AI War is incredibly complex. I’m going to start with that, so you understand when you play the game you’ll need to be ready for intense micro-management, controlling multiple planets in a galaxy of 40+ (often 80+) planetary systems, managing fleets of thousands of starships and generally being outwitted by an AI in a game that relies on strict strategy rather than just overwhelming and destroying your enemy.
Winning isn’t about killing everything as quickly as possible, as with most strategy games. If you try sending a fleet into a system and decimating everything in sight, all you’ll succeed in doing is angering the AI.
And when it’s angry, you will know it.
AI intensity increases when certain conditions are met – usually if you’ve destroyed something you shouldn’t have. If you attempt to hack the AI it’ll respond quickly and viciously, sending waves of ships in the direction of your hacker. If you aren’t ready for an attack, your fleet will be dead in minutes. However, hacking will also reduce the AI’s aggression if successful.
This all makes for a wonderfully strategic approach to a genre that’s not exactly known for innovation these days, despite being known for its continued excellence. You must think about capturing strategic systems – capturing neighbouring planets, for example, will give you an advanced defensive position before the AI breaks into your home world.
Defending your base requires patience and tactics too, such as choosing the right turrets to counter invaders from a nearby wormhole. Do you use missile turrets at the expense of reload speeds, or use weaker lasers with faster cooldown times between uses? Maybe you use tractor beam-enabled turrets so that enemy ships can’t make a break for your base?
Or, and this is my personal favourite, combine turrets with a minefield to truly confuse and terrorise your enemy. But I’m hardly strategically sound in my logic, so I never last very long in my campaigns.
AI War’s players will doubtless be laughing at my ineptitude at this point. Luckily, the tutorials at least help to prepare new players for the trials that await them in the main game, and those existing players I mentioned? They’ll likely help the newbies via the cooperative nature of the always-online campaigns, should you wish to allow them access. Multiplayer in AI War isn’t about PvP – another unique feature of the game – instead it focuses on co-op play against the game’s titular AI.
The open nature of the game is something of a new approach too, consisting almost entirely of what would normally be the RTS Skirmish mode. You choose planet layouts, ships available, AI types and plots, and even the behaviour of each individual AI.
The new Destroyer of Worlds content won’t always be easy to see, especially if you’re new to the game. But it will be worth it if/when you do find it.
The Exodian Blade, for example, can only be found by scouting and hacking AI Command Station archives before forming an idea of its location. New players can, of course, turn off all Fog of War and reveal its location from the start, but that still won’t make it easy to reach.
You will still have to use patience and build a slow, steady path to the planet. Once there, you will find a tough battle waiting for you that will require extreme cunning and preparation to win.
New “Nomad planets” can also be introduced into the setting, that move about the galaxy map and limit both attacking and defensive options. It makes the game even more tactical than before, meaning preparing for a raid must be swift and the resulting battle must be decisive, otherwise you may find yourself stranded in a dangerous part of the galaxy, surrounded by enemies and no easy route home.
New AI difficulties and plots are available in Destroyer of Worlds, for players of all abilities. Being a beginner myself, I tried out the easier “cowardly” AI difficulty which is great fun to watch. Entering my first planetary system, I sent in a reasonable number of ships and moved in as the odds were stacked in my favour. Before my ships even got in range of the enemy, the small force abandoned its post and fled to the nearest wormhole!
I also made the rookie mistake of trying out the new “pre-emption” AI plot, which ended badly for me. This new script sees your enemies’ reinforcements gathering much quicker than usual, flooding your system (or systems) with tough ships that will decimate your defences if you aren’t prepared.
And if you make the monumental mistake of increasing AI aggression by clearing out a nearby planet’s AI residents, those reinforcements will come at you harder and faster than ever before.
Combine this new plot with newer, harder difficulties such as Vanguard, which sends Guardians (including the three new types, one of which deploys drones when threatened) instead of starships as reinforcements; or Overreactive, which sends even larger waves of reinforcements; and you’re looking at a real challenge for veterans of AI War.
A raft of new ship classes will help new and experienced players alike, as they battle these new threats. I won’t spoil these, but a couple are available in the early game and can be quite useful if you know how to deploy them. One in particular is cruel and unusual in its approach.
Finally, the new map layout “encapsulated” offers a unique galaxy to explore. You will still get planets clustered together or spaced apart as with other map types, but the entire system is ringed by a halo of planetary systems. With a large number of planets and Nomad planets included, this can make for a more challenging and tactile game especially when you’ll be desperately searching for a powerful new ally.
Add in the new lore to all this, speaking of an exile and the phenomenon of these strange new Nomad systems, and fans of AI War will adore exploring the Destroyer of Worlds expansion.
Unfortunately, new players will struggle to see much of its content as the game is brutal in its challenge, even on easier difficulty settings, and its complexity may turn beginners away quickly. Given time, however, new players will learn the nuances of the game’s mechanics and the co-op nature offers the chance to team up with others and share the challenge.
With its vibrant community, anyone will find players to help them out, be it via co-op play or just by giving friendly advice.