Space Empires V is an unpollished diamond. You just know that if it had a reasonable length of time in development to remove all the bugs and add a proper multiplayer experience, then it would have been unsurpassed in the 4X genre. What saved this game in my view is just how easy it is to mod. All parameters are contained in .txt files so you can alter anything. Adding mods is incredibly simple(no installers, just download mod folder into a folder in the game). Personally I play with the balance mod(makes intelligence probability based, balances the game, makes AI terrifying) and have tweaked things like the battle timer for ground battles.
I guess I will begin with the really bad things in the game:
-Bugs: At this point many of the bugs that made the game unplayable were removed over a period 3 years after release but many remain. Issues with coding cause intense lag during big battles and, in my case, for every single ground battle. The alliance system just doesn't work which is a giant shame as it had huge potential
-AI: The AI in the normal game is simply terrible although this issue is fixed with the mods. The AI will create big fleets to kill you, lay mines in strategic areas and alter its designs to counter yours. It can be terrifying at times.
-Multiplayer: Multiplayer has never worked properly in this series. Everything is done through a play by web system using simultaneous turns and removing tactical combat. Connecting is difficult and just feels underdeveloped and old. It was so much easier to play a multiplayer game of Master of Orion 2 on Hamachi than playing this.
-The UI: It is difficult to know what to do and it put me off when I first started the game. It takes a long time getting used to and even if you know all the hotkeys and how to access what you want to know, it still takes ages. My biggest gripe is trying to know which ships still haven't moved as the game doesn't filter out fast units in a fleet when you push space.
-Ground combat: It is just not any good. You don't have to think about tactics at all unlike space battles. All you do is sit and watch cockroaches kill one another. Fighters are also a must as the ai will automatically start running away to the edge of the map once it is being beaten and this is very frustrating. Your guys are so slow that they probably wont reach them before the timer runs out. At that point combat ends until the next turn where a new militia will pop up from the city. For this reason I doubled the timer for ground combat.
-Late game slowness: This is typical of the genre where micromanaging increases exponentially as the game progresses and you get more plantes & units. Ministers which control your units for you and can be assigned very specific tasks get rid of the need to micromanage so much but an issue remains. Unlike civ v, all the units with assigned commands do not automatically move at the end of the turn. They instead move one by one at the start of the next. Late game it means that I have to sit and watch the game play itself for 5 minutes or so.
Now for the good:
-Scope: The size of this game is just incredible. A single match on a small map will take weeks and have you go from a newborn space race to god like beings which are able to do anything to star systems. You can blow up enemy planets and mine the remains or use them to create new ones. Destroy stars, create new ones, alter the very map by manipulating wormholes and create dyson spheres.
-Tech tree: The tech tree is enormous. There are dozens upon dozens of areas of research, each exponentially increasing the possibilities available. Each new tech can also be upgraded multiple times improving the same designs and many techs can be combined to make fun new strategies. I personally love researching boarding parties, tractor beams and cloacking. Then making a ship to secretly attack support units and take them over. You can make warheads and place them on ships to ram bigger ships or place them on drones and swarm a planet. Getting far into the research tree, making a deathstar, fitting it with a wave motion gun and sending it out to wreak havock is immensely satisfying. There are also specific techs that you get from colonizing ancient planets and race specific ones like organic manipulation or temporal manipulation.
-Diplomacy: I really hate the lack of diplomatic options you get in other games as they are very basic. Here you can set any term that you could possibly imagine. You can set how much each race will passively trade, can make treaties banning research of certain techs, you can prevent an ally from even doing any research, set whether or not there will be migration between the two races, impose tarrifs on the trade, share medical or resupply depots, ANYTHING!!!. I absolutely love it. You can even trade information on enemy ship designs and battle replay to help allies prepare.
-Intelligence: Espionage is another thing lacking in most game as they tend to simply give you random benefits. Here you can specify what kind of espionage activities you want to conduct or whether you want to carry out sabotages. It is quite feasible to use intelligence to cripple a planet before sending a fleet to attack.
-Customization: When you start the game, you can customize everything about your race. What kind of race are they? What type of planet do they inhabit? What atmosphere do they breathe? What type of culture do they have? All these things will have an impact on how you play and the customization extends throughout the game. Every ship you make is designed by you individually by adding components to preset sizes and dictating their strategy. The game even gives you a simulator to try out new designs. This works really well in my opinion. It is a lot of fun to get new ship designs from an ally who was just beaten by a new enemy and then altering your design using the simulator to check how well they will fare against the enemy. The simulator really does add a new level of gameplay that puts enphasis on tactics and good designs to prepare agaomst threats. It also makes good intelligence even more important.
-Space battles: Another great thing in this game. Battles can be massive in size and all play out in real time. Ships in fleets will fly in formation and battle using strategies set out by you before hand(you can also manually control them in tactical view). Damaged ships will fly slower and have damaged weapons, missiles will fly out and point defence turrets will attempt to shoot them down before they get too close. There is a surprising level of depth to the battles which are decided mostly on how well you prepared for them.
This is a game really worth buying for people who enjoy the genre although expect some hippucs. If you have a friend of a brother to play hotseat while you work then all the better.