Greetings! First review I have ever done so I hope it deals with all the information people would want to know about the game.
To start I would just like to give everyone a little information on Sword of the Stars 2. Sword of the Stars 2: The Lords of Winter, was released on October 28, 2011, it was a total disaster on launch. To sum it up it was bug ridden, laggy, prone to crashes and just completely unplayable. If any of you think Sim City was bad, or Aliens: Colonial Marines then you have no idea. Though I will give the devs this, they actually owned up to their mistake, admitted what went wrong and moved on with it, continuing to fix it, until October 18, 2012 where it was declared "All Clear", it was much improved but still not perfect.
Jump to November 30th, 2012, and we have the release of Sword of the Stars 2 Enhanced Edition/The End of Flesh. This was a free update for all owners of Sword of the Stars 2 and free for all future purchases of Sword of the Stars 2.
For those that are interested in the game this is a Turn Based Grand Strategy, or 4X game, those four x's standing for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. It is set in a Science-Fiction setting; in obviously the Sword of the Stars universe which is I guess alternate reality.
The following races are currently PLAYABLE (There are other minor races that haven't achieved FTL technology yet), Humans, Tarka, Liir, Hivers, Zuul, Morrigi, and Loa. Of those races you can choose from the following factions.
Solforce (Humans), Hiver Imperium (Hivers), Tarkasian Empire (Tarka), Liir-Zuul Alliance (Liir and a subsection of the Zuul), The Suul'ka Horde (The Horde Zuul Faction), Morrigi Confederation (Morrigi), and the Loa Collective (Loa)
Each race has a unique FTL Drive, unlike your standard 4X space strategy game which use a generic FTL Drive for every race with maybe some speed improvements or options later on. This gives each race its own flavor and uniqueness. Furthermore each race has its own preferences for technology, as well as unique models for each ship; for example the Hivers are visually distinct compared to the Humans.
Getting down to the actual game play there is single player, and multiplayer as well as Scenarios which are not currently in the game but will be added at a later point. Multiplayer was originally run through Gamespy but was moved to Steam's systems after the fiasco a few months back.
Once you choose if you want to play singleplayer or multiplayer you choose a map, select the races you can choose from (you can disable certain races if you don't want to let the people you play against choose a specific race), put in the random and grand menace number. Those numbers tell you how many Grand Menaces will spawn in the game and the percentage of Random Encounters you will encounter. You can have up to five Grand Menaces per game and up to 200% of Random Encounters. Then you can set how many players you want (up to 8 players), the starting planets, technologies, credits, as well as the research rate and economy rate, which can go up to 200% as well.
A quick example of Grand Menaces are things like the System Killer, a Giant autonomous machine that travels across the galaxy eating planets and using them to heal itself. A quick example of a Random Encounter are machines called Von Neumon, which are expert systems that roam the galaxy eating resources off planets, or if they meet your ships, your ships.
Once you set all that you can go into the start screen, here you can set your race, empire colour, Secondary colour, AI Difficulty (If there are any AI), your personal Icon that will be shown in game, and your empire's title.
All in all I find the options to be plenty for the game, but there have been some complaints around the fact that you can't start with one planet, you have to start with three which start in a province, a small portion of the fan base would have preferred to start with one planet and expand from there, but the developers have stood by their decision to make you start with three.
Getting into the actual gameplay, it runs pretty much like any other 4X game, your first few turns will be exploring, colonizing any nearby planets you can, managing your fleets, and I will admit that for a first time user it can be overwhelming. There is so much to do, and the UI isn't exactly the best though much improved from the original iteration. For example the UI although clean does not give you much information when you first look at it, and while you can hover over buttons to see what they are, and there is a help button at the bottom right it could probably do more to explain what your options are.
Moving onto the tech tree, which in all honesty is like a tech FOREST, there are numerous technologies and if you ever played a 4X game before you may find yourself a little alienated. Unlike in other 4X games not every technology is guaranteed to you, in fact for many techs you have to "Roll the Dice" Just to see if you have a chance at getting something, and while this can and does at first seem a touch cruel, it is a good change of pace. Many 4X games suffer from an optimal build, you research this, then this, then that, then this, etc. In Sword of the Stars and Sword of the Stars 2 you can't, you can't rely on a tech you love to be there for you to carry you through the game, which encourages people to try new builds or to make do with what they have. Of course you can get other technologies if other players have them, through the salvage system, but that is neither here nor there, I will just say that the tech tree seems fair, and the sadorandomizer while sometimes cruel, is enjoyable for those that like a challenge.
Next! The visuals, the graphics in Sword of the Stars 2 are nothing to scoff at, quite beautiful even if you do get kind of blinded if you turn your camera around and find yourself staring into the sun on occasion. However the graphics engine which I believe is the Mars 2 Engine can take its toll on your computer, it demands quite a bit from you and if you can't put out it won't be afraid to demand you lower your graphics settings to get it to run smoothly. Even so I find the visuals quite nice, and the small details are a nice touch such as decals on ships, or flaming engine blocks that appear on human ships. Not Crysis 3 level, but definitely nice to look at and pleasing to watch do combat with.
Finally, the combat, the combat is instead of a turn based system like you would find in Master of Orion 1 and 2, or say the combat from Galactic Civilizations 2 where you throw numbers at each other until something blows up, the combat is a real time system. When two fleets encounter each other, either in deep space, node space, or at a planet, asteroid field, or solar body, you enter a combat turn. You can set the amount of time for combat before the game, standard is five minutes but you can increase it to I believe thirteen minutes. In combat you can watch your ships pound on planets, Planetary defenses, enemy ships, random encounters, grand menaces, and so on.
Combat is interesting to say the least, each ship, or defense asset you control has the following things that determine its health. First is a static blue line of armor, this line reduces the amount of damage done by one for each blue line it has. Next is a square or rectangle of armor blocks, these blocks determined how much armor is left on that side of the ship. Each weapon does a different pattern of damage blocks, for example a laser will do a straight line that pierces in deep into the armor, while say a mass driver will do two by two blocks or one by one. Once all the armor is gone in a section and if you continue to hit that section you will do structure damage to the ship. If you deplete the structure of a section that section will explode and if you destroy two sections of a crusier, or dreadnought it will be completely destroyed. Each weapon has its own stats and quirks, and will fire at different ranges, and do different damage; only direct upgrades to weapons are exactly like other weapons. I will admit however that the information in the design screen for weapons is not all that clear and can be a touch confusing to a new player.
Diplomacy - Diplomacy isn't all that well fleshed out but it has it's uses, you can demand information, demand tribute, or ask for a Non-aggression pact, ceasefire, alliance, peace, etc, this is all pretty standard. What IS new about the diplomacy is that you can ask for things such as limitation treaties, these treaties will limit what you and the person you are making it with can do. Such as, a Leviathan limitation treaty that prevents more than one leviathan being made. If they choose to break this, there is a clear consequence, loss of money, instant war, and all the negatives that go with it. You can also ask for a trade treaty, but that is pretty self explanatory. All in all the diplomacy system needs a lot of work to be of any real use, it isn't very much fun to use it, and when you do use it you have to struggle to get what you want out of it, again the information it portrays such as how much a faction likes you, isn't very clear.
To sum it all up, Sword of the Stars 2 Enhanced Edition can be and is a very fun game, IF YOU ARE INTO 4X GAMES. If you are looking for something like Sins of a Solar Empire, this is not the game for you; you will not be clashing three hundred strong fleets into each other and watching the ensuing firestorm. If enjoy controlling a interplanetary empire, researching large tech trees, fighting against smaller more specialized fleets and having to actually control it to make sure you win. This is the game for you, not for everyone, but most certainly for someone. It is all in all a solid game, backed by a decent company, with a somewhat eccentric fanbase, I recommend it for anyone who enjoys sinking a lot of time into a game and who likes grand strategy games.