Well I tried Sim first but the starting equipment was too punishing by far so I went back and tried normal; I definitely had more fun in this mode; the essentials like a color coded radar made it much more welcoming (not to mention afterburner out of the gate).From my understanding, the only real differences to difficulty settings are in fact the assists. I don't think, from what has been said, enemy AI or stats get any buffs regardless of difficulty. It's just Normal with all assists + better starting equipment, Veteran (same as normal, but worse starting equipment), then Sim which turns off the flight assist but still has aim assist, and finally Old School which turns off all assists. The latter two also lock you to 1st person. Oh, and one other setting in the menus, where if you're playing on Normal or Veteran, you can have autoaim only work when autotracking a target and not the rest of the time. This covers quite a few configurations, though not every combination, but maybe what you're looking for is one of those. It's definitely a pretty unique approach to difficulty selection compared to most games!
The issue is the auto lock-on, I really didn't want that. When it's there I use it because it definitely makes the game easier but it also makes combat feel like those sections in games where you're balancing on a rope, a little adjustment left, a little to the right. Not really very adrenaline pumping.
I actually to my shame added that lock on assist to a not so secret cancelled game about a decade ago. Now the space combat had nothing to do with it's cancellation and I understood why that auto-follow existed even then, space combat is niche and you need to give new players some help, but even after hundreds of hours of playtesting I couldn't come to like it (oddly the best space combat control scheme was with the Wii remote! A freelancer-esque input where you actually pointed where you wanted to go and rolled your controller to roll your fighter on screen felt great).
I do think my ideal would be a mode with no auto follow and the difficulty balanced accordingly, but still being able to pick the amount of starting equipment.
I'm also going to have to experiment with taking afterburner off the left stick, it's hugely hard to turn holding that down so I feel pretty forced to use the auto-follow during combat.
I don't want to harp on about that too much because I am having a blast. For such a small dev team the production quality is hugely impressive and this is the best space combat experience I've had since Freelancer.
EDIT: Is there a command line option to skip the launcher? Atm if I want to steam link it I have to run over from my TV to the PC to skip over it.