Endless Space 2 Review – All About That Space
Endless Space 219th May, 2017
Endless Space 2 has released this week after seven months in early access. This is the time I worry about; when a game I already know I like is released. Particularly a game with such depth and character. Just how much time can I spare? Less than the game wants, things fall to the side. I forget to have dinner. I'm a mere skeleton now.
I've had Endless Space 2 for a while; the early access version that is. I also spent some time at Gamescom last year looking at the game. Much like their previous titles, Amplitude have spent time listening to the audience and worked with them. The Unfallen faction, a number of achievements and a particular quest - all community created. This is a developer staying true to its roots, backed by a publisher that's happy to let them do their thing.
That's the thing about Amplitude. Whatever they create, it seems to be great. Five years ago they introduced themselves with the excellent Endless Space, a game that had frequent updates and constant support. Two years later came Endless Legend, continuing the developers’ penchant for great 4X titles, and the addictive roguelike/tower defence Dungeon of the Endless. You could be seeing a pattern here. You'd also be right in thinking Endless Space 2 is a great game.
Amplitude have taken the best of Endless Legend and brought it back to Endless Space. The game is streamlined to a fantastic level and deceptively easy to get into. Anybody who's played a 4X game, particularly a space based one, before will know the score. Start off, build up, explore and expand. Eventually, you'll come into conflict and that's where the fourth X comes to play, it'll be time to exterminate.
The great thing about Endless Space 2 is just how interlinked each aspect of the game feels. Eight very different factions have their own stories to tell. These stories play out through quests but can also be emergent as you play the game. Each of these factions have their own unique units and technologies, directly impacting their abilities in exploring, expanding and exterminating. Beyond even that are the personalities and conflicting political parties.
Take the Sophons as an example. As a race driven by technology but also weaker than most others, militaristic ventures tend to come last. However, during one campaign I found my Sophon empire with a democracy where the largest two parties were the militarists and industrialists. A direct result of my expansion and absorbing of other cultures as well as my focus on building an army and increasing the development capabilities of my planets. These are the times that make Endless Space 2 special, where you realise that every game can really be different
Of course, you will have to worry about grander things than your own political system. Indeed, every race seems to be playing a different game to you. Diplomacy with other races sometimes feels like a more flexible thing than you may be used to in other 4X titles. You're not currently at war with a nation, you don't expect them to be literally stealing your people. This is exactly what happened with me. In my current game, I'm in a cold war with the Vodyani and this hasn't stopped them from actively abducting my people.
Actually interacting with these other races, even minor ones, is a complicated and resource intensive venture. Building up a huge stock of cash (dust) and simply attempting to buy your victory doesn't seem to work, the AI is some of the smartest I've ever encountered in a strategy game. They'll actively oppose certain moves, seemingly blocking your way to progress and expand if you get too large. Even the opposing beliefs of the factions, plus how you steer your faction in quests, seems to have an impact. Become more militaristic, the Cravers will look more favourably on you but the pacifists will be openly wary.
It makes the galaxy genuinely feel alive, particularly as the game also includes shared quests to collectively attain a certain goal, but also competing quests where you actively have to beat rivals to a target. Other systems also increase this level of interconnectivity, such as the galaxy-wide marketplace. What you, and others, buy and sell directly impacts the stock and price of items. If you happen to be the empire that built the galactic stock exchange, you also have a little benefit of taxing any trades made.
Becoming wealthy, both in dust and resources, isn't too difficult. Outside of the marketplace you also set up trade routes. Once researched, set up a trading company, placing its HQ in one system and a subsidiary in another. The company automatically uses the hyperspace routes (think of them as the roads in-between star systems), trading and generating a wealth of luxury goods and resources. These same routes are vulnerable to enemy blockades and can be upgraded, at a high base cost, to bring in more revenue.
One huge benefit of how the systems work together is how easy it is to diversify. Too many games will effectively lock you into a path. There are six victory paths and at any one time, you'll think most (if not all) are achievable. During my time as the highly industrial United Empire, I found myself working towards a Wonder Victory. It was late on in the game that I found that through expansion and a few choice wars, I held a huge swathe of territory. Moving my industry to building fleets meant I ended up being a lot closer to, and finally achieving a conquest victory - essentially meaning I controlled a majority of the galaxy.
It's this adaptability that I love about Endless Space 2. The ability to simply drop out of one victory path and, with a little hard work, achieve another. However, what I did really find out in my path of conquest is the negative side of the game. Combat tends to be boring. As best as I can put it, you have very basic options in selecting an attack plan in both space and invasion battles. The ships, or troops, fight automatically.
These tactics you can choose from, particularly in space battles, do have their uses. As you design your ships, they will have effectiveness at different ranges and with different weapon types. Selecting the right tactic that supports these specialties can mean the difference between victory and defeat. On the ground, however, there are three tactics but it invariably comes down to how much manpower you've got.
The only other shallow area of the game is with character development. Unlike the factions themselves, rich in story, the hero characters are mundane and simply there as a special ship or as a boost to your star system. The problem is, for the most part, they're interchangeable. Too often will heroes share an almost identical skill tree, despite one being indicated as a better leader of systems while the other is an explorer. Their ideals also have such a minute impact it's hardly worth noting.
Despite any of these shortcomings, Endless Space 2 is packed full of character. This is carried on through the fantastic UI design, visual design and audio. Each faction has a specific soundtrack, designed to mirror their unique traits. Planets, when colonised, offers some stunning artwork that really reflects what is indicated in writing. This is also featured in the multitude of quests and events on offer.
What is spectacular, and heightens the otherwise dull space battles is a fantastic, even cinematic, fight that plays out in front of you. You have no direct control, so sitting back and watching as the ships destroy each other turns out to be thoroughly enjoyable. This great design makes it easy to forget that you're effectively playing with menus. These menus made all the more interesting by a detailed zoom in on each planet the first time you look at a system. Menus made interesting by the ability to move out to other modes, showing just how interconnected the universe is through a trade, diplomacy or territory filter.
Endless Space 2 is, above everything, a great 4X game. It's not without issues, certain areas still have a need to be touched up, like hovering over a trait will show the pointer behind it. A few other glitches and bugs persist, including a story breaking bug for the United Empire. Here, the building required to complete the main story quest can't even be built. However, this is Amplitude. Endless Space and Endless Legend started off great and improved from there on.
Through constant fixes and additional content, you can almost guarantee that Endless Space 2 will be an even better game than it is now.
Copy provided by publisher.
Endless Space 2 is a great 4X strategy game that is almost guaranteed to improve. While not free of bugs, including a few large ones, it's a title that oozes character. Each and every game offers the flexibility to play the way you want to and adapt as you please, while offering some excellently told stories with every game also offering a fresh emergent story to boot.
- Fantastic interconnected management systems that offer a multitude of ways to manage your empire
- Huge level of depth and immersion through these systems, including a huge technology tree, branching quest lines and more
- Each race oozes personality through their back stories, dialogue and personalised quest chains
- Exquisite visual and audio design that only increases the atmosphere and brings the universe to life
- Boring combat system that detracts from any conflict within the game
- A number of bugs remain in the game, including large story-breaking ones
- Few systems, like hero management, are shallow at best