There are two types of problems with Empire Mode...

There are two types of problems with Empire Mode...

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Jul 3, 2019
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... Macro level problems and Micro problems.

Before I critique though, a little praise. The new Empire Mode is as good a system as I have seen in any 4X game in my life. It is basically a Mod system fully integrated. Every single map combination is a mod idea combined with fairly solid procedural generator and progression system. I don't think I know of anything quite like it in any game I have played. That said, there are a few things they DEFINITELY need to finish.


On the big map, the world looks detailed and beautiful close-in, and generic far out. I expected that, but the biggest flaw in the entire game is clearly the inability to move or control units on the zoomed-out map. This distinctly feels like Flagship just didn't have the time to have your unit transform into an icon, then show its zoomed-out pathing and range outline. It feels like it was almost integrated, but they cut it last-minute. So close, yet so far.

Further, it appears so damn busy it is hard to discern what is what. Note this screenshot:

Expansion 7.png

There are two armies bearing down on me from where those two arrows are. How would I even see that? I know I don't have the tech yet for seeing units in sensor range, but look how unbelievably busy the background is compared to the threatening units. The red arrows are faded and gray, while those huge building flags are oversized. What was the logic here?

And don't say it is any better when it comes into view. It would just be a little microscopic aqua icon nearly indiscernible from my green. And it can only really be seen in the "Military" view, which I typically don't have up. It is WAY too difficult to perceive a threat like this.

Which brings me to the point. The computer always knows where all of your icons are, clearly has no fog of war, and invades the second that you are too far away to protect your assets. To effectively defend against this, you need to have good scouting, which is amazingly difficult in practice. Why can't I have a view where my allies and I are green, the opponents are some shade of red (yellow if neutral), and every unknown force is shown in glowing circles, with the pathing saved for every enemy that passes through sensor range?

There is no meaningful reason I am fighting an aqua-colored opponent while I am green, their armies are visually near-invisible, their pathing is unknown, while the UI focuses on every irrelevant piece of minutiae. It needs to focus boldly on the enemy, in and out of sensor range, and keep their pathing visible. Having the right answer is 100X the wrong, and guess which we have. These are solvable problems.


Then, once you get into the details of resource management, you run right into a few hallacious walls. First, while city management is simplified, it still manages to be the single most time-consuming part of the game. And here it is obvious that this part of the game simply shipped unfinished.

Foremost, there are so many unstackable improvements, that it is just sad. I have complained a dozen times about how badly this sucks, and most of it hasn't changed much since the time the game shipped:

Alright - it is good. Still, there is a ton of obvious issues.
Check this out, and it is every time - zero plan for computer cities
With 'water 2,' allow cities to found on water
It is time for an advanced build order que

Now, because the games are so accelerated in Empire mode, it is hard to get a read on if the computer is as abysmal with city resource management as it used to be, but yes, it appears to still be bad. I have recently encountered a lot of complete incompatibilities:

World 10a.png

This is made way worse because of the scope of the games. In empire mode, you typically have between 5 and 10 opponents. On many of the maps, you have to conquer a group of 3 or 4 allied empires, and probably a few others along the way. If you have the game settings jacked up, that means you will be looking at a wall of cityscape:

2020-06-29 (10).png

That is a TON of worthless crap to fix. On the positive side, you typically don't have to really worry about it all that much. If you are willing to go a few turns longer than you have to, you can basically ignore all of these cities, then just have them produce energy or research. When you are stomping the enemy already, that can be the right answer.

But if the game is still a contest, infrastructure is important, and having an ocean of crappy cities that you have to individually babysit every turn isn't awesome. It's hard to know where you are, and this desperately needs improvement.

I personally suggest the option where when you annex a sector, you also select what it is going to be, and it 'comes into being' outfitted with the right sector exploitation. Refits do the same, and are controlled on the big map, with a 1 turn change-over for a sector of the same type, 2 turns for a different type (such as food to energy). This is independent of the buildings in the city.

Which brings me to the AI. Or shall I say AS - artificial stupidity. Now some level of ink has been spilled here too, my favorite:

Autocombat hall of fame

This is particularly rough. It is pretty clear that the AI has one plan and one plan only. Advance in turn 1, setting up limited buffs, then dash in on turn 2, using all of the AOE attacks it has, and maximum debuffs to whatever it can reach. It runs THROUGH THE CHOKEPOINT in the cities OUT to fight the opponents which have set up a concave killing field. This basically means that so long as there are no turrets, it is actually BETTER to fight the enemy inside a city than outside. In the open, they are unhindered by terrain, and have fairly wide-open approach paths. I don't know what it takes to make an AI worth a damn, but it seems pretty clear that this isn't it.

Don't know what to do about that either, but it seems that Flagship has one solution ready to go: massive amounts of cheating. On the last 20-turn challenge I did, I fought the opponent in 2 cities, their first expansion, and then their capital. I had 2 T3 units I had built, and was damn proud to get them out and to the fight by 20. I must have fought 4 or 5 T3 units IN EACH COMBAT, and two full stacks per city. I had poured absolutely everything I had into production, and the computer probably tripled me. Now those were TRULY engaging fights, so it did work, it's just too bad that the computer has to cheat that excessively.

So yeah, there are some issues. Don't mistake it though, I love this game. I just got through defeating 20 Empire worlds, and I enjoyed the hell out of that. Some of those maps were nearly impossible too, and I really had to think:

Impossible 20-turn challenge on volcanic world

But the game needs some fairly root-level polish it never got in development. PLEASE finish the game. I would like to play this into the future, but it can be rough facing the slog in longer game instances. Fighting the game UI and mechanics is not fun.


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