It looks fine. Gameplay wise it absolutely holds up.
It isn't necessarily hard to get into. I suggest starting at difficulty 6 at most.
Scouting is extremely important. Get tier 2 asap. Tier 3 is great and inexpensive, but not *necessary*.
Planet priorities are your Homeplanet "ring", Mk. 5 Factories (high rank single ship type), IV Starship/Factories (IV of any ship you have III unlocked for), and Advanced Research Stations (new ship). ARS specifically are a priority, and in a normal game you have to capture all but 1 of the A Cores, which happen to be where all the ARS are stationed.
If you put a regular science vessel in a ARS system before capturing you can see what ship you will unlock, and what the 'hack' options are (this costs basically nothing, it is worth doing).
You don't have to have "supply" (i.e. adjacent planet control) to destroy data centers, which reduce AI progress. You can effectively "snipe" them with Raider Starships (or certain fleet ships).
Research is very flexible in what you can win the game with. Personally I don't even research fleet ships until half a dozen planets in. Some helpful things:
Economic Station upgrades are very helpful (get these before mine upgrades). Military/Logistics are also very good to get eventually.
Engineer Mk. 3's can teleport instantly. You want these at some point (if not immediately).
Turrets are very good.