After playing a few games and digging through the data files, I figured I'd go ahead and give some general impressions.
First off, I'm glad to see Yarlen and Blair continuing to post. That makes me hopeful for community interaction going forward.
Oh hey, it's json files! That's actually an established file format! This is so much better than the not-yaml from the first game. I still wish we had schemas for the new stuff, but that can always be derived. Edit: we have confirmation that we will be getting the schemas!
But more importantly, constraints! Most notably, I see we already have...
- logical wrappers
- autocast caster constraints
Do I need to talk about how much better the new engine is than the old one? I think we all know.
- Strikecraft Docking: launch looks fine, but docking has them just vanish from open space weirdly. I don't know if this is a turn radius AI thing or what, but it looks weird.
- Flak Burst: the text suggests it has friendly fire, but it doesn't seem that it does. Please change one or the other.
- Pirate Base Component Slots: I feel like you should be able to stick things in there. Right now, they have a slot that you can't fill with anything.
Ship Design Changes
Overall, I'm a fan of these, but Cobalt takes the cake. I always hated the old design.
On that note, why the rebrand from Kodiaks to Harckas? As far as I can tell, everything else stayed the same, and the ships still have giant autocannons on them, so why the name change?
While I love the idea, I'm not sure about the implementation. I don't think they're terrible, but I feel like they missed the mark somehow. I wish I could explain why, sorry.
Update: As time as gone on, I think I like these more and more, especially with the dynamic phase lanes.
Trade & Refineries
I'm mostly fine with these changes, but I'll admit I liked the trade port income being impacted by the path length. It led to more planning of where to put logistic structures. That said, with dynamic maps, that's impractical these days. I do love the import point system though. That's cool.
As for refineries, I'm fine with the exotics system, though I suspect this was intended to interface more with the excavation upgrade, and I think most people will opt to just refine them instead of go digging for them.
I love these things. They make capital ships feel a lot more customizable. I don't have as strong of an opinion on them regarding planets, but I do think the UI should do a better job of telegraphing that they're not automatic buffs. At least on initial playthrough, I was very confused by this, but maybe that's just because there's no great game guide yet.
I think the Antimatter Engine is probably overpowered though. It may as well as make abilities free with how much it ups regen. On the other end, I think the Radiation Bomb and Salvage Kit won't see much use because of their limited charges.
My biggest concern here is how long they take to install. That's a lot of downtime for a hero unit to reload. Edit: looks like this has been changed.
I also haven't been able to figure out how to uninstall them if you misclick.
Why don't Provas and Krosovs have guns anymore? I get removing them from colony ships and Hoshikos, but I should think Krosovs should at least get light missiles, and I don't think a point defense gun on the Prova would be out of place. Is it just to keep the AI from throwing them into the meat grinder? Granted, I don't think either should be especially good at ship-to-ship combat, but the Prova being able to shoot down the odd incoming missile or the Krosov at least trying to throw its nukes at another ship makes sense to me.
I haven't exhaustively tested these yet, so I could be wrong, but I believe Shield Mitigation is now a flat percentage currently standardized based on unit type, and I assume the formula for armor is now 1/(1+MAX(0, armor - penetration)/100).
Edit: mitigation is a flat numerical reduction in damage, and armor is 1/(1+MAX(0, armor-penetration)/100).
Armor - Penetration vs Armor Types
The change from armor reducing damage by 5% to 1% is more intuitive, so this is a good change for new player clarity.
Likewise, the apparent pivot away from the armor types of the first game in favor of armor penetration is a substantial boon for new players. I vividly remember the time I learned LRFs did extra damage to LFs just because.
Using Penetration over armor types does have the downside of making balance between ship types harder to control due to fewer balancing dials you can tune in the future, but I'm glad for it nonetheless.
Shield Mitigation vs Point Defense
The biggest thing out of the gate for me is the change to Shield Mitigation. Mitigation is now a flat number without ramp. This makes it a lot more intuitive for new players, but doesn't handle the focus firing of capital ships as well. Considering capitals are hero ships (which you invest even more into than you did in the first game through the use of components, anything that reduces their survivability threatens to be unfun.
That said, there is one major defensive change, that I suspect is the exact reason mitigation got nerfed so hard: the introduction of point defense. In one game, I sent a level 4 Ragnarov upgraded with point defense to solo the pirate base, and during the process, it shot down every single missile. That is a remarkable level of survivability.
Throwing together a quick spreadsheet...
Amusingly, the rock-paper-scissors triangle of LF-LRF(LRC)-Flak remains functional on paper in Sins 2.
This pretty well matches my observations. With missiles, capitals are vulnerable, but they can be shot down, and assuming missiles make up roughly 50% of a fleet's DPS, those medium autocannons are only 28% efficient, meaning the Ragnarov is only taking ~14% of the original pirate fleet's DPS, and that's comparable to the realm of shield mitigation in the first game.
Point Defense Meta
Considering how impactful missiles are against capitals, I suspect they'll be a lot like bombers in the meta in the first game, but with one major difference: they don't get a first pass. Even if you had all the flak in the world, bomber spam could still nuke a single capital on its first pass before fleeing to rebuild. That doesn't apply to missiles. Yes, you could saturate flak defenses, but that makes flak vs missiles a threshold comparison, and I don't think that's a particularly fun interaction.
To be clear, I love the fact that point defense got added. It's really cool to watch, and it feels amazing to watch a Ragnarov take out half the DPS before it even arrives. I don't know that it should be perfectly effective though. Some sort of TEC research that allows missiles to take evasive maneuvers, dodging point defense X% of the time would probably help it a lot because missiles would always be able to do something, even before the saturation point. For the Vasari, this sort of tech seems essential, and thematically obvious.
Without the ability to dodge flak, I suspect the meta is likely to reach a point where the dominant play vs flak spam to protect capitals will be not to build more missile boats to saturate defenses, but to build more interceptors for the express purpose of drawing point defense aggro. Point defense guns deal 10 damage. Interceptors come in squadrons of 5 and have 170 hull. Even heavy torpedoes only have 50 hull, with lesser missiles having only 5.
If phase missiles don't get the ability to eventually dodge incoming point defense, I'm going to be sorely disappointed. Provided they get that though, I think Vasari balance will handle the change from bypassing shield mitigation to point defense well, and I don't expect any major issues.
Ah, the Illuminator. Such an eternal threat to balance, and that was before point defense replaced shield mitigation. Assuming these ships come into Sins 2 in any form roughly comparable to the original, they're going to be a balance bugbear because not only can they engage more targets than the other long range frigates cruisers, they also get to bypass the main thing that would keep the Javelis and Kanrak in check. Basically, they get all the balance difficulties of both themselves and phase missiles!
For the sake of balance, I'm guessing Illuminator beams will probably be middling armor penetration (25-50), but that will mean they'll still have a very different interaction with flak than the other two races, so you'll probably need a different fleet composition against them. This could mean being sandwiched between an Advent and a non-Advent player will be difficult to pull off. Then again, LRFC come in later now, so maybe I'm overestimating the impact.
Edit: as I think about this more, perhaps it won't be so bad. Advent do love their strikecraft, so building flak against them will still be important, and part of the reason the Illuminators were such a problem was their side beams didn't ramp mitigation.
Overall, this is looking very good, it's surprisingly stable, and I'm looking forward to future updates.