Gave this game 4.9 or something very close to 5 at least. I bought it after reading about it on a forum and on its site. Played a few games so far plus the tutorial, Id say a total of around 10 hours of gameplay, and I definitely will be playing a lot more! However based on my first 10 hours I will now review it.
First of all, the atmosphere in the game is really nice. The starmap is huge and is said to contain 5000 planets to explore and when you zoom out and listen to the sort of lonely sombre soundtrack, you get this feeling that you are truly in space, and that space is a very very big place, both beautiful and terrifying.
The gameplay itself focuses a lot on fleet management and conquest rather than planet management. On the planets you build planetary defenses, and set up trade and waste routes and expand the size of your moonbases to make room for the population to grow.
This fairly simple planet model lets you focus on expanding and conquering the galaxy and managing fleets. Thus, most micro management in the game is about researching new sciences, and designing and building new spaceships, put them together in fleets, and deploy them strategically. This makes the game a bit faster paced than most other 4x-games.
The combat is resolved instantly when two fleets clash, but you can view the battle afterwards in 3D, and fast-forward and rewind or control the camera yourself, which looks quite nice, and this help you see what ship components counter each other.
The tech tree is quite advanced for each tech you have several levels with no maximum level it seems, and besides this, each tech category has a level, so that when it reaches a certain level, you get access to numerous new sciences. This is a potentially (have only played for 10 hours or so yet) very deep strategic element. There really are lots of differences to which ship components you research, how high you research them, and which ones you put on your ships.
Another strategically important element is the leaders. The leaders have a certain skill in different schools, such as diplomacy, warlord, space engineer etc and they can be deployed either on a certain planet to maximize their effect for that specific spot, or just on your whole empire for a small overall benefit. The leaders can be educated to gain more skills, but they die when they get old though their lifespan can be lengthened if you research medicine.
There are 7 different races to play and many of them are somewhat similar, though starting out with different stats and bonuses except for the Dragon race called the Chi Lungs. This one is quite special.
The Chi Lungs are very different from the other races they dont colonize or build starships, and bases. Instead, they enslave the population on the planets and eat them to grow larger! The larger a dragon is, the more hunger it has and you need to eat population to lower the hunger of the massive dragons. You can also eat population to make the dragons grow in size faster, but since you also need population for research this might be risky cause if your dragons have eaten all your population, your research really slows down, and the AI will kill you fast!
This is one other thing which needs mentioning. The AI on hard is HARD to beat I dont know whether or how it is cheating, but so far Im stuck on medium level and Im lying like in the middle of the score list or so and Im used to this genre played se4, a bit se5, and galciv1 and 2.
Well these are my impressions so far of course I need to play the game some more, but so far, I am convinced that this game is a must for all 4x-fans. I gave it 4.9 or so. - The last 0.1 they can fix in some patches these are some irritating things with the UI which should be fixed, but if these things are fixed we are talking a contender for a true 4x-classic here.
Now Ill go back to my dragons and devour a few million innocent people...