The Tier system is the fundamental order of player progression in Starbound.
Though it is never directly communicated to the player in-game, Tiers dictate how difficult a play area's monsters and enemy NPCs are to deal with, what Biomes and Ores are available, the strength of found/crafted Weapons and Armor, Merchant stock and Treasure generation in an area, and much more.
In a nutshell, the player starts at Tier 1 with precious little, and must acquire Tier 1 gear in order to successfully survive the areas available to them. Eventually they will unlock access to the next Tier and the process starts over again, exploring new areas and acquiring stronger gear to tackle more difficult areas.
Tiers and NPCs
One important factor in the Tier system is how it affects NPCs, both friendly and hostile. This is largely dictated by where the NPC is spawned, but there are a few exceptions.
For non-allied NPCs, the Tier of the area they are spawned in dictates their hit points, damage output, and armor class. This holds true for any NPC regardless of their attitude towards the player. Basically, the higher the area's Tier, the tougher its population is in a fight, just as it is with Monsters.
Merchant stock is dictated by the spawn location's Tier, whether they be "permanent" residents, temporary Merchants summoned by a Quest, or summoned by the player as a Tenant via Colony Deed. Any procedurally-generated Weapons or Armor the Merchant carries will be at their location's Tier. "Specialty" merchants who do not carry combat gear are of course exempt from this.
Location Tiers also affect Tenant rents. The higher the Tier, the larger the amount of Pixels the Tenant will pay out. If the Tenant pays with a procedurally-generated weapon, it will be at the planet's Tier.
Ally NPCs -Crew, Pets, and Guard Tenant- do not use spawn locations for their stats. Crew and Pets have a baseline stat set (effectively Tier 1) that is then multiplied by the player's currently-equipped Armor Tier, regardless of the Tier of planet they were hired/captured from. Because of this, the player can keep their Crew/Pets of choice as they proceed through the game and they will grow in strength with the player, though both will always be considerably weaker than the player at all times. They're not going to be doing all the hard work for you at any time.
Guard Tenants have their stats dictated solely by the Tags of the objects in their room when a Colony Deed is placed. "Generic" player-race Tenant Guards get their stats by having enough objects crafted from Ores in their room, from Iron (Tier 1) to Durasteel (Tier 4). "Themed" Tenant Guards, such as the Fenerox or Rainbow Rogues, have a single permanently-set Tier. No Guard Tenant can be stronger than Tier 4, regardless of where they're stationed. As with Crew, their base stats are generally weaker than the player's.
The game is currently split into eight Tiers. The overwhelming majority of its content falls under the first six, with a small amount of "endgame" content at the last two.
The starting Tier for any new player-character. Starting with a Broken Broadsword and little else, the player must accomplish a large number of tasks to reach Tier 2. Ironically, Tier 1 has the largest number of hurdles that must be cleared in the entire game, but doing so introduces the player to most of the core gameplay systems, preparing them for most situations they will encounter going forward before vastly opening up their options for how to proceed.
- Garden Planets are only found orbiting Gentle Stars. Barren Planets, Asteroid Fields and Moons can be found in any Star system, but are always low-to-no-threat areas.
- Asteroid Fields and Moons are airless environments that cannot be explored at length without a Breathing EPP. Unfortunately, that item cannot be crafted without Tungsten, a Tier-2 Ore. If the player is feeling brave, they can warp in, quickly try to snare some ore, and warp back to the Ship before suffocating, though this is especially tricky in the zero-g environment of Asteroid Fields.
- All player Ships are considered Tier 1 areas, regardless of upgrade status, thus Merchant Tenants there will only carry Tier 1 gear. All friendly space encounters use this Tier for Food spawning purposes, regardless of the Star they occur in.
- Player Gear
Most Tier 1 craftable player gear is created at any Anvil, Forge or Replicator, and requires Iron Bars. Iron Ore is only found on "Low" and "Moderate" threat level planets, and must be converted to Bars at any Furnace.
|Tier 1 Weapons|
|Tier 1 Armor|
- The Zephyr Spark Launcher is a Tier-1-power weapon, but is not available for purchase until the player unlocks Treasured Trophies at the Outpost later in the game.
- Iron is also an ingredient in several objects both vital to progression and for just making life easier.
- Quests & Missions
- Though the player must complete the Erchius Mining Facility Mission to reach Tier 2 proper, it is a Tier-2-difficulty area that the player must tackle with Tier-1 gear. There's little to be done to mitigate this other than to proceed with caution and have a lot of saved-up healing items.
The Erchius Mining Facility Mission marks the transition between Tier 1 and Tier 2. Completing that Mission allows the player to complete the "Become Space-worthy" quest, which finally gets the player's Ship capable of traveling between the stars and planets of the cosmos, starting Tier 2 in earnest. At this point the game abandons the fairly linear progression from before and allows the player to advance at their own pace, and even take risky shortcuts to jump up a few Tiers in a short amount of time.
- Tier 2 Planets are generally found around Gentle and Temperate Stars, though they can also be found in Radioactive and Frozen systems.
- Player Gear
Most common Tier 2 player gear is crafted at any Anvil, Forge or Replicator, and requires Tungsten Bars. Tungsten Ore is only found on "Moderate" and "Risky" threat level planets, and must be converted to Bars at any Furnace. Other weapons are found as random Treasure in storage objects, plus one very rare Boss drop.
|Tier 2 Weapons|
|Tier 2 Armor|
- Tungsten is also an ingredient in several objects both vital to progression and for just making life easier.
- Quests & Missions
- It is at this point that the search for the Artifacts begins. Though each of the ten Quests in this hunt must be tackled in specific order (starting with "Find Clues to Locate the Floran Artifact") and are in increasingly-difficult Tiers, technically the player can theoretically do so with the Tier-1 gear they start in... but good luck with that. Conversely, beating these Missions is not required to progress to higher-Tier equipment and planets, which means they can be put off as long as the player wants, and tackled for the first time with equipment that far exceeds the Mission's difficulty.
- Dr. Akaggy's Mech quest line, starting with "Test Drive", opens up in Tier 2, but the last two quests in that series are higher difficulty Tiers best tackled with far better gear than what is available when they're first opened.
The jump from Tier 2 to Tier 3 is a very simple one, as it is mainly focused on the acquisition of Titanium Ore, found on a new set of planets without any unusual environmental hazards, and using it to upgrade gear and Crafting Stations.
This Tier is also where the Mech combat and exploration branch of the game starts once the player has acquired a functional Mech from Dr. Akaggy. Once you have acquired a mech, you can then begin a career in Peacekeeping.
- Tier 3 Planets are generally found around Temperate and Radioactive Stars, though they can also be found around Frozen and Fiery Stars. The Low-threat Enemy Ships and Space Encounters can be found around Gentle and Temperate Stars.
- Player Gear
Most common Tier 3 player gear is crafted at a Forge or Replicator, and requires Titanium Bars. Titanium Ore is only found on "Risky" and "Dangerous" threat level planets, and must be converted to Bars at an Industrial Furnace or Atomic Furnace. Other weapons are found as random Treasure in storage objects, plus one very rare Boss drop. If you become a Peacekeeper, you can also purchase a Neo Magnum (or two!) at this stage.
|Tier 3 Weapons|
|Tier 3 Armor|
- Titanium is also an ingredient in several objects vital to progression and for just making life easier.
- Quests & Missions
The transition to Tier 4 basically starts with the creation of a Radiation EPP Upgrade, allowing the player to survive the Deadly Radiation that covers Tier 4 planets. This gives the player access to Durasteel Ore, which is used to create and upgrade a massive number of Crafting Stations and new tools, to the point where this can be considered the major turning point in progression.
This is also the strongest Tier of Guard NPC that can be summoned with a Colony Deed.
- Tier 4 Planets are generally found around Radioactive and Frozen Stars, though they are also rarely found around Fiery stars. All of them require the player to wear a Radiation EPP Upgrade, or else the Deadly Radiation will quickly begin to sap the player's health. Mechs deployed on these planets will experience increased energy drain unless their Bodies are made from Durasteel (or higher-Tier metals).
- Moderate-threat Enemy Ships and Space Encounters can be found around Radioactive Stars, but do not require a Radiation EPP for survival. These areas are the sources of Salvaged Proton Limiters and Advanced Mech Blueprints needed for stronger Mechs.
- Player Gear
Craftable Tier 4 player gear is made at a Replicator, and requires Durasteel Bars. Durasteel Ore is only found on "Dangerous" and "Extreme" threat level planets, and must be converted to Bars at an Industrial Furnace or Atomic Furnace. The majority of Unique Weapons at this level are found as random Treasure in storage objects. Also, from here on out you can upgrade your Neo Magnum every time your Peacekeeper rank increases. Rank 2 gets you a Neo Magnum-E78.
|Tier 4 Weapons|
|Tier 4 Armor|
- The Explorer's Set lacks a helmet, the only functional armor set with only two pieces.
- Durasteel is also an ingredient in a large number of objects vital to progression and for just making life easier. It is required to bring most Crafting Stations to their full potential.
- Quests & Missions
- Completing "Fetch the Hylotl Artifact" allows Ursa Miner to sell Durasteel Bars, plus brings Treasured Trophies to the Outpost, allowing one to begin trading for Perfectly Generic Items to use in crafting the Perfect Set. Completing "Koichi's Request" starts a string of object-fetch quests.
The transition to Tier 5 starts with the creation of a Heating EPP, allowing the player to survive the Deadly Chill that covers Tier 5 planets. This gives the player access to three new Ores: Aegisalt Ore, Violium Ore and Ferozium Ore.
- Tier 5 Planets are found around Frozen and Fiery Stars. All of them require the player to wear a Heating EPP, or else the Deadly Chill will quickly begin to sap the player's health. Mechs deployed on these planets will experience increased energy drain unless their Bodies are made from Violium (or next Tier's Solarium).
- Dangerous-threat Enemy Ships and Space Encounters can be found around Frozen Stars, but do not require a Heating EPP for survival. These areas are the sources of Salvaged Nano Receptacles and High Tech Mech Blueprints needed for stronger Mechs.
- Player Gear
- Where the prior Ores were a straightforward progression of stat increases across the board, the three new Ores in Tier 5 are used to create different sets of gear whose stats are specifically balanced to emphasize different strengths, emphasizing different play styles. All three Ores are found in roughly equal amounts on "Dangerous" and "Extreme" threat level planets, and must be refined in an Atomic Furnace to be used in crafting.
Refined Ferozium is used to create and work at a Manipulator's Table, creating gear that boosts the player's damage bonus, making it ideal for users of ranged weapons that don't consume energy, such as Wands, Staffs and Thrown Weapons.
- The majority of Unique Weapons at this level are crafted by upgrading basic Tier-2 Unique Weapons with Blueprints found randomly in storage objects, or at Biggy's Reputable Weaponry at the Outpost. A Rank 3 Peacekeeper gains access to the Neo Magnum-RX.
|Tier 5 Weapons|
|Tier 5 Armor|
- Aegisalt, Ferozium and Violium are also ingredients in a number of objects vital to progression and for just making life easier.
- Quests & Missions
- Completing the "Fetch the Avian Artifact" allows Ursa Miner to sell Refined Aegisalt, Ferozium and Violium. It also opens up the "Arena of Fire" quest, but that fight is a Tier-6 fight.
The transition to Tier 6 starts with the creation of a Cooling EPP, allowing the player to survive the Deadly Heat that covers Tier 6 planets. This gives the player access to the final Tier of crafting Ore, Solarium Ore. Player progression largely stops here, as no Armor or procedurally-generated weapon is stronger than Tier 6, though a few Unique Weapons and areas fall under even higher Tiers.
- Tier 6 Planets are found only around Fiery stars. All of them require the player to wear a Cooling EPP, or else the Deadly Heat will quickly begin to sap the player's health. Mechs deployed on these planets will experience increased energy drain unless their Bodies are made from Solarium.
- Extreme-threat Enemy Ships and Space Encounters can be found around Fiery Stars, but do not require a Cooling EPP for survival. These areas are the sources of Experimental Mech Blueprints needed for stronger Mechs.
- Player Gear
Craftable Tier 6 player gear is made at a Accelerator's Table, Manipulator's Table, or Separator's Table, and requires Solarium Stars. Solarium Ore is only found on "Inconceivable" threat level planets, and must be converted to Stars at an Atomic Furnace. The majority of Unique Weapons at this level are found as random Treasure in storage objects. Top ranked Peacekeepers can access the final Neo Magnum-ZZZ upgrade.
- Weapon Upgrade Anvils found within Ancient Vaults have the ability to raise any legendary Unique Weapon up to Tier 6 strength (Tier 6 or 7 weapons cannot be changed).
|Tier 6 Weapons|
|Tier 6 Armor|
- Quests & Missions
- Completing the "Fetch the Apex Artifact" allows Ursa Miner to sell Solarium Stars.
Currently, there is very little at Tier 7. No planets or other locations, no Armor. Only a single specific enemy type, an upgrade to your starter weapon and a new extra weapon as a reward for a Peacekeeper's hard work restoring law and order to the universe. While you can actually get it as a Rank 3 Peacekeeper, you will need to save up Peace Credits for it specifically to afford it earlier than postgame as intended.
|Tier 7 Weapons|
Thankfully the Ancient Guardian Boss at the end of a Vault is a Tier 7 enemy, but since virtually all gear maxes out at Tier 6, this is a small consolation at best.
In early builds of Starbound, there were 10 Tiers of gear/difficulty in a straightforward progression.
The player would start the game orbiting a random planet in Sector Alpha, a Tier-1-difficulty universe. Progression to the next Tier involved assembling a specific item that summoned a Boss (in Sector Alpha's case, Dreadwing) when activated. Defeating the Boss opened up the next Sector, a different universe with a higher difficulty Tier, stronger Ores, and -depending on the Sector- new environments, where the process would repeat with a different Boss and activation item. Players could jump from Sector to Sector without burning fuel once they were unlocked in order to re-stock lower-Tier Ores if needed.
This pattern followed for the first four Tiers (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta), but with the defeat of the Delta Boss (Jelly Boss), "Sector X" opened up, which was much closer to the way the universe is laid out in the final game. In this sector, Planets could be from any of the last six Tiers, with their respective Ores. A quick player could jump from Tier 4 to Tier 10 gear simply by warping onto a Tier 10 planet as soon as they entered Sector X, skimming some Ore before the high-powered Monsters could get to them, and warping back to the ship to craft the gear. Sector X had no Boss to contend with.
Procedurally-generated weapons also appeared up through Tier 10 as well. Unique Weapons could also appear at any Tier, which made Tier 10 versions of the weapons incredibly powerful.