How not to Die (too fast) in AI Wars 206 Nov 2018 0
The world is over. The galaxy is over. The human race is a none too gently smeared stain pushed back to one gigantic ark, cowering in the shadow of the true ruler – the AI. The culmination of all of humankind's ambitions and dreams, the AI was supposed to be mankind's agent of deliverance. We had spread amongst the stars and dreamed of even greater things.
So, too, did the AI. Things that humanity simply wasn't up to, like subjugate the entirety of the galaxy under its mechanical fist and contemplate the threats borne from beyond even that vast neighborhood. Not only humanity but others were wiped out, leaving only a tiny scattered remnant here and there, too minuscule to attract the attention of the great Mind, surviving but not thriving.
This is the set up of AI War 2, and if you think it sounds grim, that's just the story. Actual gameplay feels like you're dumped right in the middle of No Man's Land between the Germans and the Russians on the Eastern front. Both of them hate you. And they're both the AI.
Means of Play
AIW2 is a real-time strategy game where you control the last tiny shred of humanity, adrift in a massive spaceship in the last system in the galaxy which humanity controls. You will have to carefully, quietly, subtly attack and subdue the forces of the AI in neighbouring systems in order to collect resources and research to build ever more advanced spacecraft and outposts while trying to remain beneath the notice of the near omniscient enemy. Ultimately you seek to destroy the AI core, decapitating the overlord of the galaxy and freeing everyone from the threat of mechanical eradication.
Other factions exist in the galaxy and they can be freed or otherwise persuaded to join your cause, giving you access to technologies you would not otherwise have. Some of them represent existential threats to both you and the AI.
This game is hard. Diamond-hard. The original AI War: Fleet Command was the same way, only without the gentle comfort of 3D graphics and several years to marinade.
A Guide to Surviving Your Post-Apocalypse
You are not expected to survive your first game. In fact, you probably shouldn't expect to win AIW2 on a regular basis even when you are quite experienced with the game itself. The situation is tilted almost entirely in the machine's favor – but any successes you come away with will be satisfying successes.
To maximize your chances, let's talk about a few guideposts.
Pick Your Pace
At every single moment when playing AIW2, something is going to be pushing you to engage the big guns and rush all over the map to act. Whether it is the AI's awareness of you, or a sudden alert that there is any an invasion fleet forming up to attack one of your planets, or noticing that you're no longer getting research from a planet that has run out of tech, or just the sudden sinking feeling that you get in the back of your head when you glance down at the bottom left of the screen and see how much time has passed – you are going to want to hurry.
Keeping control of the pace and keeping it to something you have a full grasp of is absolutely critical. Because everything has a long lead time, it's probably too late to fix the problem once you know about it. Manufacturing replacement ships takes a long time, getting them into position takes a long time, building up defenses in a system takes surprisingly little time as long as you have the metal and energy.
Making every move deliberate is going to keep you alive in the face of overwhelming AI superiority. This holds true 15 hours into a game as true as it is 15 minutes into a game. Getting overly aggressive, letting your attention slip, or generally just getting ahead of yourself has been responsible for most of my terrible failings.
Know When to Fold 'Em
Because the AI really does have access to far superior forces than you do at almost every point, there are going to be fights you can't win. Maybe you jumped a little bit ahead of what you can handle in terms of AI progress or maybe the dice just didn't roll in your favor in terms of what the AI has sent into your space. Either way, you have a significant force lurking on your doorstep or maybe even beating down your front door that you can't take on with what you have.
Pull your forces back in a consistent and structured manner. For the most part, your fleet won't be made up of fast ships and they will take time to form up and get through the wormhole out of the system. The earlier that you can realize you're outclassed in the current engagement, the sooner that you can pull your forces back and get them into a safer position.
If you find that your fleet is mismatched due to some sort of tech discrepancy or a specific type of ship, that's extra reason to pull back early. Pay attention to what's going on in any given battle, learn what types of installation and ships are in play, and be willing to yank back commitment whenever you can.
I Like the Juicy Ones -- But Not Too Juicy
Especially early on, you are going to have to make a couple of very critical decisions which involve what planets to go after to expand your resource base. There will probably be three or four within one jump of your home world. Each of them will have their own metal resources, some amount of research, and at least a token AI force defense.
Consider what you need very carefully. Trying to bite off too much will definitely derail your progress at any point in the game, so you need to make sure that you have what it's going to take to disable the AI in the system and that you won't gain too much attention when you do so.
Some systems are always going to be more distracting for the AI than others. Remember, you do not want the attention. Unless you have a straightforward strategy that involves Hacking or going out of your way to destroy AI outposts that you aren't immediately going to take and use as a core system, here's a really good piece of advice.
Restrain yourself from grabbing everything that you possibly can because it will drag the attention of the AI to you and you are going to have to defend every system you take from waves of AI forces which will come looking for you.
The Enemy of Your Enemy
During the set up of a particular game, you have the option of adding other factions to the mix. Some of them, like the AI Hunters and the macrophage, are definitely not your friend and never will be. Some, like the mercenaries, can be convinced to be your friends in exchange for resources and having the AI pay a little more attention to you because you hacked their communication system. Some, like the Spire, can be freed from AI domination and will actively help you in your hour of need.
Learn the nature of each of the other factions and see if you can't figure out a way that they can help you even if they don't want to.
The mercenaries are obvious, you can get them to provide a bit more horsepower in exchange for resources. But they will also sell you blueprints for technology you might not otherwise have, and that can give you a big advantage over the AI if you can put your strengths against its weaknesses.
The macrophage just wants to eat the metal of everybody's ships. But if you can hold the border against the infestation, it will try to expand elsewhere – into the AI space, and AI ships are just as tasty if not more so than your own.
It may require a little bit of digital judo, but you can make use of every faction available to you in order to destroy the AI core, save humanity, and incidentally win.
This is just a brief taste of the strategies available in AI War 2 and should not be taken as a straightforward guide to salvaging the human remnants and raising them to ascension over their greatest enemy but instead a few pointers along the way. The game is still in development and specific things may change, but I hope to provide you axioms which will set you on the right path.