Implayed (Episode 7): AI War: Fleet Command

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From the beginning I have to say two things: First: I’m sorry about the terrible poem yesterday; I tried. Second: I’m very sorry I haven’t played more AI War before writing this review (it’s rather late). This is one of those moments when Implayed isn’t exactly the best platform for reviewing a game, I’ve only managed to get a few hours in, but those few hours are what I’m going to try to pen here. So here goes:

AI War is a daunting game. This might be a bit direct, but that’s how it presents itself to you from the very beginning. It’s a wide-scoping space RTS with gameplay that reminisces the times of Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander, putting up a ton of depth and huge numbers of units under your command in order to cleanse a galaxy cluster of the evil AIs and/or your friends (which may also be evil AIs, I don’t judge).

It’s made by Arcen Games, the guys who’ve also brought you A Valley Without Wind, so you know that there’s quite a bit of depth there in the game. In the case of AI War, the depth is readily apparent, even though it’s covered in a breadth of text, stats and screens full of enemy fleets orbiting the objectives you ought to conquer.

The game says that an average game lasts between 6 and 8 hours, and I can see why: while you can build ships swiftly enough, there’s a number of star systems you are to explore, each of which have plenty of enemies for you to take care of. Not only that, but the number of ships you can build is limited by both an arbitrary cap (which you can raise by capturing certain labs), but also energy, a limit you can increase by building power generators which are limited to one per planet – both of these obviously make you need to explore.

This is what the game calls a "modest fleet".

This is what the game calls a “modest fleet”.

In addition, the starting ships are piss-poor, and you can only progress up the tech-tree by collecting the only finite resource in the game – knowledge. It’s finite because you can only extract a finite quantity from each planet, again, pushing you towards expanding. That way, AI War mixes together 4X, tower defense and the traditional RTS into a smoothie of complex gameplay that you can actually quickly get the hang of if you get over how daunting it looks like at the start.

Seems like that’s the big thing about Arcen Games’ titles, they are daunting at start, feeling like it may take you a whole lot of time to learn to play and getting the hang of, but once you get past the initial wall (which does feel like stone), the underlying mechanics are quickly revealed, making you almost revel in the basic gameplay. No wonder it’s been so well received, and why I’m sorry I haven’t played it more.

You can get the game for 10 dollars/euros right now, or the entire collection with the 5 expansions for 17 dollars/euros. I recommend it if you love 4X or RTS games in the vein of Total Annihilation, Sins of a Solar Empire or Supreme Commander. I recommend it generally, but know that you may feel like hitting a brick wall when you start playing.

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