Escape Velocity Nova Reviews

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Sprawling map to explore, 6 major factions, as many major storylines, I found all of them enjoyable, with a lot of minor details that can change what you get out of it, ie being a member of Sigma Shipyards allows you to get a ship outfit in the Federation storyline that allows you to extend your Shield Cap. Also the reverse, such as if you happen to be in the Polaris Storyline and also are a United Shipping Courier, you can get access to a set of missions from United Shipping that eventually unlocks another variety of missions from them that you can select if ever looking for quick money. As already mentioned, there are side quests, such as those for United Shipping and Sigma Shipyards, that will give you access (assuming you don't fail) to something, often more missions of that type, though sometimes also some Tech, or being able to ask for help from that group for free whenever another member is in the same system as you.

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Actually, Sigma Shipyards and United Shipping are independent of any factions. You can play the game without ever joining a faction but you will miss out on the faction's ships and upgrades. But you can still do Sigma and United Shipping missions.
You can conquer the galaxy without ever joining a faction (if you are skilled enough, extremely hard to do even with the Polaris ships and upgrades).
I see the factions as a boon to my conquest, not my destination. I have captured the pirate carrier without any faction and amassed a pirate carrier fleet, then unlocked the Sigma missions and upgrades. All you have to do is refuse all missions in the bars except for the independent ones.