I'm really disappointed by the launch of this game. There is lots of depth in a way, but most of it is irrelevant. Most of the gameplay just boils down to slowly getting opinion modifiers to grow. The most efficient way to play the game seems to be to just ignore most of the game mechanics. For example, in my current game I have two epidemics on two different planets. It's plunged the health meter to -40K and it's sinking by 100 every month. Vaccines show up as available tech in the tech list, but I can't actually start a research project with the affected race to unlock it. Despite this massive plunge in health, the races effectiveness doesn't seem to be hampered much at all, and the only real problem for them is that they have close to no ground power, but their space power is completely unaffected.
The computer advisor also mentioned planetary bombardment at some point, but I've yet to find a way to actually do it. The other races seem to just kill themselves by throwing their troops at the Burlust homeworld meatgrinder. Solving anything in a military faction without having the Burlust at your side and space superiority seems very hard, and certainly not worth the effort. No, the far easier (and more boring) road is to just play the opinion slider game. After starting a federation it only took me about 5 minutes to get almost all the planets to join it by spamming influence tasks and giving away technologies. It's kinda weird that the game has so many mechanics and charts and such, and 99% of it is completely irrelevant and unimportant.
In addition it almost seems nigh impossible to actually lose the game in a legitimate fashion. The only things that have killed me so far has been ♥♥♥♥ing up a battle, rather than performing any overall strategical mistakes. As someone who has put more than 500 hours into Europa Universalis 4, I find calling this a grand strategy a huge insult to the genre. There is no strategic difficulty to be found here. The biggest (only) decision seems to be what order you want to do things in (which races to found your federation with).
The game also seems to have its fair share of bugs. In addition to the epidemic thing I mentioned earlier, I was also trying to get rid of insurgents on a planet and it put me up against 90 ships. The race I had selected to help me didn't send anything. I tried again with different members of my federation, but every time I didn't have a single ally in sight when the actual battle started.
And then there's how a boatload of the game mechanics make no sense at all. Take technologies for example: You can easily convince a race to give away a tech (any tech) free of charge (for the other race, you have to cough up a few credits) to another race without any difficulty at all, but there is no way whatsoever to make them give or sell it to you personally. It's pretty ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ that someone who is literally worshipping the ground you walk on wont help you outfit your ship (forcing you to attack them for their technology if there is noone who can, or is willing to, research it together with you), but they will give away their national secrets to a competing country for just a few credits.
Bottom line, in it's current form this game just seems to be broken on so many levels. It's not fun, most of the mechanics aren't important, although they seem interesting, and they seem to be implemented extremely poorly (I'm looking at you, epidemics and unbeatable Burlust ground power). The only thing that is keeping me playing for now is the potential for what the game could have been. But that's not what it is. There is the possibility of the game being hugely improved down the line through patches and DLC, but as it is right now I can't really recommend it.
Edit: If you feel this review isn't helpful, feel free to comment on it in the comment section (click the "Not Recommended" text on the top of the review - it's a hyperlink). If there is something about the game you'd like explained which I haven't adressed, I will try to explain it if you ask (and if it's relevant for the full review, I'll put it here). If you think I have some factual errors feel free to point it out and we can see if we can clear it up. If you just disagree with my opinions it'd be nice if you didn't rate it as unhelpful, as a review is just a collection of such opinions. If you feel that something I think is negative wouldn't affect your enjoyment of the game (or the other way around), the review would still be helpful to you since it gives you information about it : )
Updates since initial review:
What's been patched to my knowledge:
Testing during patch v1.002:
- You can now research techs with other races even if they already know the tech, giving you access to them without raiding. This seems to be a patchwork fix, though, as it thematically makes no sense that you help a race research something they are already supposed to know.
- Races with incredibly strong ground presence are now actually beatable. I'm not 100% sure exactly what caused this change, but I'm assuming it's the other races actually using planetary bombardment now (because the races I saw attack the Burlust in my game should not have been able to beat them in a ground battle).
Example graph: http://snag.gy/WMgtB.jpg
The dip in the red/purple graphs is post-patch. Before that you can see the Acutians repeatedly dipping due to just being slaughtered over and over although the federation has complete space dominance: http://snag.gy/l84SR.jpg
Federation members are Acutians, Andor, Evuck, Skylaxians and Peltians.
Testing during patch v1.003/v1.005
- While ground combat seems to be fixed now, space combat seems to have taken a trip to nonsense land. Here is a screencap from my current campaign: http://snag.gy/IGiJg.jpg
You can see the Acutians constantly sending ships to the Bovarine home planet, and in fact they have around twice as much total power on their planet right now (25026 vs 13332). Even so, the Bovarine completely annihilate the Acutian fleets over and over without any problem whatsoever. In fact, before that screenshot I completely wiped out all their ships with a direct assault and the Acutians started their ground assault while in orbit, but it took them literally seconds to kick them off their planet through their production alone from scratch. As the Acutians control 3 planets and have way better quality ones as well, this doesn't exactly make sense (not to mention their technological advantage). Illustrated in a power graph: http://snag.gy/Adp7z.jpg
- The devs have now implemented "Federation points" which more or less represent a races desire to join a federation. If anything, this implementation shows how this is clearly a beta product right now, as this is a completely new feature coming out of nowhere.
- Attacking anti federation insurgents is a horribly bugged mess. I once managed to get an ally to actually join me in the fight instead of sending nothing, and their ships turned up... hostile to me and allied to the insurgents. That said, combat is ridiculously easy on the normal difficulty, and I can kill a fleet having 10-15 flagships (you have one) and outnumbering me maybe 100 to 1 (counting medium/small ships) without diverting ANY power to shields. I'd play Ironman if the combat was skipable, but I'd hate to replay an entire campaign because of a single mistake in a combat (although it's easy, you can die fast if you mis-play with no power to shields, but play correctly and you should be able to kill a fleet of almost any size).
Anyways, this is apparantly around the max size of a review, so I can't really document further testing. If you have any specific questions about the state of the game, feel free to ask in the comment section. If I ever feel like the game is in a state where I can recommend it, I will change my review accordingly.