A Paladin’s Review: AI War: Fleet Command. You ARE Outgunned. You ARE Massively Outnumbered. You MUST Read This Review or Else Be Crushed By The AI.

  • Genre: Real Time Strategy Game With Elements of Tower Defense, Heroic Units and 4X Gameplay.
  • Developed & Published by: Arcen Games
  • Platform: Windows, Mac OS and Linux
  • Business Model: Single Purchase With Six Optional Expansions.
  • Base Game and Expansions Acquired by Myself, Friends and Free Press Keys from Arcen Games.

Pablo Vega’s work on the game’s soundtrack is a big part of the appeal to AI War and as such I felt it necessary to feature all of his work from the game currently available on Bandcamp.

Enjoy the audio version of this review if you wish here:

Preamble

AI War: Fleet Command was the first release for, at the time, a not well known indie developer Arcen Games. It was launched in June of 2009 and would eventually take the indie market by storm. To a sustainable level that I don’t think Arcen, players or critics would have ever expected at the time. It was one of the first indie games I ever bought on Steam. As a result, I will always remember it fondly for changing my perspective on not only what PC games could potentially achieve but also realizing that there was a much bigger gaming world out there. Before then, all I had ever known was Nintendo console gaming and the PC releases section at Fred Meyer/Kroger. Which, I guess, was as good as any time to find AIW as that was the last high point for PC gaming in the retail space. AI War is known for its incredible amount of replayability, mechanical depth, sheer amount of content and post-launch support. There are very few games that can claim to have had this much post-release support that AI War got to enjoy. Seven years of patches, updates, engine overhauls, mechanic tweaks/changes, expansions and ideas have gone into this RTS. The patch notes alone are longer than War and Peace. It is by far one of the best indie success stories and I wish more games had as much support that this game did. Support for AI War: Fleet Command has more or less come to an end in 2016 as Arcen now looks to the future with AI War 2 after its successful Kickstarter launch. And all the games they made in between. But, by no means does it make AI War: Fleet Command any less worthy to talk about now.

This review is a long time coming for me to write. I had honestly meant to publish it years ago but I could never get myself in the right mindset to write it. Its purely by coincidence that I’m writing it now, at the end of its life but also useful for me as it means I can collect my thoughts together for one last look. For myself, AIW inspired me to get into the PC gaming community and start the Paladin Without A Crusade project. I mean, yeah I never wrote a review for it, till now, but better late than never, right? I wanted to showcase niche games like it, to get the word out there that they exist. I made new friends and acquaintances from this game. I still regularly visit its forum even to this day. I think the reason I took so long to write this review is that I was worried about my own personal bias towards it. Now, I think my writing and critique style has gotten to the point that I can look evenly at this game and give you, the readers, the review it deserves. 

The Title Screen

Initial Overall Thoughts

This review will not cover everything about AI War: Fleet Command (though I’ll certainly try to). It’s an RTS that has a lot of complex mechanics both visible to the player and hidden behind the scenes. Plus, every experience of AI War is going to be different. When you first jump into the game, the initial lobby will present you with a wide variety of options to choose from (depending on which expansions you have installed/enabled) including how many planets there are, how fast the game is played at, how complex the ship selection will be, what rogue/neutral factions will you enable, settings to make the game easier/harder and so forth. There is simply no way for a single reviewer to cover everything and every playstyle. I will do my best to cover my experiences and what you can generally expect to experience yourself. Outside of that, well, I only have so much time and words to cover it all. It’s both the strength and difficulty of AI War that it’s as flexible as it currently is.

The Pre-Game Lobby Screen

Its got a steep learning curve that will take a significant investment in time to learn the mechanics, even for experienced strategy game players. I say this as a caution that this isn’t simply a game you can pick up and go and expect immediate success. Some have compared this to being the Dwarf Fortress of RTSes and its not entirely unfair in that regard. (Though the interface is far easier to figure out). The interface can be tricky to figure out where everything is, there’s a sheer amount of content that is randomly generated and can be at play in any session and the AI can be tricky to take on. The tutorial tries its best to introduce players to the game but its not quite enough in my opinion. There are several options though outside of just watching videos including flying along with other players with a champion ship from the fourth expansion to setting the game at its basic default options and toning down the difficulty of the AI. Additionally, the Arcen forums are filled with plenty of people willing to answer questions and join your game as well as a pretty well detailed wiki to parse through.

AIW is a complex mix of 4X and real time strategy. It’s a unique game that few other developers have tried to imitate. It can be played solo or up to 8 players with the ability for players to drop in and out if they wish. Matches are handled through direct peer-to-peer connections so you will need to open a port in your router or play over LAN in order to host games. While lag is certainly a concern with an RTS like this one, you can adjust the network latency to compensate for slow or widespread connections. When playing with other players, the AI will adapt with larger fleets to compensate for the amount of firepower the additional players can wield. Resources aren’t shared between players so each one will have to have systems of their own to generate income. That being said, ships, minerals and structures can be given to other players. So, it’s definitely multiplayer friendly and I generally encourage it just for the sheer joy of sharing the experience but it’s not necessary to beat a session. Each session will take around 10-20 hours on default game settings but your playtime will vary wildly depending on everything chosen in the in-game lobby and how much success/failure you experience at the hand of the AI. 

Strategy Examination

The balance of gameplay is centered around the triangle of fighter -> bomber -> missile frigate and expands from there. The fighter takes the bomber out quickly, bombers take out missile frigates quickly and are most effective at destroying structures while the missile frigate acts as a long-range fighter that eats fighters for breakfast. From there, things get more complex. From the sub-starship level, there are plenty of specialty ships that are lower in cost and comprise the bulk of your fleet. These include, but are not limited to, scouts, stealth fighters, long-range snipers, melee ships, parasites (that reclaim ships for the player’s use), swarmers, electric shuttles that produce an AOE attack and much more. These are easier to loose in an engagement though you’ll want to avoid losing too many due to sloppy command skills. What each one is strong or weak against is told to the player in terms of what hull they have and what their attack multipliers are against which hull. This can make it hard to figure out who is good against what quickly because the game doesn’t always state it flat out. Mostly because that would require a list longer than any UI would support. My suggestion is just to feel things out and learn along the way. Then there’s the starship level, which are ships that have small ship caps and generally better health stats than individual sub-capital ships. There’s quite a few including flagships that focus on boosting the fleet, plasma siege starships that are effective at killing large targets such as structures and superweapons though are very slow and fragile, bomber starships that are effective at killing anything with high health, raid starships that do well at hit-and-runs, leech starships that reclaim ships for your fleet and much more. They’re expensive, limited in number but tend to be what your fleet centers around and are well worth the cost. Be wary of losing these because replacing them takes a significant amount of time and resources and could leave your fleet in a weakened state. On a side note, there are mercenary ships that you can build that are powerful but extremely expensive. These are for when you have a ton of resources to spend and nothing to spend them on. Beyond that are Superweapons including Golems, Spire Ships and more. I’ll explain about these ships more below but suffice it to say that these usually come at a great cost, can greatly power your fleet and should avoid being lost at all costs.

Fleets for miles.

No fleet can be complete without structures to occupy the planet. In AIW, each planet is governed by a command station that is the key to holding or losing said planet. Loss of this structure can potentially mean losing the planet entirely but they can be rebuilt after a certain amount of time. You start off with a home command station that gives you a significant amount of resources to start out with to make up for the fact that if this single structure is lost, the game is over. When building command stations on other planets, you’ll have a choice between a military, logistical and economic command station to build. Military stations are harder for the AI to kill, logistic command stations allow you to redeploy your fleets along routes more quickly while slowing down enemy ships in the system and economic stations provide addition resource income at the cost of being more fragile. In your typical system, you’ll have a power generator and mineral miners collecting resources. These stations are sometimes accompanied with ship docks and starship constructors for building your fleet. From there you have a choice of defense turrets ranging from tractor beams, short range flak cannons, sniper guns, missile launchers, aoe lightning turrets, mines and everything else in between. Most turrets have a per-planet cap but can be built in every system while others have an in-galaxy cap. How you set these turrets up is largely up to the player but they provide a security blanket for not only your home bases but other important strategic structures that you won’t want your fleet defending all of the time. That being said, don’t always depend on turrets because while they can be potent, the AI will try to send ships that can bypass or overwhelm the defenses. Alongside turrets you can deploy anti-stealth detectors, shields and more in whatever way you see fit. Shields are quite powerful in this game and can block a lot of shots from incoming enemy fleets. However, they can be bypassed by specialized stealth ships or raiding vessels so its best to keep an eye out for them. Additionally, they can’t be repaired while being fired upon and move very very slowly. So, just consider them another tool in your planet’s defenses and not your only one.

Some turrets

This game is largely about being tactical in terms of the macro or big picture rather than overly micro heavy when it comes to moving and engaging with your fleets. You can be micro-intensive if you want, the game does support that to a degree. But when you’re running around fighting with large fleets, micromanaging your units will be more draining than its really worth. This is dictated in much of the game design including resource management, setting your fleets to patrol routes, infinite building queues, automatic actions in the settings menu and such. Its about positioning your fleets in the right place at the right time, engaging as effectively as possible and avoiding losses when possible in addition to deciding how your planet defenses should be setup. Everything else from repairing ships, rebuilding defenses will be automatically handled by the game. So, focus on avoiding shoving your fighters at a mostly missile frigate fleet, trying to take down buildings with just fighters and so on. Certain systems you invade will also have structures that respond to a giant blob attack with a vicious response ranging from another fleet warp-in to nuking the whole system. Plus, losing too many ships in an AI system will cause a counter response to flung your way. It’s not to say that you can’t just blob the AI to death in this game (though good luck with that), it’s just going to come at higher and higher costs.

The Galaxy Map, where you’ll be spending half of the game deciding your next course of action. Notes and priorities can be set to the map.

One of the biggest slowdowns the game has is “refleeting”. When you’re dealing with massive fleet vs fleet combat, you’re going to lose ships. Sometimes, all of them at once. This leads to a long process of rebuilding a fleet, especially if you don’t have the resources (or lose access to them in a fight) to rebuild it right away or you’re in the middle of building another massive project. AI War tries to help get around this with other things to do while you’re waiting for your fleet to rebuild with champions and such. But there’s no denying that there is a lot of sunk time into waiting for your fleet to rebuild and some segments of the game can be especially brutal because of this.

The resource system in AI War is easy to manage and there are settings that allow you to simply have the game manage building the necessary collectors right away. It’s not the focus of AI War for the players to be constantly managing it either. It simply exists to keep the player in check and require smart decisions. Those resources are: Metal, Power, Knowledge, Hacking and AI Progress. Metal is used to build everything, power is for keeping the lights on for ships, shields and structures, knowledge is for unlocking upgrades for currently known technology and AI Progress affects how much response the AI is going to commit to its attacks. The higher it is, the nastier it will be. Metal is acquired by taking over planets and mining their resources or by blowing up certain structures that the AI has. The game doesn’t require you to actually have the exact amount of metal to begin building whatever it is you want, but if you drain your metal too fast, your production will slow down severely while the metal trickles in. Knowledge is acquired by having science labs on your own planets or hacking it from AI controlled worlds. Hacking allows the players to hack enemy planets to sabotage the enemy if you don’t want to take the planet over. Hacking can be a risky venture because the AI will respond with progressively bigger fleets until your hacking station is destroyed or you finish gathering the knowledge. Finally, there’s AI progress.

A screen you may face if the AIP gets too high.

AI progress is increased every time you take over a planet, destroy important structures, build super weapons and generally do things that will piss it off. AI Progress is usually increased through player actions but there is a setting that lets it increase gradually over time the longer you play the game. It’s a sort of timer that will eventually spell the player’s doom. I’m not a particularly big fan of the AI Progress increases per X minute/hour. At least, considering how few AI progress reducers there are in the game. That is the point of the mechanic but I’m not in favor of having an ever increasing AI while I’m making decisions. It puts unnecessary pressure on making decisions quickly. That’s just my opinion though and it’s not like the mechanic harms anyone if they don’t want it to. Just, something I thought I’d bring up. AI progress reducers are structures throughout the game that can be destroyed to reduce the overall progress. That’s about it, they’re just tactical decisions to be made, whether a planet is worth invading to destroy them.

AI War can be overwhelming at times because there are both grand strategy and tactical strategy decisions to be made all the time. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be right away. The game does its best to alleviate that with a good UI and plenty of filters on the galaxy map to help parse all of the information that can be accessed. I think at this point, AIW does a good job of catering to multiple play styles (blitzkrieg, overly defensive, hit and run and so on) while providing a good foil in the AI. I’d say maybe where it gets a little trying at times is towards the end game and the grind fest that can result at that point. That being said, plenty of tools have been added to alleviate that. So, your mileage will vary.

Story and Lore Look Over

There isn’t a lot of lore in the base game as it was added in later. But basically, Humanity has already fought a war against the AI and lost. What remains now is a pale remnant of that force, a settlement of humans, most of which are in stasis until the war is over. You, as the player, must take what limited forces you have and take on the AI by outsmarting and outmaneuvering it. An AI that has turned its attention elsewhere in the universe. You can’t destroy its manufacturing capability but you can take on what remains and outfight it. However, the AI is ever watchful and if you antagonize it too much before you’re ready, it will send a fleet upon your head that you can’t handle. What follows next is the story of the player’s journey. A journey that often ends in death and destruction.

A valiant last stand? Or the beginning of something new?

In those terms, it’s a rather grim game. Being the last of humanity with no fleets or allies to call upon. Up against an implacable force that is as smart as you. But, it’s the basis for AI War and why tactics such as flanking and deceptive attacks are preferred. What happens next depends upon the player and you’ll spend the session creating an epic quest, an epic adventure….that may end in bloody defeat. There are numerous such stories on the Arcen forums and I’ve had my own. Most recently, I was fighting an all-out war with the AI to complete the Fallen Spire campaign and managed to get to the tipping point. Only for the AI to send two backstabbing fleets on my least defended flanks while a devourer golem showed up to eat half my fleet. Despite recovering and destroying the AI’s fleets, I was badly wounded and had lost a lot of resource planets to the AI. Rebuilding was slow, too slow, and the AI returned again in one final push that spelled my end. I knew it was only a matter of time. My home command station fell and there was no recovering. So, this game is about creating such epic tales and relaying them to others, if you wish. Winning is great but the losses can be just as “enjoyable” because losses rarely feel like the AI cheated. Rather, it took advantage of a good situation when it saw one and you feel nothing but respect (and some bitterness) at the AI for outsmarting you.

A last valiant stand.

More recent expansions added more lore and story to be found out while you played. Some detail how the war ended, others talk about the existing races and what happened to them at the hands of the AI and so on. It’s not quite enough to give you a complete picture of all the events but enough to fill out some gaps. Even I haven’t apparently found all the lore that there is to find. So there is some story to be found in AI War, but really, you should be creating your own.

Business Model

AI War’s Business Model is selling multiple expansions in addition to the original game that expand its content. These were released at the same time as substantial free updates so it was a win-win situation. These are actually expansions in every sense of the term, changing up or improving the way the game plays. Generally, each expansion adds one big feature such as superweapons, a new race, new ways to win and so on in addition to new map types, new AI and Human ships, new AI types and other special features. Each expansion is well worth obtaining. That being said, the learning curve of AI War is steep enough as it is. Adding on the additional content, ships and mechanics with the expansions will make that learning curve that much steeper to the point of being overwhelming. I generally recommend playing the base game by itself with maybe the first expansion enabled. Then, once you get used to it, add in the other expansions as you like. Honestly though, there’s no reason not to get the entire AI War collection at this point. AI War is $10 and the additional $7 to get all the remaining content (even if you don’t enable it right away) is well worth the asking price. 

Expansion Overlook: The Zenith Remnant

Dyson protection services

The Zenith Remnant was the first expansion released for AI War and set the tone for expansions to follow. It added new superweapons called Golems, plenty of new ships and experimental ships as well as introducing the Zenith race. After the success of AI War, it was exactly the type of expansion in terms of providing the type of content the game needed to set the tone for post release support. Golems are massive ships that can be found throughout the galaxy. These massive weapons can change the odds into your favor but come at a great cost in resources and AIP cost. If they’re taken down, they can’t be rebuilt. These Golems range from frontline bruisers to repairing medics to Golems that turn AI ships destroyed into a mighty zombie force. Two neutral Golems can be enabled that wander the galaxy: Zenith Traders and the Devourer Golem, both of which have become icons of the game and are usually seen in most sessions. Zenith Traders allow players (and the AI) to build powerful structures that cost a ton of resources. The Devourer Golem however will “eat” any ships that come across its path (sans ships immune to instant death). Both Golems will wander from planet to planet not interfering directly (though the Devourer Golem will sometimes chase fleets around), simply doing whatever they want, and remaining indestructible. The Devo Golem is one of my favorite features simply because its fun watching an entire AI fleet get eaten by it but there are times when I’ve lost track of it only to find it “suddenly” in my system eating my entire fleet apart. So, there are definitely trade-offs to having these two neutral elements enabled in the game.

You can spot four Golems in this fleet.

The Zenith are a mysterious ancient race that no longer exists but they left behind much of their technology. Their ships are better than human ships in their role but come at a cost of resources or other specs. Notably: they have long-range sniper ships that can touch the entire system but are slower than other ships. Then they have Hydra ships that split apart into numerous smaller ships when damaged. This expansion also comes with another fan-favorite: the Dyson Sphere. This massive unkillable sphere produces Dyson Gatlings that attacks all targets unless you free them from AI control. If you try to take over their system however, they will rebel against you. These powerful gatlings can be useful for protecting your worlds and attacking fleets building up threat but this can also have the downside of provoking the AI sooner than you’d like. All in all, this expansion is an impressive amount of content that still remains relevant in the latest edition of AI War and definitely worth picking up. 

A siege golem

Expansion Overlook: Children of Neinzul

Children of Neinzul expansion was a mini-expansion that added the new Neinzul race. A short-lived insectoid race who’s ships could only last a short time before either dying or needing to be restored in a specialized chamber. Neinzul ships tend to be very swarm based and rely on sheer numbers for firepower. This expansion also introduced Hybrid Hives, free ships that act like a coordinated pack of hunters poking and prodding your defenses for weaknesses. I’ve fought Hybrid Hives on numerous occasions and they aren’t to be messed with lightly. They’re powerful ships in their own right and can grow to be an overwhelming threat if you don’t deal with them effectively. This expansion also comes with new ship types, AI types, Neinzul alien minor factions and two map styles. It only adds three new music tracks to the game, making it the smallest addition of music out of any of the expansion. 

CoN was originally created as a charity expansion for Child’s Play and any revenue generated would go to them. From 2010 to 2013, it was aimed to generated about $14,000. Surprisingly, it generated $44,597.02. For such a small expansion, it certainly helped a lot of people. The Neinzul race isn’t the most popular race in the game and they tend to be a bit gimmicky but they add a flavor of gameplay that some enjoy. 

Expansion Overlook: Light of the Spire

There’s Light of the Spire, the second full expansion of AIW. This expansion introduces a new race called the Spire, an ancient still living race that depends on much larger starships and overpowering laser weapons to blast through fleets of AI’s warships. This is considered one of the best expansions and a must pick as it not only introduces a very fun race to the game but also a new type of campaign. The Fallen Spire campaign has you rescuing Spire cores from destruction by the AI and discovering what happened to this ancient race. Giving little hints and clues to the outside universe and what the AI is doing during your own campaign. It also adds a ton of new ships, re-balances, music and more. It finally added a Defender type mode which has you surviving the AI for X amount of time. I’ve played defender mode off-an-on but it isn’t what I play AI War for.

A collection of Spire ships.

The Fallen Spire campaign is a big change of pace from the regular campaign. Where “normal” has you running guerrilla style warfare on systems and being extremely choosy about which planets to take over, The Fallen Spire campaign throws stealth and small tactics out the window in favor of a more traditional war. Not only are the Spire ships large warships capable of spitting out tons of firepower, making them suited to a typical war, they also require a ton of resources to build-. Additionally, throughout the campaign you’ll need to build Spire Cities that give the player access to resources and powerful defensive and offensive capabilities. However, these cities require not only their home planet cleared of AI influence but surrounding planets cleared as well. Minor spoilers: You’ll need to build at least five spire cities in order to access the spire’s deadliest battleships and dreadnoughts. This requires a ton of planets to be taken over as Spire cities can’t be built within two jumps of each other. Plus, the AI isn’t simply going to let you build up a Spire fleet without responding. So, expect incredibly powerful waves to come down upon you.

Another fleet of Spire ships.

The Light of the Spire expansion is one of my favorite expansions between the new campaigns it introduces, the wealth of new lore that can be found and the Spire race being one of my favorite races to field. That being said, the expansion isn’t without its issues. The FS campaign is a slog to get through and repetitive in terms of its actions. Scan for shard -> go to system with shard -> escort shard home -> build Spire city, rinse and repeat five times. This can be especially annoying if you have to repeat the campaign over because you lost horribly. Even more brutal is the large AI ship waves that are thrown at you. This campaign can be a slog to get through as thousands of ships are thrown at your defenses and your CPU slows to a crawl trying to process everything happening on screen. It’s not a subtle campaign, you’ll be changing your tactics to be more brutal to the AI and less worried about individual planets. Which can be very fun and cathartic but also tiring after too much exposure to the incoming waves of ships. I haven’t actually gotten to the end of one of these campaigns because I’ll get to a point where the AI has simply overwhelmed and overtaxed my fleet’s capabilities but it is possible to win. I just haven’t figured it out yet.

Such pretty ships.

Expansion Overlook: Ancient Shadows

Ancient Shadows expansion is primarily about Champion-class ships. These powerful vessels wield powerful weapons and shields and can be a great asset against the AI’s forces. They also have the capability of going into other parts of the galaxy where neither the AI nor normal human ships can go. These planets generally have a challenge that the champion ships must overcome and the player will be rewarded with a more powerful ship, technologies or other rewards. The general idea with these powerful ships was to give players something to do when they were rebuilding their fleets or allowing casual/new players to join the game and control just that one ship on their own. The devs were hoping that this would fix the problem of Netflixing while playing but they remain a bit of a controversial point within the community. I personally think they’re ok in that regard. Perhaps the most annoying aspect to them though is managing their upgrades through the UI. It works, it’s just kind of clunkier than it should be and there’s a lot more busy work than necessary. I don’t have any particular good suggestions on fixing it though. 

A command ship along with a ton of Flagships boosting the fleet.

Following up Light of the Spire wasn’t an easy task for Arcen and Ancient Shadows was probably overshadowed (ha ha ha) for that but the champion ships certainly helped obscuring it. It does come with the most music in an expansion (98 minutes worth), Modular fortresses and the usual inclusion of bonus ships, guard posts, AI types and map types. While it was a good first shot at champions, they would later be overhauled/improved several times into their current form.

Expansion Overlook: Vengeance of the Machine

After Ancient Shadows came the menacing expansion: Vengeance of the Machine. Vengeance was aimed primarily at giving the AI plenty of new tools and personalities for the players to overcome in addition to a new victory condition “Showdown Devices”. There’s now dual personality type AIs, core guard posts designed to defend the AI’s homeworlds, new guardian types and much more. It was an expansion to give some much needed love to the AI you’ll be fighting against and it works well at doing just that. The dual-personality AIs aren’t anything I’ve personally messed around with (because who needs a more deadly AI amiright?) but I’ve tried taking on Showdown Devices. These essentially work on taking all destroyed remains of ships on those planets and then retaliating… It was a bit of a horror story, I don’t like recalling it. Overall, this is definitely a worthy expansion on its own, even if you don’t include the 7.0 update that came along with it. It’s for those that think the AI is just a little too easy/dull and want to spice things up. 

Expansion Overlook: Destroyer of Worlds

The sixth and final expansion, Destroyer of Worlds, introduces Nomad Planets, planets that move around the system changing the map unlike before. These planets have rewards on them as well as dangerous problems and an ultimate secret weapon. This alternative way-to-win is something I haven’t actually attempted to tackle but it sounds like fun. The expansion also came with an 8.0 patch designed to fix up some of the more problematic mechanics that existed in the game for a long time. Including: Hacking, Salvaging and Champion tweaks. The expansion also comes with more AI personalities and the addition of Linux support. Destroyer fixed up the problematic hacking system that always felt pretty bare-boned in prior versions of the game. Now, its a resource that players can choose to manage throughout the game. You gain points to hacking by taking over worlds and damaging the AI. Spending these points allows you to hack more research from AI owned systems, shut down certain structures on planets, “cloak” player ships, steal or remove ship designs from the AI’s database and much more. However, the response to hacking from the AI will get more and more severe as they patch the “holes” in their security network. So, you have to be careful poking the AI in the eye. Hacking is another powerful tool in the players’ arsenal to help deal with the RNG in case it decides to stack a starship destroying guard post in a system with an Ion cannon or other normally grindy problems in the past.

Salvaging was added as a way to not only help players rebuild after a nasty fight in their home owned systems but also as a counter measure for the AI if the player was losing too many ships in enemy territory. Generally, sending balls of fleets willfully into systems without forethought wasn’t really punished except with long refleeting and potential backstabs from the AI on other planets. Now, the AI could quickly build a fleet from your destroyed ships and retaliate quickly. Thus, it encouraged the player to not be so willful with their ships. It’s even caused me to change tactics unless I have no other choice so I didn’t have to deal with a deadly threat later. Destroyer of Worlds feels like a final expansion from a developer expanding on the game after so many years of experience. 

Two player fleets

PC Settings & Audio/Video & Performance Demands

Game Settings What the User Can Configure
Windowed, Borderless and Fullscreen modes with V-Sync All normal resolutions are supported. V-Sync is on/off.
Graphic options including Background objects displayed, preloading images and hiding/reducing visual stimulation. There are a ton of graphics options that let you make the game as pretty as you want or reduce visual clutter both in the fore and background.
Music, Master, Weapon, Explosion, Voice, Interface, Ship and Alert sound options. Audio sliders with individual mute options. Music and all sound can be easily disabled.
All keybindings can be changed. Everything really, there isn’t a single keybinding the player can’t change.
Multiplayer Note: Games must connect through network ports or LAN connections. There are no in-game servers.   Network port, import old settings, import/export other settings, etc.

AI War is flexible about what how much of a drain it’ll cause on the CPU and network with several settings pertaining to both. However, it can’t be understated that while this title can run on something as simple as a toaster, some of the late-game fleet battles can do a number on the CPU/GPU. However, the game does have a performance profile setting which you can change to help deal with the lag until it gets better. It’s a heavily optimized game and runs about as well as one can expect from a 2D RTS. Bugs or crashes are extremely rare experiences especially these days as patches have slowed down. Usually the most difficulty anyone is going to have with AI War is setting up the multiplayer but Arcen does provide plenty of resources (including a forum) to help deal with any potential issues.

As for how AIW looks, well, it’s got some of the prettiest space backgrounds I’ve ever seen complete with nebulae, planets and other space objects. All randomly generated yet still mesh well together. There’s all sorts of planet types too from Earth-like ocean planets to gas giants similar to Saturn or Jupiter. As for the ships, buildings and such, they work. I wouldn’t say they’re the most good looking units or well animated ships you’ll ever find, but they look consistent and fit in the universe. So, it’s not a looker of a game, but it looks good enough and functional enough to work. Music is done by Pablo Vega and has been expanded upon with each and every expansion. Each and every expansion, the music continues to get better and better but even the original tracks hold up really well. The tracks aren’t dynamic/procedural generated so they may not play at the most appropriate times. But there are plenty of combat, normal and somber tracks that really stand out. Mostly its instrumental tracks with a piano, flute or vocals combined with some accompanying instruments in the background but later tracks started leaning heavily towards electronic. Still, they all stay with the same style that the original opening theme of AI War presented with. Sound design is pretty good too but nothing out of the ordinary. It works well enough to keep the player alert to what’s going on without overwhelming them with noise (unless you’re in the middle of a heated battle). 

Final Thoughts

AI War wants you to focus more on the big picture by which systems you’ll take next, what planets need defending, where should ships be positioned at and what’s more important to value. It doesn’t want you focusing on the smallest details or hitting the buttons at the right time in quick succession over a long period of time. Fleet Command is its primary goal, a goal that it has most definitely succeeded at achieving. The strategic depth, the sheer amount of content, unpredictable AI and enjoyable mechanics are the reasons I keep coming back to this game. A voiced AI that is clever and constantly dismissive of you both in small victories and defeat. There’s so much I haven’t talked about like supply, nuclear weapons, mobile builders, black hole machines, the various types of maps that you can experience, what each individual ship does, the content there is to discover and so much more. That is part of the wonder about AIW that every session can feel like a new one because there’s always something different to encounter. Especially when this game was in its prime and getting regular updates and features added in. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch though. It has a massive learning curve that can be daunting to new players, the UI is functional and readable but can be overwhelming or difficult to navigate and games can drag on depending on how unkind the RNG is to you. AIW does its best to give players the tools to avoid the grind though but there’s only so much it can do.

AI War: Fleet Command secures a place as my favorite non-traditional RTS of all time. ~250 hours in AI War also makes it one of my top played games of all time. Its a game I’ve loved to lose at.  Its a game I highly recommend to those interested in this genre and I think that, despite some of its flaws, it’s well worth playing. Plus, the music is awesome! Sure, AI War 2 will be coming out in the near future and I have no doubt that Arcen will do justice by the sequel. As much as I’m looking forward to AI War 2, I feel a bit of melancholy about AI War: Fleet Command development coming to an end. But regardless of what happens, I believe that AI War 1 will still be worth playing in 10, 20 or 50 years.

GOG Link for AI War

Thanks for reading this review on AI War: Fleet Command. Please feel free to share this around, comment below if you enjoyed/didn’t enjoy it or take a look at my other reviews I do on this site!

-KingIsaacLinksr

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