Finished my goal of playing through a single skirmish with each of the various ships. It may be that I only played them once each and thus didn't get much of a handle on their nuances, but none of them really seemed all that better than the basic three. That speaks well for the game's balance, though I'm not sure how I'm supposed to decide which one to unlock next. Chance, maybe? Or perhaps I'm supposed to play a lot of single-player games with some of the more obscure support ships in order to get used to their peculiar play styles. In all likelihood, simply buying the ships with real money is the most efficient way to do it.
I'm not really at the point where I'm tempted, though. There's a delicate negotiation when it comes to free-to-play games. Even with Fractured Space's serious limitations, it's the sort of thing that I can receive for free and feel like I'm better off than I was before. I guess that means it has some positive value, but I don't know what exact price I'd pay for it. What's especially frustrating is that, while the whole thing may have value, I wouldn't actually want to buy any of the particular things it charges money for. As weird as it sounds, I've come to terms with the idea of spending real money to buy a digital game that exists only as a file on the internet, but to spend money on an imaginary object that is only a few lines of code within that file feels weird to me.
Although it's likely that Fractured Space itself is the problem. I once bought a virtual hat for Path of Exile, and while I felt a little silly doing so, I have no regrets because Path of Exile felt like I was getting a full game for free. As fun as it is to smash spaceships with lasers, Fractured Space does not feel like a full game. It feels like ten minutes of a game looped around itself in the hopes that the players find their own motivation. I've noticed that there are technically multiple maps, but they're simply reskins of the same basic asteroid field.
It's not really a problem, though. I've gotten into the rhythms of this game, at least enough to pass the hours without trouble. All I've got to do is keep blowing up space ships, ten minutes at a time.