AI War 2: The Spire Rises Review11 Mar 2020 0
AI War 2: The Spire Rises Review
Released 27 Feb 2020
When you make promises and you keep promises, that's newsworthy. That's what Chris Park and Arcen Games did when on February 27th, 2020; they brought out the first expansion for AI War 2 – The Spire Rises, laden with content promised in the original Kickstarter. TSR brings a pile of updates, content, and groundwork for days, including:
- Two new factions
- Dozens of new units
- And more tricks for the AI to use in its cruel persecution of the human remnant should you be so unwise as to attract its attention.
This isn't the first time that we’ve written about AIW2, of course. Both in October and November of last year we provided a review of the basic game and a little bit of advice on how not to die (too fast). Both of those articles are still completely valid. The new content adds on to the complexity with opportunities rather than forcing you to deal with everything right up front – unless you really want to. Against expectation, the additions are not purely oppositional. Used properly, both of the new factions can be important allies in the struggle against humanity's mechanical overlords.
The announcement for The Spire Rises went through all of the new elements that will be available for the player to engage with. Two new full factions (The Scourge and the Spire), additions to the three that were added in updates between release and this expansion (the Macrophage, Marauders and the Nanocaust, none of which is a pushover on their own), more than 30 new turrets, four new ship types with their own special abilities to be added to your fleets, five new super capital ships (Arks) with individual power sets which can each be the core of a new fleet, and even new music.
If you haven't been exposed to the music of AIW, this would be an excellent time for you to do so. You won't find a lot of generic heavy metal crunch going on here; instead the tone is contemplative when it is not ominous. The music will not stand behind you and push you faster than you're ready to deal with. Most, if not all, of the tracks in both AIW and AIW2 are available via YouTube and I strongly suggest you give them a sample.
There is more. Your ships will target more effectively and so will the enemy. The ship models received another pass of polish along with the lighting if you're the kind to zoom far enough in to actually admire it. The user experience has been generally improved with things like the ability to do a quick load right from the lobby.
Arcen Games had not been slacking on supporting AIW2 before this expansion, of course. There have been 47 patches to the base game before TSR and two have come out since then. A few of those have been quite substantial, including a serious overhaul to the already formidable AI and a several factions.
Players familiar with the original AI War will remember the Fallen Spire with no small amount of trepidation, but the Scourge are a brand-new nightmare. Both of them come with complete fleets of individualized ships, their own particular tactics, and demand different approaches – whether they are being used by the AI to hunt and kill you or have been subverted by you to turn the tides.
All of the factions can be added to the game optionally at the lobby screen. Most of them can be set to be at least friendly with the human remnant, but the Scourge can be set to be actively allied.
Lore: The AI felt a need for a subsidiary force to wipe out small annoyances, and not need to bother its main Processors with petty things. The AI took various races they have conquered in the Arcenverse, twisted them by genetic engineering, and fused them into a new and powerful force to crush its foes. The primary races the Scourge use are the Thoraxians, the Peltians, the Neinzul, the Evucks,the Burlusts… and even Spire.
By default, the Scourge are part of the AI force with their own particularly brutal mechanics for spreading their influence. Players of Arcen Games other work may recognize the races which have been turned into machine-flesh hybrids to be those found in The Last Federation, their incremental turn-based/4X game from a few years ago. (If you haven't checked out TLF before now, this would be a fine opportunity if you like a mix of space tactics and political machination.)
In play, the Scourge build horrific factories of mangled flesh and steel in controlled territory but can't actively expand that territory by taking control of planets. The more bases they build, the better the older bases become and the more powerful ships that they build. As they build more powerful ships, some of those become specialized to be made out of one particular race which brings its own special bonus. The most dangerous thing about the Scourge is that they are continually building forces and attempting to send them through wormholes to get into the enemies' back line, and once there they can do immense damage. In a sense, they act as front-line shock troops which piggyback on their allies' forward conquest.
When fighting against the Scourge, you will have to really work on a moving defense because they continuously pour into your space as they have resources. While the AI favors a much more punctuated methodology which leads to carefully controlling AI Progress to try and stay below critical thresholds, the Scourge demand that you maintain your borders with serious bulwarks.
Of course, they might be on your side (if they've been set up to do so in the lobby); what does that demand? Taking and holding more planets than you would otherwise want to. The Scourge will expand along with you, but they require expansion and planets to place new manufacturies on in order that their original holdings gain in power and potency. Hold enough territory for the Scourge to build up militarily and they can be your bulldozer, clearing AI planets of turrets and ships (but not buildings) before you even get to the system.
Be careful. By default, AI Progress is set to recognize damage done to it by all factions, not just you. The Scourge doesn't care about AIP and will happily go along building up mass and attracting the AI's attention until there are a lot more and bigger ships than you can deal with. On the positive side, the Scourge can build some big, scary ships of their own.
The Fallen Spire
Lore: The AI has crushed the Spire empire in their home galaxy. Some Spire units have landed in our galaxy and they can rebuild their empire and take revenge. The AI has captured a lot of Spire reactors and is experimenting to harness their power in cloaked research laboratories. There are also some hidden spire relics scattered about the galaxy from past battles.
The Spire provides some of the most powerful buildings and ships that the player can access. Activating the Spire completely changes the nature of the fight between the human remnant and the AI, putting part of the extragalactic enemy in the player's hands. Spire ships are unbelievably destructive and spire cities can hold major choke points alone. The cost? The AI will hate you with a very special fire and start bringing vast force to bear to match your expanded abilities.
Somewhat like the Scourge, Spire cities become more powerful the more you have of them. As you acquire more Spire Relics and escort them into your space to establish new cities, older cities gain levels and increase the number of slots they have for supporting constructs. Those support buildings add more weapons, create vast amounts of power, or allow the construction of Spire-specific ship templates. Unlike the Scourge, the Spire are completely under your control.
Unless you encounter the Dark Spire. In which case – God have mercy on your soul. The Dark Spire are malevolent to everyone and everything while simultaneously bringing extragalactic-scale weaponry to the battlefield every day. An entire set of connected stories/locations become active when they come into play.
Since the Spire add directly to ships under your control, understanding how to use and deploy them isn't too far off from what you've already become used to, except for the fact that the AI can detect that you have activated Relics and have Spire technology, cranking up its attacks to insane levels on a regular basis. You have to be ready to defend your territory at the same time as you carefully probe for the best way to reach the AI homeworld with sufficient force to destroy it.
Looking to the Future
We haven't forgotten about that [multiplayer]! In fact, we've been coding in preparation for it from day one, and have continued to make some revisions to things to make things easier to implement there. Balancing things out with such a small workforce has been hard, but now the turn for this aspect of the game has come.
Badger and Puffin and I have some things that we'd like to do for a DLC 3, and there are always new ideas coming up in general. This project has been in work since 2016, and we could probably spend another four years on it and still never run out of ideas we want to work on.
The amount of community interaction and contribution to the AIW2 project has been impressive. Several of the more active community members are official contributors to the game both at the design and the coding level, and it's better for it.
That should continue into the next major addition to the game, one which has been discussed since the Kickstarter and a part of the original AIW – multiplayer. That will be a fundamental change to the experience. From the beginning multiplayer has been described as a free content expansion to bring it into parity with AIW.
Regarding paid expansions, Park feels that AIW2 with TSR is roughly equivalent to AIW with four of its six expansions. The belief that this game will be brought up to the level of content of the original is pretty reasonable. There are strong arguments that AIW2 is mechanically a better game than its predecessor. The user interface is cleaner, command and control of the actual fleets is much more intuitive, the reduction in micromanagement of ship resupply is appreciated (though amusingly, watching the Scourge allied with the human remnant flow their ships around the map is extremely reminiscent of how human resupply used to look in AIW), and the effect of various factions is certainly better presented and more focused.
Overall, The Spire Rises is a very solid expansion for an excellent game if a very difficult, surprisingly intellectual strategy game is what you're looking for.