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  • Dark Avatar Impressions

    Hey, I hope everybody jumps in and gives their thoughts on this game. Rather than give a review, I'd rather be more "organic' and post thoughts/screenshots over time as my impressions develop into a clear image. So, having played *very* little so far (I'm on the third episode of the campaign), here are some initial thoughts, and I hope you share yours:

    * VALUE: I have to say, $39.00 for a Gold Edition that includes Dread Lords and Dark Avatar is pretty astounding. Normally you'd only see the X-pack on sale now for $29.00, and you'd be forced to get DL if you wanted DA. Of course, for those of us who already have DL, we can send in proof of purchase after getting DA and get a $10 refund. I'm sending mine in today.

    * Alright, though, so what's the value in terms of the game itself? Of course I'm still figuring this one out. I can say that it's certainly a prettier looking game, and some of the UI has been reworked to make finding information a bit cleaner. There are still some ways I'd like to see a number of little touches made better (like the autopilot lines are too hard to see, as is most of the asteroids, etc., due to such a dark background, which even when tweaked in the options area is still a bit awkward), for game of this complexity, I have no real complaints so far.

    * Much has been made of the new AI, which you can set to use maximum CPU time. I can't attest this yet, though I have seen the AI be a bit better, even on Normal difficulty, in targeting your troop transports, etc.

    * Customization! Well, if you've read any of the big reviews, you'll see all about this. It's a customizer's delighted, from an expanded ship design tool to being able to create your own opponents from scratch (even some control over their AI routines). While there are modders out there who could have done this for us, for Stardock to allow the lazy layperson like me that chance to mess around with some of the key settings like this is really great.

    * Espionage: One thing you notice in the campaign, which seems designed to work somewhat as a tutorial that has you focus on something in particular each mission, is a revamped espionage mechanic. Rather than just spending on espionage and getting info on a civ over time, you spend and then get spies over time. You can then place those spies on an enemy tile, which closes down the tile and starts the information gathering process. The enemy can cancel our your spy with his own and/or do the same on your tiles. It's a super clear, effective, but not game-wrecking addition. So far I like it.

    * Reworking of the early game is very nice. Again as stated elsewhere, it's much harder to blindly go for a colony rush as most planets are not open to you until you research something rather costly down the tech tree. This forces a much more interesting balancing act on the early game, which previously I found a bit predictable. To help you develop, though, you can mine nearby asteroid fields. Even here, however, an interesting twist is that these mining colonies can defect to another player if their culture is more powerful than yours in that sector.

    * Reworking of combat is also subtly but powerfully influencing how I handle battles: Now, each weapon on a ship gets its own turn rather than all weapons being added up and shot at once. This effectively means that a ship doesn't waste shots on a ship it already killed that round but uses any unfired weapons on the remaining ship(s). I'm still sorting out the implications here, but this promises to put a premium on ship design.

    * Simplicity: Now, don't get me wrong. DA is a very complex game, worthy of years of study. But unlike Civ 4, which is outstanding in its own right, there is a certain simplicity that's hard to explain. Culture is there, sure. And you can do culture bombs. Tech is all there, and you have the same kinds of tech beelining discussions that you have in Civ 4. You even have resources as in Civ4...but somehow DA distills all this into an experience that seems easier to digest. One other gamer said DA is beer and Civ4 is wine. Maybe that's fair, but I tend to drink a lot more beer than wine, don't you? What I mean is sometimes you want wine, but the mood needs to be right...and when it is, the experience is wonderful. But a beer is pretty much a good thing whenever you want to sit down and relax.

    * I haven't put all this together in coherent form yet. Once I finish the campaign and can run the free-form mode through its paces, I'll be able to say a lot better whether all these parts make a great compilation of improvements over DL, but I can say this much so far: If you liked DL but got a bit bored with some of its mechanics, I think DA offers enough tweaks to the system and promises of much better AI to at least check it out. Be sure to get your rebate! And if you have *any* interest in strategy games along the lines of Civ, Europa Universalis, Total War, etc., and haven't tried GalCiv 2 yet, then the Gold Edition is a must buy. The support from Stardock alone virtually guarantees that DA will continue to cater to its fanbase.
    I've been on these boards for a long time and I still don't know what to think when it comes to you -- FrantzX, December 21, 2001

    "Yin": Your friendly, neighborhood negative cosmic force.

  • #2
    Hey Yin,

    Glad to see you're here and enjoying DA . My own review will be up soon, which, despite being somewhat organized, still contains many different thoughts and musings. I hope to contribute more thoughts here after that gets published.

    DA is pretty damn great. I'd say it still some suffers from an uneven AI (the AI is very good, but in certain areas it's not just poor, it's atrocious) and some UI issues, but my overall impressions are extremely positive. The gameplay changes of DA really matter, they're fun and they're good. Of course, the AI CPU setting is .
    Solver, WePlayCiv Co-Administrator
    Contact: solver-at-weplayciv-dot-com
    I can kill you whenever I please... but not today. - The Cigarette Smoking Man

    Comment


    • #3
      Hey, I was hoping to get a Solver review! People should treat your word as Gospel as far as I'm concerned. Man, I'm sorry to read that parts of the AI are that bad...like what? More importantly, do you think it's fixable or part of the game? For example, are there some ship designs that still kill the AI no problem?
      I've been on these boards for a long time and I still don't know what to think when it comes to you -- FrantzX, December 21, 2001

      "Yin": Your friendly, neighborhood negative cosmic force.

      Comment


      • #4
        Some of the AI problems are really the same as in vanilla. AI's decisions about whether to make peace are atrocious, for example. Here's an example from the game I played last, to be in my review. In a nutshell:

        Only two civs left in a Medium galaxy, the Korath and myself. We have just about equal population and influence, with the Korath maybe having a couple more planets. Graphs show that I am ahead of the Korath in every way except for military (which is more due to the differences in how AI and humans build ships).

        Korath declare war. Fine. I get some better ships and take some 3 star systems from them. Graphs show a sharp decline in their pop and research. Their military is still almost twice as good as mine, on the graph, but I'm kicking their butt (again, different methodologies). At this point, they would only sign peace for a huge amount of tribute from me - though, by now, I have double their population and they've had no luck in the war whatsoever.

        Another stupid AI thing is with the super ability of the same Korath guys. The AI doesn't really use spore ships, and its performance in defending against them is poor. And don't get me started on the AI response to Plague...

        Oh, and you'll be getting that review in two days .
        Solver, WePlayCiv Co-Administrator
        Contact: solver-at-weplayciv-dot-com
        I can kill you whenever I please... but not today. - The Cigarette Smoking Man

        Comment


        • #5
          O.K. I don't want you to leak the review! Yes, I recall running some tests in DL where I wanted to see how long I could go with NO military and then turn on a dime to bring out the biggest, baddest ships. This saved untold amounts in building costs vs. investing in earlier ship builds. Now, this should have led to the AI killing me easily...but often it didn't. Sorry to hear you are seeing this in DA. What level of difficulty is this on? Are there other settings you tried to counter this behavior? I'll save my many other questions for later.
          I've been on these boards for a long time and I still don't know what to think when it comes to you -- FrantzX, December 21, 2001

          "Yin": Your friendly, neighborhood negative cosmic force.

          Comment


          • #6
            Actually, I don't think you can get by without building ships for too long anymore. Well, it depends on whether there's a civ out there that hates you. And if the Drath are out there, you better build lots and lots of ships. But if you happen to be kicking the AI's ass while the AI still has more ships than you, it won't realize it's time to sign peace.

            I started playing DA on Challenging, for refreshing memory, and moved back to Tough, which has full AI algorithms enabled. Maybe they need to rename the difficulties - in reality, "Normal" is a complete cakewalk . The Normal-Challenging climb is pretty steep, though, Challenging can actually be what it says if you get unlucky at the start.
            Solver, WePlayCiv Co-Administrator
            Contact: solver-at-weplayciv-dot-com
            I can kill you whenever I please... but not today. - The Cigarette Smoking Man

            Comment


            • #7
              Hmmm, well that's improvement in my book. As for your abilities, remember that you have a particularly keen sense for strategy gaming. You, sir, are Super Human when it comes to analyzing games...or at least Human 2.0 These days, I rate myself as Human Beta.
              I've been on these boards for a long time and I still don't know what to think when it comes to you -- FrantzX, December 21, 2001

              "Yin": Your friendly, neighborhood negative cosmic force.

              Comment


              • #8
                Well, that's two separate things. The issue of being able to survive with no military is a separate issue completely from the AI not understanding when it's getting its butt kicked. The former issue is not really the case anymore, the latter has had no improvement.

                And stop praising my strategic abilities, if they were that great, I'd be beating all games at the highest difficulty .
                Solver, WePlayCiv Co-Administrator
                Contact: solver-at-weplayciv-dot-com
                I can kill you whenever I please... but not today. - The Cigarette Smoking Man

                Comment


                • #9
                  I recall a lot of the "butt kicked" problem was tackled with vassals in Civ4, so there's hope. As you say, this is a very different kind of issue than being able to have NO military until you HAVE to have it.
                  I've been on these boards for a long time and I still don't know what to think when it comes to you -- FrantzX, December 21, 2001

                  "Yin": Your friendly, neighborhood negative cosmic force.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Hey, Stardock fixing problems over time is basically the sole reason I got Dark Avatar in the first place. As you might remember, after playing GalCiv2 initially, I felt that it, while very interesting in concepts, had too many glaring AI and balance flaws with not enough depth, ultimately. GalCiv2 v1.0 isn't a game that I would consider buying an expansion for. GalCiv2 v1.4, though, was definitely good enough to see what the expansion is about. And DA itself certainly is great.
                    Solver, WePlayCiv Co-Administrator
                    Contact: solver-at-weplayciv-dot-com
                    I can kill you whenever I please... but not today. - The Cigarette Smoking Man

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Solver And stop praising my strategic abilities, if they were that great, I'd be beating all games at the highest difficulty .
                      By the way, what I'm really trying to say is your ability to understand the issues conceptually and write about them. That's a gift. I also imagine that you could, if you wanted, master the smallest details in your gameplay, but you enjoy the variety of playing more than one game, and you enjoy interacting in the public sphere on an intellectual level about gaming itself. Anyway, other than that, I really don't see any use for you.
                      I've been on these boards for a long time and I still don't know what to think when it comes to you -- FrantzX, December 21, 2001

                      "Yin": Your friendly, neighborhood negative cosmic force.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Solver, WePlayCiv Co-Administrator
                        Contact: solver-at-weplayciv-dot-com
                        I can kill you whenever I please... but not today. - The Cigarette Smoking Man

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Solver: Did you complete the campaign? Anyway, I'm on the episode where some certain somebodies show up and make a certain something pretty hard to do. I think I've figured out how to approach it now and find it interesting that a campaign mission would be this involved this early (like 3rd or 4th episode in?). The difficulty here is a bit uneven, and I could imagine many players calling it quits on the campaign at this point...but I actually enjoy the challenge. Still, some pop up help just to help you avoid really stupid decisions when a script seems in play might be cool. For example, those somebodies don't seem to expand for x turns, which ideally is time you should spend doing x something. Help like that would be good just so you don't have to invest an hour or so to determine decisions you made early on were completely off target.

                          That said, however, if you actually pay attention to the story line and think things through, it all makes sense what you have to research, etc. But thinking things through is a weak point of mine, I guess.
                          I've been on these boards for a long time and I still don't know what to think when it comes to you -- FrantzX, December 21, 2001

                          "Yin": Your friendly, neighborhood negative cosmic force.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I just got DA and have a few observations. I came late enough to DL that Iím likely only a journeyman, but overall I am enjoying the game.

                            Speed: engines now take much more space. My previous strategy was to rush to Impulse 3 or so, cram engines on a cargo hull with a survey module, and gobble up all the anomalies in creation (speed 13 does that). This used to generate prestigious amounts of cash, but it doesnít work so easily anymore so the early game is a bit more challenging to avoid my economy imploding. My late rush in DL had many spd 13 colony ships Ė no more! I have spd 4 or 5 if Iím very lucky. Likewise, by late mid game I canít get speed 50 constructers and heavy transports flying all over the universe while my battle fleets plod along at spd 17 or so. Now if I want spd 5 I have to sacrifice. Moreover, there is a nasty special event that limits all speeds to 5 parsecs a turn (happened in my last game). In my experience the AI did not research engines and even if they did they didnít use them, preferring weapons and maybe bit or armor to speed. So, I think limiting speed is a good thing since it makes the galaxy smaller (and therefore more epic), makes the human player have harder decisions (speed/weapons), and nerfs a prime area of human advantage (without a blatant AI cheat). For me this is evidence that Stardock is paying attention.

                            Super abilities: This adds whole new nuances to the game. Iíve only played with Super Adapter (can colonize toxic and aquatic worlds at the start). This gives each race flavor, and hones strategy to your race Ė which is a good thing. Iím looking forward to experimenting with the other abilities.

                            Spies/espionage: so far Iím unimpressed with the retooling. The Iconians have a 50% racial espionage bonus so I expected my spies to do something. But no, they were all summarily eliminated after ~4 turns by a very weak AI. At least I still got some general info out of the deal. Iíd be interested to see if others had different experiences.

                            Colony rush: this wasnít much different since Iíve only played the Iconians/super adapter, which allows me 3 world types instead of the 1 that other races get. Of course, the toxic/aquatic colonies took forever to be productive since they have a huge (50%?) production penalty until I get level 2 colonization tech, which is hugely expensive. But this does make me make careful choices, none of which are no-brainers or linear (like other games). **NOTE Ė perhaps this is why my economy seemed to be doing better in DA: the production ability of the aquatic/toxic/rad/high-grav/barren worlds was so poor that they generated much more in taxes than what was used in a normal colony, creating an apparent surplus.**

                            Asteroid mining: for me this is just another thing to fight over. They do seem to flip a lot. I practically invite the swarms of AI mining ships into my territory so they can set up a mine, and then have it flip to me shortly thereafter. Perhaps the AI could be improved a bit on this front. The production boost is nice, particularly early at my capital. Mines at a distance are almost worthless until you get level 2 or 3, at which point the attenuation gives you something, although by this time your planetary production makes the mining bonus pretty irrelevant.

                            New improvements: fusion and other multipliers can really crank up production when combined with manufacturing capital. They are only really useful on manufacturing-specialized or biased planets (in many cases a standard factory is better). Of course, if your economy canít supply enough resources to utilize the extra production then it is kind of a waste, so you need to be careful.

                            Economy: I havenít worked up the difficulty food chain yet in DA (Iím at Normal), but my economy seems to get into the green faster. Not sure why, and with only a few games under my belt this is purely a qualitative observation. See my note, above, on colonization.

                            Combat: in my games I didnít play past later mid game, so I didnít notice much difference. Overall I had less armor due to engine size; I had to keep my guns up to be competitive with what the AI was doing.

                            AI tech trading: as in most of my games, the AI tends to cluster their military research in such a way that Iím suspicious they are either patterned similarly or trade their tech. For instance, in many games almost all the AIs get either mass drivers, missiles, or more rarely direct fire. Moreover, the levels they attain are similar. Of course, this makes countering with the correct sort of armor easier, and I havenít seen the AI change course with a new weapons line (like I do to the AI to be tricky: early ships are a weapon type I know I wonít pursue, then I change to Ė say Ė phasers with all new capital ships; the AIís investment in armor to counter me is less useful).

                            Eye candy: the new ships are pretty, and graphics sharp. I donít have the talent or patience to create the masterful ships Iíve seen at the Stardock site. Very impressive.

                            More observations will likely come with more gamesÖ

                            Hydro

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                            • #15
                              Great post, Hydro! Some solid observations there, for sure. I'm determined to finish the campaign first (because I've never finished a campaign that I can remember), so I'm not seeing the "real" game yet, so your feedback is helpful.
                              I've been on these boards for a long time and I still don't know what to think when it comes to you -- FrantzX, December 21, 2001

                              "Yin": Your friendly, neighborhood negative cosmic force.

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