This is gonna be a long'ish read so bear with me.
One thing I feel sorely needs to get some love is multi-crew mechanics, both for multiplayer crews and especially for NPC crews.
As it stands right now, there's currently zero reason to hire an NPC crew member unless you want to utilize them for piloting an SLF and even then, there is absolutely no reason to hire more than one yet for some reason we have the ability to keep multiple crew members on our payroll sitting at a lounge serving little purpose and eating up our credit profits.
That being said, I wanted a spitball some proposals here to build on this area of the game and hope that the Fdev gods might at least consider it.
A big thing that could be done would be to give NPCs a bit more utility outside of keep the seats of our SLFs warm. A simple way to do this would be to give different NPCs a random set of perks which would go a long way towards making each crewmember feel like they are actually playing an important and unique role within the team.
If anyone here has played the XCOM series then this sort of perk system I'm trying to describe here might sound familiar because that's where I'm drawing inspiration from here though it doesn't even have to be that complex.
For some examples of possible traits…
—Veteran Combat Pilot—
Starts with a higher level of ship-to-ship combat skill and their combat ability scales higher as they rank up.
-Exceptionally good in an SLF but may sometimes ignore your orders while in combat meaning they will sometimes engage enemies at their own discretion or refuse to break from an engagement which may or may not cause problems for you in certain situations.
-Military related passengers will be put off by their cavalier attitude which will make it somewhat harder to keep them satisfied during transportation missions.
Spends more time evading incoming fire and defensive texting than they do shooting back increasing things like the longevity of your SLFs at the cost of potential damage output. (Not compatible with 'Aggressive Tactics' trait)
Spends more time shooting but doesn't bother as much to evade incoming fire increasing the damage done to enemies but at the risk of them getting shot down quicker. (Not compatible with 'Defensive Tactics' trait).
Won't relent even when shields are low. (Not compatible with 'Cautious' trait)
Will start taking more evasive action when shields drop below 60% (Not compatible with 'Fearless' trait)
Grants a slight buff to buy-and-sell prices at commodity markets.
Grants a slight buff to buy-and-sell prices at black markets.
Grants a slight increase in mission rewards.
Grants a slight increase to the storage capacity of cargo hold.
Gives you a slight buff to your fuel efficiency and minor increase to jump range. Will provi
Improves efficiency of anything tied to to systems pips.
Improves efficiency of anything tied to weapons pips.
Improves efficiency of anything tied to engine pips.
—Expert Gunner —
Grants buff to accuracy and damage of turret weaponry.
Slightly improves coverage of planetary scanners, provides minor increase to the speed of discovery scanner, and gives a slight value increase to Universal Cartographics payouts. Also makes it a bit easier to keep passengers happy during Long-range Exploration VIP transport missions.
Makes keeping passengers satisfied during tourist VIP transport missions a bit easier.
Has good etiquette making it easier to keep high class VIP passengers such as Rich Tourists, CEOs, Politicians, and Celebrities satisfied but can irritate the lower class and criminal types making it harder to keep them satisfied. (Not compatible with 'Ex Con' trait)
Gets along well with Criminal Mind type passengers making it easier to keep them satisfied but can be off putting to higher class passengers such as Rich tourists, CEOs, Politicians, and Celebrities making it harder to keep them satisfied. (Not compatible with 'Posh' trait)
More effective in on-foot combat engagements. (Assuming Fdev even plans on allowing us to bring NPCs along with us on foot). Also gets along better with military types making it generally easier to keep military related passengers satisfied during transportation missions.
Grants a slight increase to reputation gains with minor Imperial factions. Provides slight increase to satisfaction of Imperial politicians during passenger transportation missions.
Grants a slight increase to reputation gains with minor Federation factions. Provides slight increase to satisfaction of Federation politicians during passenger transportation missions.
Grants a slight increase to reputation gains with minor Alliance factions. Provides slight increase to satisfaction of Alliance politicians during passenger transportation missions.
Grants slight increase to reputation gains with minor Independent factions. Provides slight increase to satisfaction of independent politicians during passenger transportation missions.
Grants slight buff to the effectiveness of your scanners (Increased range and scanning speed).
Grants slight increase to mining yields.
—Veteran Head Hunter—
Provides slight increase in payout for bounties.
Provides a slight increase to payout for combat bonds.
—Veteran Xeno Hunter—
Provides buff to damage against Thargoid targets and buffs defense against Thargoid attacks. Provides slight increase to payout on Thargoid hunting activities.
—Friends In High Places—
Slightly reduces the amount of bounties and fines that you might incur while doing illegal activities.
Sometimes when scooping engineering materials there is a chance you might gain an extra copy of the item.
Slightly increases experience gained for the rest of the crew.
Slightly decreases the upkeep costs of the rest of your crew.
Can be hired for cheap and will take a smaller cut from your profits. They're overall starting combat skill is lower but they also have a lower upkeep ceiling similar to hiring and training up a "harmless" NPC. Initially, these NPCs come with no extra traits but after some time, their "Eager Rookie" trait will be replaced with a random attribute which will be related to whatever activities you do most while they are with you.
These are just a handful of examples off the top of my head and I'm sure some of you could probably think of plenty more.
Some NPCs might have only one perk, while some might have a combination of any two. Obviously if they come with two perks they will demand better pay.
There could be a flavorful assortment of background stories assigned that fit whatever combination of perks they come with.
Implement A Loyalty System
Another simple way to give NPC crew members a bit more personality would be if they actually had some sort of personal desire or sense of aspiration. Something like a set of personal goals which – if you satisfy – will reward you in some form or another; perhaps by decreasing their profit take a little bit as they gain more loyalty to you which will decay at a pace which is slow enough to not feel like it's a chore to maintain but quickly enough that you still need to keep their personal goals in the back of your mind. For a bit of added depth there could even be a list of things that would also hurt their loyalty towards you and if you lose too much loyalty, either by ignoring their aspirations or committing acts which they don't like you run the risk of them quitting.
These goals could easily be tied into the background story and bring more meaning to who they are whereas with the current system I couldn't even tell you what my current crew member's background story is because unfortunately his story means absolutely nothing to me; all that matters is if he can pilot an SLF effectively. He might as well be a drone.
So like, say a crew member's background story indicates that their family was killed by pirates. In this case their aspiration would be to hunt down pirates and by doing so you can quickly earn their loyalty but they will be angered if you murder any innocents.
Or maybe a different crew member has aspirations to be a trader and you earn their loyalty simply by making profits on trades and will lose loyalty if you aren't trading or sell commodities at a loss.
Maybe have a "crew request" objective which automatically gets assigned to you every once in a while and gives you a certain amount of time to complete it like any other mission. Completing the objective could net you a fair bit of loyalty while ignoring it would take away some.
For people who don't want to mess with this sort of system there could still be an assortment of NPC crew members who are just mercenaries in it for the paycheck and don't care what you do as long as they get their cut or you could just carry on playing solo without crew members. This change would just make NPCs more interesting enough to actually care about.
Expand crew size
It seems rather strange that some ships have three seats yet for some reason we can only take a single crew member at a time.
Give us the ability to have one crew member per seat. So something like a Krait Mk2 could have two NPCs.
From there, we could further expand the crew size by having the ability to choose from a variety of 'Crew Cabin' modules which come in different qualities that would expand the max crew size while also lowering the upkeep of each crewmember aboard to a reasonable but appreciable level. The trade-off for losing an optional slot and having to pay out a more sizable share of profits – even after the modifier that the crew cabin would bring – would be well worth it to some players. This would definitely take some experimenting to get the balancing right but it can be done.
Bring Back The Fear of Loss
With the simple changes above, players may start to actually feel a sense of attachment to their crewmates. Bringing back NPC crew member permadeath would add an extra emotional layer to the game.
Again, I want to call back to the XCOM series here. The way that game manages to get you attached to your crew makes it all the more heart wrenching when one of them dies during a dangerous mission.
This isn't to say that it should be the way it was before where your NPC is guaranteed to be killed when your ship is destroyed. That would be a little too unforgiving. Maybe a good approach here would be to have a number of potential outcomes with there being an ever present chance that you could forever lose a crewmate to perma-death.
One way to go about this could be after you are destroyed and respawn back at your nearest station you are presented with an aftermath report with several possible outcomes for each crew member as follows…
"Survived: Ready to return to action."
In this case they escaped the destruction of the ship and are ready to return to action immediately.
"Survived: Wounded (Insert recovery time)"
In this case they escaped the destruction of the ship but not without serious injury and need some time to recover ranging from 30 minutes of in-game time up to many hours. During this time they will be stuck in the crew lounge and still taking a cut of your profits (though a smaller amount than they would if they were active). You have the option to pay an amount relative to their remaining recovery time to "retire" them immediately if you wish.
"Survived: Critically Wounded"
In this case the crew member narrowly escaped death and is in critical condition. You would be able to save them by paying a sizable amount of credits without a certain amount of time at which point their status will change to "Wounded" and they will have a significant recovery time before they can be brought back out again. Doing this could award you a boost in loyalty with them for dishing out the cash to save their life.
"Missing In Action: Status Unknown"
In this case, the crew member went missing after the destruction of your ship. When this happens you can quickly return to the area near where you were destroyed and super cruise around for a bit checking unknown signals nearby for a chance to pick up an "SOS (Threat 0 through 3) where you might them drifting in an escape pod which you can recover and get them back at in one of the three states mentioned earlier ("Ready", "Wounded", or "Critically Wounded". Rescuing them will reward you with a significant loyalty bonus which will stack with a bonus if they are found to be "critically wounded" and you pay the fee to save their life.
If you don't managed to recover them there is a chance that you might never see them again but there could be a number of other possible ways that they might find their way back to you including but not limited to…
–Pirates send a message to inform you that they found your missing crewmate drifting in space and they are holding them as their prisoner. From here they will offer to ransom your crewmate back to you, giving you a limited amount of time to meet their demands. Accepting and paying will result in your crewmate being returned with a big boost to their loyalty. Declining could result in you never hearing from the crewmate again or… it could result in you being randomly interdicted by your old companion later who apparently escaped the pirates somehow and tracked you down to take revenge on you for abandoning them at which point you will have to either kill them or escape. Escaping might mean they find you
–Your missing crewmate might randomly contact you later when you stop at a station informing you that they survived and heard you were in the area so they tracked you down. From here, depending on their loyalty with you when they went missing they might tell you a quick story of how they survived before offering to return to your service. They might join back up immediately without any fuss or they might mention that they would need a certain amount of money so they can square up some debts or maybe just because they need the motivation to put themselves back in harms way in your service again.
I'll stop here because I've gone probably on too long but as you can imagine, the "Missing In Action" status leaves open a lot of potential for Fdev to get creative here.
And of course we have the last potential status…
"KIA: Confirmed Dead"
Your crew member died in the explosion and they are forever gone.
Anyway, the point is, if the game can managed to implement changes that give you some sort of sense of attachment to your crew, the threat of losing your crewmates would add a whole new dynamic to the game.
Of course, as I've already said, if you don't want to mess with this then you wouldn't have to. The game would remain perfectly playable without crewmates just as it was before, this just opens up the potential for solo play to feel like a less lonely experience.
Anyway, I'll stop here for now. I could go into more detail but I feel like I've laid out enough here to make the point.