Given the chance, I will play any game at least once. Even those bad games, the ones that receive those critical ratings from reviewers, will sometimes have some gem in their gameplay that draws me like a moth to a flame. Some games, the ones that fall into those “niche categories,” tend to draw my focus even more because they always offer more than the mainstream titles. One of my favorite genres in this respect is the 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) strategy titles that don’t necessarily garner tons of attention from the masses, but are still solid titles that capture people’s attention without even trying.
Endless Space falls into that spectacular 4X genre with aplomb that would put some games to shame. Players get to pick from a variety of races that Amplitude Studios has added in – anything from the quintessential human races to an amoeba race (that can see the map from the start) to a race in perpetual war. Fun stuff. Players even have the ability to customize the races as they see fit, and will use their chosen race in a bid to control the galaxy against the other, more nefarious denizens in the vastness of space.
Jumping into it though, new players may (may? Hell, will) find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer avalanche of information the game throws at you. I recommend not skipping the tutorial; even now after my amount of game time I still have to double check things. The game is huge. The ship customization alone is gigantic. You’d be a madman (or madwoman, we’re not gender-biased here with video games) to not glance at the tutorial at least once. If not, you’re a braver person than I, but I fully expect to kick your ass if I ever manage to get a multiplayer game working.
But anyways, back to the “game is huge” thing. The game utilizes a turn-based mechanic which is a strange twist; many 4X games that I’ve played have generally been real-time. It makes for a more methodical game since it gives players all the time in the world to plan their next move. During your turn (if multiplayer, all turns are done simultaneously until everyone finishes), you will have many things to occupy your attention. First and foremost are the systems, planets, and colonies that comprise your sprawling galactic empire. Should you colonize a planet next turn, assuming you have the population, or should you spend the next four turns building a new system upgrade? Or ship even? It’s all about choices and going off of the strengths of a system. Certain planets, like arid ones for example, tend to produce more of the in-game currency which is called Dust. It’s a good idea to exploit this by building to the planet’s strength, but what about feeding the population? Gotta keep them alive don’t you? Making a system self-sufficient and a productive member of your society is very important and may take time, but the investment pays off.
Players can expect to split their time many, many ways. There is a massive technology tree split amongst 4 primary thoughts: Diplomacy and Trading, Galactic Warfare, Applied Sciences, and Exploration and Expansion. Even then, they blur together easily – Galactic Warfare research contains improvements to ship armaments, but in order to increase the fleet size cap, research must be done in the Diplomacy and Trading tree. If you’d like new ship designs those are located within Expansion and Exploration, and in essence players will be all over the tech trees to stay formidable. But even then, formidable is one thing in a real-time battle, butEndless Space has zero real-time activities, including warfare. If 2 enemy fleets enter the same system, the game resolves the fight in one of two ways – either automatically which generally screws the player over, or through what is essentially a quick-time event playing out depending on your choices and fleet strength. Pick the battle card (basically whatever maneuver you’d like to perform) and it plays out, but pick poorly and your ships, no matter how strong, will take a beating. Remember the variety of weapons too! There is anything from missiles that deal a massive damage to beam weapons and even slugs fired from onboard cannons. The breakdown of weapon types and ship stats are fun, but honestly beyond designing a powerhouse battlecruiser, the battles are pretty pointless and I found myself disappointed.
Players can also hire hero units to help manage colonies or fleets. This is one thing I highly recommend since early on it’s about the only way to keep the population happy and productive. Hero units level up and gain ability points, which can be spent at furthering certain aspects of their command abilities. Going even further, players can ally themselves with others in the game, helping to further their own goals. With this newly founded alliance, you can expect to trade goods and Dust, or even a step further, tech if you trust the other player. That last one can be a serious game changer though.
Now for many of you that read my previously posted preview, you’ll know some of the things I’ve already said about the game. It’s a solid title and a great single-player experience that many fans of the 4X genre are going to love. It’s a very in-depth title giving players the ability to create their own races with their own choice of positive and negative attributes for them. That alone is fun – you mean I get to not only pick the race I want (that comes with automatic racial bonuses anyways), but then I can go ahead and pick what else I get to worry about and clap excitedly for? Fantastic! Except for the glitch (and as of my last playthrough it wasn’t fixed) that allows players to take every single stat bonus available into the game. So imagine you actually get a multiplayer game working and you’re incredibly excited until suddenly another player, with a mass of fleets capable of destruction far surpassing yours, strolls in and basically gives you the finger. How can he do that within the first 50 turns? Oh, he took advantage of this lovely exploit, and topping it all off – if you manage to survive all of that, but not finish the game, don’t bother resuming it later. This exploit also corrupts the save file and some game files as well. Yay!
Mind you, that’s IF you manage to get a multiplayer game going. Kevin and I both still have problems connecting to each other’s games without a third party being involved. So the same problem could potentially happen for other players – inability to connect directly with a friend and enjoy a game the two of you bought for that sole purpose. I am still extremely disappointed with this turn of events and would rather not rely on a third person to play (at that point you have all sorts of scheduling issues and “when are you free” type problems). That’s not to say the multiplayer is bad. It’s fun as hell if you manage to get a game going and the longer the game the more awesome the technology becomes. Endless Space even features cloud save games, and everyone receives a copy of the save file making it very easy to pick up fun where you all left off… if you find the time. This long game that can take hours depending on the settings.
Amplitude Studios has done a great job on creating a solid title in Endless Space that’s sure to capture some attention. They just need to follow through on the game post-release and ensure those nasty glitches are finally taken care of. Considering the game is nearly open source in regards to what the developer has done releasing all of the materials, it should hopefully happen faster than with some games. Give the game a shot through Steam or wait for the boxed release this fall if you’re interested now, but you might want to wait a couple of months for those kinks to be ironed out.
Note: The Endless Space review was written based on the PC version of the game.