Many games have tried and failed recently to capture the perfect balance of strategy and management required for a successful 4X game. Thankfully, Endless Space hits that balance almost perfectly, and throws in gorgeous graphics, amazing UI and incredible versatility to boot.
One… more… turn
What makes Endless Space such an enjoyable experience is simply the amount of attention to detail that the crew at Amplitude Studios have crammed into the title. On one hand you have a clean, crisp, intuitive interface that is able to relay most information at a glance, while on the other a micromanagement system that offers all the depth most players could ever want, while still retaining a way to let the AI do it for you.
Endless Space also has a lot of depth that other 4X titles lack. You can customise your ships, with an intricate yet easy-to-use research tree. You can build your own race, working from a base set of archetypes that play very differently to one another and choosing from a mixture of perks and flaws, and you have a largely varied number of diplomatic options and win conditions.
Each game has a completely fresh feel to it, in part thanks to a ‘blind exploration’ feature. Unlike most space 4X games, you can only see what stars you can travel to and roughly where you are in that specific galaxy. You have no idea if the system you are scouting out will have a way of connecting to any other systems, and when you factor into this the games’ random galaxy generation and racial diversity, you have a level of replayability that is sorely lacking in most games of late.
The combat however is where things truly shine. In addition to an impressive graphical background to each battle, there is a system of three phases that certain weapons perform better when activated during. In each phase you can use an ability… as can your opponent… and certain abilities cancel others out in a delightful rock-paper-scissors mechanic. The system requires you to put yourself in the mind of the opponent: ‘he’s a bit wounded, he’ll likely need to repair soon – if I counter that he’ll be screwed’, or ‘he always tries to turtle in the last round, I’ll sabotage it and win the day’.
Welcome to our Robot Overlords
Defeat in a 4X game is almost never a bad thing to the seasoned player, and when the AI on Normal had finished mopping the grisly entrails of my civilisation from the universe for the third time, I had a grin on my face a mile wide. I was getting schooled by this game. It was mocking me, letting me know I’d gotten rusty and that my skills were weak, and I loved every moment of it.
You see, Endless Space isn’t your typical 4X game, and nor is the AI in it. Most games, you find a tactic that works, you stick with it, and you annihilate… but not so in this game. Expand rapidly, and your enemies will blockade your systems preventing you from gaining benefit from them. Start using powerful lasers and missile defense? Watch while a few turns later you’re shot at by enemies using railguns and shields. The game adapts, and when it does it’s more amazing than vexing.
That’s not to say the game is perfect. Most of its flaws revolve around an expectation that the player will instantly understand concepts that aren’t ever explained, even in the games fairly in-depth tutorial. Trying to figure out why your ships can’t attack the enemy blockading your system, or why you can attack some systems and not others, is a bit of trial and error – and even some of the combat abilities aren’t as clear as they could be.
Other problems are minor, but still exist. The combat uses a series of fixed camera angles to display the action, and it rotates through them in a set pattern each and every time. There is a free camera option, but gives limited control and I couldn’t find a way to go back to the set camera afterwards. The games definition of a ‘Huge’ map is a mere 128 systems large (about the size of some of the smaller maps in other 4X games), and as a result eight player games can feel fairly cramped quite quickly.
Overall though, Endless Space is the sort of game that would take you and your girlfriend out for dinner, before absconding with her and leaving you to foot the bill. It’s vibrant, cheeky, clean, intelligent, and most of all… fun. It has been the most joyous time with a 4X game I’ve had for over 15 years. Highly recommended.
- Great mechanics, deep replayability
- Impressive mechanical depth and customisation
- Expects player to understand concepts without explanation
- Even ‘huge’ maps can feel cramped quickly
Endless Space is available on Steam for $29.99.