Distant Worlds 2: First Impressions

By bengy | The Elder Gamer | 19 Mar 2022

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The Distant Worlds franchise is the ultimate in 4X space simulators... if you thought that Paradox came out with some serious simulations, well... those are pretty toy-like in comparison to the Distant Worlds games. Would you expect anything different from the folks at Slitherine?

Anyway, the last instalment of Distant Worlds (Universe) was released about 12 years ago, and the new Stellaris from Paradox has really shown up the age of the old game. It is still really an engaging game if you are into some vast grand epic simulation of a space faring empire, but the engine is crazily old and it all could use a lick of UI and graphical paint to make it a bit more palatable for modern tastes.

Enter Distant Worlds 2... I'm only a couple of hours into the game... and I've still not managed to get off my original homeworld. This is the pace of the game! I've had explorers and mining bases settle different star systems, but finding habitable worlds if pretty damn difficult!

The interesting spin that the Distant Worlds universe brings to the 4X space empire simulation genre (apart from the crazy depth...) is the existence of a civilian economy and trade. You are only able to directly affect the military and governmental operations of your empire... the rest is distinctly out of your direct control (just like with real governments, you can only suggest with incentives...). So... after a few hours, how am I finding it?


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Setting up the game is a crazily hefty and multi-step process! Some simple stuff like galaxy size and shape and types of stars... I really really wanted to crank everything up to the largest size... but I think that on my first play through, I will be just learning how everything works... so, a more modest size of 700 star systems will be enough (but I'm really itching to crank it up to 2000 star systems!).


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Next up is a pretty standard starting tech sort of screen. I always like to start off pre-warp and in the future, I will slow down the tech development. I like the slow burn of these games... no race to the end, just a slow moving ballet of shifting power dynamics.


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Alien empires are not the only threats in a Distant Worlds galaxy... the space creatures and pirates are actually quite a menace! Especially during the early game, they are much stronger than you in their bases and you will just have to deal with the diplomatically (paying a "protection" fee) or just fending off their constant raids on your civilian traffic... the space creatures, well... just don't annoy them!


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Now, the ancient history of your pre-warp civilisation is shrouded in a great deal of mystery... but like Endless Space and Stellaris, you start to uncover hints that the universe was awash with a more ancient power, of which your little fledgling empire is but a tiny shard. So, you will start to uncover previously long lost cousins... for better or worse! These aren't even the alien empires!


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Ahhhh.. the best bit of a 4X game creation... choosing your empire race! Like Stellaris and Endless Space, your initial selection only determines your starting home race. As you start to grow and encounter alien species, you will be assimilating and incorporating them into your population... with the attendant benefits and turmoil!

For this starting exploration game, I opted with a known race. Humans.... next time, I will toy around with the race customisation and see what I can come up with. Often, I prefer a tech-heavy race.... but in Distant Worlds, you definitely can't just go full tech and ignore the military... it makes for a very short lived game!


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A starting empire and governance system... sigh, so many choices with so many modifiers! In the end, I opted for something with flavour instead of trying to max-min any particular attribute. Democracy it is!


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Ooohhhh.. ready to go!


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... oh, not quite. Now we have the alien empires as well! Well, for the moment, I will just leave it up to chance and see what the universe throw at me!


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Oh yeah, one last thing... we still are playing a game! So, there are victory conditions. Somehow, I really dislike these things in a 4X game. I like the concept of finding a long term stable sort of thing and not trying to assimilate or destroy the rest of the universe. However, games are games and most people are looking out for a way to "win". That is sort of why I loved Crusader Kings 3 so much... it wasn't just about the win, and losing was just a new beginning!


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oooh... pretty loading screens!


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My homeworld! A relatively good habitable planet with a large moon and ring of asteroids for mining. Can't complain...


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... and there are also about 7 other planets in this particular star system, so there will plenty to discover before venturing too far afield!


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.... and there will be plenty of field to venture into! If you can see that little blue sector highlight in that top corner. Well, that is my tiny little pre-warp empire.... and there are around 700 star systems out there to discover! Now I wish I had chosen 2000!


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Damnit... a pirate starbase in the inner-most world of my own star-system! Bastards... I have to pay them protection money for the moment. Trust me... I had to restart from an old save as I tried attacking their starbase... and I was slaughtered! Thankfully, they can't project much power outwards at the moment, so I'm sort of safe... but my civilian traffic will have to route around this particular problem.


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... however, in a nice twist of fate. I found another set of pirates... and they were convinced that I was prophesised by the ancients to be the empire that would "lead them prosperity"! Of course, 25k credits donated to their operation helped with that perception... But their starbase added a much needed refueling point to my empire and their fleet doubled the size of my tiny little defence force.

... speaking of fuel. Well... don't go to war without a solid supply chain (I feel like that is somewhat relevant at the moment.. can't figure out why!). My empire had NO fuel mining locations... and my fleet was slow moving and unable to project power to any significant extent! So, if your ships run out of fuel... they just become sitting ducks!


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Administrators and heroes make a big appearance and are able to provide some hefty modifiers to colonies, fleets, research, and armies. Like many things in this game, you can micromanage them if you want... but with a game of this complexity you will want to delegate quite a lot to the AI!


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How is this for a tech tree... and this scrolls quite a long way down!

Anyway... this is just a first overview of the mammoth 4X beast that is Distant Worlds 2. I'm loving the updated graphics and the UI is better than the previous installments... that said, that is a pretty low bar as the previous games were pretty damn menu heavy. Distant Worlds 2 is still menu heavy... but it is a touch more streamlined.

I do have a bit of a gripe about ship selection on the map screen... I'm used to just dragging a box to grab units, but that doesn't work here. You have to press "control" and the drag the box, but you end up selecting so many civilian ships that that is quite inconvenient!

I'm going to love messing around in this exploration game... learning the ropes, making all the mistakes... and then I'm going to restart and try out a mammoth 2000 star game! I wonder if I'm going kill my laptop...

Anyway, stay tuned... I think I'm going to run a AAR blog for this exploration empire! I'm so excited to be being dropped into a deep pool of complexity... sinking, but learning!

Review Specs

Played at 1080p (144Hz) on:

XMG Fusion 15

CPU: Intel Core i7-9750H
RAM: 16 GB
Storage: SSD (SATA/Nvme)
GPU: Nvidia GTX 2070 Max-Q


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I am a Musician (Violinist/Violist) specialising in Early Music living in The Netherlands. I have a background in Mathematics and Physics due to an earlier tertiary level study... and so, I'm still quite interested in Science and Technology related stuff!

The Elder Gamer
The Elder Gamer

Gaming Reviews from an Elder PC Gamer. I've got no time for poor quality games!

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