"So, all the lights in the heavens are our enemies, huh?" - a Gurren Lagann quote, but it's what pops into my head every time I see maximalist RTS AI War 2, which entered early access today, but was previously open to Kickstarter backers. Sequel to Arcen Games's cult favourite AI War, it's a solo or co-op space RTS about taking down a massively more numerous and powerful foe. While still played on a 2D plane, this sequel adds 3D graphics, making for some spectacular battles with thousands of little spacecraft shooting and exploding at once. Below, a launch trailer.
As with the original AI War, the sequel runs with the same concept. An almighty AI empire has conquered all of known space, and your little human enclave has been left alone simply because it's too small to pay attention to. You've got to gather resources, build fleets and steal upgrades from the AI forces without doing enough damage or playing your hand visibly enough to encourage a massive counterattack. It ended up feeling a bit like a tower defense game, with you building massive rings of defensive units around choke-points to thin out the regularly sent swarms.
While Arcen's last few projects have been more experimental, with AI War 2 it feels like they're returning to what they know works and are trying to refine the formula. They claim that AI War 2's core design takes lessons learned from the original game's six expansions, and gives its universe a little more life with a cast of actors, where the original was all beeps and machine-noises. I've not had the opportunity to try AI War 2 myself, but as someone who enjoyed (though never came close to mastering) the original, I'm excited to see how this new take on it handles.
Arcen say that the current early access build is technically a complete game, playable from start to finish, but it's unpolished. In the time between now and launch (estimated "Q2 2019") they've got plans to add a lot more units, more voice acting and do a lot of balance tuning while improving UI and quality-of-life features. The game won't be going up in price when the game launches either, so there's no penalty for waiting until it's finally launched next year, if early access isn't your thing.