I agree with much of what Rob said. It’s certainly not a SMAC clone and the game can stand on its own two feet.
I think I know why tbg couldn’t get into it - it does start a bit slower than other 4X games due to the shared resources. It picks up a bit after 30 turns in or so.
The overall package’s production values are excellent, especially for a first-run game. This includes a bunch of items - things like graphics, sounds, interface and overall stability are quite good. The game is visually appealing, the interface is a Civ V clone (which is a good thing), the unit graphics are neat, the sounds ok, the music unobtrusive (maybe a little too forgettable) and the game has only crashed on me once. Other things work really well - stuff that’s not so simple like map scripts and the combat AI. These things can sink a game (FE:LH’s map scripts are still awful) and here they’re just nailed.
I like the flavor of the descriptions. Inspired by SMAC, they help breathe life into the game. A couple of other concepts that seem to work well are the semi-random tech tree, the unit editor and the global pool of food, minerals and the like. I didn’t see the impact of migration from one city to another, but supposedly it’s there. Because of these concepts, the game starts off a little slower than other 4x games, but it makes up for it later. Each civ has its own personality and that’s generally a good thing (more on the downside of this later), and between the descriptions, the AI and some of these other factors the game had some unique flavor. It’s not faceless and that’s a good thing.
Operations are neat and can be used to devastating effect. I found out that the hard way when my massed army was bombarded repeatedly due to an AI operation. There’s nothing like losing half of your killers stack of doom to an aerial bombardment to make you re-think your strategy.
I played last night and got that “just one more turn itch” and finished my first victory this morning. That itch is the hallmark of a good game. My first impressions are favorable.
I have some concerns about this game long-term though. I think these are all fixable, some pretty easily. But some of these need fixing before I’ll give it my recommendation.
The game needs some more flavor. While I like the Operations, I’d like to see more city specialization (which means needing Wonders) and unique landscape tiles. They’re greatly needed.
I’d also suggest either some random events (SMAC had 'em) or just a way to make the game feel more “alien”. Once I was halfway through, the alien species were gone and I could have been fighting on Earth. That’s not good for a Sci-Fi game on an alien planet. The flora/fauna has no chance of survival in this game currently and the planet just doesn’t have the tools to fight back. In SMAC you could strike a balance with Planet and the planet was an extremely tough opponent to take head-on. Pandora is a pushover.
The AI and the diplomacy needs some work. Imperium and Divine are simply awful and overall the AI is far too aggressive. A player using someone like Togra is at a massive disadvantage early in the game because some civs are like the Civ 2 Mongols on steroids. At the same time, Noxium and Terra are diplomatic pushovers. Moderate these a bit and provide a bit more clarity as to why civs like / don’t like you. Also, the ability to have one civ attack another would be nice. But the game needs work here ASAP. While Rob said that Togra may be the “one to watch”, that’s not really the case. The tech group is always trouble in late game if they’ve been left alone. But surviving the beginning of the game was incredibly rough because of Imperium and Divine’s hyper-aggression.
Players need a manual and more information regarding how they’re doing. I won a tech victory and I couldn’t even tell it was coming. The devs don’t have to do a ton here, but the players need some guidance on the mechanics and some better information as to the winning conditions.
The speed of the endgame seems to go a bit haywire. I was researching techs every turn. Buildings were being produced in one or two turns. It was nice to see things happen, but it got old after a while. I’d love to play Pandora on a huge map to keep the exploration aspect going longer, but I can’t imagine how long the endgame would take on such a map because there seemingly aren’t penalties for city spam and unchecked growth.
Overall, it’s cool. It’s a good, solid 4x game. It has issues throughout though. The entire opening third of the game is dictated by the psychotic AI and absurd civ bonuses contribute to this. It doesn’t matter who you are, you better just churn out units to fend off the inevitable attacks or you’re done. There’s just no option. The mid-game gets bogged down because there’s no “alien world” remaining and there’s a decided lack of events and wonders to keep things fresh. The endgame becomes a bit of a slog with city-spam and incredible production speeds. Luckily, many of these things can be fixed with relative ease because much of this doesn’t require new gameplay mechanics (wonders and events would).
If this ends up being the final and complete product, I’ll be disappointed. I’ll get a few games out of it, but I’ll ultimately return to Civ V, DW and other games for my 4X fix. I will get my money’s worth, but it won’t be something I could recommend. However if it continues to get developed (and it won’t take a whole lot), Pandora could be a great one. YMMV.