Although the campaign mode is somewhat compulsively interesting, I’m finding it rather unsatisfying right now.
First of all, there’s no way to develop any rivalries or feel like I’m really fighting anyone on the strategic layer. It’s all just one huge faceless galaxy, which does not respond in any way to my triumphs and tragedies. It doesn’t seem to matter if I just sit around on backwater worlds farming for cash, or if I’m invading every turn, it’s still just a roll of the dice to determine whether I’m invaded or not that turn. I realize there’s the ‘Threat’ system in place, but it’s hard enough having one fleet that isn’t considered ‘inferior’, let alone enough to cover multiple borders.
Even the galaxy itself doesn’t consistently seem like a real enemy, since they can randomly invade multiple worlds with fleets of 12 cruisers and 20 frigates (on turn 6, Cadet mode no less), and the next decide to leave 2 cruisers guarding a rich world.
All in all, it just feels incredibly monotonous. You take a star, the AI invades on another front and takes a star or two back from you. You take those back, you get maybe a turn or two of peace before the AI invades another couple of stars and you have to take those back. You’re fighting over the same stars over and over again, and if your fleet gets annihilated you may as well give up since you’ll be back to square one.
Basically, losing a star = lost time, lost progress, and you get absolutely nothing for it. It’s not even interesting, there’s no reason, it is indeed gratuitous, but only in the sense that it is meaningless. We don’t even have the luxury of redesigning our fleets to be more effective since we can’t very well sue for peace and save up money for a brand new fleet, the only smart move is to design a perfect fleet in the simulators and hope for the best in the campaign.
I think it would be much better if your opponents had some sort of basic economic model, or at least an illusion of one, that places a variable limit on what sorts of fleets they can bring to bear. If they send a huge fleet and it gets beaten back, this should reduce what sort of fleets they can field for awhile. Fighting dispensable fleets that your enemy can just pull out of their keisters any time they want, is just boring.
Major bonus points if we were actually up against various alien empires with defined territories. They could still pull up any challenge fleet (just say they’re mercenaries), but they would give us actual rivals and targets to care about. People wouldn’t be half as interested in Civilization if enemies were faceless, we kind of love it when Gandhi stabs us in the back. Some jibber-jabber from our alien rivals, similar to the fleet dialog that lets us know how the battle is going in tactical mode, would really give the campaign a lot of perceived depth.
I think if there was actually a result from the enemies losing ships, it would go a long way toward making the campaign feel meaningful. It would make pure Fighter fleets less of a pain, if the player weren’t the only one that had to worry about paying for replacement fighters after the battle.