I've now finished the first chapter of the campaign, and so far it has convinced me that I will probably really like this game . . . and also that I may moderately dislike campaign mode.
It's not awful or anything, it's just that so far, I've only seen one map, and the quests have been pretty bland. Various people asking me to move my flagship to a particular location or to build X number of buildings. Yet there are hints of the game's depth to be seen - I've had to build faction specific buildings and set up short supply chains. That small taste has whetted my appetite to see what the game can do when everything is unlocked.
I think I'm going to stick with the campaign for now, though. It looks like playing an open-ended game is going to require that I absorb a lot of new concepts, and I'd prefer to have them spoon-fed to me one at a time. Not that the campaign works great as a tutorial (the first time I played, back in June, I had to look up on the internet how to build a warehouse, because the game didn't tell me that it was an exception to the normal construction menu). Still, it narrows down my inevitable searches by taking away the whole "where do I even begin" problem.
The plot of the campaign is bare bones. I'm some kind of corporate stooge who starts out working for the world's most incompetent corporate executive, Thor Strindberg. Not only does Strindberg insist on using oil and coal power, despite the premise of the game being out of control climate change forcing humanity to take to the seas (though, to be fair, this appears to be a wider policy of the corporate faction), but he can't even do "pragmatic in the short term, careless about externalities" right. He deliberately ignores his chief engineer's warnings about overloading a hydroelectric dam, insists on running a new part without proper testing, and then tries to pin the blame on the engineer when it fails. And when I do a halfway decent job cleaning up the mess, he tries to throw me under the bus too. When that fails to appease Rufus Thorne, the CEO, he swears revenge as if, somehow, I had anything at all to do with his downfall.
I don't get this character. Lying would be sleazy, yet understandable, but he must know that neither I nor the engineer did anything but follow his orders, so continuing to insist on his innocence after the CEO has stopped listening borders on the delusional.
The third and fourth missions of the campaign have me meeting up with a couple of new factions. In the third, a tanker ship collides with an oil platform, and I have to call upon the help of the Eden Initiative to clean it up. These guys seem moderately on the ball, using wind power and saving dolphins and whatnot, though you'd have to work pretty hard to be a bigger asshole than Thor Strindberg. Even Rufus Thorne looks good by comparison - he, at least, understands that a major ecological and humanitarian disaster is bad for business, even if he still inexplicably insists on sticking with the corporation's two year plan.
The fourth mission introduces me to what I can only assume is a third faction, SAAT. I can't say for sure, because I didn't get any new buildings from them, but they appear to be a scientist-type group. I had to work for their head honcho, Salman Devii, in order to find a long lost Ark. It turns out it sunk to the bottom of the sea, and though this mission has all the same boring "click on a particular area of the map" objectives of the previous missions, I still kind of liked it because it introduced submarines, and it turns out there is a whole sub-surface map to explore that I didn't even suspect existed. I'm pretty excited about the potential sci-fi city management vistas this new layer will open up.
The only thing I don't get so far is the Arks. They're obviously pretty important to the setting, but I'm not sure I understand their technological niche. They're huge, mobile general purpose logistics platforms that can submerge and travel under the waves, but it seems like a fleet of ordinary, purpose-built ships would be both cheaper and more efficient. And even if the Ark did have some sort of economic role, why would you make it submersible? What possible purpose could that serve?
It's not that big a deal, though. I get that it's real purpose is to serve as a home base/shop for my island settlements. I'm hoping that, as time goes on, I'll be able to customize it, because it's kind of a bummer to have this thing on the map that I'm not personally invested in. It seems likely - the Ark has customization slots - I'm just not yet sure how it's done.