Totally different than Ep1... but in a good way.
I had mixed feelings about ShellCore: Skirmish the first time I played it. It's a huge departure from the epic ridiculousness of ShellCore Command: Episode 1. But that version was buggy and got removed from the portal. Then I found an old version on another website and played it to the end, just to see if it would ever go back to it sroots and unlock the magic of the first game.
It does not.
But like reviewers of Herzog Zwei for the Sega Geneis (a game which apparently served as the inspiration for ShellCore Command,) I would be doing gamers a tremendous disservice if I judged this game based solely on the basis of its predecessors.
ShellCore: Skirmish is not an open world game like Episode 1. Instead, it plays out more like a real-time tactical game. I say tactical and not strategy because the winning strategy is based entirely on the level design. (Generally, it boils down to "drop a tank on the enemy's base," but it's not always that simple.) It's the tactics of implementing that strategy which form the juicy core of the gameplay experience.
If you loved the mindless fun of building a giant ungodly brick of level 1 lasers and parking it directly on top of the enemy's base, you may be in for a disappointment. Skirmish keeps the player on a much tighter leash than Episode 1. Everything from the number of parts to the value of each part to the ratio of weapons to regens is carefully and purposefully regulated by the game itself to keep whatever you build balanced against the enemy. I'm hoping the different naming convention implies what I think it does, that Command and Skirmish are two separate branches for the series, and that both will be allowed sequels in the future.
Or even better, just slap the black and red zones of Episode 1 around the green zones of Skirmish and call it one big game. Let the player cruise around the overworld in an insanely powerful craft if he wants to, grinding enemies for parts. Then have him to whittle that monstrosity back down to something reasonable and balanced for the missions.
After the insane freedoms and excesses of the first game, all this structure can chafe a bit. But if you stick with it, you may find it grows on you. Certainly this one offers deeper gameplay than the first. Whether that increased strategic depth results in increased fun or not is a matter of taste.