Sorry, late to respond, but perhaps this might help.
I am a big fan of Malfador's SE series going back to SEIII. I remember fondly the whole community of shipyard websites that supported the game with new ship sprites, name files, etc.
I don't like to compare games as better (etc), because each must live or die on its own merits and design at the time it was made. However, as a Space Empires fan myself, I think you will like Distant Worlds.
You already read some of the differences-- perhaps the most glaring omission is that Distant Worlds is single player only. If you cut your teeth on VGA Planets and Stars! like me, that might be important to you. Many would be galactic conquerors like multiplayer -- even the old style pbem. That said, the AI is mostly challenging given the scenario and event system included in DW.
Otherwise, you will find that DW (like Space Empires) has a complete customization API. Files can be tweaked and mods are available here for new settings, races, and ships.
I'm not sure what version of Space Empires you liked the best, but also keep in mind that DW is a 2D, top down game. There is no 3D in the currently released version, DW: Universe.
Finally, I think you will really come to enjoy the living universe that DW creates in each game. From a design and game-play standpoint, DW is very well done.
< Message edited by Malevolence -- 9/27/2016 2:46:37 AM >
Nicht kleckern, sondern klotzen!
*Please remember all posts are made by a malevolent, autocratic despot whose rule is marked by unjust severity and arbitrary behavior. Your experiences may vary.