Stardock is not going to like this review. I had delayed my review, expecting to eventually write a positive one, but watching the latest dev stream I was discouraged. I know such streams are a double edged sword, and I appreciate that you do them. Unfortunately I now see what has been a long time coming: the game isn't ready.
After 176 hours, I have stopped playing. The game is not as fun as I'd hoped. It's not a matter of the game getting stale. It's not a matter of the game being fundamentally no good. The hours spent has mostly been beta testing, and unfortunately finding annoyances that have reached a level where I just don't want to play the game. Were a friend to ask me whether I would recommend they play this game, my answer would be no, and that is reflected in my "thumbs down" review. The game in it's current state is unfinished, and I'm about to prove it. This game needed six more months of beta development. Given that extra time, I think the game is going to be great, and I will recommend it. But I do not subscribe to the philosophy of recommending something that is not good now but promises to be good later. That is not fair to people trying to make a purchase decision.
The game is fundamentally a good one. It is a big step up from GalCiv2 in many ways, while keeping to the formula that makes GC2 a fun game. Absolutely humungous hex maps, better graphics and battles, more complex battle mechanics, a focus on planetary specialization, more complex diplomacy and trade. All these things plus more make the game concept very exciting. That's not even mentioning the plans they have for DLC and expansions, which will make the gameplay even more rich. I've been playing and providing feedback since Beta 1, have watched all the dev streams live or same day. I've seen the game improve significantly, and I fully expect in six months this game will be absolutely awesome.
But as I said the game is not ready for a 1.0 release. Just watch the latest dev stream. Nearly all topics are either things that don't work as intended, or things they wanted to do before release but didn't have time to make it happen. During beta the running joke was "well this is game development" and "it's beta". They practically have to pinch themselves to stop saying that now. In order to justify my "thumbs down" review, below are specific things that should have been addressed prior to release. These are mainly things that the devs said they wanted to accomplish, but didn't, but also things that, cumulatively, I have found to be major hinderences to my personal enjoyment of the game.
1. With all of the planetary bonus features, the game practically screams at you to specialize your planets (manufacturing/research/wealth) with the planetary production wheel. Yet once you get past 10 planets, managing those specializations becomes prohibitively unwieldy. They promised governors, but they are still on the post-release roadmap. The state of the game at release is that they want you to specialize, but they make it too time consuming and repetitive.
2. If you specialize manufacturing, but want to reduce your micromanagement workload, you can make use of planetary projects. Unfortunately, numerically research/wealth projects are practically worthless. Manufacturing-specialized planets should be set to 100% manufacturing. But if you run a research project, you will get 0 (zero) research. To get some research you need to adjust the production wheel, which negates the micromanagement reduction purpose. Furthermore, you would get the most research by setting the production to 99% research, 1% manufacturing, and really that only provides a 10% boost to what you would be getting if you just set it to 100% research, where the project is not being utilized at all. That needs to be reworked. It should have been ironed out during the beta.
3. Constructors and starbases are a big deal in this game, bigger than previous versions, mostly due to the abundance of map resources. It's not uncommon to have 10 starbases on a tiny map, feeding each one several constructors for upgrades. You're going to want to have lots of upgraded starbases. Managing the constructors is one thing. They have a "Request Constructor" button that is supposed to help, but unfortunately it requests the most expensive constructor, so most times you are better off managing the constructor sending yourself. They wanted that system to be better, and they should have made it better during the beta. Once you get your constructors to the starbases, you then have to manage the upgrades. No governors there yet. The wanted to get that done in the beta too.
4. The AI on normal, the setting where the AI is using its best algorthims without cheating, is trivial to absolutely obliterate. It is simply terrible at managing its planets and making tactical military decisions. I know it's a work in progress, but I had hoped it would be beyond just pure dumb by release.
5. If you have standard galaxy settings and are in later stages of the game having scouted most of the galaxy, you can zoom out to get a big picture of what's going on. Unfortunately the map is absolutely cluttered with various fields and clouds, resource icons, and the starbases to mine them. There is no way to declutter the map, making it extremely difficult to really get the context of the galaxy. I frequently find myself lost, not knowing where the front lines or hot spots are. They never promised a declutter capability, but at this point I wish they had it.
6. The govern screen and production wheel UI has not changed much since early beta. We were promised a "UI pass" to improve its capabilities, but that never happened. Here are the two most annoying things about it: a) While changing your production wheel, you get no immediate feedback on how your changes are affecting the build times for planets, shipyards, or research. You have to exit the govern screen, check the turns to completion, then go back and adjust in a click-heavy cycle. b) In beta 5 they implemented one-turn overflow, so you do not lose left-over production upon completion of a building, ship, or technology. Unfortunately the only feedback you have this is actually happening is if you hover over the queue. This lack of good feedback has resulted in many new forum topics by new players complaining about lost production. The UI for this should have been fixed in beta.
I have a few other issues on my list, but I'm holding back on them for now because they are difficult to explain.
My expectation is that the issues above will hopefully get resolved in the next six months. The dev team knows these are problems, in fact knew they were problems during beta and had hoped to have resolved them, but ran out of time. I will be keeping a distant eye on this game over the coming months and years to see how they have progressed. Stardock, I promise you this: once you get this game much closer to the state it should have been in at release, I will change my "thumbs down" to a "thumbs up". Now it's your turn to make sure that happens. I have full confidence you can do it.