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The machine starts: AI War 2 launches out of early access

Think on your fleet

Humans! They are irrelevant. They couldn't possibly threaten us, the mighty AI that destroyed them and conquered the galaxy. I'm sure that little exploded warp gate orbiting Ursinoe is nothing to worry about. We'll reinforce the area a bit. Just a few pests. Mice in the walls, nothing more.

That's kinda how AI War 2 works. You're the desperate remnants of humanity, and your job is to exploit that behaviour to survive and build up your forces until you're strong enough to assassinate the CPU. It is, of course, Arcen's sequel to their defining 2009 mega-strategy game AI War: Fleet Command, and after a 2016 Kickstarter and a year in early access, it's finally ready.

Like the original, AI War 2's bland name hides the most unusual of designs. It's a real time strategy with tower defence bits on a massive scale. Two hostiles AIs control all but one planet (yours). You must build ships to retake them, that you can build better fleets, and eventually push their big stupid robot faces in. But most things you do will make the AI more aware of your presence, and the instant it decides you're a significant threat, it will effortlessly obliterate you. You must weigh up the strategic advantages of attacking each planet, depending on how difficult it will be to hold, and how much it will aggravate your enemy.

This sequel also offers some of the optional complications offered by AI War's years of DLC, and welcome labour-saving devices. Ship building is organised into formal, automatically replenished fleets, scouting happens instantly and automatically. "The interface respects your time by automating things that you would do the same 95% of the time anyway", says its store page. I certainly spent less time babysitting scouts.

I've played for an hour or two and it definitely feels less fiddly and overwhelming. But it's still a complicated game, and a notoriously difficult one if you bump the AI's intelligence up. The much-vaunted cunning of its behaviour is something I expect to write about when I've had time to really get my teeth into it, but I've already had a great moment where a faction of hostile human marauders tried to raid my homeworld, and by sheer chance, a fourth party of resistance fighters showed up to help me, then promptly Poochied out when they'd cleared it up for me. Arcen have historically put a tonne of work into their games long after release, but I'm already optimistic about this one.

AI War 2 is out now on Steam and GOG with a 40% launch discount bringing it down to £9.29 until Thursday the 29th. It's also on Humble, though doesn't have the discount there right now.

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