General features (can be viewed as pros):
-Race customization is fairly detailed
-Ship designer is good, even better because you can use pre-existing models and modify them to your own tastes
-Certain resources are linked to certain celestial bodies eg antimatter surround black holes, elerium in nebulae, etc. So a savvy player, upon seeing a nebula knows to explore it fully incase there is elerium and that a black hole is likely to have some antimatter surrounding it.
-powerful resources like antimatter are more limited, but using them is non-destructive so there wont be buyers remorse, ie you'll get the resource back if you destroy the building/ship that uses it. This also allows you to use resources early in buildings tech, and then recycle it when a better option arrives, meaning that a player who can manage his resources well will do better than one who just holds onto resources until a "top tier" usage for them is unlocked.
-massive maps are possible, so with the right settings it doesnt feel like a "small" galaxy or that you're running out of space (until late game)
-starbases used intelligently can give an edge at all points in the game, especially economic starbases. eg rather than waste a building slot on your planet to raise approval, just get the approval upgrade on the starbase linked to the planet.
-able to finely control research/economy output/dedication on planets individually, but also with the "govern" tab you can do this en mass, saving time. Same applys for upgrading ships, etc.
-every planet has an event, which some may find annoying, but I think is good, allows you do add a slight layer of uniqueness to each planet as well as develop your ideology.
-its actually more beneficial long terms to dabble in all ideologies to some extent, as long as your primary ideology has most points you wont have an ideological shift. This means you dont have to do the unrealistic option (as in some games with ideologies/religions) and devote 100% to an ideology. This also means, if desired, you can play on the basis of the moral choices involved for events/planets and still do OK in terms of ideological benefit (as opposed to number crunching the statistical/numerical benefits for each choice planet, etc)
- diplomacy at first seems well developed, but that's only for early game. Late game diplomacy is at best, shallow, at worst, buggy. "Benevolent" ideologies seem to hate pragmatic ideologies as much as "malevolent" ideologies, which is silly and means that as a pragmatist, you need to kill anyone else who isn't a pragmatist and can only really form alliances with other pragmatists. This makes a diplomacy victory in a large game close to impossible without a decent military (because you need to kill anyone who refuses to ally with you), which means its always going to be predominantly a conquest based game.
--continuing on for diplomacy: enemies will gladly colonise planets within starsystems you have partially colonized and there's no warning to tell them to ♥♥♥♥ off (as in games like CIV 5), and the same for resources. Early game is basically en-mass resource grab if you dont want to be screwed over mid/late game.
-pirates/barbarians in 4X games are normally some kind of great equalizer early game to prevent a military/expansion snowball (eg sins of a solar empire, civ, etc), but in this game they're just annoying and dont do much besides kill the occasional scout. also, AI dont appear to be bothered by pirates, so its just a player handicap.
-once you start going balls to the walls crazy large military, the game will start glitching out your "military power" parameter, which means for the purposes of diplomacy, one turn later everyone will think you're the weakest, declare war/♥♥♥♥ with you even though you could wipe them out. this also contributes to the impossiblity of a diplomacy victory (without killing loads of people)
-terraforming in the incorrect order can cost you between 1-3 tiles per planet, which is a fair amount. eg if you use a higher grade terraformer on a "easy" tile, you wont be able to terraform the "harder" tiles, as late game you can terraform as many "easy" tiles as you like, meaning its better long term to hold off on terraforming until you've researched it fully as it isnt always clear which tiles are "easy" or "hard".
-money is weak, it can take anywhere between 5-15 turns to be able to afford to rush construction (pretty much the only use of money, besides upgrading your military ships) whereas focusing on manufacturing allows you to build anything in 1-3 turns. Basically as long as you break even with your economy, you can just focus on manufacturing and research. Its actually usually better to just decommission old ships and build news ones rather than upgrade them (which will make you bankrupt quick if you have a large army)
---In other words with the diplomacy + economy balancing, there is no viable economy based strategy or peaceful based strategy. No matter what, you will always need the strongest military regardless of your intended method of victory (unlike some other 4X games, where you could have an adequate military and with good diplomacy/economy still obtain most victory types you desire). And basically to get the strongest military you need to focus on research and manufacturing.
- united galaxies is but a shallow addition to the game, furthermore, if someone ever defies (which is almost always), they are permanently booted, which can lead to the ridiculous situation of having a united galaxy meeting of 2 members, while the other 6-10 races are "defiant" (yet have not formed another united galaxies).
-culture. you must have decent culture to stop other races culture from "flipping" your planets, it also creates territorial space and (I think) it allows your ships to fly further into enemy space. problem is that if your culture is too strong it flips the planets of other races, including that of your allies. this makes your allies weaker and it entirely possible for them to be wiped off the map (further adding to the difficulty of a diplomacy victory). It also may land you a bunch of crap planets that you dont want to deal with. Fortunately you can give the ♥♥♥♥ planets to the minor races (who are immune to culture flipping)
note: most of these issues dont apply to multiplayer games, this is predominantly a critique of single player. although culture flipping feature will suck when playing co-op with friends.
Do I regret buying the game at full price? a bit
am I enjoying the game? yes
should you buy this game full price? only if you plan to win/enjoy by conquest every time or if you only care about multiplayer
should you buy this game on discount? yes, if it were at 25% discount it would be a good price
it should be noted that stardock have a good trackrecord for improving/patching their games post release, so I anticipate that some of these issues I have raised will be gone in the future.