After 22 games and well over a hundred hours in the beta for Entrenchment focusing on different races and playstyles, I feel I've gotten a pretty good look at what the mini-expansion is all about and how things work together. I took a couple more hours to think about what I wanted to say for feedback, and wrote up this ... book practically. If you can hang through my long-winded discussions about the beta, I applaud your temerity and resolve. If not, I understand.
I'm going to suggest on four seperate topics : Starbases, Minefields, Bombardment Cruisers, and OTHER, listing each by The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I know ... so original.
I really like the way Starbases are flexible and can be used for different purposes but can't be "fully upgraded", making them a strategic choice instead of a tactical necessity. I thought their initial production costs and construction time in a "friendly" gravity well to be about right. Not a whole lot of adjusting wanted or needed there. The visual looks of the stations is pleasing as well, with the TEC's solid design, Advent's pleasing philosophy, and Vasari's alien angles bringing a unique and appropriate appeal to each structure.
The things I think need improvement. In my opinion, the Starbase has far too little tactical use in a defensive role. For players who want to use it as a way to harden their defenses in critical choke points, it is of rather limited utility. When fully loaded with combat upgrades, it is capable of protecting itself against a fleet of moderate size for a while, but it lacks the weapons range and ability range to force engagement if the enemy declines to do battle. It is impossible to force the enemy to come and fight the Starbase, and the Starbase lacks the ability to damage enemies that decide they don't want to mess with it. It doesn't have the range to defend the entirety of a single phase lane, or more than half of a planet. Nearly the only way to force an enemy to come into range is to construct it almost adjacent to a Phase Jump Inhibitor. But if the enemy hits the PJI and leaves or just decides to live with the penalty, then they can still avoid a decisive battle.
Also, the Starbase seems capable of being used in a purely offensive role entirely too well. It's a defensive structure ... not an offensive "Death Star". When phase-jumping the constructor into an enemy gravity well and immediately beginning construction, most early- to mid-game defensive fleets aren't able to destroy it before it and its first defensive upgrade have been completed. A quick succession of defensive upgrades keeps it stable and in the fight despite the fire being poured into it, and it slowly but surely takes out the defenders. This is without a defensive fleet of any kind.
In addition, I find the squadron dynamics to be somewhat unbalanced in Starbases relative to the rest of the game. The Advent Starbase starts with two squadrons (compared to TEC and Vasari who start with none), and has an extra level of upgrades, giving it a total of ten to everyone else's six. While ten seems like a suitable number for a TEC or Vasari Starbase, it seems light for Advent, equal to about three Hangars per faction. Also, the Starbase has no appreciable squadron defense other than building hangars on it and producing nothing but fighters.
I am also constantly vexed when my Vasari Starbase automatically chases a scout to the far end of the gravity well and is sorely out of place when the actual attack comes.
The "Ugly" is where I give my suggestions. It's the wart-covered, pimply, mangey-haired abomination that I would make if I were to have input into game development. First ... making the Starbase more effective in the defensive role. I want to see a Starbase that is capable of forcing an enemy to engage it even if they really, really don't want to. I want to see a Starbase that is capable of reaching and causing significant losses on enemies that plan to stay outside it's primary weapons envelope. There are a couple equally useful and satisfactory ways to do this. Increasing the basic range of the weapons envelopes is one that's very popular among people putting in input, but increasing basic range only gives you a larger area to damage enemies that don't come to you. If the enemy wants to stay away, it only allows you to do marginal damage for a little bit longer. Also useful is some sort of Phase-Jump Inhibitor that prevents the enemy from jumping into gravity wells controlled by your empire, but this seems like a strange arbitrary rule unless you also need to build an equivalent structure in the other gravity wells that the enemy is being rendered unable to jump into. Without some sort of "web" that they are unable to penetrate, it doesn't seem to make sense to me. Now, if it was integrated into the final tier of a Starbase's upgrades (or added as a new layer) as a "web" and non-allied ships can't follow the "web lines", then it seems to make sense and be functional. Another idea is to include some sort of ability in Starbases that forces the enemy to engage by other means, such as a Tractor Beam capable of pulling and holding ships into engagement range for the TEC, a Force Battle ability for the Advent that forces the enemy to engage the Starbase (similar to their Battleship's ability), and an ability for the Vasari to manipulate phase lanes so that incoming enemies come out of phase space in range of the Starbase (of course, the Vasari Starbase moves in the first place, so it can come to the enemy if the enemy doesn't want to come to it). Again, this uses an upgrade slot unless it's included into the final layer of an existing upgrade, ideally offensive weapons (or preferably added as a new layer). This allows the Starbase to force at least some of the enemy to do battle, at least until its antimatter runs out and isn't able to use its Tractor Beam / Aggression ability / Phase Funnel.
Next, about the so-called "attack Starbase". I find the construction of a Starbase in an enemy-controlled gravity well to be entirely too fast. I'd like to see it take longer, making it possible only if there is some sort of defensive fleet to keep enemies from eliminating it before it is complete. My suggestion is to double or quadruple the basic construction time, but include a construction speed bonus in a friendly well. I also advocate making damage to an incomplete Starbase damage the hull directly and not the shield, as the shield shouldn't be online yet, and/or damage (of any kind) also increases the construction time (so that damage equal to 50% of the baseline hull [or hull+shields if the shields activate immediately upon beginning construction] makes the construction take an addional 50% longer).
For squadrons, I'd like to see at least a couple added to the basic Starbase before upgrades, perhaps two for TEC and Vasari and two more (four total) for Advent, and increase the number of squadrons added per upgrade to three. The Advent retain their numerical superiorty, but the total number is greater for all factions. I'd also like to see flak cannons (and the equivalent for all factions) added to Starbases, probably through their defensive upgrade tree. But if Starbases get more starting and upgraded squadrons, then this is less of an issue. What I am trying to prevent is the use of carrier cruisers with bomber squadrons acting as better bombardment cruisers. I'm going to talk about Bombardment Cruisers seperately, but for most factions it's a far better tactic to build an equivalent weight in carrier cruisers with bombers and use that to attack Starbases instead of Bombardment Cruisers. Just some way to wear down attacking squadrons and degrade their usefulness in that role will help balancing.
There are a couple other things I'd like to see incorporated into Starbases that don't fall under the banner of "fixing issues". I'd like to see the upgrading system adjusted slightly, with later upgrades made more expensive and longer than the initial upgrade, and some upgrades being more expensive than others. For example, the final tier of offensive upgrades adds "a powerful long-range attack" while the initial trade upgrade allows a paltry .8 cr/sec and costs the same amount. I'd also like to see enough "offensive" upgrades to make it impossible for someone to make "the Ultimate Combat Starbase". I'd like to see it possible to have a weapon-heavy Starbase, a fighter-heavy Starbase, and a defense/ability-heavy Starbase as all unique and different in their own ways. Also ... top-tier research to allow one or two additional upgrades? Sounds like fun.
I also think the restriction to one Starbase per gravity well is prohibitive. In a star's gravity well the effective range of a Starbase is incredibly tiny compared to the total size of the gravity well no matter what abilities you give it. but if a starbase has an area around it that makes it impossible to build another one nearby it, you would be able to cover more of the gravity well effectively. For the Vasari, it would need to be an ability that also repels other Starbases, or reduces the max speed of other Starbases within its range to stay ... 10% of normal, making it possible to spam completed Starbases in a small area, but very time-intensive. It would also be good to see some sort of ability for Starbases to host tactical structures in any kind of uncolonizable gravity well, such as gas giants and space junk.
I'm also going to take a moment to say that I find the idea of a phase-jumping Starbase rediculous. In my honest opinion it's the most horrible idea I've seen regarding Starbases yet, and I find it to be a game-breaker in the waiting.
Finally, I'd like to see Starbases be limited in number instead of possible to spam in every system, probably through a "capital ship crew"-like system. This makes the choice of grav wells to host Starbases in more strategic, increasing the strategy level even more. I realize this almost goes against the idea of it being possible to build more than one in a grav well, but a Starbase-heavy grav well in one location makes everything else even more vulnerable.
I like the TEC minefields. I really, really do. Their cost seems to be well-tuned and their semi-random scatter allows you to make an unpredictable minefield that will make it difficult for an unprepared enemy to advance without taking any kind of damage. The damage done by minefields all around seems well-balanced, and well executed.
The Advent and Vasari have the ability to make unlimited minefields anywhere at no charge. The Vasari mine-laying ship in particular is immensely more useful when leaving autocast off until battle is joined, then turning autocast on and watching it lay mines right in the middle of the enemy fleet. The Advent mine squadrons require micromanagement to move them to the location you want, wait for the last of the mineships to catch up to the first, and then manually activate. If you let them autocast they tend to make very dense minefields right at the hangars when an enemy scout drops in, and nothing anywhere else. Essentially, the TEC minefield is well-balanced and effective, but the Advent and Vasari minefields are nothing of the sort.
Also, there seems to be some sort of bug or glitch with the minefield's "cloaking" ability. Even when scouts are within their ability range of mines, they tend to blink in and out of invulnerability, making it extremely difficult to sweep them. They also take much longer than seems right to destroy.
First, the Vasari minelayer. Right now laying mines with the Ruiner is an iffy proposition at best, very difficult to control in detail without intense micro-management. My suggestion is to give it a "lay minefield" ability that is functionally identical to the TEC minefield, producing ten or so mines randomly in a small area. The fact that their mines are free also is an unbalancer, so I would like to see their mines cost the same "per field" as the TEC. We've seen in their Migrators that they can cost resources to produce structures, so it should not be a big hassle to program it so that laying mines costs resources. Either run the cost per mine, or run it "per field".
Next, the Advent minefield. Their mine squadrons seem very unbalanced and difficult to use. Instead, I'd like to see some sort of single-use minelaying ship (similar to the Starbase-constructing cruisers) that you move into place and then activate and begins constructing the mines over time. Or barring that, at least have some sort of cost or other measure to make it slightly prohibitive for players to spam minefields all over a gravity well.
For all minefields, I'd like to see the invulnerability glitch removed. Make them non-glitchy and able to be targetted quickly. Also decrease the hit points of mines so they clear faster ... a mine is a small bomb with sensors that may or may not have an engine equipped to zoom at nearby targets. They're really the size of fighters or smaller and filled with explosives, and should have an amount of hit points that reflects that.
I'd also like to see better mine-field clearing ships. Either add more mineclearing abilities to scouts, or add mineclearing functionality to antifighter frigates. I'd really, really like to see mineclearing added to antifighter frigates.
Bombardment Cruisers :
TEC Bombardment Cruisers do strong damage against enemy structures at long-range, making them effective at taking down Starbases and other structures. The idea is sound.
The idea is sound, but the execution is imperfect. TEC Bombardment cruisers tend to drift around the gravity well into enemy range and they are tricky to make attack a particular structure. Advent Bombardment cruisers have no range, making them do plenty of damage against many targets ... as long as they survive. They particularly fail to stand up against Starbases, which I thought was the whole idea behind them in the first place.
The Vasari do not have a Bombardment Cruiser. This is something I'd like to see implemented.
I suggest adding a weapon to the Bombardment cruisers that has equal range to their anti-structure damage ability, but with neglible damage similar to the scout and colony frigates. It would then autocast the ability at the targetted structure, making it simple to direct the ships at their intended targets. Also adding a longer range to Advent Bombardment cruisers so they can engage a Starbase beyond its range.
And add a Vasari Bombardment cruiser.
On the whole, I like the expansion. It opens up new possibilities, new strategies, new opportunities all around. It feels like a new game, it has given it a lot more replay value so I'm enjoying it all over again. Adding a host of additional upgrades to tactical structures in the Defense technology tree has been fun, increasing their utility.
Still feels a little unbalanced, and I'd like to see Starbases rendered more useful. AI still tries to snipe the pirates on you, and that's frustrating. And fix the in-game Achievements ... I've gone to the extensive trouble to earn the tech achievments a couple different times, and the game still hasn't given them to me. Very frustrating.
Adjust the AI so ships don't run into minefields uncaring of their existence. They're dangerous ... ships should be scared. I'd like to see a countdown timer for the pirate raids. Right now it's tricky to figure out exactly when they're going to launch once they're in their two minute little countdown window - give us some way to tell when they're in that last fifteen seconds or so to help make sure the AI doesn't snipe us literally at the last possible second. With humans of course, it's par for the course. I'd also love to see capital ships added to the pirates. A couple hanging around their home base, and one or two at the top one or two levels of pirate threat. If they're going to be dangerous ... let's make them dangerous.
I also want a space pony.
That's it, folks! My sincerest congratulations if you managed to make it all the way through that without pausing for an Intermission in the middle. I hate to bribe, but I'll +karma responses posted here where people add their own thoughts and opinions. Test and enjoy!