Although very impressive in terms of graphics, and an attempt at innovation, I am forced to write this game off as a techincal failure. I considered this game to be the largest disappointment in 4X history since MOO3.
Also, be aware that there has been no updates since late 2013, which I think suggests that this game will not be getting any updates. From what I understand, the developers have no money to do so.
- The graphics are some of the best ever seen for a 4X game, especially a space 1. The Mars 2 engine clearly was the centrepiece of their development.
- They did try to make the game something other than a sequel with beefed up graphics and it does show. Certain aspects like the combat are now more sophisticated, with a damage "grid" and the concept of "critical hits" (very important). This is good.
- If you've played SOTS 1, you'll know. There's a level of complexity here that you don't seen in other games, combining tactical and strategic combat. The problem is, a good deal of what made SOTS 1 outstanding is gone.
- Game will run acceptably well on a low end system, despite the graphics. At time of this review, I am running this on a fairly high end system (overclocked 4.5 GHz CPU, an overclocked AMD r9 290, which as of 2014 is a fairly high end GPU, and an SSD).
- Developers did make an effort to patch the majority of the issues and even offered a free DLC, the End of Flesh.
- There was some effort to make the game modder friendly, but it appears to be incomplete.
- You still get crashes at times. Not often, certainly not as much as launch, but it still happens. Most bugs are gone, but you stilll sometimes get CTDs, so save often.
- The UI at times is hard to use and sometimes lags, even on a high end overclocked rig (and yes, I have tested this rig extensively for stability in my CPU, GPU, and RAM overclocks). An SSD does help somewhat I find though. The bigger issue though is the way the UI was designed. I've worked before in computer programming.
A good UI is one that requires as few clicks (or as few taps as possible for touch devices) to get things done. This UI seems to be the exact opposite. A long learning curve in and of itself is not a failure, but it must serve some purpose. I am unsure as to if the UI was left in this state due to lack of funds, or due to the design decisions made.
Another problem is that the game is very, very micro-intensive, particularly during late game. It's a much bigger issue than most 4X games.
- The mission system is very controversial. I really, really hate it. It adds a layer of micro that makes managing large maps very hard, slows down the pace of the game without adding any depth, and causes other complexities. The problem is not so much that it added depth, it's that it did so without adding much to the gameplay itself. A huge step back from SOTS 1.
- Certain features were poorly implemented or appear to be incomplete. For example, the private sector system was not very well done and adds micro problems at times. Given that there are no plans to patch this game, I fear that these features will remain this way. Another example of a feature that had to be axed was 64 bit (important I suppose for using more than 2Gb).
- Autoresolve is in real time, so everything has to be played out in real time. Although imperfect, I would have liked an option to accelerate an autoresolve system.
- There's a general lack of documentation with the game. You have to heavily rely on the wiki for information and to some extent the forums, although participation has since dropped since launch. I think that the wiki should be incorporated into the game somehow.
- The AI is quite dumb I fear and at times, tends to mismanage their own empire into bankruptcy. Often times, what ends up happening is that you expand into the game and you encounter your first player, only to discover that they have really messed up empire management and will not be a challenge.
In effect, this means that multiplayer is the only real area for challenge.
- Compounding the issue above, this game does seem to have issues with network connectivity. I am not sure why as other games seem to be stable. I have asked around and I am not the only person with these problems. I have also fairly extensively tested my network's speed, latency, and stability (works fine on other games).
- Worsening the issue further, this game does not have a very large multiplayer base, so your opportunity to play online is at times, limited
- Normally, I would not put this in a review, but I have found the attitude of the lead developer, Mecron to be highly unprofessional at times. Although I expect trollish behavior from some of the forum participators, it is completely inappropriate for the developer themselves to be acting in such a manner.
There's also a toxic atmosphere on the forums at times, where feedback, even constructive was not permitted and likely to be trolled. Essentially, I think what has happened is those who wanted to change the game for the better have been driven away by the cadre of people who believe the developers can do no wrong, and in effect you get this powerful "groupthink" mentality going on.
People who recommend changes at times are attacked and portrayed as "too stupid to understand why this game is a masterpiece". I will admit the conduct of some of the feedback has been less than admirable. But at the same time, the conduct of those very loyal to this title has also been less than admirable. The critics though have recieved a disproportionate amount of the moderation.
Recommendations: (Unlikely to be implemented due to the fact that this game is not getting patched and for reasons I have indicated above):
- Give the player the option at the start of the game to go for a mission or a SOTS 1 system. I suspect the overwhelming majority of gamers will opt for the SOTS 1 system, save for a very vocal minority.
- I get the impression that the developers did not understand why their first game, SOTS 1 was so successful. It was successful because it was intuitive, easy to play, had a reasonably good UI, but at the same time, a great deal of depth, particularly by the time AMOC and ANY was released.
- Separate the tactical combat into something like Gratitious Space Battles from the strategic portion of the game and let people play "Total War-style multiplayer". This will probably make for a much more engaging game in multiplayer, allowing for shorter combat sessions to take place.
The biggest problem of this game, apart from the stability issues and the poor AI, is the fact that it was not fun to play for a very large percentage of the SOTS1 fanbase. As I indicated above, I think there's a total ignorance of what made SOTS 1 so well recieved.
The development team appears quite frustrated that their fundraising campaigns (they made a few additional efforts to raise money for development) have not been successful, but the issue I see is that they have demonstrated why they are worth additional funding to the majority. There has been a very hostile atmosphere towards feedback and an unwillingness to admit that certain problems exist, much less any indication that they will be addressed.
Complexity in and of itself is not a problem. Neither is a very long learning curve. But the issue is that in this case, complexity never had anything to offer save in tactical combat. It feels like complexity at times was made ... for the sake of complexity. That in many ways detracted from the game experience.
It's very painful for me to have to write this review like this. I really wanted to like this game. I can even see how this game could have evolved into one of the most awesome 4X games ever. But it's clear that in its current form, this game is the largest disappointment since MOO3 in the world of 4X gaming.