can do what you would have done anyway, and now you have access to Cedar.
Zenrin’s quest will require a lot of travel, but pays reasonably and otherwise won’t be any trouble. And then you have trade access to Zenrin.
Moklumnue is the tricky one because it requires two ship battles. How much this will cost you depends on what level of safety you’re looking for, and whether you kept the appropriate crew around and leveled them, which I recommend mostly doing.
What you do is you buy top level weapons. Ideally you’d get three that combined cost 8 to use, which makes your ship into a super badass on its own, and also lets you fight other things. The full set isn’t needed. Two definitely works almost all the time if you also have decent crew skills. You might well get away with only one (or one oversized one in a bigger slot) but I wouldn’t risk it unless I saved the game first.
The alternative method I have not tried is to buy your second ship before doing the Moklumnue mission, swap into it for the mission, then afterwards go back to the Freighter while you install new cargo bays and general upgrades, since the only upgrades you need for this particular mission are the weapons.
Either way, finish that mission up, and you have Moklumnue, which is extremely valuable. That’s four factions, including three that give economic boosts to their worlds. Must be nice. Make sure to pick up any pardons and trade permits you can get from elsewhere, because each new permit is great. At this point you can buy expensive stuff without knowing where you’re selling it, confident you’ll find somewhere along the way.
Don’t try to maintain too many Level 4 permits on a permanent basis, but if you know what you’re doing with them, you can pick them up and then accept that you’ll eventually do something to lose them. If you have +100 or more reputation with a faction, it’s a lot harder to accidentally blow it, and you mostly blow it by doing a mission against them or letting a mission for them fail. So don’t do those things.
Once you finish the Arbiter, the stars now offer you tons of great ways to make money. Rare trade goods are great if you find a source, but you totally don’t need them.
In the game I actually played, I basically wasted my officer slots. Instead, use them deliberately. I think the right setup here is something like, a non-combat Captain that uses Merchant and Smuggler and one related job, the Doctor plus Combat Medic and Military Officer if she’s good enough to use in fights – Military Officer buffs when you don’t have to heal, otherwise you heal.
The Engineer also stays out of combat. Actually being an engineer gets you 10% off upgrades at rank 5, and upgrades are where a lot of your profits go, so that’s actually pretty profitable, and you can get a discount on your second ship at level 8, so you’ll want that ready by that time (and you can retrain into and then out of that skill when you need it, if you need to, since it’s saving you over $100k). Then what to do with the other jobs? Scavenger isn’t crazy, since you want more Repair. Mechanic is the most basic ‘I just want max Repair here’ play. Then you have a third slot for some low-level valuable skills. This is a reasonable place to grab Discerning Glance off one rank of Commander and stay Level 1 in that forever. Nor is a Level 1 (or 5) Spy.
You then get a fourth officer on your first ship. Your two plays are a good ground combat character, or a way to grab other jobs you can’t otherwise get. One question is, is this crew a placeholder crew, or a permanent officer? Especially if they’re going into ground combat. If she’s temporary, you can spread the field and pick up some good low-level talents including Discerning Glance, then delete her once you get your full permanent officer crew.
Note that the most important thing for combat crew is their combined Wisdom and Quickness, which directly gives the Initiative. Make sure they’re good.
If you’re going to keep her and use her in combat, then you’ll want to think ahead towards the permanent configuration.
I have learned that the best straightforward combat team is a Swordsman plus other blades jobs in front, probably another in position two, a doctor buffing and a Xeno Hunter spewing plasma. The other option is two plasma rifles and only one swordsman. You can google for some exacting guides if you’d like.
The Late Midgame
The goal of the late midgame, in this strategy, is to create the ship you’ll be using for everything short of the last era.
No expense should be spared. You’ll want several million for the ship, and several million more for the upgrades. The upgrades take a very long time, especially the Cargo Hold IVs, so as soon as you can, you’ll want to start the process. While they’re working on the ship, go make more money, come back and queue up more upgrades.
You want a lot of cargo space, and you want a good setup for fighting ship battles, and ideally to do it without the fuel costs being too high and getting you into trouble. Don’t want to have to worry about not having fuel for Skip Off the Void if you run into a Xeno ship.
Your weaponry starts with 8 AUs worth of long range attacks. Missiles are great. After that, it’s not clear to me there’s that much value in having short range weapons, but it’s probably fine to have 4 AUs of them, and you’ll use the other 4 to move to a longer range if things get that far. You’re not giving up that much to do that. Maybe get one backup weapon in case one of them gets damaged, and that can double as a midrange attack. After that, your fighting slots are better spent on guidance systems and similar things, rather than more weapons.
Also you’ll want to gather good weapons and armor for your ground team, working contacts as needed.
You’ll make a lot more money with a larger cargo hold. Rare trade good runs pay directly proportional to your hold’s size, and many other tricks work much better with more space, same as in the early game. I ran with 205 with my big ship, and regret not making a lot more room. Then again it’s not like I ran out of money or anything.
That’s the thing. Once you get your new ship paid for and fully decked out, as long as you covered your bases, the rest of the game is you doing what you want to do, and money is no longer a big factor provided you still trade along the way wherever you go. Mission mostly accomplished, time to select new missions.
The Early Endgame
The endgame starts when you get your second ship. At this point, you can win fights, and you can trade to your heart’s content, and do anything else you’d want.
The eras will come and go. Several of them will give you something to do, and you’ll choose whether you want to get involved.
There are a bunch of story vignettes (more are planned) and I recommend checking them out.
As noted above, you might want to stockpile some medicines for later if it’s handy to do so, but it’s totally not necessary. For similar reasons and for mundane utility of skills, you’ll want a Doctor among the crew now that you can expand again, in addition to one as an officer.
What is necessary is getting ready for the final battle. You’ll have a limited amount of time to score enough victories in that fight, which means being ready on all fronts and not wasting time once things begin.
You will need three things.
First, you’ll need a strong anti-Xeno ground combat team. Xeno Hunter with a huge rifle in the back. Swordsmen in the first two slots. Dealer’s choice in slot three. Use officers. Season to taste.
Second, you’ll need (or at least want) good exploring talents. One Explorer and one Exo-Scout at high level should be fine, you just don’t want to ever run out of talents, and it’s good to have at least one full reroll.
Third, you want a ship that can kill top level Xeno ships reliably. Those ships will have a lot of launch craft, but they don’t seem to try to close the distance with you. That means you’ll want some Range 1 guns to pick off craft, but mostly the standard 8 AU of missile launchers (again, with or without a backup) and you can ignore the middle ground stuff.
(Alternatively you can try to build for boarding the enemy craft, or some other tactic, but I didn’t do that.)
Outfitting such a ship properly will take several years. I think I spent about $12 million on it.
What you cannot do is put off creating the ship until you need it. Again, it takes years. If you do that, you are going to run out of time.
That means that once you have enough to start the retrofits, you need to make your way to the shipyard and begin the process. Spend a year or two making more money, drop by again and continue upgrading, cycle until you have top-shelf stuff everywhere.
The jump cost of such a ship will get very large, and you’ll probably need to refuel after every jump. It’s annoying, but not worth making major sacrifices to prevent. You need all the help you can get to reliably beat Xeno ships. Even fully decked out, you’re not at zero risk.
There’s no need to actually use the ship until the threat appears, but you want the ship ready to fly.
The Late Endgame
It’s time. This is the moment you have been waiting for. Let’s kick some ass.
The deadline is real, so don’t waste time. Pick up your shiny new battlecruiser and get going. Accept tons of missions to help, do them as efficiently as possible, rinse and repeat until the threat is dealt with.
That’s your final test. After that, you are free to continue roaming around and doing what you want, but the major challenges are over, and the $20 million plus you have left over will mostly burn a hole in your pocket. Do whatever is fun, and consider starting over. In particular, the Merchant skips the whole early storyline because pissing off a faction is bad for business, but it’s a cool way to go with a different type of captain.
So that’s a decent guide to my experiences, and should help get you into things. I’ll be happy to answer questions in the comments, and to answer exactly what is being asked to avoid unnecessary spoilers (indicate desired spoiler level, including ‘exact words and literal answer only please’), if you want to learn more to decide whether to play, or you want to figure something out.
My plan is to also write some thoughts on various decisions the game made, and compile a list of improvements I think could make the experience better. There are some quality-of-life improvements where I think a little would go a long way, and also a lot of room to give the player more things to do.