Any fan of strategy games should play through at least one campaign of AI War in their lifetime. James Murff puts it well in his review (which has recently been featured on the front page of AI War’s website):
AI War is, quite simply, the best experience you could have with co-op or single-player real-time strategy in this or any year. It combines grand strategy with emergent AI to form an excellent game perfect for parties and multiplayer. It is easily worth double the price that the developer is selling it at, and anyone with any affinity or taste for strategy games should not miss it. It may be daunting at first, but an excellent tutorial and amazing gameplay mechanics alleviate this into a game that almost anyone can - and should - play.
A “game” of AI War can last anywhere between 6 and 36 hours; that’s why it’s called a campaign. I successfully finished my first AI War game yesterday, so now I feel somewhat qualified to talk about the game here.
After spending approximately 20 total hours playing co-op games of AI War, I can safely say it’s the most fun out of any co-op strategy game I’ve played. And it’s only $20. I’ve played titles that cost $50 that have half the playability and a quarter the fun.
I will provide a summary of AI War’s mechanics below, with analysis coming within the next week or two. The design of AI War is relatively unique and deserves closer study.
An Introduction to AI War
You and, perhaps, one or more friends fight for control of a galaxy against two AI opponents that have superior equipment, superior numbers, and a significant head start.
AI War is asymmetric: you and the AI don’t play by the same rules. The AI has already inhabited your galaxy, and has built thousands of ships, turrets, and warp gates with which it can bring in many more ships. The AI is only limited by how much of a threat it perceives you and your friends to be. This threat level is measured by an AI Progress number visible at all times at the top of your screen while you play. This number increases as time passes and as you defeat the AI's’ strongholds. The higher AI Progress gets, the stronger the AIs become. They’ll throw more ships at you, they’ll throw better ships at you, and they’ll build up defenses faster on adjacent planets.
The battle is waged across 40 to 120 planets connected by wormholes. Each planet has its own sector of space in which you’ll fight massive battles with thousands of ships and build various defenses and buildings.
You’ll build tens of thousands of ships and hundreds of turrets and buildings in each campaign. The game allows you to loop build queues—you’ll be making good use of this feature. Ships are expendable and you will suffer losses. You’re fighting an uphill battle.
Most of strategy is on the macro and grand strategic layers. You’ll be shuttling ships between your planets to bolster defenses and prepare your own attacks and you’ll be commanding a thousand ships on a planet as they battle against AI forces. You’ll manage your resource income by activating and deactivating manufactories, and you’ll be turning different ships and builds on and off as your energy needs change. There are a wide variety of economic and military activities to attend to. Logistics is important, but doesn’t bog the game down.There is very little micro required, but some babysitting is occasionally necessary to ensure attack forces are moving on an efficient path from enemy stronghold to enemy stronghold.
There are four main resources: minerals, crystal, knowledge, and energy.
Minerals and Crystal are your typical RTS resources. You build harvesters on resource nodes to reap a constant stream of resources. You can build manufactories to convert one into another with some loss (right now it’s 12 of one convert into 8 of the other, per second).
Knowledge is a much rarer resource. Each planet has 2,000 knowledge on it that can be harvested by parking a science lab ship on the planet. Once the 2,000 knowledge is exhausted, it does not regenerate. Knowledge is one motivator for conquering neighboring planets. Knowledge is spent on buying technological advances. There are three tiers of standard ships that you can buy access to at a science lab (tier I is accessible at game start, tiers II and III are unlockable at the science lab). You’re going to need access to higher tier ships because the enemy will have more advanced ships as you push further into the galaxy. Ship caps (as I will discuss later) become a bit of an issue as the game progresses, and unlocking new ships adds to your cap space.
Energy runs all of your ships and buildings. Generators convert minerals and crystal into energy. There are three energy generators, from tier one to three. Energy production steps up significantly (along with build time) from one tier to the next. Building more than one of each on a planet will lead to decreased energy output from subsequent generators on the planet. This is another mechanic that forces you to conquer more planets. Energy will become scarce as you build up forces in the early game.
The space around planets acts as the stage on which your struggle against the AI will play out.
AI War is not a game where the optimal strategy is to take everything and steamroll your opponent. AI Progress will build up too fast if you take every planet. You’ll waste too many resources trying to take unimportant planets if you try to take everything. Wasting resources in AI War is punished severely by AIs attacking in force from multiple planets at once. AI War rewards fighting efficiently more than it awards total conquest. If you only take what you need, you will have a significantly improved chance of victory.
Each planet has a certain number of crystal and metal nodes. Some planets have special capturable enemy buildings and ships. Capturing advanced researching facilities grants you access to new ships; capturing advanced factories allows you to build tier IV ships (the highest tier ships a human can build); there are also missile silos and starship constructors that you can capture, but you can build them yourself without having captured them. Occasionally you’ll find data centers which, when destroyed, will reduce the AI Progress.
Planets are captured by destroying the enemy orbital command station and building a colony ship with which you construct your own station on the planet. Once you’ve built your own orbital command station, any capturables are transferred to you. If you haven’t taken out all enemy ships in the sector, you may find the capturables quickly destroyed by retreating enemy forces.
The goal of the game is to first survive, then to destroy the AIs’ home planet command stations. Once you’ve destroyed both home planet command stations, you win the game.
I’ll post analysis of the mechanics and dynamics of AI War within the next couple of weeks. Check the game out—if you like grand strategy, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth and much more.