Great civ-building strategy games seem to be coming at a snail’s pace these days. It once was a hugely popular PC gaming genre, but the industry’s shift toward action titles has forced it into a corner, where only sequels to already well established franchises are making waves, and new IPs are mediocre at best. Luckily, Amplitude Studios was willing to takes risks in order to deliver something new, and thus, Endless Space was born, and it provides a much-needed breath of fresh air to a struggling genre.
Endless Space employs the traditional set-up of most civ-building games. Players choose from one of eight unique races, each with their own specialties and bonuses, and set out to become the most powerful race in the galaxy. Some races are devoted to expansion and scientific advancements, while others are simply out to destroy and devour every living creature they come in contact with. However, the real treat comes from being able to create your own race of beings, choosing from over 90 options for full control over how you want play. Every strength and weakness has a huge impact on how games play out, as0 win conditions are much like those seen in Civilization V (which I’ll be referring to a lot). They can be accomplished through brute strength, research, diplomacy, and so on.
For fans of Civilization, Endless Space will immediately feel very familiar. Production and research are handled much in the same way, with planets growing in population based on food, and being able to “exploit” planets in order to shift focus from one resource to the next. Research trees are far more advanced than in other civ-building games, offering for distinct paths with multiple branches off of each. Each branch represents a different focus, from military technology to help aid your battle fleets to scientific breakthroughs that help you colonize new planets that were originally unavailable. It is easy to get lost in planning out your research, and often times you’ll find yourself focusing a little too much on certain paths. Sure, it’s great to have a big fleet with advanced weaponry, but without the proper tech to colonize, your empire will go nowhere.
Diplomacy is also an option when dealing with other races, but unfortunately it doesn’t extend beyond the typical treaties and trade agreements. One nice touch, however, is that the game treats the relationships between races as a “cold war.” When colonizing a planet, the colonies are not immediately considered to be a full part of the empire until they grow to a certain size, which means you can attack your opponent in open space without having to declare war. It really helps to keep game from being stuck in a stand-off with another race, and makes you think more about how to properly colonize and defend a planet.
Eventually, you’ll be forced to content face-to-face with the enemy in all-out war. Space battles are brief, but are always enjoyable. The fun comes from customizing your ships with a huge variety of weapons and armor, providing even more depth to the game.
With all of the depth and customization, however, there are sure to be some problems. The first is that for such a complex game, there is no real tutorial to speak of, which is a huge disappointment. Instead, the game opts for tutorial screens that only show up when you click on something new, but they are only explanations and not interactive. The problem is that when first starting a game, it can be very overwhelming, and a little direction on how to get started would be great. This won’t be such an issue with veterans of turn-based strategy games, but even with a lot of knowledge on how they are played, there can be some confusion.
Endless Space also suffers from one other big setback. The game does a very poor job of giving players notifications of events happening in the galaxy. At one point in the game, my empire was under attack, and I was suddenly at war. The game, however, failed to tell me exactly who my enemy was, and after I had already explored and colonized parts of a huge galaxy, it was hard to find out where the attackers were coming from. Hopefully this issue will be fixed in an upcoming patch.
Aside from the few setbacks, Endless Space is an incredibly deep and rewarding game. Graphically, it is just what you would expect from a space sim, though each race does have a unique look and feel. With so many customization options, it is easy to get sucked into the Civilizaiton-inspired space campaigns, and Endless Space can easily devour your life if you aren’t careful.