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Grand strategy game AI War 2 is now available in Early Access

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AI War 2 from Arcen Games has finally entered Early Access today after being funded on Kickstarter back at the end of 2016. Thankfully, they've lived up to their promise of Linux support as it's available right away.

AI War 2 is a grand strategy RTS hybrid against an overwhelming, inhuman enemy who has conquered the galaxy. The enemy has made only a single error: underestimating you. You must steal as much technology as you can, take enough territory to fortify your bases and launch your attacks. But every conquest you make turns the attention of the AI ever more in your direction... so choose your targets with care.

AI War 2 is the epic sequel to 2009's space strategy hit, AI War: Fleet Command -- critically acclaimed for its dastardly AI and totaling nearly 2 million units sold, with more than 650,000 base game sales and 1.15m expansion purchases made to date.

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Current features:

  • Many optional factions, each with their own goals and strategy, creating a living galaxy.
  • Polished gameplay mechanics, representing everything learned from the original AI War: Fleet Command's six expansions.
  • Redesigned UI, currently going through iterations.
  • Over 1700 lines of spoken dialogue from more than 25 actors, and more to come for the AI itself.
  • 1.5 hours of new music added to the 4.5 hour score included from the original AI War: Fleet Command.
  • A ton of map types, with a lot of sub-options to make them even more varied.
  • Crazy moddability, with many levers available in easily-accessible XML.
  • Multithreading for modern performance, and a codebase that will not summon an elder god. 

It will have multiplayer, but it's currently disabled while they work on it. Naturally, it would be silly to review such a game right now since it's still quite early. Any depth I talk about it will probably be irrelevent in a month's or week's time. Still, some basic thoughts would help here. After spending some time with it, I can certainly see a lot of promise in it. While I like it, there's obviously a number of rough spots.

The UI for example, feels like it's always in the way with this big bulky thing attached to the left of your screen although they do plan to let you close it. There is a tutorial which does an okay job at directing you through the real basics, although for me nothing actually happened once I had finished all the objectives on it which was a little bit odd, a bug I assume. The tutorial does miss out covering certain aspects of the game like hacking, mercenaries and likely more. There's also a few times where zooming suddenly doesn't work when you have units selected, which i also assume is a bug.

Performance so far seems to be pretty good, I haven't noticed any stuttering or large drops overall it does seem quite smooth so they've done a pretty good job.

For those of you appreciate a good view, it certainly becomes a light show during the larger battles. Lasers and all sorts firing across the screen, it lights up the darkness of space for sure. It's not a game for those who want to be up close and personal with the action though, since most of your time is will likely be spent zoomed out where everything becomes icons since you're managing hundreds of units. It's a good feature, one I liked from playing games like Supreme Commander years ago, but it makes you feel a little too detached from the action. Thankfully, you can slow down time holding CTRL while pressing the minus key to slow it down and the plus key to speed it back up.

It's a game that seems easy enough to get into (easier than the first game, at least to me), but getting good at it is something that will come with a lot of practice. Managing your resources, your ships, spending you research points wisely and learning how to both attack and defend is vital. You might find your home base under attack while your fleet is far away, it's a very interesting grand tug of war. Moving too fast across the galaxy might land you in some hot water, so be careful how quickly you expand. I got utterly annihilated on my second proper game as I just wasn't properly prepared for an AI invasion, a big one too!

If you enjoy large scale strategy games like Total Annihilation, Supreme Commander, Spring RTS games and so on you might quite like this. It still plays very differently though, with you dealing with many different planets as you spread yourself across the galaxy. I've hardly scratched the surface of it with multiple hours already.

Bugs are to be expected of course since it's an unfinished Early Access game. With that in mind, find it on Humble Store and Steam.

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rkfg 15 October 2018 at 8:33 pm UTC
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I remember how I got into the first game. I actually loved the soundtrack and the game was on sale so I bought it just for that beautiful music. Imagine how surprised I was when I found there's also a cool game included! For those who're new to the franchise, it's a PvE type of the game. Even in multiplayer you're playing in coop against the AI. The unique feature here is that the AI doesn't follow your rules and does all sorts of weird shit to beat you. The more planets you get, the harder it becomes. It can spawn waves of ships onto your planets, it can run a suicidal attack through several of your systems to get to your home, in this second game it even can open an exogalactic wormhole on a planet that has no hostile neighbors and hit you in the back.

You can't do all that but you can do something else: think, plan and outsmart the enemy. The AI doesn't have any initiative, it only responds to your actions. But you have to do something to win so you basically battle with yourself, although very indirectly. You should also build stationary turrets, minefields, shields and other structures to defend the planets and safely push forward.

The game has a lot of content, hundreds of ship types, many factions and ancient weapons to capture, repair and use. It's not yet polished as the first installation, that's for sure, but it's already playable and very fun. I admit, I'd lost some faith in them when I saw the early iterations. It was so... mobile-like. Very bright, everything was huge like made for touchscreens (it still is, a bit, but you can scale the UI in options). The first game had very dense UI, this had a too sparse one. Fortunately, the team stopped midway and decided to redo the game almost from scratch so it's still AI War and not something else completely. I can tell they succeeded for sure. It's great when the team has a vision and commitment, they don't stop even when it looks like a shipwreck for an outsider.

They also added some stats to the ships and structures, like albedo, that affects some other stats (there are ships that hit the ships with higher albedo better than others, it affects cloaking and so on). I don't see, however, how that might affect the strategic aspect because I always end up with a giant blob of all available ships steamrolling the enemy (or getting killed gradually), no way I'd plan on who attacks what considering all these parameters. I guess that's ok though. If different ships behave and look different, that's enough for them to be fun. The starships is another story, they have low caps and very specialized. They can and should be moved strategically.

The first game is full of hotkeys, this one is not (yet), like there's no context menu or filters on the galaxy map. I'm pretty sure it's all planned as one of the goals was "not dumbing the game down". One of the most handy is L that splits the selection in half, you can easily send half (or 1/4 if you press it again) of your units to one place and the rest somewhere else and both parts would be equal in power. There also was Shift+L in AIWC that selected 1/3 of the current selection, but it's not here yet. I wish such a key were available in other RTS'es.
robvv 16 October 2018 at 12:44 am UTC
Just picked this up. Arcen games automatically demand my money and attention :-)
Tiedemann 16 October 2018 at 2:05 pm UTC
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Can you disable the ship icons?
Purple Library Guy 16 October 2018 at 7:09 pm UTC
TiedemannCan you disable the ship icons?
. . . In case you want to play the game without being able to see ships?
Tiedemann 16 October 2018 at 7:52 pm UTC
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Purple Library Guy
TiedemannCan you disable the ship icons?
. . . In case you want to play the game without being able to see ships?

The ships are still there.
Merp 17 October 2018 at 5:29 am UTC
If anyone wants it I've got a 25% off coupon for AI War 2.
hummer010 17 October 2018 at 10:34 pm UTC

Arcen are pretty much always an insta-buy for me.
Linuxpunk 19 October 2018 at 5:08 pm UTC
Just got this. Game looks amazing.
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