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Enemies in Starbound come in two varieties: those who will attack the player on sight, and those who won't attack unless attacked.
There are three major combat-specific abilities: melee attacks, ranged attacks, and blocking. These abilities are tied to weapon choice. Combat weapons can be one-handed, allowing the use of another offhand weapon or a shield, or two handed, giving more damage and granting access to special abilities at the cost of versatility.
Many other factors influence the outcomes of combat. Status Effects, whether from damage, Food, Stim Packs or other sources, can affect either combatant. Healing items, especially Bandages and Nanowrap Bandages, allow players to quickly recover from damage. Bringing Crew or deploying a pet from a filled Capture Pod can even the odds against multiple opponents. Mobility-boosting Techs can help the player avoid damage entirely.
A melee attack is a close-range attack which usually knocks the target back a good . Many Weapons can perform melee attacks - the most common ones are Broadswords, Shortswords, Hammers, Daggers, Axes, and Spears.
Melee attacks are possible with either 2-handed or single handed weapons. The latter can be used whilst holding another item, such as a Shield, making them more versatile than 2-handed weapons. However, 2-handed weapons have special alt abilities that usually consume Energy to perform.
These ranged weapons come in a variety of types. Unlike melee weapons, ranged weapons generally consume energy for both primary and alt abilities (if the item has an alt ability) - the quantity of energy consumed depends on the weapon type and, for 2-handed ranged weapons, which ability is being used. Thrown weapons, including some Consumables, are the only ranged weapons which do not consume energy.
Blocking, which is used to mitigate or neutralize attack damage, usually occurs by raising a dedicated Shield. Certain items, including the Magnorbs or common broadswords with the Parry ability, can also act as shields, though usually with additional restrictions.
Attacks that are blocked with a shield will deplete the "health" of the shield, which slowly regenerates over time. When the health of a shield is fully depleted, it will break and the player will be forced to lower the shield, incurring a cooldown period before the shield can be raised again.
If the player achieves a so-called "perfect block," which occurs when they raise a shield just as an attack hits, the shield health will not be damaged by that hit, and the perfect block effect's duration will be refreshed. If the player is being pelted by attacks at a high enough rate, the perfect block mechanic can let a shield absorb all hits without taking damage for up to 1 second after the shield is raised - after this time, the shield will begin to take damage normally.
While a shield is raised, the player is forced to move at walking speed rather than running speed.
Blocking an attack was originally supposed to enable the player to counter-attack with a more powerful attack that was always a critical hit. Tiy stated in the past that they were trying the idea of 'stacking' blocks, allowing each block to make a follow-up attack more powerful. However, this mechanic has not made it into the game as of version 1.1.1.