I'm a long time player of GalCiv and I've been here since the early days when it first arrived on PC as GalCiv and I was one of the Jedi Knights on the metaverse (shame that died - it helped with building a sense of community I feel). I can remember painfully spamming constructors to cover the galaxy in trade boosting starbases, then influence bases, then industrial ones, etc. as each exploit was nerfed... Ever since I've always had a soft spot for Stardock and I've tended to buy their games up until Sorceror King which was a cake walk with its awful AI. It seemed like Stardock was going for the casual gamer market not the in-depth strategy market, which makes commercial sense. Anyway, I'd held back on buying GC3 - the reviews on metacritic didn't inspire confidence either... One Steam sale later - I decided to buy the game and post my first impressions after a few games at gifted level plus one on normal.
TL;DR - Overall I like the game, the battle scenes are great but at the end of the day it's just it's a prettier GC2 with far worse gameplay. As it seems like a step backward - I'd give it 4/10. Detailed reasons below.
1 - UI
The UI needs masses of work, much of it is counter intuitive/results in extra work IMHO. The most important one for me personally is the autolaunch for shipyards - there doesn't seem to be a way to turn it off. It would be much less work if I could just empty the shipyards every ten turns or so. On a large map I seem to be knocking out 20-30 constructors per turn fairly early on which all need to be set to guard mode individually every turn (it seems that when ships are produced - they activate the fleet they join at the shipyard?). This is an unnecessary game killer is you want to play at higher levels. While on the subject of shipyards - the rally point systems works well except for when it needs to be switched off... I have to delete the rally point. This happens quite frequently - i.e. when there's a starbase upgrade due to tech advances I want the constructors to stay at the shipyards where they're produced and upgrade local economic starbases then switch back to the rally point where I assemble constructors to be used for other purposes. These two simple changes would shorten my turn time by 90%. When using rally points the ships randomly do/don't assemble into fleets - all I want here is consistency, one way or the other.
Another good UI addition would be the ability to change what's being produced socially at a colony en mass, i.e. being able to change from military subsidies to cultural ones across the board. This would save a lot of micro management in the late game. The various terraforming techs are implemented in a way that adds to micromanagement unnecessarily. Each time I discover a terraforming tech I have to go around each planet, add the terraforming building into the queue, then go back to each planet again to build the actual building itself. Why can't the two just be combined? i.e. you can build your trade center or whatever in the same tiles as you can currently build the terraforming enhancement but at the cost of the building plus the terraforming required with only one trip to each planet being required. Workload halved for the same effect. There's also extra workload when remodelling a planet, the original building has to be cleared before you can build on the tile. Why can't you build over the older building? Fewer mouse clicks for the same effect.
When producing ships I never use the standard ones - can an option be added to prevent them from showing up at all? It adds to clutter on various screens such as the upgrade screen.
Is it also possible to add the features for mass upgrades of a fleet? The same for disbanding. I want to be able to do something like press ctrl+D and decommission an entire fleet.
Is it possible to add an option for fast piece slides? I seem to end up zooming in on empty areas of map before I hit end turn to speed things up a bit.
2 - Race traits
The coercive trait, which allows you to set colony production individually at start is totally OP, it allows for absolute specialisation early on for every planet, it's pretty much doubled what I can get out of my colonies early on which translates into a massive mid-game advantage and easy victories. Same with the colonisers trait, you can get some great industrial output ten turns quicker than everyone else. It leads to some pretty awesome early industry capability way ahead of any other empire. Most of the other traits seem a bit under powered in comparison to those two. There's also a potential exploit, which I haven't tried, using the map generator and the adaptable trait. Not sure how well that would work though - depends on how frequent you can make extreme worlds. These traits may be unbalance on purpose for all I know however it does mean that everyone else is at a disadvantage.
3 - Colony buildings.
From my games so far I think that population & industry are king. In my last game I tried increasing world population to give good base stats for everything, then adding a bit of industry and going all out for economic starbases. Then if I wanted to produce more science I would just set industrial production to research. The high base pop, starbase bonuses & social production would mean that research point production was pretty damned good. The output didn't seem to be hugely less than specialised research worlds while being far more versatile (i.e. if you want money just switch to an economic bonus) and more easily upgraded due to greater industry levels. I've only tested this on a small scale and I could be very wrong here....
It doesn't seem to matter if you have morale buildings or not - just upgrade the local starbases with happiness modules and all is A okay. That's an entire mechanic which can be ignored with no real penalty. Never seen morale go below 96%.
Tourism income is pretty poor. It uses up masses of tiles for small amounts of income, just covering the world in banks and farms earns far more money - am I missing something here? It seems to be pretty useless even with max tech. Another mechanic which can be ignored...
The ability to move the colony HQ or place it at start would be pretty awesome. The autoplacement of it limits the potential of a planet. The same goes for planetary resources.
Money/Production/Science - there's too much of it in the game full stop. You never really have to make a choice between I want this but I need that, etc. Guns or butter? In Gal Civ III you can have your cake and eat it.
4 - The AI
Is bad. Like really bad. It feels like there isn't an opponent at times and I've never had this problem with a GalCiv game before. The AI seems to be totally incapable of fighting a war at all, I'm struggling to believe that anyone has lost a game to it except on the very hardest levels with a dire start. This is almost as bad as Civ V when you could conquer the world with five/six units due to the AIs (continuing) inability to deal with 1UPT/artillery. In my last game I lost nine ships conquering a large map and that was because I didn't want to go through the hassle of decommissioning/upgrading an out of date fleet and mounted a suicide run on an enemy planet. The major problems as I see them are:
i) Poor ship design choices. The AI wastes space on modules like range extenders - could it be trained to build a starbase. One constructor is cheaper than building that module on every ship and it increases combat potential of every single ship. The AIs choice of weapons/defence modules is also pretty poor and it's fleets tend to be homogenous - in every game so far I've won wars pretty easily by just building one counter ship to whatever the AI throws at me. The AI empire then dies as it can't kill any of my ships. There is some evidence of a limited ability (very limited) to change ship design based on battle results. Generally by the time this happens it's all over. The AI should keep a reserve of ships with different damage types - changing part way through a war when your planets are being invaded is too late. Why does it put all its eggs in one basket?
ii) Limited ability to form a fleet and attack - there are loads of one, two and three ship fleets running about but they don't seem to attack even when they start the war. The AI can send the odd large fleet but only one or two. Why can't the enemy send large forces at me? Why can't the AI use its logistics ability to field large fleets? I know it has the tech - I normally sell them logistics tech before declaring war as killing a few larger fleets is quicker than killing lots of smaller ones, a trick I have from GC2. If the AI is going to start a war why hasn't it built shed loads of warships beforehand?!?!?! This would seem to be as basic as programming an AI gets.
iii) An inability to build/attack military starbases & ship yards. Almost every enemy attack has been along one narrow corridor with no military starbases in support. My response is to build a military starbase in the way and leave some hard-counter ships there. War won. The AI should be building some fast ships which can strike my starbases before I can respond. Then heavier ships move up and destroy my now unsupported fleets. The same with shipyards - half of them are empty and could easily be destroyed by a couple of fast cruisers limiting my ability to replace losses.
iv) Exploits - in one game I researched shield defences to max and gifted mid-tree beam weapons to everyone. Low and behold the AI switched to beams and I conquered them with ease as they couldn't damage my ships. I've only tried this exploit once so it may just be coincidence. The whole escort/capitalship/support thing seems to just not work for the AI at all - high DPS capital ships with few defences running around on their own, or with one escort, are glass cannons waiting to be blown up. The escorts the AI builds need to be a hell of a lot tankier for that whole idea to work. I seem to get the best results by ignoring it completely and just building good all rounders with high defences where ships are concerned. Again - this is a mechanic the AI appears to be trying to use which is inflating its losses and minimising mine.
v) It doesn't do planetary invasions. I've seen like two by the evil races. I've intervened in a war between two AI and destroyed one sides fleet leaving their planets totally defenceless. Literally nothing left on the map but their planets. The AI didn't invade a single one and moved its ships around aimlessly, most not even going near their enemies defenceless planets. What is going on here?!?!?! Tech wasn't the problem as I had sold everyone planetary invasions far earlier and I could see that they had transports moving around the universe.
The AI in this game is truly awful. It's like there isn't an opponent.