Master of Endless Space
Turn-based strategy games are enjoying a small renaissance due to the efforts of Amplitude Studios and their “Endless” series. Endless Space kicked it off with a host of smart additions to the standard Master of Orion formula. Endless Legend confined the series to a single planet, but added a collection of unique factions who played in radically different ways. Amplitude Studios is now heading back to the stars with Endless Space 2 and, thankfully, I can say that the early access version shows considerable promise.
The basics of the game are familiar to anyone who has played a 4x space game. The player starts with a planet and a small fleet which become the seeds of a galaxy spanning empire forged through exploration, research, and conquest. Endless Space 2 doesn’t radically change that formula, but it includes some nice tweaks. The first is a carryover from Endless Legend: races with distinct playstyles. While most 4x games include a variety of factions, they usually emphasize a particular strategy rather than represent new ways to play the game. Even with just five races available, it’s clear that Endless Space 2 wants several of its races to radically alter the player’s experience. For example, the Vodyani don’t build colonies. This race of space particles travels the stars in enormous arks which hover over planets to claim their resources. Furthermore, the Vodyani population primarily increases by abducting colonists turning other civilizations into resources for this race. The trade based Lumeris and warlike Cravers round out the available nontraditional races. This new focus on distinct races should add much needed variety to this venerable genre.
Companies and culture victories are other interesting additions. In companies, Amplitude fleshes out the economic victory by allowing players to set up powerful corporations to invest in and trade with. The player establishes corporations on a colony and then gets additional money and resources from that planet. Given the increased need for luxury resources, companies should provide players with the means they’ll need to advance in the game. Culture victories are another stand out change. While other games include culture victories, they are generally treated as passive games of lining up the right buildings and hitting end turn. Endless Space 2 adds a bit more to it by speeding up the process and allowing players to “buy” systems outright through spending their influence. This turns culture victories into an active strategy rather than a boring slog.
With all this said, Endless Space 2 is still very much a game in alpha. While the foundation is solid, plenty of features are missing. Only military and score victories work (culture victories turn into de facto military victories) and the game abruptly ends at turn 200. Three of the promised races are missing along with the final technologies and a competent AI. In short, the game has a way to go. That being said, there’s enough there to be worth a purchase if you also want to support the developer. I’ve had fun with Endless Space 2, even if I can’t recommend the game purely on its merits right now.
The original Endless Space reconstituted the then moribund genre’s best hits through refined gameplay, customizable factions, and varied win conditions with a few neat features such as quests, and slick interface design (no seriously, it’s awesome enough to mention). While serving as a fine return to form for 4x games, Endless Space never felt like the innovation needed to move on to the next step. Endless Space 2 doesn’t yet feel like that step either, yet it undoubtedly represents the greatest change in 4x gaming in some time. If you’re not interested in support the studio, wait and keep an eye out for this game. It looks like it’ll be a lot of fun.