Impressions on coming back after Steel

A few months ago (a year?) I was one of the ones protesting vehemently about the new combat and discouraged by the general difficulty of the early game, and gave up on the whole thing soon after. I tried out the finished version yesterday, and long story short, it was an immeasurably more pleasant experience. By the time I logged off for the day I’d visited every tile on the map and had two heirlooms and a townhouse - further than I’d ever got before. I no longer feel I have to plan every part of my route and cargo with military precision (that was no fun). I can just strike out and do a huge loop around the map, following the various ongoing stories and picking up anything else that seems like a good idea.

What made the difference? The Admiralty fuel bonus was probably the thing that single-handedly changed my experience from overly-stressed quartermaster to adventurous zee-captain. Port reports for every island make stopping off at ports a pleasure rather than a game of frantically checking the wiki to see if I would make a loss on that leg of the trip. And the game is just kinder to beginners - or at least, not actively hostile until you’re in a better ship, as it was before.

And it’s visually stunning. Aestival, the Dawn Machine, the Rose Reef: those really brought home that light here is shocking and transcendent. The other thing that surprised me by causing a frission was sailing into the Avid Horizon - I’ve been there before, of course, but I forgot how stark and otherworldly it is. Frostfound and Irem garlanded-in-red are also breathtaking. The writing is gorgeous as usual; I loved the multi-layer stories in places like Nuncio and Visage, and world-spanning background arcs like Maybe’s Daughter make revisiting ports much more enjoyable.

I have a more complicated relationship with combat. I’ve come round to the point of view that the change was a good thing, but I still wonder if that’s a little unbalanced in the early game. Easily the most unpleasant and frustrating part of my game yesterday was taking on a Auroral Megalops in the un-upgraded starting ship. You can’t do it elegantly without altering your course and using up a chunk of fuel, you can’t one-shot it as you go past, and you can’t get any kind of reward that will cover the resources it took to do it. It made me wonder if it’s a gentle hint that this is not an early combat game, in the same way the Wolfstack Dock prices are a gentle hint that this is not a trading game. Combat is unprofitable, dangerous and unpleasant until you hit the mid-to-late game, and taking on the very first starter enemy just outside London certainly brings this home to you. It’s a small quibble, and maybe it’s intentional. (I did watch the combat video, which is very helpful when you are somewhat more upgraded.)

This isn’t to say I dislike combat*. Now I have hefty Iron and Veils and upgraded weaponry and can take on small enemies, I like the mechanics of it much better; the improved turning circle in particular makes it much less frustrating, and when you’re matched with a weaker opponent it can be both elegant and profitable. It just seems a little odd that I had uncovered every single tile on the map before I felt it was worthwhile and fun to take on a Pinnace.

It feels like there’s more money sloshing around in the early game, and I like that a lot. It was so dull, planning every trip around the Stone Lions. Now I feel like I can weigh anchor and explore. It helped a surprising amount to have &quotYOUR FIRST CAPTAIN WILL DIE&quot plastered over everything; he’s not dead yet, but it’s very freeing to treat him as disposable. And of course, that’s having the opposite effect and opening up all sorts of new and interesting ways to not-quite-die profitably.

I am coming to this with all my pre-Steel knowledge, so I don’t know how representative it is of a new player’s experience. But I was certainly one of the more stick-in-the-mud Early Access players, and this is a very different experience to the one that I gave up on. Lovely work. Next weekend I may start aiming for the Utmost East. Fair sailing!

*I just loathe that d____d crab.

I dislike the new combat as well- still do. When fighting ships, you easily just hang out behind them and take out monstrous late-game warships with your starter tugboat. Seriously- they can’t turn any faster than you, so you can just slowly turn with them practically touching their ship as you plink away. I’ve taken out the 200 hp ships near Grand Geode/dawn machine with my starter this way.

Then there is, as you said, the monsters. They have speeds and turn radii much faster than yours. There is no real strategy facing them… you can’t out manuever them and you can’t really out run half of them either. If you try to do drive-bys you turn and change directions so abomidibly slow you get rammed multiple times doing it. Your only real &quotstrategy&quot is gain a forward mounted gun, upgrade your turrets+irons, and just fire away and hope you don’t take too much damage before you sink the thing. The only time you can get some strategy is when you use the blue scintillick and one of those expensive lamps that don’t give your position away. Then you can run away a bit so the enemy loses site of you, then turn to face them and fire off two volleys before repositioning. Its how I killed Mt Nomad, but it started to do shriek attacks and nearly sank me at the end.

So basically, combat is either cheesy (stay behind the ship and turn with them) or just &quotfire and pray&quot with beasts. At the end (with scintillick and obscure energies) it gets downright gimmicky. Even though you atuomatically get some terror reduction on killing an enemy, you still burn up fuel. You also lose the ability to &quotjuke&quot enemy attacks. In the old system, I loved reducing my visibility below an enemy’s attack threshold while they were in the middle of a move. This would cancel the attack and waste their time- helping to speed up combat. It could get a bit repetitive, but it had this cat and mouse feel of hiding in the dark while trying to outmanuever the other ship/beastie. But beast fights now… just face them head on and shoot volleys until one of you is dead… sigh