Expanding on the original Sword of the Stars and expansions, Sword of the Stars 2 adds a slew of new features, upgrades and improvements to the original.
Players take control of one of the six races from the first game, evolved into new political factions, and set out to conquer the stars. The 4X, turn-based empire building system has been further streamlined from the original, now automating trade and logistics and allowing players to focus more on the big picture. The randomised tech tree has been expanded and revamped with the ability to predict the outcome of research down a particular branch, but still random enough that players have to adjust their strategies from game to game.
Ships are custom built to the player's specifications, and fleet combat takes place in realtime across horizontal planes stacked atop of one another, allowing for 3D formations and tactics.
Multiplayer is drop-in-drop-out, with AI policies set by each player for their empire's administration when they leave.
SolForce is the human faction in the game, a massive bureaucratic and military complex that administers human-dominated systems. While other species can become integrated into SolForce, the majority of its inhabitants are human. Aliens cannot serve in the millitary or high civil service posts. SolForce uses a Node Space drive that allows them to travel very quickly along "Node Lines" that connect particular stars together. The node lines, however, often plot their way through bizzare courses, or wind up too long to use effectively, making navigation difficult. Most of the literature surrounding the game is written from SolForce's perspective. They expand quickly and have fairly average technology chances, but can run into problems navigating Node Space.
The Hiver Imperium is mostly composed of insect-like hivers devoted to their Queen. They have a rich scent-based language, in addition to the usual visual and audio modes of communication. Their FTL Technology is based on a system of teleport gates that must be set up by slower than light vessels to allow teleportation to their destination. This combination of slow, then instantaneous travel, along with the Hiver's preference for heavy armour, makes them extremely slow in expanding their empire, but almost impossible to dislodge. They are also one of the hardiest species in the game universe, able to colonize worlds that the other factions consider uninhabitable. They tend to specialize in ballistics, industry and armour.
The Tarkasian Empire is the millitary dictatorship of the Tarkas, large reptilian space apes. Notable for being the only species in the game with no natural psychic abilities and a strong, warrior-based culture, they've become somewhat more belligerent in the new installation of the series. They have the most intuitive FTL in the game, the warp drive. It allows them to travel anywhere at a fixed FTL speed. They have fairly average technology chances and heavily armoured front sections on their ships. They're a good species for beginners to cut their teeth on, as they don't have a complicated drive or a very strong technology focus along with a middle-of-the-road population growth rate and easy to use ships.
The Morrigi Confederation is built from independent worlds joined together by the Morrigi, bird like aliens with a penchant for trade and diplomacy. They have an ancient beef with the Suul'ka for destroying their culture sometime in the past. The Morrigi like to help other species develop, there is some evidence of Morrigi presence on Earth well beofore humans left the planet. Their "Flock Drive" becomes more efficient the more ships there are in a fleet, meaning you either see a couple of Morrigi vessels scouting, or a lot of them travelling on business. They are good at research, and tend to specialize in drones and diplomacy. Another good faction for beginners, as they don't have a super complicated drive system, make money easily and get along with pretty much everyone.
Liir-Prester Zuul Alliance
The psychic space whales joined up with some of the psychic space possums. The Zuul that have joined the Liir have taken on the role of therapists for the Liir fleet, as violence is extremely traumatic to the Liir psyche. The alliance primarily use Liir ships and drive systems, and the Zuul enhance the Liir psychic powers and combat effectiveness. The Liir use a "Stutterwarp" drive that teleports the ship several times a second tiny distances until they can get away from a gravity well. The farther they are from a star, the faster they go. The alliance is great at research and use all kinds of powerful, high-tech weapons, but their ships are somewhat weak and become slow near planets and stars.
The rest of the Zuul follow their old masters: gigantic, incredibly old and powerful Liir known as the Suul'ka. They mostly use Zuul ships and technology, upgraded from their junk-pile ships of SOTS 1. They use a "Rip Drive" that functions like the human Node Drive, except the Zuul use a special ship to make their own node lines between stars that decay over time. They can also summon the Suul'ka themselves to aid the horde. The Zuul tend to use cheap, poorly armoured ships with lots of guns and devices for capturing or disabling enemy ships. They're good at salvaging technology and like to enslave the species that they conquer.
The gameplay revolves around two systems: the turned-based strategic mode where all the administration, construction, research and diplomacy is done and a real-time tactical mode where fleet battles are fought.
Turn Based Strategy
The strategic view is where the majority of the game takes place. It works pretty much like other 4X games, except a large amount of the administrative duties are automated or streamlined. From the strategic view, players can access the research tree, (termed the "Research Forest" by the developers due to its size and complexity) manage funds and allocations, perform diplomacy, and order ships around. Players can also open the "SOTSopedia" a compendium of in-game knowledge. Battles can be fought automatically when fleets from opposing factions occupy the same system at the end of the turn, or they can be fought in the real-time mode.
Real Time Tactics
The real-time battles are fought on a stack of three horizontal planes, usually in orbit around a planet. Players can order ships to move, change their facing and orientation and move between the horizontal planes, as well as set specific behaviours to individual ships or to the whole fleet. With large engagements or slow ships, this can take a while, so there is a set of commands to speed up or slow down time.
The ships themselves are custom built in the ship building interface, accessible from the strategic view. Here, players choose a size of vessel (Cruiser, Dreadnought, Leviathan), the three main components of the vessel (Command Section, Mission Section, Propulsion Section) and the weapons the vessel will use. The propulsion section is usually located at the back of the craft and contains the engines of the ship as well as a weapon or two. The mission section in the middle of the craft contains the specialized equipment of the ship such as heavy weapons, drones, or command and control. The command section usually modifies the ship in some way like increasing the turning speed, adding shields, or adding an extra heavy weapon.
Fleet management has been drastically reworked from SOTS 1. Most of the hassle of dealing with tankers and fleet ranges has been reduced and fleets are now tied to bases scattered throughout the player's empire. Fleets can now take orders to scout, explore, patrol, colonize, etc. They will return to base once their mission's complete or they run low on supplies. Fleets are headed up by admirals who develop and change over the course of the game as they become more experienced. During a civil war, admirals will align their fleets according to their views of the player.
The political and diplomatic systems have been reworked from the first game. Rather than a solitary star system, players now start with a handful of systems organized into "provinces". Each province has their own administration, and can potentially rebel if they don't agree with the player's policies. The player also receives a label based on their actions and policies such as "fascist" or "communist." There are now many independent worlds that for one reason or another haven't left their homeworlds. How a player interacts with these species contributes to the player's government label and how the player is perceived by the other factions.