You can set the difficulty level of the AI to one of the three difficulty settings available, which is applied to all of the computer players. The default setting will be what you previously used, or Normal for the first time player (a challenge for the average player). Difficulty setting will most often mean how far forward the AI looks in regards to making decisions.
On the three difficulty settings:
- Easy — Human players have a 50% bonus to income and research over the AI players
- Normal — Neither Human nor AI players have an advantage
- Hard — AI players have a 50% bonus to income and research over the Human players
You can further adjust the difficulty of the game by adjusting the starting parameters such as number of colonies or technologies every position starts with. AI settings are ignored when a human player takes over an AI position. They re-establish themselves should the player position return to AI use.
Often, pre–set scenarios will induce specific behaviors or advantages to an AI side that will make them more of a challenge than even the actual setting, such as other races starting with higher tech or larger numbers of ships and/or colonies than you. Other behaviors include increased/reduced chances for Non-Aggression Pacts or Alliances.
The AI first decides what task it wishes to accomplish then it builds the ships with the appropriate sections and loadout for it. Random technologies means it must be able to choose based on need, not pre-generated patterns.
Prior to the release of A Murder of Crows, altering the starting settings altered the starting settings for every position.
With the release of A Murder of Crows, the difficulty level can now be set per position, allowing you to mix and match AI opponents among the three difficulty levels.
Further, the starting parameters of each position can be altered independently now as well, allowing for a much wider range of challenge than the default three difficulties of Easy, Normal and Hard.
It is now possible to start the AI off with more colonies and technologies on Easy difficulty, which means you will have to catch up to them but have the 50% bonus to allow you to do so. Alternatively, you can start off the AI on Hard difficulty while giving yourself more colonies and technologies to start with, meaning you will have an advantage in the early game that should disappear in the end game.
This can be quite useful when stepping up to the next level of overall Difficulty.
The AI in SotS will only form pacts and alliances when it determines that doing so will be beneficial for itself. Each AI Empire will keep track of betrayals throughout the game, spreading information to all other Empires it is in contact with about those betrayals it is aware of either directly or indirectly. The AI has been taught to not trust those who have betrayed others and to extremely dislike those who have betrayed it.
By default your ships will be managed by the AI and they will handle themselves accordingly. You can still take control anytime and give them somewhere specific to go or something specific to kill. Your ships are simulated crewed ships. They will not just lay there if you forget to give them a command. Even if you tell them to obey you utterly, if you leave them free to fire, they will still engage any enemy in range. And again, since you can set AI stance for an individual ship or group of ships at any time, you are more than able to set who you want to handle themselves and who you want to pay attention to.
Often I run one or 2 ships/groups very tightly and give general location commands to the rest...I know they will do the right thing when they get there.
The AI will pick targets on its own if you tell it to fire at will and even when you are directing fire upon a certain target, turrets that cannot come to bear on the designated target will try and fire on any enemy in range unless directed otherwise. You can order a ship to move somewhere and hold position. You are able to force–fire on areas of space with certain weapons. This is a useful feature when combating cloaked vessels.
You will be able to set a ship to Close to Attack which it will approach and begin firing from optimum range against the selected target or its own target if none is chosen. The Stand–off order will have a ship maintain maximum range and is more appropriate for ships with Torpedos, Missiles or Heavy Beam weapons. See the Tactical Interface for more details on ship commands.
Ships will automatically move in a vertical direction to avoid collisions and perform combat maneuvers. Ships can roll occasionally to perform combat runs and bring weapons to bear on their target. With the release of Version 1.4.1 , rolling can also be instigated by the player using the appropriate keys.
A ship without a player ordered target will pick targets on its own. Un–ordered targeting is handled on a per–bank basis, not a per–ship basis (as is player ordered targeting that cannot hit what you are telling the ship to fire upon). By default, weapons will fire upon the first thing that comes into range, so if you have (say) six missile banks that fire forward and one that only can hit things to starboard, the first ship to come into range of those forward banks will be fired upon. When something comes into the fire arc of the starboard bank, it too will fire upon what it decides is its target.
Once things have engaged and you are out of standoff combat, banks will attempt to fire upon what they have the best chance of hitting, so relatively inaccurate weapons like heavy drivers will fire upon cruisers and dreadnoughts while laser fire gets sent at smaller, nimbler craft. Once a weapon system gains a target, it will continue to attack that target until either the target becomes invalid, (due to being out of range, out of firing arc or destroyed) or the player gives a new fire order and the ship reprioritizes its weapon systems.
Missile fire is interesting because they, like other standoff weapons (torpedoes being a good example), have absolutely massive ranges and tend to keep their firing solutions far longer then you would expect. Point Defense weapons are also interesting because they will never target ships on their own, instead only targeting Drones, Missiles, Bio–Missiles, Mines, Torpedoes, Assault Shuttles and Asteroids.