Part 3: ChaaargeFor those who haven't yet purchased the game at it's current ridiculously discounted price, here's the theme in question:
Pablo Vega does write some nice theme tunes, although to be honest I prefer some of his atmospheric music more. This is a nice playlist for most of them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpFffJ8O5R0. Oh, and for those who already have the game, here's the victory music in all its glory:
Right, where were we. Attacking Oorto, I believe. Above is our expeditionary fleet, with the champion in pride of place. We've got a full cap of MK I fighters, because they are extremely cheap and quick to build. And we've also got 40-odd bombers / missile frigates, and a couple of lightning torpedo frigs.
And here's the fleet a couple of seconds later after warping in to Oorto. As you can see the wormhole exit is just within range of the MRLS guardpost, which starts firing on our ships as soon as they enter the planet. First priority is to get my guys out of range, so they fly off to the south. Notice that the AI ships next to this guardpost are awake and aware of us, but the ones next to the home command station on the right of the screen aren't.
Right, now what has bonuses against heavy hulls? Bombers! The group of 37 bombers splits off from the main fleet to take care of the MRLS. The rest of the fleet is blobbed up and sent after the command station. You may also notice some missiles in the centre of the screen. These are being spammed out by our lightning torpedo frigates, and are very handy because they clog up the AI's targeting mechanisms. And, y'know, they explode. Barrelling down on the fleet you can see a solitary decoy drone, which is one of the fleet ships this AI has unlocked. The main type of the second AI is 'experimentalist', which basically means they get stuff like translocators, speed boosters and micro-parasistes to play with.
The champion wipes out the AI's command station and the warp gate and wormhole guardposts on this planet automatically die. This planet is now neutral, and if we had a colony ship here we could capture it. All the ships at other guardposts in the system have now woken up and are added to the threat, which at this point means they're going to come over and start attacking the fleet. More importantly though, my AI progress has just gone up by 20 for exploding the command station.
So, AI progress. As I mentioned before, it's a rough indication of how aware of you the AI is. Think of it like a peace keeping troop deployment. You start off with a lightly armed foot patrol, which after a few 'accidents' expands to some dudes in a Humvee. Then tanks, and large scale troops deployments, and napalm. Eventually, if you rile them up enough, the AIs will start sending motherships and Hunter/Killers after you. This is roughly the equivalent of para-dropping a fully operation Nimitz class aircraft carrier into the local village pond.
In game terms, what this means is that the strength budget the AI gets to allocate to waves and planetary reinforcements is increased. It also allows to the AI to unlock new toys different types of guardians every ~50AIP, upgrade it's standard ships to MK II at 210AIP, MK III at 710 AIP etc.
Oh right, reinforcements. Let's talk about that. I said earlier that 'The AI plays risk while you play AI War'. The most obvious parallel is that the AI gets a certain reinforcement budget to spend on a ~5 minute timer. Any AI planet which is 'alerted', i.e. adjacent to a player world or which has a military presence on it, gets first choice of the new ships the AI warps in from their exo-galactic factories. This tends to mean a defensive 'crust' of ships forms around the edges of your empire. These ships are evenly distributed across all the guard-able structures on the planet, and the total number of ships the AI is allowed on a planet is something like 50*current number of guardposts. Oh, and remember these ships are dormant they will only toddle off to join the free-to-attack-at-will threat if you wake them up somehow.
That was a very quick explanation, for a more comprehensive overview I'd strongly recommend this reading assignment.
Right, so the bombers are wiping the MRLS post. As expected, the newly freed ships are beelining for the rest of my fleet. Fighters are sent after the last remaining guardpost on the planet, the needler post up at the top which has a medium type hull.
And it's done. A few of the freed ships escaped, but so what. Total losses on my side: five fighters, two bombers. A more than satisfactory exchange rate for an entire planet. Oh, and who's this chappie who's just arrived? It's a colony ship! Time to build a command station and claim ownership of this world. Now, I've just splurged a little and spent 4,000 knowledge to unlock MK II military command stations. This beauty has translocating railguns, emits tachyon beams in case the AI decides to send in any sneaky raiders, and even gives all friendly ships on the planet a 50% attack boost. In other words, it makes a perfect centre-piece for a defensive chokepoint. I also get a free 'foldout' command station on both my homeworlds for unlocking this, which is very handy. I could also have gone for an economic or logistics command station, which would have provided a metal/energy boost or a speed boost for allied ships respectively.
After a little work, and engineering support half-inched from the homeworld, the defences are in place. Note that I've built my command station right over the wormhole back to my homeworld. The reason for this is that ships can't pass through hostile forcefields. So those forcefields will serve double duty of both protecting the command station and stopping any sneaky little blighters making their way on to my homeworld without having to batter down the front-door first. I've also used the handy line-place mode to stick 300 mines on the most likely path any AI attacks will take, i.e. directly from the wormhole exit to my command station. Oh, and lots and lots of turrets. Even with the new energy extractor on this planet, this many turrets is a severe drain on my energy reserves. However I intend for this to be one of my main defensive choke-points for a fairly long time, so it makes sense to keep it fairly heavily guarded.
So, about 20 minutes in and we've taken and heavily fortified our very first planet. The fight-back against the AI is in full swing. In the background I've had a space dock with the 'batch auto-explore' control group option churning out scouts, which means we know a little more about our local environment. But for now the next priority is still to secure the two remaining entry points into our home-worlds.
Next up: Tackling an Orbital Mass Driver