Infinite Space is a game about adventuring through the galaxy, but its best parts have nothing to do with the things you associate with a space opera. The story of a young boy assembling a rag-tag crew to fight evil and uncover his destiny is ordinary, and the combat system does what it can to capture strategic starship battles. However, the game’s depth and true spirit lie elsewhere.

The heart of the game is in ship creation and management. To build a ship you have to buy blueprints, but mixing and matching the modules is what ultimately gives the ship its characteristics and what delivers the fun. Unlike many upgrade systems, it’s not just a case of buying the best laser turret or shield generator at the shop. Every ship mod you add takes up space on your ship. Moreover, mods come in different shapes and sizes, which means everything has to fit in the ship’s grid of boxes.

Far from being frustrating, I loved the challenge of arranging mods and the strategy in balancing the tradeoffs among them. I was also impressed with the sheer amount of mods: mess halls, navigation bridges, radar rooms, crew cabins, security rooms, and much more can all be added along with your standard complement of weapons, shields, and engines. Given that you can cruise the galaxy with up to five ships at once, you can build a whole fleet to your own specifications.

If the mods define your ships, your crew optimizes them. There are 33 crew positions, and while you don’t have to have someone in every spot, a crew member gives you combat bonuses, and much of the game’s story exploration is tied to recruiting new people. Unfortunately, scouring every tavern in the galaxy for hired hands is part of what bogs down Infinite Space. On multiple occasions, I missed the chance to hire a crew member or skipped a plot point because I simply didn’t go to a specific tavern enough times, which is frustrating.

Despite all the preparations that you put into your fleet, the real-time combat is the weak link because of the basic rock-paper-scissors gameplay (for both ship-to-ship and melee combat) that doesn’t hold up through all the grinding and random encounters. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t deliver the payoff (and neither do the isolated multiplayer battles) after the time you spend on the more exciting ship building. I guess it’s true what they say: It’s better to create than to destroy.