Well… it only took me about a month to finish my first game of the official version of TotA, which isn’t terrible considering (a) I have very little spare time, (b) I chose to play on the new map size, immense, and (c) I got bored about halfway through the game.
Now let’s be fair – I made the incredibly huge mistake of playing on an immense map, so getting bored was my own fault. But…
Ship range is poorly implemented
What’s range? Well, it’s an artificial construct built to make the game more interesting by limiting how far you can travel from your nearest planet or starbase. It doesn’t actually make a whole lot of sense in the game, but it can add a really nice dimension of strategy to a 4X game, so I don’t worry as much about the lack of realism here.
The problem with GC2, however, is that I like smaller maps, because I enjoy playing a fast game where tensions flare early. But on “Medium” or smaller, range is almost completely useless. Basically, with one or two “life support” technologies, I can travel just about anywhere, and these techs are hardly expensive. So even early game, the whole map is accessible, making this aspect of strategy all but ruined (and totally destroying the Torian’s special range-extending structure).
Enter immense maps
So with TotA, I decided it was time for a change. The new immense map is incredibly huge. It’s so big, even when you have really fast ships late game, it can take dozens of turns to cross the map.
I figured this was perfect for making range actually matter.
And I was right! Too bad the map was so huge that the “mop up” phase (when I clearly won, but had to finish off my enemies) took me about as much time as the more enjoyable early-to-mid-game struggle.
I barely could push myself into finishing it. But I really love posting my scores to the metaverse, so I persevered and got my best metaverse score ever, just over 40,000 points. Yeah, nothing amazing, but I play for fun, not to try and game the high score lists.
It’s still FUCKING AWESOME
Taking away the fact that I chose an option that doesn’t suit my preferred style of play, the game was really quite nice. Oh yeah, Stardock has a lot of work to do to make it perfect — this series has always suffered from being too rough around the edges — but overall the new mechanics are amazing. The separate-tech-trees-per-race feature alone is well worth the expansion’s low price, but the other new features (amazing graphics update, tons of modding tools, new campaign, new victory condition, terror stars, tournaments, animated ship components, …) make it a true must-have.
I played as the Korx, and it was the most interesting Korx game I’ve ever played. The new Korx-only techs for starbases are awesome (mining 49% instead of 39% is a huge boost, and the 20-damage beam attack module is just swell). The mercenary academy is, of course, great fun.
But one of the really neat things was that I played with tech trading turned off — I hate having all this unique technology shared amongst all the races by late game. But I did choose to allow tech stealing. This has some interesting consequences, because even though I couldn’t directly ask for technology, I was able to use spies and invasions to steal unique techs. Since what I’d get was a total crap shoot, it didn’t cause that issue of having everybody sharing techs, but it did make invasions far more worthwhile than my normal strategy of influence-flipping planets. The korx are great at influence attacks because of their trading (keeps other races happy and money flowing to pay for starbase upgrades if needed), but sometimes you just want to wage an open war. This option made the decision much more interesting.
Big thumbs up
Overall, I give GC2:TotA a big thumbs-up. As expansions go, it’s pretty damned amazing. I don’t believe I have enough time in my life to experience the game from every angle anymore. At least eight of the twelve races are now so completely different in strategy that you actually have to adjust your style of play every time you switch. Never mind the already deep economy and starting picks that GC2 boasted, or the super-abilities and mega-events given to us in the Dark Avatar expansion.
If you like 4X games, I still assert that GC2, with both the expansions, is the best experience to be had. I haven’t had this much fun with a 4X since Master of Magic (though I still think MoM is the best if you ignore lack of campaign, graphics, and AI).