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Opinion – Endless Space 2 Early Access

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.


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Review – Endless Legend – PC

Reviews? I do those?

I’m a big fan of Amplitude Studios. Actually, I’m a big fan of Microprose which is what Amplitude Studios dresses up as every Halloween.  When Microprose failed and took fan favorites like Master of Orion or Master of Magic with it, they left an enormous gap in the 4x turn based strategy world.  Endless Legend fills that gap, but it doesn’t do much more with it.  This is the evolution that genre fans will appreciate, not the revolution that 4x games need to reach beyond their predecessors.

Any Civilization player will appreciate the basics of Endless Legend. The player starts off with a small army and a settler with which to found an empire and explore the world of Auriga.  The army, with a hero unit in the lead, explores ancient ruins to gather crucial resources for the opening turns and becomes a powerhouse army later.  Battles are grid based affairs which the player can also auto resolve should they face overwhelming odds.  Meanwhile, the city back at home is researching technology, developing resources, building units, and generally focusing on whatever victory condition the player has decided to go for.  Victory conditions are the fairly standard with only the quest based version offering any substantial difference.  If you’ve played Civilization or Stardock’s Fallen Enchantress, you have a good idea of what to expect.

This is not to say that Endless Legend is totally derivative. It has a number of small and large changes that keep it feeling fresh.  Among the most prominent is the division of the world into territories.  Each territory may host one city and that city reaps the benefits of the resources within the territory.  Territories also host minor races which generate monsters if unpacified and or provide workers for the territory capitol if pacified.  Another twist is the winter.  Auriga’s winters last for a varying number of turns and grind production and movement to a halt.  In the early game, reduced movement and production are frustrating, but later in the game the player gets some tools to adapt and thrive.  Winters can have game changing effects by slowing wars in full swing and slowing building momentum.  Adapting to this mechanic is one of the key ways to regain the advantage in a losing conflict.

Factions deserve special mention as they are varied in their aesthetic design as they are in their gameplay. Each faction has something beyond the usual focus on a given victory condition.  For example, the Cultists only get one city, but they can convert minor races to provide resources and produce military units.  The Drakkan can force opponents to accept truces and other diplomatic proposals.  The powers feel unique and help set the races apart.  The different play styles, combined with the story telling quests, encourage repeated playthroughs to see all that Endless Legend has to offer.

A few problems do creep up. The AI isn’t particularly aggressive, even when it has a substantial advantage.  I played most of a game having only a small army on hard and wasn’t challenged until I had almost won.  This is aggravated by the ability to upgrade units.  Like Endless Legend’s predecessor, Endless Space, the player can upgrade their units with new equipment to create a more powerful unit. I often created a single upgraded doom stack which scared away most of my competitors.  Combined with a powerful economy to purchase units and an aggressive AI can become a frightened kitten with one round of army buying.

The issues are ultimately small and don’t address the broader issue that 4x games face today. As much fun as Endless Legend is, it still feels like a contemporary of the 4x masterpieces from long ago.  It’s becoming clear that developers will need substantially new ideas to push the genre forward and prevent it from stunting….eventually.  For now, Endless Legend is a polished and fun experience.  Go play.

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