I guess I'm rather late to this party, but I only actually finished
the campaign yesterday even though I had played it last year but not all the way to the end (the last time I had got stuck on that mission where the Zy was introduced and gave up, then I lost the pilot file, then I had to start over again).
I must say that this mod really does capture the stylized, deliberately over the top aesthetic of sci-fi anime combat. There's beams flying everywhere, awesomely exaggerated pyrotechnics (love the Dragonslave missile--KABOOM!), ludicrous missile massacres from the Skirmishers, and hordes of bad guys. Watching some of the larger battles was a real treat, even if many of them couldn't really be affected by the player and were there as window dressing for the actual mission.
It's also definitely not FreeSpace. Everything works differently ([REDACTED, because I shouldn't have said what was here in the first place]), and there's a real learning curve as you have to discard many of your FS tactics for ones that are more appropriate. The UEU mission at the very beginning is interesting in that it seems far more FreeSpace-like in its gameplay, serving as a sort of bridge between FS2 and WoD.
The music works brilliantly as well (well except for the ghastly anime theme song in the intro cutscene but I intentionally skip the opening credits of anime so I don't have to hear the J-pop theme songs so I'm probably not the best judge of that). I don't know how much of it (if any) is original compositions, but it really fits the theme of the mod and is a radical departure from the usual big-brass-with-spacey-synths space opera music. The battle theme that first pops up in the first mission and appears several more times throughout the mod, with the guitar solo in it, is my personal favorite.
The models, while pretty crude in terms of detail and texturing, almost all have something unusual or interesting going on--animated textures, animated subobjects, alpha, etc. Each race (except one, which I will get to later) has its own distinctive look and none are "ISO Standard Human Spaceship" (well I guess the Nordera come pretty close but they have a cobbled-together, brutally primitive look that gives them a unique identity). The Fur'angle in particular are completely unique and I've never seen anything like them. The ships also do unusual and interesting things and require different tactics to defeat, something not often seen in FS mods. Minor quibble: the FS assets used for some of the civilian ships don't look like they belong at all.
The storytelling, while certainly eccentric, works for the most part, and the characterization is better than in any mod I've played that is not called Blue Planet. My only problem is that the story lacks a real sense of conflict and danger before the Hertak personally arrive, as the LSF seems to have little trouble holding their own against the battle thrall races. Well that and some moments involving certain female characters get a bit...gratuitous
. (That scene with Misuzu and Crystal. You know what I'm talking about.)
OK, now for some of the things that I didn't particularly like:
The balance of the game feels a bit hit and miss. The Fur'angle Sweepers are incredibly frustrating to fight, there is no angle from which they cannot damage you and their turret guns are really powerful for a weapon that has a 360-degree field of fire. Worse, they jiggle your view so it is very difficult to line up a shot on them, making it even harder to fight them without incurring major damage. On the other hand, the infamous Cordi fighters can be very easily dispatched by exploiting a simple AI quirk--stop firing at an AI fighter for a few seconds and it will "forget" it's being chased and fly in a more or less straight line, giving you a free shot that for a Cordi fighter, usually spells doom. The Adasyas were hyped up as a very dangerous enemy but in a fighter, you can just have your wingmen distract it and then fly up and blast its core before it can effectively respond. In the Prometheus Frame, you just shoot its center of mass with your beams and it vaporizes. I destroyed 11 of them during the campaign and never once did I find them as threatening as the Sweepers and Astrays escorting them.
On the LSF side, only the Ray III and its derivatives are really that fun to fly. The Caliburn has absolutely horrible handling in either of its two variants and is not durable enough to tank all the fire it will draw. Its heavy weapons are also incredibly slow and difficult to use properly. The Kaze, on the other hand, has awkward turning characteristics, limited primary firepower, and very weak defenses. However, the Ray III has its own problem in that, except for the W version, it basically has no assault capability whatsoever due to its single gun and missile bank. This is a pretty serious failing for a medium fighter, and leaves the player who picked the Ray III E (I did) in a fairly bad situation. As for the Hazel, I flew it for a few seconds in I think M21 and hated it immediately. It's like the LSF's Medusa, only with even less primary firepower.
While most of the missions have pretty solid design, some of them got very confusing and difficult to follow. Making more of the mission-critical enemies assigned to hotkeys would go a long way to fixing this problem, as would a "beep" sound to indicate incoming messages (and perhaps a Blue Planet-like klaxon sound for when something demands immediate attention). The missions involving flying into enemy ships both were incredibly disorienting and difficult, mostly due to two things: default FS collision physics, and lighting. The lighting inside the ships is completely featureless due to the limitations of the FS rendering engine, making it difficult to judge contours and distances, and when you strike a wall, you bounce off violently, often hitting another surface, and then another, and then another... A baked glowmap with lights and shadows on the inside of a ship would make orienting oneself inside the Hertak Flagship much easier, and Collision Physics
entries in ships.tbl could help curb the bouncing problem and make it more forgiving, especially inside the Cordi Motherships where there is almost no room to maneuver. The LSF Alligator mission, on the other hand, was just ridiculously, brutally hard, especially considering that the attack on the Hertak warship in the Prometheus Frame immediately afterwards is quite easy if you attack it from the side rather than the front.
And speaking of Hertak, their ships are IMO the biggest problem in Wings of Dawn. The other races were all weird and different, even the human ships, and did all sorts of weird things too. The Hertak ships on the other hand very strongly resemble Shivans, and not just any Shivans, but Inferno R1 Shivan ships, which are widely known for being well...ugly. With the sole exception of the drone, they are lumpy, boxy, and rather dull-looking, and their warships even behave like Shivan destroyers, moving around very slowly and blasting enemies with big red beam cannons. This is very, very unfortunate considering how the game had been building up and alluding to them for almost its entire length, and when they finally do appear they turn out to be very pedestrian. The fighters are even worse; they feel like less of a threat than the Zy and (especially) the Fur'angle fighters, being mostly a big, slow lump of hitpoints with unremarkable weaponry and a total inability to keep up with the Ray III and Kaze in combat. There is no enemy more boring than one that is easily defeated but just takes a really long time to die, which is what a Ravager is. I hope your revamp of the campaign will improve the Hertak fleet and make them a more distinctive and dynamic enemy.
But overall I liked it a lot; it's a completely unique experience among FS mods, the absolutely tremendous effort that went into it is plainly obvious, and it has a lot of potential to be even better with your upcoming rebuild.