A general guide outlining a generalized approach on how to win against the AI.
The General Strategy
The general strategy of AI Wars is similar to other 4Xs, in which you explore, expand, exploit available resources, and exterminate the AI. However, the game breaks most of the tropes and expectations of the RTS and 4X genre in which expanding too much too fast will cause the AI to focus on you and destroy you, along with other mechanics unique to the series. You must play at a relatively good speed before the AI builds up an offensive fleet to crush you, but you must also play smartly if you want to avoid the AI from focusing on your recent victories against it. The game heavily focuses on the tactical battles, both offensively and defensively, and being extremely deep while with relatively streamlined gameplay loops. It is best to discard any preconceived notions you may have from prior space sim games as they will most likely hinder you, rather than aid you.
To start, you can pick from the quickstart menus, which offer campaigns and scenarios tailor-made by the Devs, or you can create a custom game (standard game much like Stellaris or Civ), where you can tweak almost everything, from the number of capturable to the factions that populate your galaxy. After selecting your map type, and a start position that you like, you can proceed to the faction screen to select the type of AI you wish to play against, the factions that may appear in the game, as well as the loadout for your starting fleet. You are able to choose from two battlestations, which have a unique loadout of turrets that can be further expanded by stealing blueprints from AI structures called Turret Schematic Servers, or TSS, as well as Other Defensive Schematic Servers, called ODSS. You may also choose your starting fleet, which dictates your starting offensive capabilities. Over on the last tab, is the galaxy balancing tab. This tab allows you to tweak various behaviors of allied factions, enemy factions, extra difficulty challenges, how much resources are on the map, as well as the balance between units. Don’t like having large ships? You may tweak bombers and fighters to be stronger. Want more powerful large ships? You can also tweak them. The game, however, is balanced around the default settings with the AI on Difficulty 7 on Full Ensemble. After you are satisfied with the settings, you can launch directly into the game.
Within the game itself, you have 3 major objectives:
- Capture more ships to build offensive strength
- Capture more turrets to build defensive strength
- Kill the AI
To accomplish these objectives, you must capture more ships and turret designs in order to strengthen your capabilities. Ships may come with unarmed transports, which were abandoned during the human retreat to the homeworld, or are stolen from an ARS. All ships within the galaxy are randomized, so you never receive the same ships in every campaign. The abandoned fleets however generally follow a theme, hosting ships that use the same technology, or compliment each other in some way. Turrets come with your starting battlestations, but are mainly obtained by stealing them from TSS. These turrets can be hacked to give all battlestations/Citadels and planets the same defenses or can be hacked for 3x the amount to be given to a single Orbital Fortification (Battlestations, Citadels).
The AI Homeworld cluster and defenses have an estimated fleet strength of 300, increasing as the game goes on. So in general, you want to make sure your final fleet is capable of defeating at least 300 strength of ships defenses and ships, as well as have turrets that are capable of handling what the AI throws most of the time at you. You also want to research multiple technologies and obtain ships and turrets in said technologies, as each technology has pros and cons, which may allow the AI to hard counter your build if you use only one technology (monotech). After obtaining the requisite power as well as intel on the AI Homeworld clusters, it is time to launch the attack. You must first destroy the Dire Guard Posts of all of the planets of the Homeworld cluster, in order to render the AICS on the AIHW vulnerable to attack. After destroying the AIHW, the AI Overlord (Phase II) will start its offensive, for a final showdown with the human fleet. It will beeline straight for your HW, so during this portion, it is vital you retreat and start fortifying for the final wave.
Important Note: If your techs do not synergize, you can refund them at the cost of 5 HaP. However, HaP cannot be refunded and can only be generated by taking more planets or destroying certain structures.
The Early Game
Starting off, you have the following objectives:
- Strengthen your starting fleet
- Strengthen your defenses
Your first moves are to survey your surroundings and take note of which planets are easily defensible (one wormhole connection only), and which ones have loads of resources on them (lots of asteroid mines, abandoned fleets, advanced research stations, turret schematic servers, Zenith Matter Converters, Zenith Power Generators, etc). The Intel tab here is extremely useful as it lists all of those goodies in a nice little list for you to read and see where things are rather than having to search all over the map for them.
The next order of business is to capture the surrounding planets. The player is guaranteed to start with 1 abandoned fleet, 1 TSS, and 1 ARS nearby. Capture these planets by destroying the AI Command Stations (AICS), and then building your own command stations on them (CS). There are three types of CS, which are Logistics, Economics, and Military, each with its own distinct function. It is up to you the player to choose the station that best fits your current needs based on your situation. A Logi station is a good compromise between defensive capabilities and economic benefits, as it starts and will receive 8 turrets from all TSS hacks, and comes with a larger planetary defense fleet.
You generally want to get at least two lines of ships and turrets from the ARS and TSS respectively. Depending on the scenario, you will want to prioritize capturing more ARS planets to strengthen your offensive capabilities, or TSS planets to strengthen your defenses. Note that capturing a planet with an ARS or TSS reduces the hacking cost by half, and halves the provoked AI response, making it far easier and safer to obtain new ships and turrets.
After capturing your first planet, you will notice that destroying an AICS reveals more of the map. This is called scouting, as you obtain the Intel of the map by destroying more AICS. The closer to unexplored territory the destroyed CS will be, the more chances that surrounding planets will be explored. This does not mean you should destroy every planet nearby. Generally, you have to capture around 4 to 8 planets in order to have the resources to comfortably hold off the AI.
As you destroy and capture more planets, you will notice more and more AI ships fleeing from your fleet. It is generally wise to try to prevent the escape of these ships as these ships later join together to form the Hunter Fleet, which is the AI’s offensive fleet. You will also note planets adjacent to the planets you attack start raising their alert levels. This is also important as it dictates how much reinforcements the AI will send to said planets in order to strengthen their defenses.
By the end of the early game, you generally want to have a combined fleet power of 100 offensively, and about 50 strength of defenses on each planet (assuming they are logistical planets). If you are running into trouble defending your planets or suffering from metal drain, it is highly advised to level up the first few planets directly with science by 1 and to level up the homeworld by 2. Leveling up a planetary fleet will level up all structures and ships built and stationed on a planet, which includes asteroid mines.
*Note* units and turrets under planetary force fields deal only half damage. Some units such as Force Field Frigates (FFFH) have the “Hardened Force Field” trait which allows units to be protected to deal full damage.
The Mid Game
After obtaining a comfortable amount of ships and turrets, it is time to start going on the offensive. By now, you should have generated about 80 to 120 AIP, and the AI has reached the 2nd tier of technology. This means all future ships that the AI builds will be at tier 2, and means the AI will be stronger on the offensive and defensive if given enough time to build up. At this time, you should seek to further take more planets, with important strategic resources such as neutral structures, ARS, TSS, and abandoned fleets.
For the mid-game, you want to at least invest in two-weapon technology up to the 2nd rank, 3 if you have the science. You should also start investing in economic and defensive technologies such as Turrets and Force Fields, as, during this time, the AI will be alerted to your presence and committed to attacking offensively. It is during this time when the Warden and the Hunter fleets will actively engage you in battle.
Your objectives for the mid-game to the end of it are to:
- Generate enough science to obtain the 3rd and 4th tier of technology to strengthen your strongest ships/turrets.
- Hack 2 or 3 more TSS/ARS in order to strengthen your fleet.
- Capture major structures to reduce the AIP and strengthen your economy.
- Expand towards the AI to reveal the Homeworld cluster.
As mentioned before, generally by this time, the AI will be alerted to your presence. This is when you must proceed with caution. It is around this time, that the Warden and Hunter fleets emerge and intervene. The Warden is the AI fleet responsible for defending the AI planets when they are under attack. Their general strategies are to fortify a planet by positioning a fleet on said planet, or they will join in the fight with local forces to ambush you. The Hunter at this time will also start surrounding your planets, biding their time and probing your defenses. If the Hunter Fleet notices that it can overwhelm your defenses 3 to 1, it will generally join in the offensive. This can be especially deadly if you are unprepared for it. With all that in mind, you should take care to upgrade your fleet into one strong enough to take on Warden Fleet + AI defenses (so generally about 300), as well as amass enough turrets to defend against Hunters and Warp Waves (generally about 100 to 200 strength-wise if on logistic planets).
At this time, it might be advisable to dedicate a planet that is purposefully under-strength in order to bait the Hunter Fleet into attacking it, losing ships as it attacks, or set up choke-points with your battle-stations and their turrets. These choke-points will isolate the Hunter Fleet movement, prevent them from joining up with each other, and allow you to hunt down the Hunter Fleet without risk of escape. If the wardens are giving you too much trouble, look for Warden Fleet Bases on the map. These fleet bases serve as rallying points, shipyards, as well storage for Warden Fleet. Destroying these will cripple the Warden Fleet’s ability to rebuild and field units, which allows you to slowly chip away at the Warden Fleet piecemeal.
During this time, you will also start to notice AI planets with large defensive structures such as mass drivers, Ion Cannons, Eye turrets, and Fortresses. These will make it harder to destroy the defenders, and generally should be targeted first before they melt your fleet. Eye turrets especially are dangerous as they start at Tier 5, and have an invincible force field around them until there are at most 2 guardposts left on the planet.
Important Note: During this time, you may find it hard to maintain enough energy to build all the turrets and ships you have captured. Consider saving energy by removing turret amounts on planets of low importance (unused logistics planets, planets with all hackables hacked). This will in turn give the AI something to throw themselves against and allow you to use that energy elsewhere.
This is it, you are nearing the homeworld cluster, planets will start regularly having defensive strengths of 200 to 300, large defensive structures such as Eye turrets become more prevalent. To destroy the AI once and for all, you must destroy the AI core known as the Overlord. For the Overlord to reveal themselves, you must destroy the AI Homeworld’s CS. To do that, you must first destroy the dire guard posts on planets surrounding the AI Homeworld. These Tier 7 planets are known as the “Bastion” worlds, and collectively these planets plus the Homeworld are known as the Homeworld cluster. When you first arrive on a Bastion World, the AI automatically techs up to the 2nd tier of technology if it has not earlier, and once you land on the AIHW, it will level up to the 3rd tier of technology.
Protecting the AIHW is the Praetorian Guard. This fleet is made up of Tier 7 units, and they patrol worlds 3 jumps away from the AIHW. These units are aggressive and courageous and are extremely dangerous. They will warp in at the most inopportune time, so it is advisable to cripple them before attacking the HW cluster. Dire guardposts, are stronger than regular guardposts, but also incur 8 AIP points when destroyed. You will have to destroy all of them plus the ones on the AIHW in order to render the AIHW’s CS vulnerable to attack. At this time, you want to have amassed a fleet of about 300 to 400 strength and have at least 200 defensive strength (assuming logistic stations).
After destroying the AICS on the HW, the AI Overlord will spawn from the remains of the CS. It will be immune to attack until it leaves the bastion worlds, after which it will make a straight beeline towards your HW. The AI Overlord is extremely deadly against ships as it can convert them to be friendly to the AI and has a massive amount of shielding that regenerates. You will want to fortify several worlds along the way with turrets and try to destroy the AIOL as it comes.