I will say that the game looks promising, but it's almost impossible to tell how it will really play and that's why I think any comparisons belong on their site rather than ours. I wish them much success, and I understand why they feel that a competitive comparison with DW is necessary at this time, but I would prefer that discussions comparing this to the already released DW be moved to their forum.
We're a little more straight-forward than Distant Worlds. We do have automation and so forth but not so much as to 'disconnect you' from the affairs of your Empire.
This strikes me as a bit of spin. DW gives you the choice of how much you want to automate or not, or if you want to get suggestions for partial automation. I don't see how we disconnect the player from the Empire, they choose what level of automation to enable.
We focus more on giving the player power to manage events more than managing individual assets (though we do have a full suite of management tools for individual ship control). Here are two common situations in the game and how the player may approach them:
I could say the same thing about DW. You can play at a level where all you need to do is respond to the events in the message log and the suggestions from your advisors. You can also play down to the level where you are running every ship and fleet yourself.
You see a system you'd like to be colonized so you right click on it's star/system and say 'Auto Colonize', for instance; the game will find Colony Ships to colonize each planet in the system.
In DW, you right click on a planet you want to colonize and a similar choice pops up. I'm not sure why you'd want to colonize every planet in a system, usually it's better in DW to colonize the more valuable planets first and come back to the ones that will take more time and money to build up.
Or if you'd like a group of 64 ships to explore all the nearby systems simply select them all and give them an Explore order (each one will pick a system not picked by another of the ships); if you'd like them to all explore as a singular unit you turn them into a fleet and give the same order and they'll pick the nearest system and go there as a fleet, if you have a specific system in mind you just keep them selected, right click on the system you want them to explore, and give a Move to System order. If you'd like to them to keep exploring indefinitely, just put them on Repeat mode and pin them to your Pinned Object List so you can keep track of where they are and what they're doing no matter where they go with just a glance.
You can do the same thing in DW. Automated exploration ships will keep exploring ad infinitum. You can tell exploration ships to explore a sector, a system or a specific planet. You can group them together or have them be individual ships. They will initially start by helping each other explore the same systems more quickly, but over time they will branch out to explore many different systems individually.
You can see them by their icon shape on your map at any time, you can also cycle through them using the buttons for exploration/colony ships, you can also see them through a filter view on the Ships and Bases screen. You can also assign each one to a numbered group if you really want, and re-select them just by pressing a key.
Ships with the ability to repair other ships automatically do so, ships with the ability to haul cargo from place to place do so, and so forth. These are prioritized for your convenience
This is all true in DW as well.
(and for their security, in the case of armed transports who will defend themselves from aggressors instead of ignoring them and trying to shrug off the attack all the way to their target and other such scenarios) and may be overriden both while you are building the ship in the blueprint editor and on ships that are already constructed.
I assume this is meant as a direct comparison to DW. You can set the ship's parameters for when it will flee or fight in each ship's design (I assume that's similar to their blueprint editor). Private ships will return fire if armed, typically they will flee as their shields will usually hold out until they can escape into hyperspace. When they start fleeing is determined by the settings chosen for that design.