Currently, this game only has a single thing going on: show up at station/base, shoot stuff, leave.
There’s currently nothing beyond that. Sure, you’ll have big battles, but there isn’t really any difference between early game and late game, other than “hey there are more capital ships around here”.
Getting straight to the point, I think that adding depth to the system could be fairly easily achieved by making station attacks a multi-step process. Here’s one way I envision it happening.
In brief, my suggestion revolves around the implementation of a large nigh-impenetrable siege shield around each station. The siege shield would prevent any direct attack on the station.
The siege shield would simply be a very large bubble of say 20km in diameter that would encompass the station and all surrounding structures, including the Capital Ship Launcher I mentioned in a previous suggestion. The siege shield should have a huge hit point value, and also prevent enemy players from passing through it. However the siege shield is continuously dropping it’s hit point value, and does not re-charge on it’s own.
The maintenance of the siege shield is directly tied to regular deliveries made by the hauler. The hauler is in charge of not only generating credits for the team but also for the protection of the team’s most important assets. Therefore, the protection of the haulers is paramount to the longevity of the team, while also being a prime target for the enemy.
This provides two options for the opposing team when trying to destroy a station:
Intercepting enough haulers. This can be more easily completed by a smaller group of players, and readily achievable by non-capital ships. This would probably be the main strategy used for early game.
Expanding on this idea, once a hauler is intercepted in warp and starts taking damage, the AI commanders start a battle at the location of the hauler, and the hauler has it’s warp engine knocked out of action for ~10 minutes. AI Fleets warp in, and the early “big battles” would be re-directed here. The enemy must destroy the hauler within the 10 minute window, or the hauler will continue it’s journey, unable to be interrupted again. To give the hauler more survivability, the hauler should have a mini-siege shield or similar device. This will encourage a more balanced attack group composition, once specialized weapons are available.
Destroying the planet-side base. This should be a major endeavor. Once the planet nuking ability for cruisers are implemented this would be a shortcut to destroying a base, but otherwise it would entail a strong number of strike-craft. Because bases are now much more valuable, being directly tied to the creation of the haulers and subsequent siege shield upkeep, they should be more adequately defended with many more defense turrets, capable of attacking planet bombing cruisers in orbit and destroyers foolish enough to descend.
To counter the siege cruisers, specialized turrets capable of intercepting ordinance from the siege cruisers would provide an arena style defense, requiring strike craft to take them down to allow for destruction.
If the hauler supplies are interrupted, the siege shield eventually will wear down to a certain point, but not actually drop. To drop the siege shield, an offensive must be made in a massive end-game battle. Have planet bombing cruisers and bombers spamming ordinance at the shield, outer station defenses intercepting torpedos, counter attack groups trying to destroy the cruisers, etc.
The outer defenses of a station should be upgraded as well, ranging from small anti-strike craft and torpedo platforms to veritable mini bases, with mk 6 or 7 guns, as well as the arena anti-siege cruiser ordinance defense system.
Currently, other than fun-factor, there’s no reason to do anything but grind as quickly as possible to cruisers. This idea does some interesting things to player progression through the match, and could be expanded upon to further emphasize the use of strike craft throughout the match length.
In just this concept alone, strike craft would be in charge of interception of the haulers, would be the only really effective means to attack a planet side base, as well as being principally involved with the attack and defense of the arena defense stations both planet side and in space, etc.