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 planet. To learn more about their solar system and 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.
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 or researching a special project. (The ship can still move around without being assigned a scientist.)
By default the science ship will flee any system where they have encountered ships from a hostile empire or other hostile life forms. However, this could be changed by changing the fleet stance of the science ship to passive which makes the ship to not flee the system when it encounters hostilities.
The cost for a science ship depends on its loadout. Weapons are unavailable for science ships in their loadouts since science ship modules do not support weapon slots. However, players can equip energy shields and armor for their science ships to provide some protection against hostile fire while preparing for an emergency FTL jump.
With the Leviathans expansion, the science lab component can also be changed to provide bonuses to either surveying or the discovering and research speed of anomalies. Players without this expansion will have the default science lab without any bonuses equipped.
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 order to explore the galaxy automatically once the required 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 and research points on them. The player may then send a construction ship to build mining and research stations to harvest them provided if the planet with the resources are within their borders. Moreover, colony ships are only able to colonize habitable planets once the planets are surveyed while frontier outposts can only be constructed when the stars in question are 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 have a greater chance of success 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 complete investigating the anomaly.
Players can also stumble upon primitive and pre-FTL civilizations, which can be left alone or interacted with, accompanying various results.
While anomalies have inherent dangers when investigated, surveying is completely safe.
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.
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 ethos replies available after a peaceful first contact do not affect opinion.
The situation log helps to keep track of special projects, which are discovered when venturing out into the galaxy and exploring, and allows individual projects to be tracked on the map. These projects are usually spawned by Anomalies but these projects can also be triggered by certain events. 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.