I didn't play the original wing commander series, but I did do fairly well on tie fighter and starlancer back in the good old days. One thing I would like to propose is to allow for ship choice and missile choice earlier than at present. I much rather play on hard level with a good ship than on easy with a ship I am not very comfortable with.
As a request for spoiler - when do the advancements happen ? Are they automatic (i.e. mission X), do they come with points (e.g. number of kills), or medals ?
You're stuck with the bucket they give you. Eventually, you get to pick your missile loadout, but even then you'll find yourself sticking to the default more often than not. It's also based on mission, so no need to worry there.
One quick additional question regarding medals, are they totally fixed, e.g. is it either "Silver Star" or nothing, or is there still some sort of graduation between Bronze and Gold Star linked to your performance?
Medals and the criteria for them being awarded is fixed. Sometimes it is based on a single mission and how well you do, other times it may be for an entire series of missions in a star system. To answer in an easier way, the availability of medal awards are scripted if you meet the criteria.
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It was nice being able to choose my loadouts later on. I'd pack a hardpoint of DumbFires any time I thought I might come up against a cap ship or two. Those things tear the heck out of the smaller engine clusters.