darken92, I own (and enjoy) both Distant Worlds and Armada 2526. Both are marvelous 4x titles, and both are easily in my top five space strategy games of all time. I can honestly (and easily) recommend either one.
That being said, from your description, it sounds like Armada 2526 would almost certainly be the better fit for you: It's turn-based, and although (as previously mentioned) the battles are in real-time, they're quite manageable. (Admittedly, I find the combat system itself to be somewhat lacking, but at least you don't feel like combat is a stereotypical RTS twitch-fest.) It's quick & easy to learn how to play without sacrificing depth, and the customization options are reasonably robust. As for AI, Armada's computer opponents -- while of course by no means perfect -- are easily among the more competent ones I've seen in over ten years of playing strategy games. The game's atmosphere is also quite good as well.
Overall, it's a very solid game done in the traditional 4x style. And it's now that much better with last week's release of the new Supernova expansion.
In comparison, Distant Worlds is very deep and complex -- quite possibly the deepest and most complex space strategy game out there that's not F2P. (I added the last part so as to not enrage Aurora fans. ) The civilian economy is a brilliant feature, and the various automation options are enormously useful in easing the player's burden. The game has a ton of atmosphere with a great sense of immersion, and happily is not fast-paced like your stereotypical RTS. (A lot of folks compare DW to being like Europa Universalis in space, which I personally find to be fairly apt analogy.) It also has a significant number of customization options, giving it a high replay value. In short, Distant Worlds has a richness that I've seen in very few -- if any -- other strategy games.
However, DW's main drawbacks (at least from your perspective) are three:
1.) It's in real-time, and while not a game-breaker, does still make it harder for the player to keep up with events (especially later on in a campaign) than in a turn-based game.
2.) The AI is....fairly decent, but honestly it's not as good as in Armada. Unless you stack the odds heavily in the AI's favor in the game's setup screen, it's relatively easy to beat the various computer opponents in Distant Worlds.
3.) DW requires a lot more time invested in order to get the most out of it. It has a rather steep learning curve when you're first figuring out how to play (partially due to a poorly-designed UI), and even after that that, campaigns usually take a good while to play through. (In contrast, you can easily knock out a campaign in Armada in a single evening, depending on what settings you're using.) In that sense, DW's depth & complexity is simultaneously one of its biggest strengths & weaknesses.
In the end, my best advice is that you really, really should get both Distant Worlds and Armada 2526 if you can. Seriously, I feel you'd be doing yourself a disservice otherwise IMHO! I cannot emphasize that enough.
However, if you truly only want (and/or are allowed) to get one 4x title for the time being, I'd go with Armada first. It's "lighter" (as you put it), well-designed with solid gameplay, it's very easy to learn how to play, the AI puts up a pretty good challenge, and doesn't require a huge time commitment.
Of course, you may find yourself playing it til the wee hours of the morning anyway.... (Don't say we didn't warn you!)
EDIT: In the interests of full disclosure, I do somewhat prefer Armada 2526 over Distant Worlds. However, that would be a little like putting two beautiful women in front of me and asking if I prefer the blond or the redhead: Sure, I prefer redheads overall, but I wouldn't kick the blond out of my bed either.
< Message edited by martok -- 4/18/2011 8:53:43 AM >
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