Ok, one more turn and I will turn this game off for the day…
Three hours and multiple turns later, I still haven’t turned the game off; this is ENDLESS SPACE 2, a 4X strategy game from Amplitude Studios. Beginning as a Steam Early Access game, Endless Space 2 has just recently launched as a full retail product. Having put in roughly 40 hours into it, Endless Space 2 lives true to its name, it really is endless. I honestly hesitate to call this a review since I haven’t even gotten to touch a vast amount of content included in the game!
Dust, a global currency across the cosmos, and the precursor race known as the Endless… these are the common factors that tie every story in Endless Space 2 together. Stories play out based on the faction you choose to play and as you build your empire, quests appear to advance your own self-contained stories. Each playthrough is different depending on what choices you make and which quests you succeed at.
For those of you out there who are unfamiliar with the 4X strategy genre, it stands for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate. As I began my journey with Endless Space 2 I decided to start out with the included tutorial since it had been a while since I had last played a 4X game. Following along with the helpful tips from the on-screen instructor, I felt back up to speed in a matter of a few turns. After the first five turns, full control had been turned over to me to build my empire. Since it was a tutorial, most advanced options were still greyed out until they became necessary to use. At that point, a new lesson would appear from the instructor to explain the newly unlocked feature. I did end up losing the tutorial, I will explain more on that later.
Starting a new game with what I had learned from the tutorial, I was ready to take on the galaxy. Knowing I wouldn’t get to play as much as I would like for this review, I decided to go for broke and started a game with me and 11 other AI players. There are eight total playable races in Endless Space 2. For both of my games I played as the human inspired United Empire. As the game starts you begin with two ships: a scout and a colony ship. Scouts are great for exploring the area around your home system and to find a new system you want to colonize with your colony ship. Systems can consist of one to five planets and most will not be habitable at the beginning of the game. To colonize a system, your colony ship will be used to create an outpost and after a set amount of turns a new colony will be yours. The key benefit to having more systems is that it gives you more resources to build upgrades and ships.
As you explore the galaxy you can happen upon a minor civilization. Minor civilizations are non-player races that players can decide to either negotiate with or destroy. In all my encounters with minor civilizations I made nice and once they liked me enough I could assimilate them into my empire. This is important to keep in mind as you think of what systems to colonize, because a fully realized minor faction is far more beneficial than a new outpost needing to be built from scratch. Diplomacy can extend to other player races as well, once they are discovered. Within my first six turns I had discovered the Unfallen, a race of space trees, and the Cravers, an insect machine race. I was easily able to negotiate a truce and trade routes with the Unfallen, but the Cravers wanted nothing but war.
With my new allies serving as a distraction to the Cravers, I could build up a fleet and begin my conquest over our common enemy. Being early in the game, neither the Cravers or I had progressed far in our respective tech trees, so the ships we were using were basic. To defeat an enemy, you need to take over all the systems that they control. Once a fleet has made it to an enemy system you can blockade it to slowly lower the defense rating or send your troops down right away to weaken the enemy. The first strategy takes longer to achieve victory but requires far less reinforcements than straight invasion. While you siege an opponent’s system they can also send fleets after yours so fleet management is huge. As for battles themselves there are predetermined calculations that go into each encounter. Firepower, effective range, and selected battle strategy, all factor into who will come out victorious in a fight. A meter at the start of each battle will give a slight prediction as to what will happen, but depending on the above factors things can turn out far differently!
As the game drew on and I progressed through my tech tree, I unlocked advanced battleships and dreadnaughts. New weapons I researched could be retrofitted onto my old ships to bring them up to their upgraded counter parts. Another upgrade allowed more ships to be in a single fleet than my initial battles with the Cravers. Actual alliances, instead of truces, could be formed between me and other player factions. I could colonize harsher environments and travel to systems I couldn’t reach before. Terraforming my planets into more livable environments became possible. Finally, by the time I achieved victory with my 3 allies, I had developed my own planet killing weapon that I had been using to destroy the planets of my biggest competition.
There are 4 ways to achieve victory in Endless Space 2. The first method is to take over a set number of other players home systems. The second way is to produce a set number of dust, the main form of currency in Endless Space 2. The third method is to build every wonder, a special building, present in the game and keep them alive for a certain amount of turns. The final method of victory is to have the highest score in the game after a set number of turns. During my time with the tutorial, I lost the game by an economic win to another alliance. In my second game, my alliance won using the same economic method. Each of these victory methods is customizable depending on how a player sets up a map, so games can range in length and be shorter or longer than the 300+ turn game I ended up playing.
Up to this point I have failed to mention anything about the more complex mechanics of the game like government, science, food, luxury resources, planet specializations, or hero’s. This was an intentional choice to give you readers an easier sense of what the game is like without having to go into every little detail. While these details are extremely important to overall gameplay they are overwhelming to discuss in a short way. Even after 40 hours I am not sure I could even explain some things and do them justice. Thankfully the included tutorial does a fantastic job of bringing in inexperienced players!
All the time I spent with Endless Space 2 would have been infinitely less enjoyable if it wasn’t for the amazingly epic soundtrack! I would spend moments during my turns to stop what I was doing just to listen to the music. While I did hear the same track a few times over, I can still listen to any one of them a million more times and not be upset with the repetition. Thankfully that quality spreads to the rest of the audio work and seriously listening to my ships crack a planet sounded haunting!
Galaxies look majestic and you can see the cities grow on the surface of your planets as the population grows. Ships look detailed and shields ripple as they take fire. The UI and menus are crisp. Little cutscenes play as you discover new systems. Watching the destruction of a planet being annihilated by super weapons inspires a sense of awe. As far as a strategy game is concerned, Endless Space 2 is gorgeous.
What Could It Have Done Better
Even though Endless Space 2 is now a full retail game there are still a few bugs to work out. The cutscene of discovering the Academy, home to the hero’s, causes a soft lock in the tutorial. Some UI elements are missing under certain conditions. Most recently my save wouldn’t load and I had to use a community work around to get back into my 277 turn game. While these bugs have been frustrating to deal with, I don’t consider them game breaking… well unless I hadn’t been able to get my save working again.
Despite a few glitches, Endless Space 2 is my new addiction! The elements of eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate are essential to a good 4X strategy game. Being weak in a single category can really weaken the overall game. Thankfully Amplitude Studios has delivered in each regard. Having been out of the 4X loop for a while I really appreciated the great tutorial to jump start my experience. With a strong audio and graphical presentation just about anyone could get sucked into the universe of Endless Space 2. But be warned, once you play it, you might not want to play anything else again for months! I look forward to seeing what the future holds for this franchise and this studio!