Distant Worlds 2, Fun If The Game Engine Can Get Further Up The Tech Tree
Calling All Patient Laid Back Potential Galactic Overlords
Delegation is the key, until it isn’t
The occasional email arrives from a PR firm inquiring if we’d like to take a look at a new game, and while I pass on almost all of them there are a few which catch my eye. Distant Worlds 2 was one of the latter, a 4X galactic strategy game which stands out from the competition by having more layers than an onion.
The usual economic and social mechanisms are there but there is also an entire private economy you can only indirectly influence and when was the last time you played a game where your interstellar fleets had to include fuel tankers to ensure they don’t run out of gas on the way home from a battle?
It has been out for a while, and after many an hour playing I really want to recommend the game, but unfortunately as it stands it is only for those with a lot of patience and an acceptance of crashes. Several patches later the game now reliably uses your GPU instead of occasionally wandering over to hang out with the IGP. On the other hand as things get complex the game gets overloaded to the point mouse clicks aren’t reliably captured and zooming or panning too quickly all too often sends you back to your desktop.
Open the pictures below in a new tab to embiggen.
Distant Worlds 2 Infrastructure Unleashed
The start of a normal game sees you just hitting orbit, snooping around for resources and waiting for your scientists to invent hyperdrive so you can check out the neighbourhood. Each star, moon, asteroid and shipwreck can be scanned for resources, unique features and special projects and if you want to make use of them you immediately run into one of the key concepts of Distant Worlds 2. You can’t just order a construction ship over there to build a mining base, you instead point your private enterprises at it and ask them to. The good news is that they pay for it, but then again they always take a cut and you can’t be sure when they will get around to it.
There are a lot of resources to try to keep in stock in Distant Worlds 2, that lovely red circle is the current location of the scroll bar on the list. I am still trying to figure out what that last column’s values indicate exactly.
In the original screenshots, every dot is a ship of some sort and the reason there are so many of them is because you need to transport the mined resources to where they need to go, be it a shipyard or colony, and as you start up new colonies you need to ship your resources to them as well. This can lead to your transporters being unable to reach them, if you don’t figure out how to make sure they can carry enough gas to get there. It is, as most everything else in this game, generally automated and this can lead to some frustrations as the game may not prioritize in the same way you would.
Distant Worlds 2 communicates events and needs via pop ups in the upper right, which you can generally agree or disagree with. As your automated explorers find new resources the game will let you know and suggest ordering the construction of a mining ship. If it feels you are a little shy on transports, fuel tankers or military ships it will suggest you buy a certain amount as well as what the cost is. When a scary space amoeba starts munching on one of your scouts, it might suggest you send a fleet off to investigate. This is in addition to all the informational pop ups such as communications from aliens or completed construction notifications.
Once spies, scientists and other special people start to show up they also start out automated and will go on their merry ways to help your empire, as best they can. The economy also automatically adjusts to try to keep you in the red, with some species favouring growth over research or being a bit more corrupt than your average politician. Even your fleets become automated, with ships swapping between them as you create more or invent a new type.
This can be amazing, and give you a real feel of being in charge of the big picture without being bogged down in details you don’t want to involve yourself in. Then again, as that 10 ship fleet you just manually made out of four separate and tiny fleets so they might have a chance in a battle against a mildly annoyed space squid is automatically reverted back to those same four fleets by Distant Worlds 2’s ‘AI’, it can be infuriating!
What does that 205 pound fleet think it is going to accomplish other than to become a big pile of floating debris?
Please Confirm Request For Manual Control
That can all be changed however, if you so dare. The automatic control of any aspect of the game can be switched to manual while you have it selected, and ships are automatically switched to manual if you issue them a move, refuel or refit command. This can be entertaining if you didn’t realize you did that until you spot a fleet that has wandered off due to an errant mouse click; especially if that is due to the input lag currently present in the later game.
Ship designs are wonderfully modular and customizable, but yet another thing which you will fight the game over. The game happily creates a design for every ship type and upgrades the template it as you invent new technology. However if you hand craft an enhanced destroyer with great maneuverability and a weapon load customized to fight your current enemy, that design will not last long. The next time you develop a new maneuvering thruster, for a ship cannot live on main drives alone, Distant Worlds 2 will optimize your design to match what it feels is the current optimized design. It seems the game will also occasionally will ignore it altogether, which you may not spot until trying to figure out why one fleet is so much slower than your other ones.
Moving your economy to manual can lead to serious debt being accrued unless you are checking it closely and if you order a freighter to dump some resources off where you want them, it will then sit there until you remember you did that, or more likely notice the manual control indication in the column which details the mission of every single ship.
Research projects are another thing which will appear automatically, but you can also open up the tree and manually chose to add a project to your research queue. The thing is that this will cost you credits and at least some resources to do so, while letting the game pick the project for you does not. As you progress deeper into the research tree you will have to ensure you can stockpile the required resources to start up a project as the costs can grow impressively.
The 5X Conclusion … The Fifth X Being Exasperating
This type of game is right up my alley, which means I am far more willing to deal with problems than someone who just occasionally dips their toes into what used to be called god games. Distant Worlds 2 bucks the trend we’ve seen in games like Civilizations and it’s clones which have been slowly simplifying their game mechanics. Instead it doubles down on the complexity of the first Distant Worlds, and for the most part leaves you alone to blunder through the interfaces.
The automation is a wonder to behold when it works, but can become a wee bit boring at times as you advance the game to a point when there are things which need to be done. You can always amuse yourself by fighting the game’s choices or taking over a ship or fleet manually and heading where no one has gone before. That changes as your empire grows however, as you try to ensure that several dozen colonies are developing in the way you want, or at least not rebelling it can be closer to overwhelming than boring.
Add in an interstellar war or three with enemy ships both raiding behind your borders and trying to take over your frontier colonies while your fleets do the same and any boredom quickly disappears. Instead you will be trying to convince the game you really did want to shift ships from various fleets into one to go on a large raid, and that you really don’t want them to wait for that destroyer with an empty gas tank that the game keeps trying to stick back in.
For now, hold off unless you want to help with debugging the game while you build your civilization.