Gratuitous Space Battles is divided into a number of missions, which are big space battles fought in the name of something-or-other of no consequence. The aim is always the same: Destroy the enemies space fleet, and enjoy celebration drinks amidst the floating hulks of your vanquished enemy. Each mission has a different location, which may affect ship effectiveness due to local spatial anomalies and nebulas. You will fight against a fleet of fixed cost and number of pilots, and you will have to design a custom fleet for each battle, as both the situation, and the enemy fleet you face will be different for each mission.
Galactic conquest is the campaign meta-game add-on for Gratuitous Space Battles. The campaign 'wraps-around' the battles, so they are no longer isolated clashes, but merely engagements in an ongoing galaxy-conquering campaign. When you decide to move one of your space fleets to an enemy-controlled planet, a normal GSB battle takes place, and the winner takes control of that system. This radically changes the tactics of the game. No longer can you design ships specifically to fight a single enemy fleet, but you are forced to think ahead, to design multi-role ships and fleets that can take on all comers.
Galactic conquest requires that you have the base game already. You can have as many or as few race expansion packs installed as you like, the campaign will pick enemy races based on which races are already installed. You will also NEED an internet connection as you play the campaign, because of the games tight integration with the online server that selects enemies for you to fight.
Galactic conquest is not 100% finished yet, but you can get access to the beta and start playing NOW, if you pre-order the expansion. You effectively just buy it early, and start playing now, before we are declaring it bug free and final.
It looks like an RTS in some screenshots, but the game is much more like a 'tower defense' game, in that you are not directly controlling your units, but placing them pre-battle and issuing orders. Imagine tower-defense, but with moving towers that you can design from scratch, in space, with cool laser effects. That is a fair approximation of GSB. You do not have control of individual ships during battle. The battle phase of the game is for visual feedback of how your fleet did. You can speed up and slow down and pause the battle to see what happens in some detail, and there are post-battle statistics showing who shot and killed who.
Firstly you check out the pre-battle deployment screen which shows you a rough intel report of what you are up against. Once you have selected your battle, you go to the deployment screen, which is the main management part of the game. From here, you drag and drop pre-designed ships into position for the battle (limited by the battle fleet budget) or you can create entirely new modular ship designs and add them instead. You also issue orders to your ships, telling them what ranges to fire at, and which target types to engage. Once you are happy with the fleet deployment, you click the 'fight' button and pay close attention as the battle rages. At the end of the battle there are post-battle statistics that will show you why you won or lost. If you won, there is a good chance you earned enough 'honor' from the victory to unlock some new starship components for the next battle...
GSB ships are basically empty hulls, that come with a fixed hull cost and some basic power production and possibly a few bonuses. Those hulls have a fixed number of slots which you fill with modules of your choosing. All the modules have different capabilities, and you might choose to design some heavily armored anti-missile ships, or a number of highly-powered and shielded ships with a few big beam lasers, or anything you like. Different weapons are effective in different situations, so you will need to design a balanced fleet. there are very few restrictions. You have to balance power, cost, crew requirements and weight, but you can build a ship with no weapons and all engines if you wanted to for some reason. Apart from turrets (which get drawn and animated on the ships) your ship layout will not affect the ships appearance.
As supreme space-admiral, you don't get your hands dirty during the battle, but you give instructions to your underlings in charge of each ship. You can order them to fight to the last man, or retreat if damage exceeds a certain level. You can give them different ranges to engage the three classes of enemy ship, you can also add further AI behaviors such as "protect this ship" or "stay in formation relative to this ship". You can also issue targeting preferences such as 'vulture' which encourages that ship to open fire on enemy ships that are already damaged or 'co-operative' which encourages them to group their fire onto single targets. Your AI captains will do their best (within reason) to follow your orders during the battle.
The focus of the game is singleplayer, but the game has an element similar to the 'massively singleplayer' aspect of Spore, in that a player can design his/her ultimate fleet for a given mission, then 'challenge' another player through our servers. The challenge data is uploaded and the player is notified that an enemy fleet is available to kick their stellar ass. They can then battle against this new 'enemy' fleet, and stats on how many attempts were needed to ensure victory are stored and displayed back to the challenger. In this way, you can play against your friends in a sort of 'play-by-email' method, but without the email :D I will release more details on this closer to launch.
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