[Review] Endless Space [PC]

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TITLE: Endless Space

DEVELOPER: Amplitude Studios

PUBLISHER: Iceberg Interactive

GENRE: 4X Space, Turn Based Strategy

PLATFORM: Windows PC

RATING: T for Teen

PRICE: $29.99

RELEASE DATE: July 4th, 2012

If you’ve ever played any of the Civilization iterations and loved them, then you are likely to find Endless Space a very engaging game. If you’ve ever played Civilization and thought, “why isn’t this space themed instead”, then Endless Space was made just for you. This turn-based strategy game was created by Paris-based Amplitude Studios, and launched earlier this summer on the Steam platform.

Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate

Endless Space is a 4X strategy game. If you’re not familiar with the term, the title above describes it all, and following is how Amplitude Studios chose to deal with each of the Xs.

Exploration – There are hundreds of star systems to explore and the game can generate an endless number of galaxies. Exploration in this game isn’t just a sideline, it’s essential to advancement, since before your empire can expand, you must first find planets that are suitable to your expansion plans.

Expansion – Key to expansion is, of course, the colonizing of new planets. Travel the galaxy and you will find new star systems filled with planets of various sorts, each of which is rich in a particular resource and poor in others. You start with limited ability on what type of planets you can colonize. In order to gain the ability to colonize new types of planets and terraform them to better suit your purposes you have to utilize research. You can also expand your empire by attacking other empires and conquering them.

Exploitation – Each planet is different, and each comes with a variety of luxuries and strategic resources which can be reaped to further your expansion plans, or to trade with empires you come into contact with.

Extermination – As one might guess, you exterminate your opponents by totally conquering their empires. This is easier said than done. While you are looking for ways to conquer your opponents, newfound dangers and opportunities pop up when you least expect them, and if you don’t adjust accordingly, you can count on your opponents to take advantage of your mistakes.

In short, Endless Space is about galactic domination. As leader of one of eight civilizations you can explore the universe while hunting for powerful artifacts and resources, destroy your enemies with massive armadas, and overwhelm other civilizations with your advanced technologies while you try to seize control of the galaxy via trade and diplomacy.

First Impression

Logging into Endless Space players are greeted by an attractive and clean user interface and a very well designed tutorial (which can be flipped on and off at will). The UI makes it easy to navigate through levels of menus and research screens and a nicely designed series of pop-ups keep you informed about decisions that need to be made.

Creating an Empire

In order to create an empire you need sentient beings. Endless Space comes with eight premade civilizations:

  • The United Empire, an expansionist human race with corporate aspirations, is the default option.
  • Sophons are scientifically minded robots who are curious, scientific, and analytical. Generally peaceful, when driven to war their scientific advances make them dangerous foes.
  • Sowers are a machine race who emphasize infrastructure. Neither hostile nor friendly they come, establish industries, create the basic infrastructure needed to make a wild planet habitable, and move on to the next one.
  • The Cravers are a Borg-like race of ruthless military conquerors who were created from an insectoid life form; hunter-gatherers with a life cycle based on consumption.
  • The Hissho are an honour-obsessed Hissho that combine the Japanese Samuari with the Klingon archetype. With an avian DNA base, they somewhat resemble feathered pterodactyls and have a history of bloodshed, conquest, vengeance and domination.
  • The Amoeba are a strange race of gelatinous high-minded explorers who are diplomatic, cultured, and intelligent. The use diplomacy and trade as their weapons of war.
  • The Horatio is a species made up entirely of cloned copies of a vain megalomaniac, Horatio the First.
  • Pilgrims are descendants of a group of scientists and explorers who became unhappy with the United Empire. They rebelled by hijacking a mission to an outer planet where they set up an independent government. They view The Endless in a religious light; as such this faction functions as the games quasi-fanatics.

Each of the eight races comes with their own strengths, weaknesses and advantages in various areas. If none of the premade races appeal to you, combine a bunch of attributes and make your own race by drawing on over 90 traits which you can use to skew the game exactly as you wish. None of the pre-made starships measure up? Design one yourself. You can tweak the expected game parameters (like difficulty and game length), as well as the size and shape of the galaxy you’ll be playing in. Utilizing this sort of customization influences the sort of stars and the types of planets available for your conquest. One of Endless Space’s best features is the ability to

bend the game to what you want it to be.

Basic Gameplay

You begin with one colonised capital system which is connected to other systems by way of cosmic links. These cosmic links are travel routes for starships. You also start with a basic set of technologies, specific to your faction. From there you improve your abilities by researching new technologies from four different research trees:

Applied Sciences

Exploration & Expansion

Diplomacy & Trading

Galactic Warfare

Research unlocks new ship types, planetary improvements, stat modifiers (either for heroes or planets), and new travel methods which do not rely on cosmic links, and more. As you expand your empire, you gain access to strategic and luxury resources which can be used to upgrade ships, build improvements and trade with other players. Strategic resources are primarily used to upgrade components of your empire, while luxury resources are primarily used for trade and maintaining your empire’s approval rating.

The game uses four basic resources to manage its economy:

Food

Industry

Dust

Science

Cumulatively these are known as FIDS. Dust is a substance that was leftover from an extremely powerful, ancient, extinct civilization only known as the Endless. Balancing FIDS is a must in order to rapidly expand your empire, build ships and research advanced technologies. If FIDS are low or imbalanced across your empire your approval rating drops, drastically lower efficiency and making it incredibly difficult to advance. Conversely, a high approval rating provides bonuses to production efficiency, improving your ability to advance.

Hero Units

If there’s an element of RPG in Endless Space, it’s in the hero units. Hero units can be recruited using the game’s currency, Dust, to either be fleet commanders or system administrators. Each hero unit is unique and provides two unique bonuses, which can be further leveled up. Three hero units are randomly selected from a pool unique to each empire and new hero units are available for purchase every fifty turns. Injured hero units must go back to the academy, where they’re recruited from, and you either have to wait for them to heal up on their own or pay dust (the games currency) to heal them and get them back into action immediately.

The Battle System

The battle system in Endless Space is a card-based minigame that plays out quickly, and is fun. Rather than having extended battles, combat takes place in a pre-scripted scene which consists of three phases. For each phase (long range, medium, and melee), each side chooses a single card to play and then watches as the action plays out via cut scenes with some pretty great graphics and epic music. During each phase you can issue a single order; advances in your technology tree and leveling heroes unlocks new commands that can be utilized during each of these three phases.

Winning: The Ultimate Goal

Winning, of course, is the ultimate goal in almost any game. Achieve any of the following and you win!

Expansion Victory: Conquer 75% or more of the colonized universe.

Scientific Victory: Research the Pan-Galactic Society before other races.

Economic Victory: The first faction to reach a certain amount of Dust wins. It doesn’t matter how much that player spent, just how much he overall earned.

Diplomatic Victory: Survive long enough without engaging in warlike activities or spending the least amount at war.

Supremacy Victory: Be the first faction to conquer all the original races’ homeworlds.

Score Victory: If no player manages to win with one of the previous victory conditions, the player with the highest score wins when the turn limit is reached.

To Sum it All Up

I loved Endless Space. The game is elegant, refined, and the hours flew by while I played. Although the game is rather complex it was easy to wade right in because the tutorial system guides you step by step where needed, while allowing returning players to skip any or all parts. Multiplayer gameplay is fun; simultaneous turns give it a quick pace and observant players are given the opportunities to engage ships that pause for a moment while moving through a system.

That’s not to say it’s not without problems. Strategy games are almost always all about upgrades. Endless Space is no different. However, after each upgrade I expected to be able to see progress. Instead, all I saw were different numbers. Everything looked the same which leads to a sense of let down. SHOW me what all my hard work got me. Numbers on stat sheets just don’t do it.

Combat was fun, but after a handful or two of battles I felt like I’d seen them all. There’s a lack of options with the card-based method. I was also not real happy with the diplomacy AI. All too often I felt like the AI overvalued its own technologies and resources, even when we were close allies. The trade AI, however, seemed spot on.

If you like this genre, you’ll like this game. How you feel about the game after a couple of weeks depends on your outlook. I’m a game professional and I recognize that this game is an indie effort. It’s a superb indie effort, and given that I was able to overlook some of what the game lacks. That aside, given the cost of the game, I would’ve felt I got my money’s worth in any case. I give this game a hearty recommendation.

Final Score 8.0

“It’s a superb indie effort, and given that I was able to overlook some of what the game lacks. That aside, given the cost of the game, I would’ve felt I got my money’s worth in any case. I give this game a hearty recommendation.”

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