Exploration is one of the most important tasks for a spacefaring empire. At the game's start nobody will know anything about the universe beyond their home system. To learn more about anything beyond it, an empire will need to send their science ships out to survey them. Early game exploring is key for an empire to start growing rapidly, however caution is warranted for the various events and anomalies associated with exploring can bring either great boons or banes with them. Part of the Discovery tradition tree is focused on exploration.
Intel refers to how much information is known about a system. Based on Surveys and Sensor Range a system can have the following Intel Levels:
|Intel Level||Requirements||Can view|
|Hyperlane Detection Radius||Previous Sensor Range||Current Sensor Range||Survey||System||Planet types||Fleets||Planet details|
Sensor Range is a measure of how many hyperlanes away can a ship or starbase see and detect fleet movement. Sensor Range can be increased by researching certain technologies, upgrading the sensor components on ships and building the Listening Post starbase building. A Sentry Array also has a massive Sensor Range around it and will grant vision over the entire galaxy when completed.
Players can build science ships from the start of the game, and every player starts with a pre-built science ship which is ready to be sent out to survey. Every science ship must be assigned a scientist for the science ship to perform tasks such as surveying, assisting research of a planet, exploring uncharted hyperlanes or researching a special project (the ship can still move around without being assigned a scientist).
By default science ships are set to "evasive" stance, which means they will flee any system where hostile ships or spaceborn life forms are present. They can be set to "passive" stance instead, which lets the ship continue its current orders even if the system it is in contains hostile aliens.
Science ships cost 100 alloys. They are built at starbase shipyards, like all other ships. They do not have weapons but are automatically equipped with the latest sensors, engines, reactors, armor and shields based on your current technology. Science ship components are automatically upgraded as your technology advances without the need to refit them at shipyards.
Science ships can do the following actions, all which require a scientist to be assigned to the science ship:
- Surveying gives detailed information about a celestial body, namely deposits, habitability and anomalies.
- Researching Anomaly will investigate an anomaly, the investigation time being dependent on the level of the scientist and of the anomaly. For more details see Anomaly.
- Assist Research allows science ships to boost the research output of the planet, by an amount depending on the skill level of the scientist.
- Automatic Exploration requires the Automated Exploration Protocols technology and explores the galaxy automatically.
- Experimental Subspace Navigation requires the Speculative Hyperlane Breaching technology and makes the science ship travel directly to any explored destination as MIA.
In order to survey a planet, select a science ship and right click on the planet and select the "Survey" option. The player may also select the "Survey System" option to order the science ship to survey every celestial body in the system. From the galaxy map, the player may queue survey mission by holding down "Shift" key and right clicking on a system and selecting the "Survey System" option one by one. The science ships can only survey systems that are within their reach. Science ships can be ordered to explore the galaxy automatically once the Automated Exploration Protocols technology has been researched.
Surveying celestial bodies such as stars, planets and asteroids allows for the discoveries of resources such as energy credits, minerals, strategic resources, research points or a primitive civilization or pre-sapient species on them. The player may then send a construction ship to build mining and research stations to harvest them, provided the system with the resources are within their borders. Starbase outposts can only be constructed in systems that have been fully surveyed.
Scientists may also come across anomalies (unusual things in the galaxy that require further study and analysis) when surveying a celestial body. These anomalies can be investigated by any scientist, but will be analyzed faster if the scientist has a high skill level. When an anomaly is found, the player gets an alert at the top of their screen. Clicking on this alert will bring up a screen which has the option to direct a scientist to research the anomaly immediately. The scientist will return to their current assignment once he or she has completed investigating the anomaly.
Planets surveyed by an empire within its own borders do not have to be surveyed by other empires. However planets within Fallen Empire borders will have to be surveyed once border access is gained one way or another. The same applies to Marauder systems in Apocalypse.
The situation log helps to keep track of special projects and anomalies, which are discovered when venturing out into the galaxy and exploring, and allows individual projects and anomalies to be tracked on the map. For democratic Governments it will also display Election Mandates. If there is an update to the Situation Log, it will glow in orange.
Most projects are centered around a location (often a planet, but it could also be an object in space), and many of which requires the presence of a science ship with a highly skilled Scientist assigned to the science ship before the projects can be researched. However, some of the projects may require something other than a science ship such as a military warship, or a troop transport, or something else entirely. Some special projects are timed while others will remain present until resolved.
Eventually ships belonging to another empire will be encountered. Diplomatic interactions will not be available until their language is translated so the only decision that matters is whether to attack unprovoked or to take a peaceful stance unless attacked. Hostile action can only be undertaken if the First Contact Protocol is set to aggressive (the default for xenophobe, fanatic xenophobe, militarist and fanatic militarist empires) and only with an explicit order. A hostile action will have a permanent -25 opinion towards that empire while capturing any of their worlds will mark it as a first contact war and give a permanent -75 opinion instead.
After the first contact the option to investigate and translate the language of the newly encountered empire will become available. Should you focus on other projects the alien empire will translate your language shortly after the encounter.
Note that the ethics-based replies available after a peaceful first contact do not affect opinion.
The layout of star systems is determined by the galaxy shape. All systems are connected by hyperlanes in clusters connected by choke points. The latter will never be a home system nor will they house anything that will stop an empire's expansion. The systems at the very edge of the galaxy will always be isolated, with a single hyperlane connection.
The number of choke points is set at galaxy generation.
Nebulae tend to have fewer habitable planets within them, but the chance of finding Strategic Resources is increased by 50%. Nebulae block all sensor coverage originating from other systems, meaning that it's impossible for an empire to see what is within and beyond a nebula's hyperlanes without having a ship or station therein. Nebulae are named and visible on the galaxy map from the start of the game.