But a closer look at Space Empires V reveals how different it is from its competitors. Unlike, for instance, the more-simplistic-but-fully-functional diplomacy of Galactic Civilizations II, Space Empires V's diplomacy options are beautifully deep, but ridden with bugs. Some are simply incorrect and confusing text descriptions of the results--for instance, you offer a tech trade, it is accepted, but the text response shows you exchanging the wrong techs, while in other cases the text correctly reflects your desire but the items exchanged are wrong. Neutral races don't seem to respond to communications at all. And it appears that AI civilizations can make treaties with each other that cripple them, such as two civilizations agreeing they will not do any research or expansion.
That trade-off of depth and complexity versus quality of execution is present throughout Space Empires V. The technology tree is huge, but some of the resulting technologies are broken, such as the shard cannon, which is no more powerful at level 50 than it is at level one due to what appears to be an unintentional error in the underlying algorithm. The ability to set up new games with a wide range of conditions and map sizes and customized races is offset by bugs such as occasional crashes on the large maps and racial traits that are opposite of what is intended (naturally happy races are actually naturally depressed and vice versa--a bug that can produce a lot of confusion as you try to figure out why your planet is rebelling!). Fleet operational options are impressive, but ordnance appears to randomly disappear from ships within fleets. Special items such as ruins add to the variety and sense of discovery that is essential to the atmosphere of a good space-strategy game--but the ruins disappear after the first turn. And the list goes on; Space Empires V is extremely deep, and very buggy.
The technology tree contains hundreds of items and thousands of levels.
Another area that demonstrates this trade-off is multiplayer. Space Empires V offers multiplayer, with options for both simultaneous-move and turn-based play. Galactic Civilizations II offers no multiplayer at all. However, the AI in single-player Galactic Civilizations II may be the best in computer gaming, exhibiting behavior that truly mimics the way that humans play in both intelligence and style, even to the point of making devious moves purely out of spite. While Space Empires V offers multiplayer, its AI is fairly simplistic and, in places, relatively poor. Again, which is more important to you--multiplayer capability, or outstanding AI?
Without a doubt, Space Empires V is an incredibly deep and complex strategy game that offers almost unlimited playing options and styles--which makes the bug infestation that much more regrettable. While the developer has had a reputation in the past for putting out patches to fix serious issues, it's a shame Malfador didn't wait until the game was in a more finished form before releasing it. If your tolerance for bugs is high and you're willing to live with workarounds for some of the more serious issues, you may be happy with Space Empires V in its present form. But if you prefer your games fully baked when you plunk down your money for them, the best advice would be to watch the forums and wait to see if Malfador patches the game into a more stable form.