Planetary Annihilation's new single-player mode takes after FTL more than RTSes

Planetary Annihilation 's new single-player mode, Galactic War, is more structurally similar to FTL than your classic, story-driven RTS campaign: explore the galaxy, discover new tech, battle with warring factions—and don't lose. Conquering the galaxy requires a string of unbroken victories, or it's over.

Today's addition of Galactic War is most notable for that concept, not for how big a slice of Planetary Annihilation's whole it is. It isn't an RTS campaign like Blizzard would do an RTS campaign, rather an interesting way to connect battles with AI opponents, which were already possible as one-off matches. Galactic War packages that experience, gives it context, and adds risk and reward.

Three factions control most of the galaxy, and you wake up feeling all conquer-ey, as you often do. Traveling to an occupied solar system triggers a battle. Win, and you can move on. Lose, and you start over. Conquer all three factions—each of which fights with different tactics—and you're the king of space, though when he came by the office to show off the mode last week, Executive Producer Adam Overton couldn't say yet whether there would be any special cutscene or other reward for making it to the end.

Galactic War also limits the number of technologies you can use, requiring you to collect them from solar systems you visit and fit them into a limited number of slots. "It's really helpful to new players," says Overton. "On the base game, if you just go out and play an AI game, you've got bots and vehicles and air, eventually naval and orbital. You've got basic and advanced versions of those. So it kind of contains the game a little."

Limited technology can also make PA more difficult, giving experienced players the opportunity for interesting handicaps. "As you explore, there's a chance—not a great chance, but a chance—that you'll find a new loadout," says Overton. "And that new loadout means the next time you start the game, you can choose between the basic 'just a vehicle factory' start up, or maybe you're going to start with just an air factory. And oh my gosh, trying to win a game with just air instead of vehicles is actually pretty hard. We may have some crazy stuff in there like, you actually start with just a couple buddies and no units at all. You can't build units."

Ultimately, the technology scavenger hunt and the rest of Galactic War's design is in service of making it an "infinitely repeatable" campaign by changing the way it's played each time. For instance, matches of Planetary Annihilation are won by destroying the enemy commander, and Overton imagines a scenario where a player finds techs that beef up his own commander and plays "commander boxing"—charging in to beat up the enemy commander instead of bothering with building. I love that there's a modern RTS experimenting with victory and failure like this.

There's more to do, though. Since releasing on Steam Early Access last summer, Planetary Annihilation has been updated over 30 times, but Uber Entertainment still hasn't set a date for its official launch. "We're getting closer and closer," says Overton. "It's one of those things where we feel like we'll know it when we see it, and we haven't seen it yet." Still in progress are balance changes to tweak "flow of the game," he notes.

Even in its unfinished state, Planetary Annihilation isn't cheap. It cost $90 when it first released, which Overton says was to avoid undercutting the Kickstarter backer reward, and has since come down to $50/£30, where it's "stabilized." It's cheaper than usual currently, with a sale taking 40 percent off .

PA isn't a shell of a game, though—by many accounts on Steam , it's a spectacular RTS in its current state, despite some underdeveloped features and complaints of poor optimization. Uber promised an RTS where you could fly a moon into a planet , and Overton eagerly showed me how to fly a moon into a planet, so it's at least got the big thing down. Galactic War (which was actually one of the stretch goals ) is probably a smaller step toward release than the long process of balancing that Overton mentioned, but if it can soften the learning curve and provide offline replayability as he says it's meant to, it's a vital one.

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