Thoughts after extensive playthroughs

Published on Sunday, January 1, 2023 By captainkoloth In Sins II Feedback

Hello everyone:

I've been able to put a good number of hours into the game over the holiday - not as much as I'd like to really think through the game mechanics deeply (that would be hundreds of hours), but at least a couple dozen- enough that I feel like I can give some high-level feedback.
First of all, the TLDR: I love this game. I am having a blast with it. The wife had to tear me away from it multiple times over the holiday. It's definitely a "Sins quality game", a worthy successor to the original, a true sequel rather than just a facelift. I'm going to focus more on things that I think can improved because in my book, well, if it's already great, then it's great! Nothing that needs to be improved there. I think the question of what can be made even better is more interesting and valuable than just saying this is great, that's also great. So there's a lot of constructive criticism here, but take it in that spirit. 
First, things I like (or love):
1) Planetary motion
I didn't think much of this when it was mentioned in the previews, but I've been very pleasantly surprised at how much it changes up the gameplay and causes me to think along yet another strategic dimension. Planets I heavily build up and fortify as major nexuses may be useless an hour later, and vice versa. You can't just chokepoint everything through one starbase as you previously could. This is a massive, massive improvement to the gameplay. I also love how the moons work and that the planets and asteroids rotate, taking structures with them. Having objects constantly in motion adds yet another great strategic element to the game that forces you to think many steps ahead. This is terrific. And I like how (as far as I can tell) you can't see exactly where the future phase lanes will be, adding some randomness/fog of war to the proceedings. 
Suggestion/food for thought: real planetary systems (obnoxious as it may be to point out, I am actually an astrophysicist by day job!) have out-of-plane bodies too; having a planet revolving at e.g. 45 or 90 degrees "above" the others would add yet further (good) complexity, rather than having everything in one 2D plane. Similarly, orbits can be elliptical, cutting across many others, rather than just circles (though maybe elliptical paths are in the game currently and I just haven't been able to see it because the full orbital path isn't swept out - a good thing, as per the above).
2) Research system
Not that it's really new, but I feel like everything is exceptionally well integrated- I want this, so I need to get that, so I need that prerequisite- it doesn't feel like anything in the research tree is superfluous or can be skipped, and it seems very well linked together. I also like the new research tier system. It's functionally the same as the old required number of research stations, but I like this implementation better.
3) Planet/ship slot upgrade system
 I love this. Fantastic improvement to the gameplay to have modular components. I wouldn't mind "moar stuff" and additional components, but the implementation is excellent. 
4) Use of actual turrent pointing
This is great. In fact, I'm going to list it in the things to improve below becuase I don't think it's yet utilized to anywhere near its full potential, and it could be a real game changer.
5) Change in pirate mechanics
Pirates in Sins 1 were mostly a nuisnace, and an actual nuisance in the sense of not being much fun to deal with. The new pirate/minor faction system probably isn't 100% there yet, I need to think about it some more, but it's close, and I think it's perfectly fine as is.
6) Black market overhaul
Much better. In Sins 1 it was easy to just keep dumping crystal for credits (or whatever other combination you wanted) such that resources weren't much of an issue after the initial stages of the game: this system is much better. That being said, I do think the price needs to be more reactive to your market actions as it was in the first game.
7) Art, music
I'm neither much of an artist or musician, but I'm quite happy with the art direction, graphics, sound (with one exception - see below).
8) Replacement of capital ship crew cap with exotics 
I feel like this is a much better system. Before there was a somewhat artifical system to limit the number of capships - now it's more like "if you really want to spend that much, you can at your own risk", which I feel like is a more interesting option for the player.
9) Nerudas are much more useful 
I never used diplomacy in Sins 1. The new Nerudas are much more interesting and useful in that they can spread culture (maybe they did this Sins 1, I hardly ever used them, but I don't think they did). I think this use of the envoy ships is much improved.
10) Stability
Quite excellent for such an early build. I only had one crash and it was sort of a fluke (trying to send some ships to meet up at a certain planet) - never happened again in dozens of hours of gameplay. 
11) Moddability
This is more just a "thank you", but I am convinced that the superb implemention of moddability on Sins 1 is one of the things that's kept it going so strong 15 years (!) later. There are very few straegy games, if any, that I can think of, that have this degree of longevity that aren't also highly moddable, so I'm extremely happy to see that it remains a key part of the roadmap for later. It's a core feature of a great, long-lived game in my view, and as you know there are still incredibly talented teams putting together amazing mods for Sins 1 to this day. 
12) Starbases 
I like the new implementation of starbases a lot better. In Sins 1 they were definitely overpowered, especially since you could build them anywhere. Having them be more of a true gravity-well fixed structure nerfs them appropriately, and, combined with the moving planets, this means they're no longer unstoppable deathtraps that you can stack at choke points.
OK, now things to improve. Disclaimer that, as above, this is in the context of "this is an amazing game already, here are some ways to make it even better." Also I assume a bunch of these are already in the roadmap to be worked on, in which case, just ignore my comments on them.
Suggested areas for improvement:
1) General balance is way too easy -
Until recently I'd never played Sins 2 before (obviously). I have a lot of time in Sins 1, but I'm by no means a great player; I'm almost certainly well below average skill as far as the Sins 2 test player base goes. And yet in my very first Sins 2 game, I played against three AIs on the toughest difficulty setting and curb-stomped them with ease. I haven't played enough games yet to really observe what the AI is doing, but I think most of the problem is more on the player balance side. 
I frequently found myself surprised at how cheap some of the research and ships were relative to where I was in the game, and several structures or research items that I had seen referred to on the forums as late-game (such as orbital mines and exotics refineries) I got pretty early with no trouble. Exotics in particular are way too easy; maybe I'm missing something, but as far as I can tell as soon as I can build one single exotics factory anywhere then any other exotic I need for the rest of the game effectively just means whatever I wanted to build is a few hundreds credits (and metal and crystal) more. 
I feel like the exotic refinery should be a Titan-level investment, and the exotics themselves much more expensive on top of that. Perhaps they could also get more expensive each time you use the refinery rather than excavating them. Right now, they don't really feel rare or desirable; it's just more of a speed bump.
Another balance issue- I think the underdevelopment penalty should be much more aggressive- I never felt it was holding me back from expansion. Similarly, I may be in the minority on this, but I would actually like to see the return of fleet upkeep, to force me to think more carefully about how many ships I really want to have in my fleet.
In summary, I think most player items need to be much more expensive, or the player economy significantly harder to get going, and some of the early-game research items like exotics factories should be pushed out to the later game and made more difficult to acquire. It's just way too easy right now, and I'm objectively not a great Sins 1 player. 
2) All the useful stuff from the Sins 1 UI is gone
OK, this is an exaggeration, but there's a ton of incredibly crucial UI information that's missing. I assume much of this is coming in future builds, but this includes alerts that one of my fleets or colonies is under attack; alerts that I'm about to lose or have lost a capital ship; and most critically, the fleet management system is completely broken (in fact this so annoyed me that I made a whole separate thread about it -  here). 
No create fleet button? No rally points? This one is kind of a dealbreaker for me; as I described in that thread, the current fleet management system is so hard to use that I feel it will just incentivize players to bandbox everything into one giant deathball rather than strategize. Same goes for the ability to select multiple units of a type. I assume much of this must be in the roadmap already- it would be mind-boggling if it had been intentionally deleted- I just want to register how crucial it is that these features do in fact make it (back) into the game.
3) Ship tactics feel unfinished 
I realize, of course that the game IS unfinished! So again this falls into "just want to make sure this is in the roadmap". I love the new turrent pointing/missile systems, it makes the combat feel much more tactical. However, I feel like most of the time the ships just sit there stationary and shoot at each other (to a large extent, at least). Combat would be much more interesting if the ships were more dynamic, and more importantly, if the player had some control over this- for example, the ability to set doctrine to (for example) have your capship hang back, dive into the center of the fight, maneuver evasively to have say a -10% chance of getting hit but also incur a -15% penalty to one's own targeting, etc. 
Basically, this system is great but heavily underutilized. Right now it's almost more of an artistic thing since the player has no control over it and it's a bit of a crapshoot as to whether the ships will be maneuvering such that it will matter. In its best form, this system could give battles a "Battle of Jutland" feel, where - for the non-aficianados of World War I naval warfare (both of you) the ability of the German Navy to outmaneuver the British fleet meant that a technically and numerically inferior force (the Germans) achieved a stalemate against a fleet (the British) that should have able to wipe the floor with them, solely because they were able to maneuver (in two dimensions!) into a better position. This is similar to what Nelson was famously able to do at Trafalgar as well. 
It may seem that I'm harping on obscure centuries-old naval battles, but there's a good reason these are celebrated hundreds of years later. I feel this system has the potential to create these Trafalgar-level stories, and it's so tantalizingly close to being able to do that that it would be agonizing if it didn't fulfill that potential. Just imagine the stories you could tell "I was down to my last two siege frigates from a fleet of 200, and a barrage of missiles was coming down to end it all, when my last Cobalt flew in and absorbed them,  while meanwhile I ordered my Marza to charge the enemy headfirst and absorb their fire at a cost of all their antimatter and 80% of their targeting capability, just in time for the Krosovs to annihilate the planet and win the game for me", or "I had just 20 Javelis LRMs and a couple of Kols against 300 ships, but I was able to order the Kols to form a shield and around the Javelis, sacrificing themselves  while the cruisers ran circles around the enemy so fast that their turrets couldn't keep up; I took 200 of them with me." Stuff like that. I feel like this system is on the verge of elevating Sins to an entirely new level of tactical excellence, it just needs some doctrines and more discrete order options to get there. 
4) Battle "ambiance" 
This may be just me, but battles right now sound too much to me like ships firing literal machine guns at each other. I would much prefer a slightly more "spacey" laser pew type sound, even for the projectile weapons. This may seem very minor and may just be taste, but enough of the TEC's weapons are projectile-based that it does detract a bit from the immersion for me. Similarly, current explosions are just sort of a "pop". They're a bit wimpy. Sins 1 had glorious explosions. The whole screen shook for capital ships. Sins 2 feels more like firecrackers quickly going off and then fizzling out. Explosions need to be grander!
Along those lines, I've always liked the nukes used on planetary sieges, going back to Sins 1, but again, now that we're on a 2022 engine, those explosions should be much bigger and more impressive. They look like the exact same ones from Sins 1 right now. I realize a lot of the art is still placeholder though (another one along these lines- what happend to all those cool flying cars above populated planets? Hopefully they return). 
5) Scale, large and small 
I've seen some others talk about this here and I agree: given the new engine, it should be possible (at least as maybe a toggleable option) to allow for much larger fleet sizes. One of the great things about Sins has always been that it's been perhaps the only game that lets you throw together the multi-hundred spaceship deathballs we all want, but still have it be a deep strategic game rather than just a mess in the process.
To that end, since the game is now being built from scratch for modern machines, I would like to see it take full advantage of the most modern hardware and allow the fleet supply to be pushed up into the thousands or even tens of thousands. Maybe this is even something moddable, but in my book, if someone with their water-cooled i9-13900k wants to play at 5 fps with 1,500 ships, they should be able to - it won't be long until midrange processors a few years down the road will be able to handle those sorts of computations with ease.  Think of how much more powerful even a wimpy Windows tablet is today than the most powerful gaming PC money could buy when Sins 1 came out- with any luck, people will be playing Sins 2 just as long, and "aspirationally high" settings and fleet sizes today will be run of the mill in just a few years. 
And on the small scale- I'm a little disappointed that you can't really zoom in much more than you could in Sins 1, either on the ships or the planets. It's a 2022 graphics engine vs. 2008 - we should get at least a LITTLE more eye candy! 
6 ) Black market sensitivity
As mentioned above, the black market seems much less sensitive than it was in Sins 1 to the player's buying or selling decisions- it should more quickly adjust price to "counteract" the player's decisions.
7) Surface structures need to be either much less expensive or more powerful
This is another balance issue- in the player guide it said surface structures are useful early game and orbital later on, but I hardly built any surface structures and still won pretty easily, getting back to that issue of player balance. It might be better if there were a much more signifciant cost or capabiliy  differential between surface and orbital structures (e.g. maybe an orbital resaerch station is double the cost of a surface station and only 75% better, or something along those lines). As it is,  I don't feel like there's enough of an incentive to use surface structures.
8) Confusing UI for some functions
I'm hoping/assuming this is just one of those "early build issues", but I found a lot of the UI/tooltips to be baffling/nonexistent. I found that I can set sort of a rally point? I think? by right-clicking on things, but it's not documented anywhere; I went through an entire game and won without having the foggiest notion of how the trade route assignment system works; it took me quite a long time to realize those little colored arcs coming out of the side of the planets were the direction and sense of the orbit,  etc. Again, easy fixes, these things just need tyo be documented,  somewhere, anywhere. Some of them I couldn't find even on the forum or the player guide. I assume all of this will be fixed in later builds, so I'm not too worried about it. 
9) Searchable tech tree
Please add a search function to the tech tree! (I had the same thoughts about Sins 1, for what it's worth). This would help save on the time spent searching for "where exactly is the prerequisite for this thing I want?" It would be especially helpful for new players or players who like to jump between factions, since one of the strengths of the game is that their tech trees are all different. 
Finally, on to more of a wishlist/ideas:
1) Make the player choose between multiple imperfect paths rather than be able to do everything once they have enough money
 As per the above, it's relatively easy to eventually get everything in the tech tree. It might be interesting if certain choices later locked out other paths; Sid Meier famously said that games are a series of interesting decisions. If I had to choose between (just to make up an example) getting a Garda or being able to upgrade my Starbase's armor, and the decision is irrevocable, that becomes an interesting decision. In Sins - (and this was the case in 1 also), if you wait long enough you can eventually get everything. More tradeoffs - one-or-the-other type decisions - I think would ultimately make for more interesting strategic options. An example of a game that did this really well was Alpha Centauri. In both the unit workshop and the civics, you could combine certain unit attributes or government types, but they all had cons and you couldn't max out everything.
Along these lines, it might be interesting to have, say, six abilities for a Marza or Kol, but only have the ability to select three, after which the others are locked out for that particular ship. This makes the player have to choose much more carefully what upgrades they really want, rather than just wait for more experience (for a cap ship) or credits (for e.g. a starbase). The closest Sins probably comes to this is that you can only choose one Titan, but I think the principle could be expanded a bit more.
2) "Gear shift advantage" for autocast
 As a relatievly below-average player I basically just leave autocast on all the time on all my capships since I only play in SP. It might be interesting to have autocast be, say, 2% or 5% less effective than manual, to give players a reason to use manual casting outside of MP, much like racing games will usually give you an extra few mph for using manual vs. automatic stick shift. Maybe this is a toggleable option. 
3) Battle log
A number of recent strategy/wargames have had really fantastic battle log/AARs - two exemplary cases are Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts and Gunner, HEAT, PC! for instance. In both of these, you can go shot by shot and see who shot each projectile that hit a ship, the path it took, the damage it did, etc. I'm not suggesting that level of granularity is necessary here, but it would be neat to have some sort of log showing, e.g., 30% of the damage that was done to your lost Marza was done by the TEC rebels, of which 10% was from Javelis LRMs, that kind of thing. It would give you a sense of how effective your (and their) fleet design is relative to what you think it's doing. For example, if I'm loading up on Javelis, but I see my enemy is annihilating me with Cobalts even though he also has a lot of LRMs, maybe that makes me rethink my cost/capability allocationa. Similarly, one could imagine a tooltip where, for instance, I click on my Marza, I click on my "aim tool", and then on an enemy ship, and I get percentage probability of hitting at this distance, how much would be absorbed by their armor, etc. All this math is being done under the hood anyway so it might be interesting to showcase some of it. Just a thought. 
4) Planet lights
A small one-  it would be neat to see populated planets and asteroids gettjng more nightlights as they get further developed.
And now... I'm going to go start a new game!