Endless Space Review
No end in sight.
Endless Space is a traditional turn based strategy game, created in a very non-traditional way. Through a system they’re calling Games2gether, Amplitude Studios chose to go through a multi-stage beta program where their testers voted on which features would stay, which would go and which would be added after the game has been released. This approach caught my attention as I’m often an hour into a game, thinking things like “if only they had an option for this”, or “how could they not have thought of that.” So, can players design games? Let’s find out.
Endless Space takes you far into the future, to a galaxy full of different races and factions who are all vying to advance their agenda through colonization and conquest. This conquest may not always be of the military variety but the goal is to control as many planets and star systems as you can.
Your goals are accomplished through a number of intertwined systems that govern your colonization plan, military strength, scientific progress, diplomatic efforts and resource gathering. The overall concept will be familiar to fans of the Civilization or Romance of the Three Kingdoms series, but Endless Space is decidedly its own game. Where other strategy games, real time and turn based, lay out very clear paths to develop each discipline from point A to point B, Endless Space mixes and matches the scientific application of technology in a way that is true to life.
You’ll start out each game of Endless Space in a random galaxy, controlling one star system with a colony on one of its planets. Each game is heavily customizable, giving you choice of galaxy size and type, number of opponents, starting faction and other, more granular options. The available factions all have basic back stories, which will be told in a brief cut-scene before the game starts, and come with their own set of strengths, weaknesses and preferred victory conditions. I did find it hard to get a sense of identity since you rarely see anything that visually differentiates your faction from the others once you start the game. The science trees and colonization options are the same, regardless of faction, the only real difference is the basic look of your ships and you don’t see those very often. The stat differences are there, I just would have liked to feel like I was a member of that faction somehow.
Once you start a game I highly recommend you pay attention to the tutorials, which are built into normal play and act as great guides for new players. I recommend this so strongly because Endless Space throws a lot at you, all at once. On top of that, it’s not an easy game. I’ve played on a number of difficulties, with a number of different factions and still have yet to master the game.
During your turn you can queue up construction or colonization projects, set your research focus, organize your fleets and manage your heroes. Heroes play a big part in each game and can be assigned to star systems or fleets to provide leadership and bonuses to each. Scientific research, however, rules the game. Endless Space offers four huge research trees that can gain you anything from higher food production output to advanced ship shields to the ability to find ancient temples on your moons. What I loved about the research trees is that the lines were blurred and the descriptions did not always tell you specifically what you would get from completing each research project. Can the same technology that makes your ships faster increase your industrial production? Maybe. Can the technology you use to colonize a seismically active planet also strengthen your shields? Possibly. That’s how science works in real life and you’ll see some of the same principles at play in Endless Space.
Victory, to my dismay, is often an unclear goal, far off in the distance. You can, of course, win by defeating your enemies in battle but score victories are a little more vague. You can mouse over factions icon in the top left and get a scoreboard, but nowhere is it really clearly explained what this score means. One would assume it is made up of a combination of how much you own and how big your empire is, but some info on the breakdown and weighting would have been nice.
Once you get the hang of Endless Space it will be one of the most complex and addictive strategy games you’ve ever played. When you lose, you won’t be yelling at your computer you’ll be disappointed that you failed your people through your gross mismanagement of their resources. Then you’ll start another round.
The single player and multiplayer modes in Endless Space are basically the same and online sessions for up to eight players can be created with the same options you’ll have in single player. Just make sure you enable the round time limit. Matches can get very painful, very quickly if you don’t place a time limit on turns.
Aside from a few quirks, Endless Space is a deep and rewarding strategy game. That is, if you take the time to get to know it. A steep learning curve gives way to an upgrade system that asks you to have faith in a vision of the future. Just like we knew the telegraph would ditch all those wires on day, Endless Space asks you to take the long view and punishes you if you don’t. Some people may be overwhelmed but strategy fans have to play this one.