By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
It’s been awhile since I really managed to get into a space 4X strategy game, the last time being a stint of GalCiv2 which whilst good and very deep felt a little clunky in places and had a multiplayer backend that made me die a little inside. Luckily though there has never really been a shortage of 4X games to try out, they plod along with turn-based strategy at a reassuringly constant rate regardless of what silly things the rest of the gaming industry is doing. Endless Space is among these varied releases and does a good job of presenting itself. The combination of good game, reliable content and update releases and a democratisation of development focus means that Amplitude seem to have created something great as a both a game and a content platform.
The democratisation that I refer to is Amplitude’s Games2gether scheme which provides the community a forum for development discussion, a system for voting on new features and a feedback mechanism for the developers. This sort of process has happened in an informal manner on a variety of projects for quite a while now. The internet has enabled new relationships to grow between the game creators and the game players, be it in a funding capacity like with Kickstarter or in a developmental sense as seen here. In this case the system has been formalised. This formalised system is somewhat necessary as it brings order to the chaos that can sometimes emerge where the demands of the loudest and most obnoxious simply drown out the sensible moderates. As a result a structured initiative like this will very often bring out the best in both the community and the developers, ultimately strengthening the positions of both and the quality of the game. In short this form of game development is very promising and is certainly one of the most effective routes at ensuring a long and healthy life for your game through providing an ever-present and active consumer base with highly tailored products.
The gameplay in Endless Space follows what we’ve come to expect from a good 4X game, there’s ample exploration with a really impressive system generator that will create planetary bodies of varying types and with varying additional traits such as environmental toxicity or friendly natives. This combined with the random galaxy generation means that no two galaxies will ever be quite the same. I take some issue with the scale of the ‘galaxies’ however some leniency must be given as a true scale 4X strategy would reach levels of all kinds of unmanageable before interaction with another race even occurred. This is where expansion comes into play and these explorable systems become habitable. The mechanics that have been put in place around the development of inhabited systems are very cool, individual planets are populated and then improved with a speciality. Then there are system wide improvements such as orbital settlements and the like which further develop the system. Whilst it is possible to spread far and thin, it is equally possible to create a relatively small but thoroughly well developed civilisation. This is where the exploitation comes in as your space empire develops the various worlds into the best suited arrangement for the production of key resources.
The fourth ‘X’ in our list; extermination, is present and correct. The combat is interesting and somewhat different to other outings with a rock, paper, scissors style of choice in what strategies the opposing forces will take against each other at long, medium and close range. This adds some variety to the combat and once you’ve learned the system the outcomes feel a whole lot less arbitrary. There is a 3D combat mode which is nice and cinematic for the big battles, although for the majority of small skirmishes you can autoresolve from the galaxy map. Ship designs can be be customised and upgraded with different modules as research is completed. Different ship types can be mixed in fleets, meaning that despite each playable race having a specific style the overall composition of your fleets is highly customisable. This is then furthered by the hero system which provides a number of heros that can lead fleets or administer systems providing a boost, these heroes also level and gain perks through said levelling. This all leads to a really dynamic strategy game and also fairly importantly it’s an amazing story generator, pretty much writing space opera.
The research tree has multiple branches for different research implementations and the research is appropriately futuristic and creative whilst retaining a relatively balanced in-game presence. My one niggle with the research is the level of restriction of diplomatic options until quite far down some of the research branches, this can lead to situations like a game of permanently sour AI due to the inability to make peace because the research wasn’t completed early enough. The rest of the diplomacy is functional although a little difficult to navigate at times and somewhat sterile.
I can’t talk about Endless Space without mention of the UI and UX. It. Is. Slick! The UI is gorgeous in a modern and simple yet thoroughly attractive way. The animations on the various transitions and dialogues are great and the galaxy, system and planet rendering is outstanding. The planets are 3D rendered according to their various traits, creating an image that may as well be the view from orbit. The ship models and artwork for the various civilisations available are brilliant with each having a unique and distinct style, I cannot fault the art assets any more than I can fault that great UI. The entire thing is still functional on top of having great form with dialogue navigation being quick, easy and intuitive. In a 4X game you’re going to spend a long long time in and around the UI, which means a bad one can be a real deal breaker, however Endless Space has gotten it just right and being in-game is a pleasant experience. I may rage quit over getting stomped by overwhelming alien fleets, but not once has the interface caused me any such hassle. Again, it really is a gorgeous game to behold. Much the same can be said for the sound and music, both of which are fitting and high quality without being too blasé or intrusive. Overly-intrusive music, no matter how good is going to grow old with the amount of time spent in 4X games, therefore good and non-intrusive music is the way to go.
Endless Space is a Steamworks game, which means you’re going to be playing with Steam regardless of where you purchase it. It is also only Windows and Mac at the moment, however the Games2gether scheme does seem to show some movement towards Linux support. The game is available in a variety of places. I’d recommend the Gold edition as it includes the Disharmony expansion, the pricing of which is generally just under £30.00 (approx $48.00). That Gold edition will get you everything including the 4 free add-ons to the vanilla game and the whole Disharmony expansion which makes general improvements to the game. Minimum system requirements are pretty reasonable, Core2 Duo with 2GB RAM and even Intel HD 3000 support means that it will run in some capacity on most things, although it might not look as pretty as it does on a Nvidia GTX 660ti. In short this is a definite try for those already into 4X strategy or turn based games, it does a lot of things right and anything that you feel it does wrong you can take a constructive suggestion on fixing to the developers and community through their Games2gether scheme.
Game Website Store:
Endless Space on Steam:
Endless Space Gold Editions on Gamersgate:
Endless Space Gold Editions on GMG:
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