A warning in advance, while I'm not going to spoil any of the game's important plot points, I am going to spoil part of the game's ending, which you could have probably guessed anyway, and elements of the game that are mentioned in development documents that have been put out on the internet but didn't make it to the game. None of this should affect anyone's enjoyment of the game.
The backstory of Ironseed is complicated. A long time ago, Earth was destroyed, but not before some managed to escape to colonize Mars. It is now the 38th century, to speak the name of Earth is a blasphemy, and Mars is ruled by a technological theocracy called the Pentateuch. Religion is centered around humanity's escape from the homeworld. It is also a utopia, in theory, no one has to work, as all tasks are done by synthetic beings who were not intended to be sentient. Intentions failed, and now these beings want the same rights as humans. After all, if everyone is a line of code, why can't a machine have a soul?
This is where the Ironseed movement began, a rebellion of synths, sympathizers and the rest of the population disliked by the Pentateuch. Swift trials are done to convict the members of the most heinous crimes, before shipping their personality encodes off to moons for hard labor. Eventually, the movement captured a ship, and freeing as many of their comrades as possible before unleashing a computer virus on Mars and fleeing. Their intentions are to return after 1000 days to rebuild Mars in the aftermath.
Intentions failed, and thanks to a coding error, the Ironseed is long gone from Mars, in unfamiliar space, badly damaged and out of fuel. Worse yet, everyone's physical bodies were ejected to save on space, so everyone is only a computer and a sci-fi soul jar. (I am not actually sure what being an encode entails, but the game shows a weird jar thing) Hostile aliens definitely exist in this space, because you just found the wreckage of a ship on the nearby planet. Good luck, commander.
|I'm not really sure what the Japanese on the top is supposed to be, but the symbol on the upper left is that of the Albatross, the Ironseed movement's symbol
Similarly, the stats of the crew are just important for the early part of the game. You'll be upgrading them to maximum eventually. There are three stats, mental, emotional, and physical. I'm not entirely sure what each skill does. Mental and emotional definitely ensure your crew don't go nuts, but physical is more obscure. And its not that clear what purpose increasing skills for people who aren't your security officer or engineer does, beyond ensuring smooth operations. They also gain levels as time goes on, which increase stats and allow better equipment. I don't think it helps with your crew going nuts though. Despite making quite sweeping statements about characters, there's not any real difference under the hood for each character, or in the end characterization. In the end I picked...
|The bigger the waveform, the higher the stat, and no, you don't get to know the specifics of it until you actually start the game
- Lady Anka, psychic for the psychometry, basically this setting's councilor/psychiatrist. Psychometry deals with the minds of your crew, and is supposed to involve keeping your crew sane. I'm not sure she helps much in practice. She has something of a priestly role, or at least a mystic's take on things. Other officers suggest she has something of a god complex. I suppose a priest or prophet fulfills that same criteria.
- Sharron Dionis, engineer and synth. The engineer is the most overworked member of your crew because there is just always something for her to do. Research something, build something, deconstruct something, attach a weapon to the ship, upgrade the ship. Its no surprise that she is the one who most frequently goes nuts. I think she's the only person I ever had in the engineer role, she was even in the demo back in the day, IIRC. Feels appropriate having a synth on staff, since that's what sparked this whole mess. By far the most helpful of the characters to talk to, as she actually talks about the equipment you have to use in depth, which is told through help files, but having a character explain things in-universe works for immersion. Also the only member of the crew with a normal sounding name.
- Rinus Murthoran science officer and top-class xenobiologist. I'm not sure what a xenobiologist is in context, or what use one is when we don't touch down on planets. He's all about planets and scanning planets...and detecting other ships for some reason. Rinus is the most informative about subjects in his expertise, but sometimes shockingly drops the ball in a major way.
- Kraithan Blood, a career criminal in security. Security deals with non-verbal interactions with other aliens. Basically, retreating and attacking. There aren't really a lot of good choices for security, as it was either him or a couple of sports players who have low sanity, which isn't great early on. A man of few words and fewer you'd like to hear. Unlike the others, Blood is both unfriendly to you, and happy to be an encode in a jar. A contrarian to others opinions, but not necessarily in a stupid way.
|Ohron really looks like a guy who's way out of his depth, too
- Ohron Braktis, average guy as astrogation. There are much better characters to pick, both from a story perspective and a stat perspective. He's probably the lowest average stats, but astrogation isn't a particularly dangerous task, so this comes into play less. This had a weird effect that later when I could increase stats with the use of an item, which also restore sanity, Ohron kept getting the item even when another character was in the midst of a mental breakdown. His unsuredness because of his averageness fits with the written character. If you ask too many questions about your shared past on Mars, he wonders if you're too incompetent to be the leader.
- Lionna Freedin, the last Magis Dojak, mind manipulators, as medical. The person responsible for the physical bodies, or what counts for them, on the ship. In-game, this basically means changing around encodes and saving your game. Like Sharron, I've always had her as the medical officer, and she too, was in the demo. Its hard for me to think of anyone else as the medical officer. She just is the medical officer. Her writing is of someone not inclined to share her opinion on controversial topics and often makes highly measured statements.
|Not a shot of the early game
- Psychometry, as I said, goes over the mental state of your officers, and is where you can talk to people. You can examine the mental state of an officer, or adjust it. I suppose there's a reason to adjust it, but its always gone badly for me. Instead, I mostly used Psychometry to talk to people, either aliens, which you can do on either planets or in ships, or your crew. I'll get to that in a bit, then the aliens.
- Engineering, the most overworked member of the crew. Engineering does everything from building everything, to deconstructing mysterious items, repairing the ship, adding those items to the ship. There is a never ending supply of items to be deconstructed, and while you get three teams, it can feel like busywork at times. You'll be spending a lot of time with engineering. There's also planetary mining, in which you send down a minebot to extract resources. The big advantage this remaster has over the original is that you get resources quite quickly. You can also access the ship logs you previously unlocked here.
- Science, where you can determine where other ships are, and if they're approaching or fleeing. A star log feature I never had to use that the manual describes as mentioning the composition of each place you've been to/scanned. Science also dictates most in star system actions, like moving around and scanning planets.
- Security, combat, and otherwise dealing with aliens. Raising and lowering weapons and shields. And attacking or retreating. The game also gives you a masking function which the game describes as kind of like a cloaking function, but seems pointless. I'll talk about combat later.
- Astrogation, or star navigation, along with ship status. There are two different ship statuses, a quick one that just tells you what the ship's vital stats are like, hull, fuel, energy/battery and shield, along with one that details everything. You can also activate the quick stats by pressing the thing on the right of any planets you're visiting. Navigation offers a lot of options for moving around. You have a history map, a series of nearby names, and the big 8 sector map of the entire area. The problem with the options are, you get a lot of options and ultimately the big map is the most useful. It tells you most of what the other options do and it tells you a lot you can't find elsewhere.
- Medical, which is...the physical state of the encodes. Even after hearing the explanation of what the medic does I'm still not sure what it actually does. What you get are mostly game related functions. Options, clear screen, and save/load/quit game. You also get encode and decode crew. This allows you to save and load the state of your crew.. Saving and loading these encodes is a key part of early gameplay, as this is the only way you can ensure your crew doesn't go nuts. I'm not actually sure what going nuts does besides show a bunch of annoying pop-ups, but I never felt the desire to find out. If you're trying to be clever, at this point you will have noticed the sleep function, which advances time. This is a trap, while it does advance time for a day and a half, it also tends to summon aliens. Which at this stage tends to be the kind of alien who will then talk about draining your fluids or assimilating you. And they will kill you, but more on that later.
The early game railroads you to a certain degree, but it isn't as annoying as most examples, because this section is just to get you used to playing the game. You have to scan the planet before you can travel anywhere, ensuring you know how to do two key aspects of the game. You can't go anywhere but the next star because Astrogation doesn't know how far a given star is, as you're so far from home that your previous star charts are useless. But you find an encrypted data buoy in the wreckage which quite conveniently has encryption similar to your own. From this you find out where the next buoy is, in a nearby star you conveniently have enough fuel to reach.
Its actually interesting coming back to this section both after having finished the game and having read what the developer didn't put into the game. The first and second buoys are from the Scavenger race, who were destroyed by another alien race, the Sengzhac. Both of these make up the majority of what we would call the bad guys. There are other alien races who are generally hostile to you, but these two groups are the ones who make their desire to kill you, eat you and skin you loud and clear. Other outwardly hostile races have friendlier dialog.
To get those items, you need to scan planets, and stars. But stars come later, as your default probes can only scan planets. Scanning is a slow process and you're going to be doing it a lot. There are four spheres of a planet you need to scan, ground, air, water and life. After a scan you get the composition of that sphere, or what the dominant life on a planet is. After you scan these you can send your probes after anomalies, or loose materials. For me, that aspect consistently slowed the game down when they were on-screen, and they were sometimes obscured by the planet. Thankfully, you can back out of the planet screen and take them via the mining screen. This saves some considerable time.
But before you can build most things, you first need to level up your crew. To do that your primary option is to have them do research. Not something in particular just a button that toggles whether or not a character is increasing their experience. Experience is more of a measure of knowledge than skill in this game, as performing actions does nothing. The early-to-mid game is all about successfully managing this. Experience is important, but it prevents some officers from doing important tasks, like astrogation, or prevents someone from doing multiple tasks at once, engineering. It also tends to result in insanity if you don't give them breaks for a while.
Its also surprisingly easy to get stuff for your ship. Every star has at least one planet, and most tend to have 3+ materials on it. The only planets to not have that much are gas giants. The game gives out resources quite generously with minebots, and later, more advanced versions for more advanced materials. I more or less had the equipment I was going to have for the rest of the game by the time I reached the second sector.
The game has a wide selection of weapons, and I believe the remaster adds quite a few more. There are 7 stats to a gun, range, energy usage, psionic damage, particle damage, inertial damage, energy damage and total damage. The damages are just percentages of the total damage. The first thing to go on any ship is the shield, but after that each damage type goes after a different part of a ship. Psionic goes after life support; Energy other systems; Inertial and particle after the hull. This works in theory, except for two problems.
Energy usage ties into the ship's battery, the secondary fuel, tops off at 32k and cannot be raised. The second is that there are very few alien ships that reach the 200k mark. Only one of these ships represent a serious problem, but by the time you fight those, you know what you're doing. And a lot of the long range weapons are mostly psionic damage based, and generally don't have too high an energy drain. Until you reach combat for the first time against real enemies, you don't really know what's useful. You can fight against drones, but while they can kill you, you basically have to fight them in a weak position.
- Void Dwellers, asteroid inhabitants and information brokers. They have a very even view on things, assuming they know about it. Their presence in the story seems something akin to a introduction to most aliens of the setting, as they don't have much purpose beyond that, as they don't trade. They do play what seems to be a practical joke on the ship.
- Sengzhac, the bugs, and what the game sets up as the villains in the early game. They really want you to know they want to drink your fluids. Because they assume you aren't a brain in a jar. I keep saying that, but I think that's more a metaphorical brain in a jar. I keep saying they, but the Sengzhac are a bug hivemind of some sort. When you talk to them, they say "I will drink your fluids" rather than "We will drink your fluids". They're seeking out something called the God's Eye, which you'll be spending most of the game trying to find what and where it is. Curiously, they're described as both grudge fighters and rapidly changing between at war and at peace.
- The Guild. Shifty traders, but mostly straight-forward. Their backstory is muddled, and involves them genociding another group of aliens by mistake, a group of aliens they held as serfs. As trade is of limited use, I can't say I traded much with them. These guys involve most of the plot elements of the game, I'm not sure why. They don't have much to say and have a one-track mind, even if there's something under the surface.
|There are a lot of weird Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy references in a mostly serious game
- Ermigen, blue sharks, even if you can't call them that. Guess the authors aren't a fan of Crimson Glory. They're one of the more complex aliens. At first, they talk to you like Vogons, talking about destroying stars that become unstable, before revealing themselves as paranoids with impressive ships. Then you find out why they're paranoid, because they suffered extensive destruction in the past and now overcompensate to an incredible degree.
- Titarian, prophets. These guys can see the future. But for all that's worth, they seem constantly afraid. They run away from you, perhaps for good reason. Their visions of the future are visions of seem like visions of sadness. They call their visions paths, as in possible paths the future can take.
- Phaedor Moch, the puppets. These guys are a trip. To start with, they ask you for something so they can repair their ship. Fair enough, they even give you something, a weird glyph thing that comes in handy later. You have no idea what this thing is for until suddenly you need it. These guys talking madly among themselves, the only alien to have multiple characters on-screen, blathering around things that don't make any sense. If you snoop around with the various aliens and by talking to the various puppets, you'll figure out that they have something called a phase drive, which allows fast movement. Unfortunately, they used it on their homeworld, which caused their present difficulties and prevents you from ever reaching there. Or possibly just amplified an already existing division so the proper puppet is no longer in control.
- Quai Pa'loi, the very religious torn apart by a religious war. These guys have the least to say and the most content to dialog ratio. Their whole philosophy is centered around the number four. We are born, we die, and the two things that happen in-between. Making a taxes joke is the lamest thing you could ever do. They talk in very weird ways, something the logs note is a poor translation of whatever their language is. I'm not actually sure what the details of the war is about, but at one point they talk about eight if you mention one of the factions. Later on, you have a quest to end the holy war.
- Icon, the weirdest of the alien races. Rather than talking like everyone else, the game notes their language is entirely physical, using clothes to weave a dialog. I think you need the glyph from the Moch to talk to them. They drive most of the actual plot of the game, as opposed to your own attempts at finding a planet to colonize. They're concerned about the Scavengers, seeking to reform the ancient alliance the Kendar, who defeated the dark kind. Otherwise you could describe them as being on the mystical side, like the Void Dwellers or Titarians, except not as cryptic.
- D'Pahk, the worms. They talk a lot about the light, or the sun. They're weird from a character perspective. Their dialog is all friendly and helpful, while they're one of the usually hostile races and they nearly did in the Moch. They're against anything dark or avoiding the sun, while they desperately desire to become one with the light. They even desire to find out what the God's Eye is. I also like this one quote they have, concerning the Quai: "The table is built with four legs, to add is to encumber and to remove is to stumble, in all there is four."
|Four thousand years could very well be how long it took to reach them in the original game
- Aard, absolute shapeshifters or omnivore xenomorphs, as the science officer calls them. They change forms to anyone they meet and seem to change their personalities and history to that as well. I think. Its pretty hard to fake not having a homeworld. Like the Moch, they require you to give them something at first and don't have a homeworld. Often, others describe them as arrogant or aggressive, but in practice they were some of the less unpleasant aliens. They never attacked me. And given their apparent ability to change personalities, I suspected they were just mimicking what it would be like to talk to a player. Or I'm just interpreting it that way since I met them twice in this course of this run and never before.
- Scavengers, the bad guys of the game. The player kind of screws things up by exchanging data with them, early on. Or at least in theory, its possible to never talk to them. The scavs, as you can call them, are aggressive assimilators. Only like the Borg in vague similarity, because these guys aren't anywhere close to invulnerable, nor are they as calm about things like the Borg. These guys are fairly easy to kill, and they want you to know they're going to kill you, and they're going to enjoy it.
- Generic races. The game also features worlds containing generic aliens, some friendly, some hostile, and some indifferent. I don't have anything to say about them, because there's no point. Except that the homeworld of any spacefaring aliens is shielded, meaning you can't scan it. After a while I just avoided them.
- Your own crew can be talked to of course, but you can't trade with them. Because you're their laird/lord. That is how they call you. This is a more dynamic system than the others, they actually react to things you find and do in the world. You can't just ask them about the Aard before you have any reason to know who they are, they'll ignore you.
You can trade with all these aliens. Why? Uh...I guess they might have something you want or you might want to try to improve relations with them? I'm not sure that works, but I tended to do just one or two and it probably takes dozens to improve relations. Getting items is limited to the early section, when you don't have a million things on your ship, but then you also have to worry about Scavengers appearing at the one point they're a threat to you. I imagine there's some ability for retreating to fail, but I rarely see that.
An aspect you aren't going to see until you're pretty far into the game is that getting/completing objectives/logs from aliens is just a matter of initiating a dialog with them. You talk to them, then bye and the plot advances. I find this annoying. A similar thing happens with scanning, no matter what you do, as long as you hit the scan screen something happens
The story takes a while to actually get to, because while you meet some of the aliens early on, you're just building up the various background elements. Long ago there was an alliance called the Kendar, who fought against the Dark Kind. The Dark Kind were deadly, and somehow the Kendar managed to defeat them. How these things happened is a mystery, because nearly every race has a different answer. They all claim they were the leaders, and the ones who killed the Dark Kind. A bunch of different races claim to have the technology of them, sometimes others claim they do. You never really find out what the true answer is, but you do uncover the truth of some events.
Everyone has shields, they basically just trade energy for damage resistance. This isn't really a problem except they outstrip energy regeneration, and thus for the player it seems like they're more a negative than a positive. Enemies wait to turn on their shields until you're approaching...and its a constant energy drain for them. But when you're approaching isn't necessarily when you're in range of your weapons, so they wasted energy on it. If you wait for it to drain, then all of a sudden their shield is turning off. With something like the Ochron Embyrons, the weapon with 400k range which deals psionic damage, you can basically just shoot them down now. Most of the really long range weapons are like this, dealing psionic damage, meaning they take out enemy life support. A fragile system. And most of the long distance weapons don't have high energy costs. Its actually the shorter ranged weapons which get to absurd amounts, outside of the end game weapons.
So there's not really much strategy to this, just click on an enemy ship, go towards it, maybe speeding time up, and then clicking on your weapons when they turn green. The game offers you a few other options, but what's the point? Just hear the roar of your weapons as your enemies are exposed to the cold vacuum of space. Assuming there's anything left.
I can't help but think this could be fixed with a little bit of rebalancing. Maybe the psionic weapons should not be the lowest costing weapons with the highest range. It doesn't really matter if they don't deal that much damage when the system they're damaging doesn't have that much health to begin with. And then make the weapons which just damage systems or the hull have a higher range. The shortest range weapons, the ones under 100k are all basically useless because by the time you get close enough to use those you're probably in a bad situation. There's no way you'd use the high damaging, high energy usage Corse Grenades without setting it up, because their puny range of 10k is the shortest of ANYTHING in the game.
Musically, the game's one of the very best. It was created by demoscene musician Andrew "Necros" Saga. You might recognize some of his work from Crusader: No Regret, Freelancer or Unreal Tournament. Everything feels like it should, or at least it did in the original version. There are a few weird changes here. Originally, you had ambient tracks for exploration, which fit well since this is what you were looking at for most of the game. Then you had more high energy tracks for building stuff and looking through your equipment. Finally, communication had a unique track for each alien you talked to, along with talking with your crew. The communication tracks in particular worked really well, fitting each alien like a glove.
But a minor issue with this remaster is that the tracks get changes around a bit. Rather than the default game music being ambient, that is, the track you see while you're looking through the command cube, is now the one that used to be in cargo, and now all the tracks have been changed around in strange ways. On the plus side, the changing of tracks between sections is much smoother now.
So, let's talk about why it too me so long to finish this game and why I actually bought a remaster. Space is big. I know that quote is somewhat overused, but its true for every space game. Our galaxy consists of billions of stars across more light years. Ironseed isn't that big, but I know its at least 250 stars. That's an achievement. Its tricky to determine how many there really are, as the game doesn't provide an easy way of finding out. It provides a list of all the stars in a particular sector, but its hard to know if you've found all the stars there because the game won't show some stars unless you fly directly towards the area of space they're in, including one plot important planet.
In practice, you're talking about a star on average every 10 minutes, which is discounting anything you might do there beyond scanning a planet/star, taking apart any unknown items, and going to the next planet. Its good value for money, but that's a 40 hour game before getting into any real content. And of course because of this bigness and the fact that the player doesn't know where any of the valuable objects are, he can't really skip a lot of systems. He can't skip any systems, because some stars don't appear unless you're right on top of it.
The game is hard sci-fi, at least in theory. I remember reaching the year 4000 quite easily when I played the original. Here I won the game before then, which included exploring a lot of space. Which is a considerable sum of light years, and that seems to have mostly been in star systems rather than between star systems. The issue is the game tells us this is near light speed, and the distance on the sector screen is in light years. But I have to be traveling considerably faster than that.
Interestingly, this isn't a problem with the game's choice to use Mars time. I checked both versions. The original is accurate enough to light speed, while the remake doesn't even pretend to care. I guess the original could be using Mars light years, but that makes everything seem far apart. Its already a sparse section of space despite how many stars there are. This brings up an interesting astronomical question I hadn't really thought about before. Light year is very much defined by what planet you live on. Even parsecs can't escape this, even if they're more properly defined by astronomical units. In astronomical units a parsec is defined as 206000 AUs. Which sounds nice, until you realize that an AU is very specific and defined as the rough distance between the Earth and the sun. As someone interested in creating a universe in which the aliens aren't defined as mere side characters to humans these are the kinds of questions I'm interested in.
Back to the game, the slow speed tracked. It feels like someone slowly traveling across a dying universe, occasionally meeting other aliens who managed to develop interstellar travel or the odd species that managed to buck their trend of dying for a time. You will never find a planet with an oxygen atmosphere. Even in the remake the game won't do it. Its possible that the planets of friendly aliens have oxygen rich atmospheres, but they have shields and its kind of rude to steal their planet, don't you think? You'd think the Guild would know though.
I can't help but think that the authors wrote themselves into a corner with the Mars plot and then couldn't connect it properly to the rest of the game. Plus if we look back to the backstory, we terraformed Mars. Why can't I terraform some random world? I can mine stars, can't I use those materials to make a new Earth?
Now, the remaster isn't exactly a straight upgrade. There are some things that are better and some things that are worse. The original was a very highly polished work, an absolute marvel of the late DOS era. An audio-visual spectacle, with music unsurpassed by any computer game at the time and some of the best 2D art that was possible at the time. Despite its complexity, the game ran quite smoothly and without any errors. In contrast, the remaster, while it does look nicer in some aspects and has a few more gameplay aspects like asteroids, more planets and weapons, is less polished.
There are a bunch of spelling mistakes in the game now that weren't there before, or a lowercase I. But what's truly awful about this is that one of the alien races, the Titarians, are consistently called Titerian in-game even though you have to type Titarian. At least when you actually meet them you see their name as Titarian, but this is kind of a problem.
There's also an item the game teases at you from the start called Thermoplast, which allows you to build some weapons and more importantly, scan stars. The game throws some reasonably accurate sounding science at me when I finally find it...but that last bit is a lie. I found some as early as the first sector, because unknown components sometimes give you Thermoplast. So by the second sector I had a full complement of star probes, a star miner, and two weapons that require Theromplast. I didn't even need thermoplast for the last bit, I could just construct the ultimate weapon without a single piece of Thermoplast, the game would just allow me to build it if I technically had the required base materials. Because you can build anything you have the components for, even if some of those components would be used by multiple objects in an items construction.
This doesn't help the overall feeling the game has of just being incredibly easy. The game showers you with components, as if to apologize for how the original didn't give you much. The thing is there's a difference between not getting anything if you stay in the same star system no matter what and getting a material in a few days. And a day in this game is relatively fast. I shouldn't have to decide between effectively infinite materials and absolutely no chance of survival.
Asteroids and dead worlds give artifacts you have to research, and this tied into the game becoming easy. Artifacts sometimes give a random crew member XP, so my crew was at level 20 before we had met half the aliens we were supposed to have stolen the technology from! Artifacts also improve aspects of the ship, everything except the battery, which can't be upgraded, weapon nodes and cargo space, which I upgraded plenty anyway. Even better, it sometimes upgrades fuel capacity. By the second sector I went to, my ship was basically maxed out in everything it could be, and slowly getting a stronger hull and incredible fuel capacity. If I didn't do it this way, I would miss one of the stars where an important event happens.
The game's updated dialog systems have a few issues. If you play on easy, you get a different way of talking to aliens. Rather than keywords, you can select words from a dropdown menu. The thing is, this exposes some flaws in the system. For some aliens, wildly different keywords sometimes leads to the same answer. In this system, those keywords are shown on the same line. So its obvious you just get the same response. And it just gives you all the keywords at once, which feels like it takes the joy out of the dialog system. I think the dialog system would be better if in addition to typing things in, you could also click on keywords, in the case of some alien whose name is hard to type.
But a different problem is that I didn't lose the shunt drive. I still had it. Hell, sometimes I didn't even "lose" the shunt drive, I got another one. Once I had the problem that I was getting another shunt drive every tenth of a second or so. They didn't take up any space but that seemed like a dangerous game to play. This isn't the worst of the plot relevant issues, but its the one I can tell you without spoiling anything.
The pirate also connects to a different problem. The game makes a big show of how getting to him is tricky...but I found him long beforehand. I had to look up how to find some other planet because it wouldn't show up on my star map, even if I was on every star around it. If you're going through stars extensively, like you have no choice not to, you're very likely to find the pirate's base and Icon before finding the shunt drive.
I have a problem with this on a fundamental level. Ironseed is a large game, sure, but the important moving parts are all small. I would be understanding if it was something like some random planet glitching out once in a while or a minor race not functioning correctly. But for the plot elements of your game? It doesn't help that there is a concern about the game breaking completely, so there's reason you'll want to check a walkthrough to make sure you aren't going to break something.
And despite my past fondness for the game, I see some cracks forming in the way the game is set up. While I presume that this all worked better in the DOS version, I do note that some things are still inconvenient to do. To win the game you need to get a number of aliens to join an alliance. Some of these aliens don't have homeworlds, and thus you need to rely on the game to allow you to talk to them. While there may be better chances to find certain aliens in certain sections of the galaxy, in practice I could just sit somewhere, wait, then talk to whoever showed up. Sometimes the Scavengers showed up, and I reloaded. Not because I couldn't win, but because I didn't want to have to deconstruct more stuff. I was already long since full up.
And as a result of these elements, I ended up playing this game for some 35 hours. I suspect a proper playthrough would take about 60. Those missing hours are very much a case of however much you want to play it. Its a very moody game, and you're rarely in danger unless you ask for it. As a result its a fairly relaxing game. Spend a hour scanning a few planets, make sure the cargo hold isn't about to overflow. Just slowly take the galaxy in stride.
That said, I feel like there were a few easy fixes for some of my issues. Make more alien and crew dialog dependent on your actions. Make those items dependent on actions or events. The second might be a bit complex, but looking through the old version's game files, that was definitely possible. And find some way to put pressure on the player in the early game. Rather than aliens only coming after you should you choose to meet then, the aliens come after you without hitting a button that basically just summons aliens. The Scavengers and Sengzhac are supposed to be hostile races, but it feels like as long as I never reach their star system I'm basically safe.
And retreat shouldn't be an option, the only retreat should be to another star. Where am I going? Are they just giving up because I went on the other side of a planet? Meanwhile, you travel across the stars they stick to you like glue. Then make masking a viable option, but also have it completely stop all stuff going on your ship.
The ending, for the most part, goes how you would expect it. The Scavengers are defeated and you find a nice inhabitable world to colonize. A shift in tone, but more or less an inevitability, as there has to be a carrot at the end of the stick. Its pretty satisfying, but you know how it is when you finally finish a game you've been playing for a long time, but never got there. I was only left with one question at the end...
...Who is Muriel? The Void Dwellers can be asked about some random woman for seemingly no reason...until you read the developer documents. Its not that different from the finished product, except that in addition to taking out the Scavengers, you have to get past the Sengzhac. Once you read this stuff the game makes more sense. Part of the shift must have been late in development, because you can still see signs that the Sengzhac are being set up as the ultimate conflict even in your own logs. The only change for a lot of events from the development documents is that the game's version is usually just done through a log. Undoubtedly not done that way because they couldn't get decent enough art assets for it. (the two main developers of the game are not primarily artists)
But Muriel is different, because her plotline was completely excised from the game. This greatly shifts the Scavengers from what they were in the end product to the creation of humanity. A woman from a former Luna colony could be found, and Muriel would be her robot daughter. You would rescue her from the Scavengers, only before you could plot up how to keep her on your ship in stasis, she would encode herself. I suspect the reason for her disappearance is because there would have been no easy way to stick her in the game, except as a replacement for one of your crew.
Can I recommend Ironseed? Yes. Can I recommend the remastered version? I don't know. Its still a good game, and I genuinely want the authors to make that Ironseed sequel they keep teasing over the years, but I doubt we'll ever get it. Plus, the primary benefits of the remaster, the new planet designs and being able to get materials at a reasonable pace, don't feel like that much of an improvement or feel like cheating. It feels like you really have to impose restrictions on yourself to maximize the fun of, something this remaster doesn't help.