Distant Worlds 2 - PC (Steam) Review

Distant Worlds 2
by developer Code Force and publisher Slitherine LtdPC (Steam) review written by Robert with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Distant Worlds 2 is by Code Force and published by Slitherine Ltd. It is the long-awaited follow-up to one of my all-time favorite titles, Distant Worlds: Universe. Similar to its predecessor, Distant Worlds 2 is a real-time with pause 4x title that leans heavily into the automation of your empire as you explore your choice of galaxy and is more than just a shiny paint job. Distant Worlds 2 has been built on an all-new 64-bit engine and uses 3D models rather than the 2D pixel art found in Distant Worlds.

Distant Worlds 2 is a mixed-bag for me, which is actually a bit surprising given how much I loved the first one. While Distant Worlds 2 is by no means “bad,” far from it—it is in fact, excellent. Where I struggle with it is in the absolutely and utterly and laughably broken civilian economy and, believe it or not … the switch to 3D feels really bizarre for some reason. The “skybox” (background, more like) is wonderful, the 3D planets are eye-catching … but the ships / stations? They feel and look bland:

Sure, some are nice looking, but most feel patched together and nearly every ship and station in Distant Worlds 2 feels (and looks) less interesting than the 2D sprites of its predecessor. While I know that this is subjective, it was very difficult to truly immerse myself when it was hard to enjoy some of these ship designs. There’s something less immersive than the blocky 3D assets in comparison to the more nostalgic 2D ships. I do genuinely hope that we’ll see modders start putting out new ship designs and community balance patches, as having a bit of variety may help with this weird displacement feeling.

While I may not be a fan of the ship models, the new, more responsive user interface is a welcome evolution over Distant Worlds: Universe. Accessing pertinent information quickly is easily done through the clean, simple icons and pages. Policies, which are how you tweak your automation settings, I found I regularly jumped back and forth between automation and manual settings. Why switch back and forth you didn’t ask? For me, it’s about immersio. Sometimes it’s nice to really get in and micro/macro-manage my empire (which, interestingly enough, I really enjoyed the Feudalism government type) it just really clicked with me and I found the most enjoyment out of tweaking Humans to fit that feudal empire style.

Fortunately the sheer amount of automation customizations that you can make are mind-boggling; with Distant Worlds 2 you almost don’t need to play. It would be a shame because you’d miss out on some great ad hoc missions and a relatively good, if simple “main arc” that covers a basic storyline. Where the story actually excels is in relation to the gameplay, not necessarily the actual story. I felt it more like a prolonged and necessary tutorial that … didn’t feel like a tutorial. Another gameplay arc / mechanic that seemed far more brutal than in its predecessor, was surrounding Pirates. They can be more than an annoyance, to the point that their protection rackets were costing so much. The tithes that I had to pay to the ridiculous amount of pirates that I encountered in the first 4-5 hours of the day put a significant damper on my excitement to play—I'm not proud of it, but I may have rage quit a few times those first few sessions. Once I was able to get away from the "here, have 7 pirate factions within stones throw while pre-warp" and just play, it was smooth-ish sailing for a solid 10-12 until the real action started.

I do think that there is some bias here for me that I have yet to work through, in part because I really truly dove into Distant Worlds well after its initial release; the first Distant Worlds first launched in 2010 and I didn’t dive into Distant Worlds until Universe came out … in 2014. By that time, Matrix Games and Slitherine had 4 years of balance patches and content in it so it was in the most polished state that it could be in. Distant Worlds 2? Not exactly polished right out of the gate. Looming optimization issues saw Distant Worlds 2 really start to chug in the later game, granted that was a test on a machine running slightly better than the bare minimum requirements. However, on my primary gaming rig, I didn’t experience the same slow down / skipping that I did on the old machine, so you’ll want to make sure you’re running newer hardware (if you can find it…) before you get into the larger galaxy maps.


Though it may fall short of its predecessor, Distant Worlds 2 is laudable sequel to what I feel is one of the most enjoyable and unique 4x titles on the market. That’s a hard gig to follow and though there are plenty of balance-related issues and more optimization can be done and I imagine that were Distant Worlds 2 given the same 4-5 years post-launch that Distant Worlds: Universe had, I imagine Distant Worlds 2 could very well be a quintessentially perfect 4x experience.

Score: 7.5 / 10