It's time to talk about the two factions in Dawn of Victory's first release and how they play off of each other in combat, economy, and overall strategy. We'll be talking about the Soviets today and the Germans tomorrow to round out the week.
An early game advantage
The Soviet playstyle is all about expansionism. Soviet players must make it their top priority to capture and reinforce as many systems as possible during the early game. To achieve that goal, the Soviet player is armed with essentially free corvettes and diverse frigates, as well as comparatively much more powerful strike craft planet defenses. The Soviet player starts with a Planetary Defense Base, so their first corvettes are produced essentially instantly. Between the autocannons, missiles, torpedoes, light cannons, and flak guns available to an early game Soviet player, there is a lot of diversity to be had for destroying lighter ships like German corvettes early in the game. By obtaining a good income stream with several planets, the Soviet player can afford to finance the several fronts he'll undoubtedly be opening. While not particularly cost-efficient in the short term, Soviet economic upgrades are quite lucrative when multiplied over several planets over a long period.
Unfortunately, the early game superiority comes with a price. The Soviet player is stuck with their frigates up until they start researching cruisers, and unless they have built up their economy well, they will be hard pressed to afford them. A Soviet player can get trapped in a downspiral as they build more and more defenses and poor frigates toward later in the game, losing resources that could be best put toward cruisers, and eventually be driven from a system or defeated. This is why the Yeremenko Destroyer and Slavny Light Cruiser are very essential upgrades: the Destroyer has heavy armor and can tackle larger ships with a medium cannon, and the Light Cruiser (as you probably know by now) has a massive amount of flexibility with flak, a medium cannon, and light cannon and optional torpedo launcher.
As the Soviet player is mostly about early game superiority, mid-game there's not much to talk about. In fact, there's so little to talk about that we decided to throw in another cruiser when doing the unit lists: originally, there was only a torpedo cruiser and the medium cruiser. The Genrikovich Special Operations Cruiser (informally known as “the KGB cruiser”) is a special cruiser devoted to taking over and sabotaging enemy ships (not in that order). It rounds out the mid-game nicely, but it's still a gap between the early game and the Soviet capital ship advantage later.
Later in the game, the Soviet player begins getting all his capital ships. Unfortunately for him (with the exception of the relatively quickly researched Kiev Battlecruiser) by now everyone else has them too. Not to fear: the Soviets have a natural capital ship advantage both in unit roles and individual superiority. If the game isn't over by now it soon will be: capital ship faceoffs are extremely rare.
Summary of playstyle
In summary, the Soviet Union player will focus on expansionism, planet defense, and elite capital ships. A player that can master these abilities will master the faction.
The Soviet Union player has a variety of different weapons: more so than most other factions.
Flak Cannon: Seemingly somewhat paradoxically, the Soviet player has made the most advances in flak technology. However, the role ends up fitting the USSR quite well, considering the faction is more about brute force than anything: instead of missiles, the Soviets just fire giant exploding shrapnel shells into space and hope enemy fighters fly into them.
Light Cannon/Deck Gun: The light cannon or deck gun is fitted on most Soviet ships and is effective against corvette screens and frigates. It is not very effective against anything larger, but it tends to have a fast refire rate to do its specialized job effectively.
Medium Deck Gun: The Medium Deck Gun is mounted on smaller ships than the other factions, at the cost of reactor power. Its power is crucial to a early-mid game Soviet player, as stated above.
Heavy Deck Gun: Rare except on the largest capital ships, the Heavy Deck Gun is designed to tear capital ships and cruisers apart at short range.
Torpedoes: Torpedoes also do a pretty good job at destroying cruisers and capital ships, but their reload rate isn't nearly as fast. Soviet light torpedo designs (like on the Torpedo Frigate and Bomber) tend to focus on “clusters” of individually less powerful torpedoes: the effect is somewhat like a guided shotgun. Heavy torpedo launchers have different staggered-fire designs more reminiscent of today's missile cruisers, but either way their trail effects and sheer numbers make for some very nice looking video (as you can see in our Aurora Torpedo Cruiser teaser).
Autocannon: Available to all factions, the Soviet autocannon is moderately powerful against enemy fighters. The Soviet fighter is also armed with short-range missiles to provide an advantage at range: these missiles can also be used in a pinch against light targets like corvettes.
See you tomorrow when we discuss the Germans: I know we've probably kept much more of their mechanics and ships secret, so I think it'll be a good round-out to the Gameplay Week series.