Spent a year and a half on a boring trade route, between Sol and Barnard's Star. No one ever attacks you there, so I sold my puny 1MW Pulse laser to make more room for cargo. Took me half a year to raise the money to trade in my Eagle Long-range Fighter into an Adder, and a bit longer to finally get my hands on my favorite medium-small ship, the Asp Explorer. Just a few times back and forth on the safe trade route, and I had raised enough money to outfit my ship with a 4MW Beam laser, a couple of shield generators, a radar mapper and a Naval ECM system. It was finally time to break free of the tedious but profitable routine I had been stuck with.
I traveled to not so safe systems, were attacked a few times, re-learned the basics of space combat. I am so rusty you wouldn't believe it.. I used to be Dangerous, if not Deadly. It's been a decade and some since I last played the game. I used to have a pretty good grasp on things. I could land without resorting to auto-pilot, both on space stations and on planets. I understood a great deal about relative velocity and all that stuff that somehow escapes me now. I hope it will come back with a bit more playing.
Anyway, on that first trip outside the safe zone, my elite rating went from Harmless to Mostly Harmless. I was grateful for my shields; without them I might not have made it. One particularly tough enemy saw it fit to crash into my ship, taking down my shields and lightly damaging my ship. I also had good use of my ECM system, as one enemy fired missiles after me, and one dropped a mine.
I did a couple of passenger runs - my Asp has enough space where I can fit in a few passenger cabins. There isn't as much profit in transporting passengers, though - each passenger cabin takes up 5t of space, so it's typically more profitable to carry cargo. But more fun to have people on board, isn't it? You'd have to wonder, though, what kind of person hires passage on a ship whose captain has a rating of Mostly Harmless when they are going to Veliaze. For those of you not in the know, that's a lawless system crawling with pirates. Absolutely nothing is illegal there - you can trade openly in battle weapons, nerve gas, slaves or narcotics if you are so inclined. So, Veliaze. If you go there, you will be attacked, no matter who you are. Even if you aren't carrying valuable cargo, or passengers someone wants dead - there are pirates who will attack you just because they are itching for a fight.
On the trip to Veliaze, I was reminded of how nice it was to have a radar mapper. You get basic info on the target; ship type, drive system, hull integrity (so you can see if your shots have been effective), shields, and, as I was just reminded: if there's a bounty on it. Cool, over half of the ships that attacked me there had bounties on them. My elite rating went from Mostly Harmless to Poor, from Poor to Below Average, just on that one flight. And I quickly realized that a laser cooling booster isn't optional equipment, it is a necessity. My weapon kept overheating. I somehow made it to a starport in the Veliaze system, where I got the cooling unit installed and repaired my ship's hull. Not much of interest on the bulletin board, not much in the way of trading prospects outside of the unethical kind, I decided to just refuel and head onwards. I settled on the star system of Gregreed, where again I was attacked several times, even by an Imperial Courier (one of my favorite ship types, quite a bit larger than my current one), which elicited an "oh, shit" from me when I saw it had a 20MW beam laser. One, maybe two hits from that, and I'd be history. It even had a bounty of 250 credits on it, further marking it as dangerous. But fortunately, larger ships are easier to hit, and I took it out without any great difficulty. But only because it was a lousy shot.
The game is totally open-ended and you can do whatever you want to. Run missions for the Federation military or for the Empire, carry passengers, goods, do assassination missions.. some of those have funny ads on the billboard, like "BIOGRAPHICAL: Some admirers wish (name) to have a fitting career end in (system). Will pay (sum of money)."
For now, what I think I want to do is increase my elite rating, which seems to be done by taking out as many enemies as possible. And I know just where to find those. I'm setting my course for Phekda, one of the other notorious anarchies. I should be able to gather enough bounties there to make the trip worthwhile even without carrying cargo. Maybe I should buy another shield generator or two, though.
And once I have enough money, I'm heading down towards the Empire to get an Imperial Trader, my absolute favorite ship. Too bad the Imperial-class ships (the Courier and the Trader) don't have removable drives. The Trader would have an excellent range if you put in a Class 7 Hyperdrive instead of its default Class 6. Even if that means less cargo space.
So.. do YOU have any games that you get totally immersed in like that?
For me, there's also Daggerfall, which also has a vast world to explore and can be almost as open-ended. I guess I like that kind of game.