Distant Worlds 2: this time, your space spreadsheet has a 3D engine!

There is a school of thought, or at least for the first version, that newcomers are better off with most automation off, so they can learn by trial and error, rather than have the AI handle stuff without explanation.

Interesting. I can see how that might be correct and also a terrible idea at the same time. It really would be trial by error because the game doesn’t do a good job of conveying information needed to make good decisions or what the impacts of those decisions were. Or at least that’s my experience so far.

For the masochists I could see it eventually leading to a deep understanding of how everything works, though.

I guess I have no desire to dig too deeply in the economy when I play: in DW1, I’d always eventually end up with good income and the right resources (which is somewhat unrealistic) & I’d say “Great, let me go design some ships, build some fleets and kill the aliens!”

I used to love games with lots of depth but I’d rather not run every aspect of a 4X like the DW games.

This is a guide for not automating the first game. The writing style is annoying as fuck, but otherwise the guide is solid.

I’m puzzled by a game design where most of the game loops are seemingly designed to be automated yet I’m simultaneously expected to learn the game by blindly playing them manually.

First: I think the one very specific question you had is on the prices of resources. I understand these are the (dynamic supply/demand) prices the resource gets when traded (modified by your commerce center component % rate on the base in question) and also leads to the initial build cost of a ship (e.g. units of resource * cost), which means some components and ships are way more expensive than others. In practice I don’t pay much attention to this, because scarcity is so rare past the first few decades of the game, but I believe this is any area modders and devs are looking at (adding scarcity to some degree). Will matter much more if you lower resource availability in game setup.

Second: I understand your wider issue of floundering with the gameplay - it reminds me a lot of when I was first banging my head against the wall with DWU.

Besides the technical issues - which are thankfully much better now - I think the biggest problem in DW2 is that the UI and design philosophy is largely unchanged from the first game. The UI is much easier on the eyes, but fundamentally resists the type of UI conventions your standard 4X/Grand Strategy player is used to - to manage nearly everything manually. It strongly encourages automatic play, from the default settings onward, when this is the least engaging way for a player to learn and also breaks from what genre fans are used to.

The shame is there is a very easy solution to this - a UI button/tab/corner of the screen, etc, where “idle” or “next decisions” accumulate. My preferred suggestion is this one, modified to also have a count of idle characters, etc too - unobtrusively flagging when actions available in each area of gameplay. The game already knows when ships, fleets, characters, etc are all idle, and uses this for the automation - but could just as easily have a little persistent popup reminding you to issue an order to that constructor, explorer, fleet, spy, ambassador, etc instead of using the automation.

  • Example: There are global order queues, e.g. within mining, where I can bulk queue every available/desirable mine to be built as constructors become idle, but then I’m twiddling my thumbs for a few game years/decades as my automated ships make their way through that. I’d rather have a notification of an idle constructor, which then prompts me to review the list of possible mining sites, and then issue the order for the game to assign to that constructor accordingly - and repeat again in a few years (minutes in RL) when that constructor is idle again. In the current method, I mass issue orders and wait 30 minutes for the game to clear them, or fully automate and never know decide at all. In the suggested method, I am considering new orders every minute or so (for example) - same number of decisions, but spread out over time, and forcing me to more regularly go over my options, maps, etc - building familiarity and narrative with the galaxy I’m in.

In a wider game dev philosophy sense, I think the problem is on default settings they’ve collapsed the number of actions per minute to zero in most minutes of the game, instead opting for a very intense setup of automation settings and then infrequent (e.g. once per session) review of target queues. A strategy game should have players reviewing information and making decisions every minute - one could probably do a comparison with default settings of a standard turn based 4X, or Paradox GS, and find they are making minor decisions constantly. Other games, like Stellar Monarch, insist on less decisions of more import - fine, but still make the regular! DWU and DW2 collapse all decisions into a settings file, and leave many others on a simple “Yes/No” to an advisor prompt, which makes for extremely disconnected gameplay.

I know improved manual play is on their radar, but I think it should be/have been much higher - all it takes is a “next idle” or similar UI addition to empower the manual player to become involved in decisions minute to minute, and to actually want to think over the details of those decisions. This is what most genre fans expect when they buy this type of game. Then, if overwhelmed with too many choices (perhaps a few decades in), the advisor may suggest partly/fully automating this or that part of the game.

Ok, all of that said - it is possible to play the game in nearly full manual and have great time with it. This is my most played game in 2022, and I suspect will be in 2023 as well. I can’t get enough of if, and the improvements are really notable and I suspect will continue.

But, I find I am much more attached to my empire and diplomatic relations, empire development, military, research etc - the whole thing - because manual play forces me to consider/follow the narrative more closely and actively. Most automation is extremely boring to me, as it was in DWU; a few specific areas I keep automated because the UI makes manual mundane (characters - could be much better) or even with better UI that issue would remain mundane (per planet tax rate tweaks - awful setting this in DWU. Per planet resource reserves - even worse!). Ok, onto the actual advice.

Advisors and Automation (see img): Set nearly everything to manual in the policy settings, and then turn on the following to automated there and in the menus below

  • Population policy
  • Colony Tax Rates
  • Colony Stock Levels
  • Ship & Base Design
  • Character Locations
  • Intelligence Missions
  • Troop Recruitment
  • Fleet Ship Management
  • Colonies and Tax - suggest Planetary Facility Building
  • Construction - automate New Military Ships and Other State Ships
  • Diplomacy - suggest for Offering Gifts and Negotiating Treaties

Under these settings, you as the player need to (cycling through the top left menus, above):

  • Empire - Funding levels - tweak funding levels for Reserves and Growth vs Research. I prefer to prioritize Growth, especially early, but others differ.
  • Diplomacy - set diplomatic strategy with pirates, independents, and other empires - which your automated ambassadors and spies will then execute on. Note - you must tick this from automatic to manual per counterparty in the diplomacy screen, or your decisions will revert to whatever automatic wants (based on race/gov diff) when the AI makes a sweep through this setting later. I set my strategy to neutral for any counterparty I don’t have a strong sense of yet. Choose at least one neighbor to be a friend, another an enemy, the rest will come with time.
  • Characters - will execute sed on your diplomat strategy (see more below)
  • Colonies - target new colony locations. Rule of thumb is nothing less than 20 suitability, unless you have tech to improve that after colonized. Target any suitable colony early; colonies that stretch your borders later.
  • Exploration - designate Abandoned Ships and Bases for idle constructors to repair and claim. All your explorers will be automated on their own, I find micromanaging this mundane under the current UI.
  • Resources - designate new mining locations. Under Resources sublist, switch from “Production Shortage” to “Priority”, which I believe sorts based on the same principles as the table at top and New Mining Locations list - years of stockpile remaining given current production/consumption rates. Under New Mining Locations, I only queue mines in the first page that have a resource with a red box (priority/shortage).
  • Ship Construction - build new shipyards, order new ships. You do NOT need shipyards at every colony. The AI avoids shipyards within a few systems of each other; my preference is one shipyard every 75m DU (distance units, my own unit…), which means I am one only one shipyard for quite awhile. By default the game will only upgrade shipyards from small to medium to large based on colony size, which I like, but you can override this manually by selecting the shipyard if you want (and I do sometimes, too).
  • Research - set research focus, target new research base locations - you want pretty much every one available, but its useful to follow to understand where they are and what you are missing, which can really impact mid and upper tech options available.
  • Military - set Fleet Templates and build fleets, which you will then assign to home bases yourself (if AI is on, will assign based on diplomatic strategy amongst neighbors); set Troop templates, which your planets will build as budget permits; queue ships/fleets to inspect threats via the lists under Enemy Targets and Dangerous Locations.
  • Civilian - target new Resort Base locations

You should, but don’t have to:

  • Tweak intelligence mission parameters based on your risk tolerance - do they pursue only safe missions, etc
  • Set some/all state ship/base designs to manual under “Role Upgrade” in the list of designs, especially early on, and then use the “Upgrade” button at the bottom to upgrade them - this will help a lot with getting familiar with techs and progression, which otherwise is easy to numbly gloss over.
  • Set some individual spies to “manual” control and train them up on easy missions, which they will then get good at, and then when set on automate will pursue more of those. Otherwise they may be stuck in counterintelligence only until mid game techs boost their success probabilities. This also helps build attachment to spies when they are lost/successful!
  • Set all ambassadors to manual and assign to a) help spy success, b) help improve ally relations.

When idle, I tend to cycle through menus on:

  • Exploration (list of explorers) - just to observe how wide my net is cast, and maybe assess if I need more explorers in that mix
  • New Mining locations, Mining list - see the flow of resources and what is available to build
  • Military (esp a lot of time) - reassigning fleets to new bases and missions (automatically in peace time, or manually esp during war)
  • Civilian - watch the ant farm
  • Ship Design - I prefer to design my own State Ships and Bases, I have a general rule of thumb to do so a) before a new war starts, b) after a major tech like warp or engine has upgraded a new component. Otherwise it becomes too cumbersome to upgrade manually at every new component.
  • This should make clear why I want that “next idle” or “idle count” UI - otherwise one may revert to OCD cycling of menus without a visual indicator that there is something/nothing new to review.
    Edit: While I’m cycling through those lists to scan for decisions, I’m also review/zooming in/out on the main galaxy map. Each list will dynamically highlight different features of the live galaxy map - one of the coolest/most useful upgrades in DW2.

Other preferences:

  • Slow or Very Slow Research speed - like nearly all 4X, I find research completes way too fast in DW2, making the flood of new components hard to process and thus nearly meaningless to the player. Better to slow research and really appreciate that new tech edge for awhile, notice the difference between tech levels.

Thanks for taking the time to write all that up! When I’m home from the office I’ll fire up and game and set things up like you recommend and see if it helps things click for me. Thanks!!

Just an addition that I’ll add to the post - while I’m cycling through those lists to scan for decisions, I’m also review/zooming in/out on the main galaxy map. Each list will dynamically highlight different features of the live galaxy map - one of the coolest/most useful upgrades in DW2.

This is awesome, thanks so much. I haven’t touched DW2 since shortly after release, so this will be my roadmap to come back to it.

That’s a great post, reading that makes me wanna get back into the game. Thank you!

At the very least, AK_Icebear’s nice writeup shows me that there are people who are enjoying this as a strategy game and not just as an ant farm. I don’t have any problem with an ant farm, I just couldn’t tell what the game was trying to be, so didn’t know how to approach it or what mindset to have. With the default automation settings, it just sits in this weird middle ground where it acts like it’s a strategy game but with little of import to decide on the player’s part.

In any case, I’m looking forward to firing up try #5 with his recommendations just to see how that approach goes. :)

Damn, @AK_Icebear, now you’re making me want to jump back into Distant Worlds 2. That’s a pretty darn epic post!

[Pinging @easytarget]

Been a busy week so haven’t had any game time until yesterday, but I did get a chance to fire up a game and set it up the way you recommended. Quick question: do these settings have to be changed for each game? If so, I know there are presets, is it possible to save this one off or is it something I’ll need to manually go through for each campaign?

I’m only a couple hours in to the current game so all I have so far are early impressions. I’m exploring the star systems around me (I have the second hyperdrive) but haven’t had interactions with other empires yet, just an independent world and pirates.

Thus far, the manual settings you recommended have been manageable. It seems like a good combo that isn’t burying me in tedium or micro chores but is making me feel a little more connected to the game. For instance, construction of mining bases is manual but since the construction ships themselves are automated, I don’t have to fuss around with selecting one, flying it over, building the station when it gets there, etc. I just select a base to construct using the Resource view and then the automated ship takes over from there. This works well, I think, although I’m still just selecting what’s on top of the Priority queue which I guess isn’t too different from the Advisor saying “Shall we build a station to mine this?”. Paying closer attention to what resources become a priority when is helping a little though, I think, especially as it relates to unlocking new techs and the like.

Speaking of which, changing the Resource view to be sorted from “Production Shortage” to “Priority” was a nice improvement. I thought Production Shortage was giving me what I wanted, but apparently not. Priority really should be the default view. Because you would think a production shortage would be a priority but it turns out it isn’t the case oftentimes? :)

I have one question regarding fleet behavior. I have a Fleet of frigates set on Manual and I even went so far as to put each individual ship on Manual, but they keep charging across the solar system to faceplant in front of a hostile station that they have no hope in killing. They keep getting themselves blown up over and over and I don’t know how to stop them, even though the ships and the fleet are on manual?! They need to fuck off and stay put until I have enough strength to take the damn thing out, but they won’t. Anyway, that’s driving me absolutely bonkers because the only way I’ve found to prevent their mass suicide is to queue up a bunch of move orders or something like that. I inevitably forget to check on them, though, and I’ll only be reminded once half of them get blown up again. Any help there?

Aside from that issue, my early impression with your recommendations is that the micro hasn’t been overbearing yet and so far it’s made it feel a little more like I’m playing a game instead of watching an ant farm. We’ll see how that holds up as the game progresses and the scope of my empire expands, but so far so good. Thanks again for taking the time to write up the recommendations.

If anyone remains interested, I’ll report back again later once I’m further in the game.

Most definitely, keep them coming.

No. Sometimes at big game updates they will be reset, but normally the user policy settings carry over from game to game.

Your last sentence is key I think - the decision around where to build mines isn’t that meaningful until abundance is rebalanced lower, but at least the why of where new mines are going adds to user connection to the game and creates narrative. Looking at the map constantly, as mining locations highlight as you mouse over the list, also creates personal map of the empire and it’s growth.

Could you share a screenshot of the engagement settings for the fleet (select fleet → info box button right button)? And or the policy settings for all fleets? I suspect the issue is that while your fleet is on manual, it’s engagement settings (especially distance) may still have it chasing enemies spotted by sensors. To stop this, also zero out fleet engagement range (or put on same system), or lower the overpower factor for engaging spotted targets. [Clarification - increase the overpower factor? So your fleet must be x times more powerful than it’s target, or target must be less than x times more powerful than yours. Can’t remember how the game phrases this, but it should be clear within the UI.]

(I prefer sector distance for defense, 50% range for attack and raid).
Way more info than you are looking for:

Awesome - I think this is the point. There are relatively few and straightforward decisions early on - might as well give the player something to ponder, and at least understand why they might be simple enough to automate in future games. As the list of decisions grows unmanageable later in the game, pass them off to the AI as the player needs, not by default.

For me, the settings are all about forcing me to engage with the game, feel attached to the empire, observe it’s growth in multiple dimensions - all to create narrative. That’s what I’m trying to experience in this game.

Let us know how it goes!

Thanks! I’ll take a look at this once I have the game in front of me and if I can’t figure it out, screenshots will follow. :)

Clarification - increase the overpower factor in engagement settings? So your fleet must be x times more powerful than it’s target, or target must be less than x times more powerful than yours. Can’t remember how the game phrases this, but it should be clear within the UI - change accordingly so your fleet isn’t attacking things bigger than it!

I also “remain interested”! :) As someone who “broke up” with Distant Worlds 2 shortly after its release, I’m really keen to hear more about your experience, especially since I found Icebear’s post so fascinating and I’m curious how his recommendations play out with a disinterested third party. So, more plz!

Thirded - definitely let us know how it goes as you move further into the game. I’ve avoided buying DW2 because of my total inability to find a road into DW1 (despite buying every expansion because it always looked so cool).

The latest update, is a very important patch in my opinion. The fleet and design management changes are one of my biggest asks since release last year. I think this open beta will go onto the main branch pretty soon, too, in case you prefer to avoid beta.