It's now available for Steam pre-order, and the preorder comes with free Alpha access. No multiplayer and a couple of the races are disabled, but it'll let you play single-player games.
The game's heavily turn-based at the strategic level, with each turn corresponding to an in-game year. Set construction goals for each stellar system individually, a research goal for your entire empire, and set your fleets off to colonize new worlds, hit end-turn. There's some stuff you can fiddle around with — heroes can be hired and leveled up, population can move from one planet in a system to another, and ships can be customized or retrofitted — but for the most part turns pass pretty quick. Thankfully, the UI's very good at handling things; it has a great popup showing construction completion and research goals that mean you don't have to fiddle from system-to-system as often.
Combat, on the other hand, plays out in a time-based manner. Kinda. Your ships and (if present) hero control and automatically handle things like pew-pew or zoom-zoom. Instead, you have the ability to select separate tactics for each of the three combat stages. Select the tactic that counters your enemies, and you can add a lot of damage to your foe. It comes across as card-play with a timer rather than an RTS, but it's quick-paced enough to not be distracting or mindnumbing.
You can let the CPU automatically resolve battles if you prefer.
The music and graphics are very nice. More so out-of-combat than in it, but stunning none-the-less.
Complaints : I've not played much 4x since Alpha Centari
, so this might just be my inexperience. While the user interface is pretty clean and crisp, it's not exceptionally intuitive and the tutorial is more walls of text than anything else — even Star Ruler
has a better tutorial.
It's pretty crunchy, and more frustratingly, crunchy in non-obvious ways. Figuring out exactly what the best research path to take in order to get decent ship design together at an acceptable rate is not terribly intuitive.