I finally got to the end of the tech tree. Thirteen hours is a pretty long time for that, especially since I barely had any fleets and didn't do any exploration until I'd already unlocked most of the higher-power stellar manipulation techs. It turns out that the Space Empires V AI is a lot worse than the Space Empires IV AI. It doesn't seem to understand how to handle a one-system empire. When I finally made contact with my rivals, they hadn't terraformed any of their planets, or even settled many of them, and they were nowhere near mastering the technology to open and close wormholes.
This made actually winning the game an exercise in systematically visiting ever star system in the quadrant. I'm just going to declare victory without doing that, however. Not only is the UI for opening wormholes awful (it gives you an alphabetical list instead of showing them to you in order of proximity, or better yet, letting you pick from a map), but it's kind of depressing when you show up in a primitive star system with a fleet of top-tech warships and the inhabitants try and swarm over you with frigates that can't even penetrate your shields. And then get angry at you and refuse to engage diplomatically, despite the fact that they attacked first.
That said, I don't regret it. When you're powerful in this game, you're really powerful. By the time I first met an alien, I had two Dyson spheres and a ring-world. I was research a dozen new weapon technologies a turn and had a fleet of constructor vessels that could turn out an unstoppable warfleet each and every year, from anywhere on the map. It was a little like being the ancient, incredibly advanced elder civilization from virtually every science fiction story out there, except I could never figure out how to be benevolently condescending instead of incidentally genocidal.
Anyway, now is time to come up with a new plan. Obviously, I have to attempt at least one regular game. I'm a bit worried that the needlessly aggressive AI, combined with a more even technological playing field, will make the early game an interminable slog. Which is a shame, because the diplomatic system in this game is incredibly deep. There are so many things available to offer and haggle over and share . . . yet none of the NPCs in my last game seemed even slightly interested in talking. Maybe the power disparity was too great? Maybe if things are more even, they'll act more reasonably.
It seems like a long-shot, but I should at least give it a try.