I'm wondering if it would be viable to make spells of tier X just require an orb of tier X or less to craft, so there's no fiddly diluter enchants to worry about and I could just burn my tier 3 orbs on tier 1 or 2 spells if I wanted to. Or even unlink the spells from requiring previous tiers and just let you craft whatever as long as you have the ingredients. Maybe it does balance out fine in a normal game and I'm worrying about a non-existent problem, but right now it's looking rather grim for me.
Definitely no on all counts there. That's like being able to skip marks in ships in AI War. Those limitations are there specifically to make it so that choices actually matter. Otherwise there is no long-term tech tree at all. But you're essentially in a position where a bunch of stuff that was guaranteed for the average player to get is being withheld from your specific world -- that's like starting AI War with a 20k knowledge handicap or something. You can recover, but it's painful.
Hey, I'm sorry to open this can of worms, but why
do we want a long-term tech tree? In AI War, every game is different and the AI has different ships and abilities, so you're making situational strategic choices that should have ramifications over the whole game. e.g. "Okay, right now I have to defend a very wide border, so I'd like more fleet ships that are easier to divide up among a few fronts. But I can see some good choke points a few worlds out, so I could solve this problem that way, and I've been seeing some tractor platforms, which will be a lot easier to deal with focussing more on starships" --- I have enough information to think about what my needs will be after a few hours of play.
AVWW doesn't really have this quality --- it seems like every challenge is pretty much independent from the others, so there isn't much you can do at tier two to think about what you'll need at tier five. There doesn't seem to be much about the game state at tier two that tells me what it'll be like at tier five --- whether I'm going to prefer fireball or forest rage basically seems to depend on whether missions spawn in deserts or ice age regions (bad example on the details). Nor do there seem to be qualitatively different challenges to anticipate at higher tiers --- tier two spell against tier two enemy is (if I understand right) basically the same thing as tier five spell against tier five enemy, whereas AI War continues to throw a range of different-mark ships at you as you advance and you have to be able to deal with them all.
I don't think this is a problem with AVWW --- it belongs to a genre where the moment is more important than the overall sweep of the game, and where variety in game feel comes much more from the player's changing powers than from strategic choices made by enemies. But unless some larger long-term metagame elements are going to be coming into play, I find myself wondering whether it really suits the game and adds any depth to make spell choice a per-continent commitment rather than a per-tier one.
Equally, there isn't much difference between a tier two spell at tier two and a tier five spell against at tier five; whereas in AI War you continue to face lower-level enemies and ultimately have to take on much larger and more complex challenges at the core and homeworlds. Unless this is going to change, it seems to me that there's no good reason to have long-term tech commitments; since the challenges are pretty consistent across the tiers the only result of your long-term choices seems to be "This loadout is pretty good" vs. "Oh damn, this loadout kind of sucks."
Basically, when I think about unlocks in AI War, I often have to think seriously about the game state and where it's likely to go; As the game is now, I can't see AVWW ever having a more complex choice than "Miasma whip is cool, I'd like to keep using it at higher tiers. But circle of fire is cool too."