Nothing is mandatory in this game, you get to choose the how you want to play without any limit to the way you play expect in MP where you have to follow the rules everyone agrees on before you start. Those of us who do not want limits have said this all along. This has no impact on a single player game unless you chose to limit yourself. Furthermore you can Mod in what you want in your game and Mod out what your don't like. There is nothing stopping you from creating the game you envision using Mods. So you see you still have a choice and no one can take that away from you.
This is why I feel things can become mandatory even in sandbox:
GalCiv is a *strategy* game, the goal is to win the map/defeat opponents. This is irrefutable fact in that you can't start without opponents, or without any win-condition, and once anyone reaches this, the game will end. Advancing towards these win-condition dictates generally the *gameplay*. Hence, I will always choose the most efficient ways to come to this goal, and when this is always the same even under different situations, and even when other methods are available as well, then this is a very strong indicator that there is something off balance.
(It's a self-imposed rule but I have the feeling that strategy games are designed to be played with an emphasis on this, otherwise they wouldn't have been called strategy games in the first place.)
And this is taking alot of fun away from me because I no more have to carefully weigh my choices. The imbalance or OPness (of something ingame) actually made the choice for me, or put this choice into my lap.
Sure, I could do something else, like roleplaying, or dumbing me down, or ignoring stuff I could do - but all this would essentially contradict my personal reasons of why I started up the game in the first place.
And that is why I think that arguments which support ingame balance or the strategical aspects of the game do "weigh more heavy" than other arguments such as roleplaying or realism etc
The perfect vision for this game would be if
- no loopholes, exploits, bugs or overpowered stuff which leads to cheesy gameplay is there to use
- the AI changes/adapts his tactics reactively to what the player does so that tactics/strategies that did work in the past might not work in the future
- the player/AI have alot of different choices at their hands and both have to carefully think about which one to use, and when. All ingame stuff should be able to see a specific situation in which it would be the best choice, although it mustn't happen in every game.
In GalCiv2, even after years and years of development, there are still so many loopholes or imbalances present that, even on suicidal the AI will always loose no matter how bad you play - if you just keep these weaknesses in mind (and I'm not talking of bugs here, but a simple going full tech, lease-buying empty hulls on longest term lease, declaring war early, upgrading all hulls to maximum attack, suing for peace in trade for all planets & ships --> win; will do). So if you want a challenge there you have to NOT use a dozens or more things/mechanics; but it would have been simply better if this stuff would have been taken out of the game, or closed for abuse.
The funny thing is that sometimes you even use bugs, exploits, or OP stuff and you are not even aware of it. At that point the argument of "simply don't use it" doesn't work.... Others might consider it a generic feature. Only a minority of players actually reads these forums.
And this is what I feel should happen to GalCiv3 now. IMO this is what Beta-testing is all about. You can't always add to it - this will only result in overkill. For example DarkAvatar saw a huge nerf in engine power, sure sure it was fun zipping in 2 turns from left to right in a gigantic galaxy, but it was unbalanced as heck as you could just slip past enemy fleets with superfast armed transports and take out the single defender and conquer enemy planets even without air superiority. And if the AI did that to you (when you left unguarded planets) it felt annoying as hell because the attack could occur from well over sensory range.
The good news for us is that the modding capacity of this game is tremendous and with some dedication, all of us are going to play the personally perfect balanced game anyway.