Star Control II: We’ll Have to Destroy Them Ship-to-Ship

From The CRPG Addict

The ship stood no chance.
For me, Star Control II‘s combat system is the most difficult and disappointing element of the game, and yet I recognize that it isn’t “bad.” To the contrary, it was a genius idea to take the ship-to-ship combat of Star Control and embed it in in a world with a complex, developing story. I’m struggling to think of any other series that has done the same thing–that started with a game that was good at principally one thing, then made a sequel that preserved that element but within the context of a much more expansive experience.
I’m simply not any good at this kind of gameplay. I’m not really good at anything that requires quick reactions, which I suppose is why I’ve never played any competitive sports. (There was a time I could have buried 99% of you at pool, but I wouldn’t consider that a “sport.”) Back in the early 2000s, it became fashionable among the young men in my office to play a couple of hours of Team Fortress or Counterstrike after work (to be honest, there were times we were flexible about the “after” part). I really enjoyed those sessions, but I was always last in the standings. 
I certainly don’t mind a little action in RPG combat, mostly because in a true RPG, you can compensate for a player’s weakness with character buffs, healing, and so forth. In fact, in an open world RPG (where combat and exploration are integrated), combat often becomes extremely strategic despite its action-oriented nature. You just have to carefully choose your approach and terrain, and use options like traps, stealth, explosives, summoning, leading two hostile enemies into each other, and so forth. 
Is there a gameplay method by which a player could literally destroy all those ships instead of doing things the diplomatic way?
But there are no such options in Star Control II. When combat begins, your two ships appear on a field of stars, and there’s nothing but you and your reactions. Thus, I end up reloading a lot. Things are worse whenever combat begins near a planet. The planet’s gravity well exerts an influence on the ships, but not in any way that seems to me consistent or predictable, particularly when your ship changes screens. The planet itself isn’t always visible, but when it does appear, you have to struggle not to bonk into it, and trying to fly directly away from it almost never works. You’re trying to figure all this out, of course, while the enemy is shooting at you.
The only tactic you get is the choice of ship, which makes a huge difference in the difficulty of combat, particularly for someone like me. Your choice of ship depends heavily on the enemy, of course, which requires taking careful notes about each enemy and what it can do. If you’re facing off against an enemy with weapons of limited range, you want to choose a ship with long-range options. If the enemy is slow and cumbersome, you want something lithe and maneuverable. If the enemy’s ship has only a few hit points, maybe it’s best to choose a ship with a lot of hit points (like your flagship) and be willing to absorb a little damage while you wait for a one-shot opportunity.
Once selected, your choice of ship is difficult to change. You can hit ESC to warp out of combat, but it takes a few seconds, and the enemy can often destroy you in those few seconds. Of course, if your ship is destroyed, you get an option to choose a different one, but then you’ve lost the crew and have to re-build the ship back at the starbase.
During this session, I found myself facing a regular Ur-Quan dreadnought. The ship has devastating cannons, but with a relatively short range. Its secondary attack is to launch mini-fighters that bombard you like gnats, but they’re relatively easy to out-run. Since I had saved the game just before the encounter, I took some time to grade the performance if each of my ships against the dreadnought. (Instead of saving and reloading, there’s also a separate program that lets you practice combats; I used this a little but found the bouts annoying to set up.) These were the results:
1. The Earth Cruiser. It was promising at first. The ship’s main attack is a homing missile that, if shot from far away and on a reasonably straight path towards the target, almost always hits. I’d had a lot of success with it against the VUX, which have limited-range attacks. But the ship is slow and hard to maneuver, and it’s a nightmare to pilot when the gravity well of a planet is nearby to muck things up. Its secondary attack, point defense lasers, rely on proximity to the target, which is a bad idea with the Ur-Quan. C.
The cruiser scores a hit, but it lacks enough maneuverability to get out of the way of the incoming Ur-Quan shot.
2. The Orz Nemesis. This is a relatively fast ship with a mid-range cannon. It became much more useful once Wonko instructed me how to rotate the cannon so you can fire it from the rear. Since the Nemesis cannon has a greater range than the Ur-Quan cannons, I could turn my tail to the dreadnought and keep him just in range of my own weapons, although actually hitting him required a precision in aiming that I was rarely able to achieve. The best part about the Orz Nemesis is the secondary attack, which fires a pod containing a “space marine” who latches onto the enemy ship, boards, and kills as many crew members as possible before getting killed himself. (Basically, it’s a missile that costs you one crew member and does a variable amount of damage.) The Ur-Quan fighters nibbled away at my hit points, but I was able to prevail 2 times out of 3. B.
The Nemesis stays out of range while firing its cannon to the rear.
3 The Pkunk Fury. This was a horrible choice for the dreadnought. Although the main weapon shoots out of three sides (which helps someone like me), it has an extremely limited range, so you have to bring it close to the enemy, and “close” is a bad idea with an enemy like this. When the batteries run dry, you have to mash the secondary attack option to re-charge them (the option for some reason casts audible insults at the enemy). The only benefit is that when it’s destroyed, it is sometimes resurrected. D.
4. The Zot-Fot-Pik Stinger. Not only was it useless against the dreadnought, I can’t imagine the ship ever being useful for anything. Its only benefit is speed and maneuverability, but its weapon is weak and its range is laughably short. The secondary attack just seems to fire a laser beam so small that you’d have to be within boarding range of the enemy for it to hit. F.
5. The Ariloulaleelay Skiff. Flying this one is weird. It has no inertia, so you have to hold down the thrust button constantly. It’s very maneuverable, and its main weapon is an auto laser that aims itself, which is nice, but it dies in one hit from the dreadnought and probably any other ship. C.
6. The Spathi Eluder. As others have pointed out, sometimes this ship almost makes it too easy. The ship’s secondary attack, BUTT missiles, have a decent range and do a great job homing in on the enemy. You can even arc them around other obstacles. The ship is fast and agile, and it’s easy enough to stay just outside the Ur-Quan’s range while you fire off bursts of missiles. A.
The Spathi does its best to “elude” the enemy while firing its rear missiles.
7. The Flagship. There are no universals because its strengths and weaknesses depend heavily on what you buy. The ship’s primary advantage is that at a full crew complement, it can really take a beating. I have trouble aiming the cannons, but as long as I’m willing to temporarily forget that my hit points are really people, I can usually wait around long enough to fire at just the right moment. Against the Ur-Quan specifically, it wasn’t a great option because the dreadnought also has a lot of hit points, and the main weakness of the flagship is that if it’s destroyed, the game is over. B.
Going nose-to-nose was a bad idea.
By the end of this trial, I was feeling pretty good about my developing skills and knowledge base, but later I was reminded that you have to essentially repeat this process with every ship you encounter. The next “new” enemy I fought was the Mycon podship, and the thing absolutely devastated me. Most of my strategies revolve around not having to be very quick, but you can’t go that route with the Mycon because they’re capable of generating new crew members (growing them from spores, I guess) in the middle of combat. Their homing missiles are tough to dodge. I was unable to reliably defeat them with any ship and eventually had to flee combat.
As this session began, I had just dealt with the Slylandro probes once and for all. (I met a few more before they disappeared entirely, but I had destruction codes to transmit.) I was on my way back to the Ariloulaleelay in “quasi-space” hoping that they’d give me a “portal spawner,” which would let me enter quasi-space from anywhere in hyperspace instead of just the one weak point. I hoped this would make travel faster and less costly in terms of fuel. In fact, I was counting on it, because I didn’t have nearly enough fuel to get back to Earth as it was.
Well, I was in luck. The Ariloulaleelay gave me the spawner.
This is true, but it uses nothing while in quasi-space itself.
It took me a while to figure out how quasi-space works. You always enter at coordinates 500,500. Exit points surround you. The exit points seem to have no correlation with the positions at which they dump you in hyperspace. I spent a lot of wasted time trying to figure out a formula, but it seems instead that you have to simply try each quasi-space exit and record where you land. I ultimately did that, but because entering quasi-space takes 10 fuel units, and I was down to 32, I had to reload a bit.
Eventually, I found that the quasi-space exit at 492,492 took me to hyperspace/true space coordinates 191,93, which are pretty close to Earth. I stopped at Alpha Centauri on the way and met with the Melnorme, selling some accumulated bio-scans for technology that helps defend my lander against the life forms it encounters. I had just enough credits left for a little information, and they told me that the Pkunk are an offshoot of the Yehat. This ended up being somewhat timely.
A starmap of quasi-space. All the exits are clustered together in the center.
Back at the starbase, Commander Hayes told me that the Ariloulaleelay had joined us and given some of their ships and ship schematics. My fleet of attached ships was now full with the addition of two Ariloulaleelay Skiffs. He also related that there had been a hyperspace disturbance near the edge of Pkunk space, as if hundreds of ships had entered hyperspace at once.
Some of my commenters have mentioned checking the starmap repeatedly. As you meet new species, circles appear on the map showing the species’ relative territories. What I didn’t realize until this session is that those circles can move. In this case, they showed the Punk territory swiftly moving “eastward,” towards the VUX and Yehat, though for some reason the Yehat weren’t marked on my map.
The status around the beginning of this session.
I flew down to see what they were up to. It didn’t take me long to find a Pkunk vessel in the Ptoloemae constellation. They had decided “our Yehat siblings are in need of our love and good counsel” and that they intended to sail to Yehat space and “greet our Yehat brethren with warm hugs of affection.” I knew how that would go, but they wouldn’t listen to me until I told them that I’d consulted a Ouija board and it spoke poorly about the timing of this voyage. The alarmed Pkunk agreed to return home and read the signs once again.
This part was a bit alarming.
After this, it was time to return to my “to do” list. The next item was to visit the Spathi homeworld, for which I had exact coordinates. Giving the password supplied by my Spathi ally, Fwiffo, it wasn’t long before I was talking with the High Council. I asked them to ally with me, but they quite frankly admitted that they were “too afraid of the Ur-Quan to consider such an alliance.” When I pressed them by boasting about my own strength, they said they’d join if I would rid their home planet of the “Evil Ones.”
The aliens in this game are often goofy, but you can’t deny that they have a certain consistency of characterization.
A little backstory followed: the Spathi used to be somewhat dormant, lazy mollusks living on the planet Spathiwa. But eventually a race of carnivores evolved on the same planet, and they apparently liked eating mollusks. The Spathi “fled across oceans, from continent to continent, but the Evil Ones always followed.” Eventually, they fled off-planet, to their own moon, and abandoned Spathiwa to the carnivores. They wanted me to visit the planet and get rid of them.
Zapping the “Evil Ones.”
Despite the absurdity of scooping up an entire race in my lander, it wasn’t hard. The “Evil Ones” turned out to be lemur-looking things that didn’t even move. I collected them all and returned to the High Council, which expressed gratitude and said they’d begin moving back to the planet immediately–but then almost immediately reneged on joining the Alliance. I had to threaten to release the Evil Ones from stasis to compel them to keep up their end of the bargain.
The Spathi concede to my Alliance.
During the conversation, they mentioned that they’d taken a HyperWave Caster from the Umgah–presumably the same one that the Umgah had been using to impersonate the Ilwrath gods and convince the Ilwrath to attack the Pkunk. I had made a bungled visit to Umgah space hoping to secure this device. But I got no dialogue or other options that would have allowed me to obtain the Caster from my new allies.
Dialogue with the Spathi also revealed the existence of yet another species, the Thraddash, “a weak and obnoxious race from the Draconis group of stars.” I had a note to visit Draconis to see about an un-aligned species, so that was useful intelligence.
My next stop was Vela I, the Precursor world where I’d grown up, which I visited thanks to the completely innocent suggestion by commenter Villa that my folks might be wondering what happened to me. When I arrived, I was dismayed to find a red shield around the planet, plus an Ur-Quan dreadnought guarding it in orbit. A brief dialogue conveyed what I already suspected: the Ur-Quan had found the Earth colony and forced them to accept the same fate as their relatives on Earth itself. A combat ensued, which I recorded at the beginning of this entry.
I audibly gasped when I saw the planet, which is a tribute to how well the game set up the red shields as a plot device.
My last stop was at Beta Copernicus, the old Syreen homeworld, where I hoped to find some evidence of what had destroyed the planet. I found it quite quickly: the remains of a huge egg shell. I’m 99% sure the Mycons destroyed the planet by sending some kind of spore to penetrate it and crack it open–the planet is actually called a “shattered world,” and I later encountered several more of them in Mycon space. 
My crew discovers evidence.
I met the Mycons themselves somewhere in the Brahe system. They’re an arrogant species, convinced of the superiority of their type of lifeform over non-fungal life. When I asked about the shattered worlds, they told me about their “deep children” who “build” new homes for Mycons, apparently by destroying existing ones, so I was right. Anyway, every dialogue with the Mycons ended in combat, and I was unable to defeat their extremely fast, maneuverable, regenerating ships. I gave up and fled.
And the Mycon incriminates himself. Case closed!
I assumed when I returned to the Syreen commander, news of the destruction of her world might motivate them to break their treaty with the Ur-Quan, but she had no new dialogue options. I thus reloaded and headed for Draconis, which has 14 freaking stars! The second one I explored, Epsilon Draconis, finally gave me one of the mysterious “Rainbow Worlds.” It had some minerals and life forms but wasn’t otherwise special. I assume the Melnorme will give me credits for it.
Captain Chester finally makes the “Rainbow Connection.”
I ran low on fuel before I found any Thraddash, but I returned to Earth with my storage pods bursting with minerals and life. Commander Hayes told me that the Spathi had arrived as promised, and had given us plans for their Eluder starship, so I can make more.
At this point, my flagship is “full,” in that all the module bays are used. I have:
  • 4 storage bays
  • 4 fuel tanks
  • 2 crew pods
  • 1 point defense system
  • 3 dynamo units
  • 1 ion bolt gun
  • 1 fusion blaster
I’m happy to take opinions on a more optimal configuration. My plan is to next try to solve the VUX Admiral Zex’s quest to find a special life form in the Lyncis constellation.
Time so far: 27 hours

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