Played a couple rounds of the game, here are my thoughts.
Candidate selection - pretty nice I guess, I didn't expect a large rostor. The fact we got the senator from Nevada was a big surprise, and Amy Klobuchar actually in the game too. Looking at the game files it seems like there could be a lot more fun candidates on their way - which is really nice, but I really wish these candidates were balanced against custom candidates, or just give custom candidates more points to spend so they aren't objectively weaker than playing any of the default nominees, so that really NEEDS to be fixed as it is currently impossible to have anything more than a below-average candidate.
And maybe it's just me but some candidates like Bloomberg have the wavy hairstyle, and that's not even available in the candidate creation menu - interesting nonetheless. Same for the pete's nose lol, hopefully these are available (or unlocked) in the future.
The AI cheats as usual - and you have to be really quick sometimes just to use the core essential game feature 'Ideology', even more-so when you are double-jeopardized with higher ideology points for simply not moving up fast enough. These meta-nuances really hurt the game, and the experience for the player jumping into it. More-so when it is easier to run behind, but compared to endorsements in the past, I wouldn't say it is a big deal. Many people will be asking for primaries so you could build one time outreach centers that just swallowed up money, but in reality I really support the ideology addition as it allows, for once, for a candidate to actually define the themes of the campaign and the election.
Thank god the AI doesn't chosen (or hasn't yet) the Giant Meteor, one of the big reasons is that it is a big immersion breaker for one. Still cool to have!
No option for weeks is really unfortunate, and could've been appreciated as a completely optional side-line for how to enjoy your campaign. Maybe I would believe the game is 'better paced' if it wasn't for the fact that the AI constantly has a heads up on enthusiasm forcing you on the defense as they have the luxury to hit up every state, and rack in instant ideology points, and not waste time on interviews as they are collecting random events/town halls. So the AI/game pacing really could be adjusted more, I also don't know how effective ads/speeches are this time around except for barely tugging states across the finish line when you need them to I guess. As I feel like I could easily play without needing any ads due to the ideology stuff.
Graphics/UI is really good, but it really hurts lower/mid-tier graphics cards, there is still more room for optimization, as ultra and low are only a 20% difference on an RX 470, and I would have a hard time recommending it for the same people that could reasonably run political machine 2016, unfortunately. As much as I like the new UI and the awesome candidate portrait angles (think fighting games), I really am not seeing much as far as accessibility & optimization. But however this game manages to use more GPU than Tropico 6 & memory-leak laden 32-bit games is a wonder to me, given the 3d models/textures aren't all that crazy.
And the lack of settings too really leaves me wondering why the menu is so dry, like no automatic tool-tip disables, which isn't a big deal since you learn to ignore them after the first few playthroughs. And game-starting settings like random event toggles - perhaps being able to possibly set it from none to frequent would've been really great, so I dearly hope that is an option in the future. Same for the starting money, weeks, etc. The lack of shortcut keys really sucks, so no spacebar to move to the next week (thank the devs for making it so you didn't suddenly time-bomb your week by accidentally clicking next week when the opponent was active).
Operative-wise smear merchants are still by far and large the most effective ones, especially when stacked up. Spin doctors can have questionably neutral or even negative effects on candidates, especially unpopular candidates contrary to real life, so that is still an issue with the series. You can still move intimidators from state to state (which the AI would've frequently done in the previous game) to just rig the political leanings/values of states, so that still is a remaining issue. I also cannot figure out how for the life of me what determines operative prices other than that they come cheaper later on in the game? Weird. I am at least not opposed to making it cash-based for operatives, but I wish their pricing wasn't artificially rigged at the start, also an at least have optional toggles for being able to buy more operatives in a single round.. Or allow it in general, although I can see why it is not allowed, even though it allowed some really fun end-game strategies in the previous game.
Maybe speeches would be nice if candidates had the stamina to make effective use of them, and if they actually changed finalized ratings of states, I can't say a moment where I actually moved the percentage of voters in a state where both voter's awareness or 'enthusiasm' (which is a lot cooler) were maxed out. Maybe I would be able to tell if I played a 52-week game, but who knows. Being able to see poll-ratings of issues in the speech menu would've been cool, but not a dealbreaker.
State balancing is pretty nice I guess, better than what I expected, but places like Kentucky/Oklahoma still have democratic tendencies and others that you would think would be in danger of republican hands like Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota aren't as swingy as you would think. And for states that are looked over, they tend to get higher partisan results than normal with low enthusiasm factors, so that's a bit of a good surprise if you were worried that you'd have to lock down every state in order to win. I always find the AI having tons of smear-operatives in Florida, and I have yet to see a game where I win that state because of how hell-bent the AI is on making sure I never win Florida. Lower stamina candidates again have a very hard time holding all the states, this is balanced by the other factors allowing you to better capitalize on media events, town-halls. Candidate auto-campaigning is awesome. Big plus for that. Now if only operatives did the same... then that'd be truly awesome.
Here's to hoping for more political operatives. I can understand why there is one ad now, but it would be nice to have newspapers or radio features in the game, in ways that don't take much stamina, but allow you to flesh out your strategy in each state.
Overall I think the game is a necessary step in the right direction, and while I wasn't expecting much content immediately, or hell for the game to even release at all, I'd say it's pretty welcome, but I really hope concerns are listened to. Steam Reviews already are pointing out some pretty integral issues with the same, and I think some reasonable changes could be made to keep the game accessible, and yet not over-burdening on newcomers to the series. Political ideologies despite what people say are in-fact a good step for the game, but the replayability they offer is questionable, as you have to outclick an ai or human opponent just to ensure you get the upper hand on them, which isn't really all that natural or fun, same issue with endorsements in the previous game.
- AI is unbalanced, and unfair to players
- Lack of options in general, especially for game-pacing
- Operatives & conventional campaign infrastructure is simplified, but still not wholly balanced
- Custom candidate balancing needs to be adjusted to be on par with generic candidates
- Game is unnecessarily GPU-intensive
- And maybe just a lack of features so far... New additions in the future seem likely?
Edit: If there was one must-fix thing about this game, it would be toning down the AI aggressiveness on town hall/random events and then immediately expending said ideology points, probably the most immersion breaking thing about this game so far, and buffing up custom candidates. Still very hard to win with low stamina candidates as their disadvantages don't justify the little advantages they get. Texas & Florida are seemingly impossible states to flip - while the A.I. will have no problem raising and maxing out enthusiasm and then winning Pennsylvania & Michigan, putting NY and CA into play, (could be lopsided minority appeal working around here, but still these are immersion-breaking issues that I never had a problem with in the previous game with maximum voter enthusiasm in these states). I don't feel these issues accurately represent the political dynamics of the u.s. to keep the game replayable unfortunately.