So, I played Distant Worlds: Legends last night. about 7 hours of game play in to it, i finally had to put it down. It is good, customization, forgiving and brutal. Last week (was it last week?) I played Endless space, and if anyone read THAT rant... they know I was not impressed. So someone else suggested Distant Worlds.
about: Its real time with a time multiplier and pause button. No turn based here. Everything takes place in the same scope. battles are in real space, trade, planets. It is 2d, very 2d. Planets and ships are high resolution sprites. They look good, but it is a little silly at times.
The Good: Combat, Combat is smooth, the AI is efficient and quick to respond, or you can control a single ship (your capital ship maybe?) and fire the big gun at a choice target. It isn't very complicated, other than whoever has the biggest fleet with the best firepower generally wins. There are no tricks you can pull, no special abilities.. you just select your ship and tell it to start slugging on the enemy. Or you let the AI control it all.
Automation, it is great. Many 4x games you get overwhelmed by little details, not so here. This game will happily play itself if you ask it to so you can go off with an exploration ship and do whatever you want while your empire goes on just fine... (unless its at war with a much much larger enemy :p then you might want to take control of some of it... and start tasking)
Exploration, I love exploration, it is one of the things i crave most out of a space game and this tickles my pixel. :P There are ruins everywhere, abandoned ships, lost colonies. The galaxy is already used, there are prior inhabitants, including your own race from a past empire. There are strange temples, and even lairs of mad scientists with their famous death rays :p Supposedly you can even find a death star XD. There is just so much to explore, and so many exciting things.
Pirates, most games, pirates are just annoying roving bands of assholes that constantly harass you... well they could be in this, but you can also pay them off... for a price low enough for most factions to pay. They also give you tips (for a much larger price) on where to find interesting things to explore. Any time you meet a pirate faction, buy information from them, it is SO worth it. Also pay them off and maybe they will offer an alliance... and you can ask them to harass other factions.
Diplomacy, I am so happy to say that the diplomacy is intelligent, useful, and not leaning heavily in the AI's favor. They don't make stupid demands of you all the time, and declining a one-sided trade is not the end of the world. In fact the only time a trade will be declined is if they hate you, or it is unbalanced heavily in your favor. I researched weird paths apparently in the tech tree, so I gave my ally a very expensive technology, and in return took them for many of the technologies I was missing. both parties were happy!
I had my game set to primarily peaceful, so i could get a hang of it.. but still I pissed off a few factions enough for them to declare war on me. Eventually I beat them down and subjugated them. This doesn't mean they were annihilated, in fact it was rather realistic... they controlled themselves still, but paid 10% of their net gains to me, and I could see all of their ships on the map. There were still diplomacy options, I could still kick their arses if I felt like it. Or if we've become friendly again, I could set them free!
The bad: Pacing, It is a bit fast paced for a 4x game, you can control the progression of time, but everything feels just a little bit short. Distance between worlds feels like a short jog (for a game called 'Distant Worlds'? :P) The technology tree progresses very quickly and isn't very expansive like say Space Empires. I'm sure one game might be made to stretch for 20 hours, if there is a lot of give and take between factions (I had my AI's more peaceful in my game to get in to it.)
Planetary development, the game is very hands off about development, there are a few buildings you can choose late game, but mostly its space stations.. (defensive, or space port... that is about it) I also never did figure out how to build a larger port.. i know there are 3 tiers.. but i was only able to ever build a small port.
The Ugly: As I said before, the game is rather 2d, this isn't so bad for most of it... but the galaxy map is just down right garish and blurry. I hate it. Also it lags something fierce. It could certainly use some optimization and some one with a thought for UI design to make it look half way decent. It is serviceable but annoys me any time I have to use it.
The Races are for the most part rather ugly, even the humans have this weird eye thing going on. I played the aquatic dolphin/seal like people, they were fun... i like the idea of water planets after all... and they were the least ugly of the bunch I think.