It seemed to me the development focus on ship combat lasted many months, perhaps to the detriment of other gameplay aspects. While making combat visually appealing helps sell the game, it's not the visuals that concern me. It's the math behind the combat.
Compared to GC2 we have new stats like weapon range, fire rate, and accuracy. We also have ship classes which affects the tactics of individual ships in fleet battles. These new aspects represent a large step up in combat complexity, but does that complexity improve gameplay?
The devs said that power will usually trump fleet composition in fleet battles, but also indicated that players would be able to turn that around with highly skilled fleet composition. But is that practical? Here are my questions:
Given M turns and N manufacturing to put together a fleet, isn't is usually better to get the maximum number of larger hull ships, than a mix of larger and smaller hulls? If that's not the case, then it would always be better to have a ton of small ships.
Let's say you find a good composition consisting of larger and smaller hulls. In most fairly even battles the smaller ships are usually wiped out completely, so now you have to build a bunch of new smaller hull ships. Is this ever better than replacing them with larger hull ships?
Let's say you plan a new fleet composition based upon the outcome of a recent battle. You've devised the perfect counter fleet only to find several turns later that the enemy fleet composition has already changed, and your fleet gets decimated. In a strategy game, part of the strategy comes from being able to somewhat predict what the enemy is going to do next, and you plan a counter. The enemy predicts your counter and counters that, and on and on. That strategic back and forth exists in a combat system based upon rock-paper-scissors. A player invests time and resources down a certain tech tree, and it takes significant time and resources to change course, thus offering a level of predictability. This paradigm exists when you only need to be concerned about weapons and defenses.
When it comes to fleet composition, that predictability is gone because a player can change fleet composition on a dime. Now instead of "His fleets have been laser-based, I should counter with ships with shields because it will take him a long time to go down another weapon tree" it's "His fleets have been mostly interceptors, I hope he continues to do that, so I can counter with a bunch of guardians." The shift from mostly interceptors to mostly frigates takes no research investment.
The fact that I do not have a good handle on this after playing since beta 1, the fact that there are no discussions on these forums about strategic fleet composition or examples of it in actual gameplay examples, the fact that the game doesn't provide much in the way of hints on countering strategies, it all points to the likelihood that the new elements of the combat system do not enhance the strategic aspect of ship combat. If true, this means the new elements are fluff, adding unnecessarily complexity, and that the status quo remains, "bigger is better."