Strategy… in space!
Endless Space is a sci-fi, turn-based strategy game with semi-real-time elements to it (yes, I know. You’re wondering what I mean by semi-real-time but I’ll get to that later). It features eight playable races where, like many other turn-based strategy game, where victory is achieved by one of several ways.
Starting the game up I had to choose the type of universe I would play in by going through the different options provided (for both single player and multiplayer). I was able to choose the shape of the galaxy, the universe’s age, how many opponents I would compete against, and the size of the galaxy. There was even an advanced option menu where I could tweak other factors such as wormholes, resources, number of planets in a solar system, and a few other details. So many options meant that I would be unable to become very familiar with any particular map since it is all randomized.
From there I had eight different races to choose from, the United Empire, Sowers, Sophons, Pilgrims, Horatio, Hissho, Cravers, and Amoebas: each race with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses and their own story. For example, the United Empire is great at making money and has a strong military whereas the Sophons are great at researching technology but produce feeble warriors. Suffice to say that there is a race to match various types of playstyles.
After choosing my preferred race I couldn’t help but notice that the menu system comes with some really nice backgrounds featuring a mixture of artwork and CG images. The game itself looks pretty sharp. When you zoom out to the maximum range you are treated to a great view of what the galaxy looks like while zooming in allows you to see the various stars, pathways between stars, ships, and a beautiful space backdrop while the music provides a nice mood while playing.
As for the game itself, I have to say that this is one of the deepest, turn-based strategy games I have played in a while.
Endless Space’s tech tree, for instance, is divided into four categories: Galactic Warfare, Applied Sciences, Exploration & Expansions, and Diplomacy & Trading. The fact that they are all separated from each other makes it that much more difficult to pick and choose which technologies you want to pursue while immediately turning around to then decide to pursue a different path to adapt to ever-changing situations within the game.
Then there is the military part of the game. I could recruit ships and also discover new types but it didn’t stop there. Unlike most strategy games, where you just research and then build new units, Endless Space allowed me to outfit them. From shields to assorted armaments and engines I could change it all up, depending on what kind of weapons I had also researched, so that I could create my own class of ships; adapting them to any enemy fleets, which allowed me to have an advantage. The tonnage of the ship determines how much I could load onto it, meaning that bigger ships would hold more weapons and other systems making the modified vessels more versatile.
This feature alone makes the game stand out from other turn-based strategy titles such as Civilization.
Talk of military vessels brings us to the strategy portion of the game. Earlier, I mentioned a semi-real-time strategy aspect. With Endless Space you have the option to let the battles automatically resolve, but you can also take part in them. However, I was very limited in what I could do. You see, unlike Civilization, your units don’t just make some noises and then one unit disappears. Yet you don’t have full control like you do in the Total War franchise either.
Instead you choose one action for three phases of a fight that you can watch unfold. As the two fleets engage they get closer together, which forms the three phases: long, middle, and melee. I could decide to let my fleet focus on pure offensive or opt for more defense (among other options). This system allowed me the opportunity to increase my chances of victory but essentially I was still a bystander just watching the battle unfold (which is cool to watch).
The game also has recruitable heroes. Some were perfect for governing the solar systems I assigned them to, increasing productivity, while others were ideal for leading my ships into battle by providing offensive and defensive bonuses. These heroes can gain experience points and level up which, in turn, allowed me to choose traits that would make them more suitable for their chosen roles While the number of heroes I could recruit was limited, they were very essential to my game.
Economy is also another strong factor of the game replete with money, and luxury and strategic items. Establishing trade routes is always essential for creating a strong economy, while colonizing certain planets within each solar system that have the varying resources can boost productivity.
Just like the various races and technology are suited for varying gamers and their playstyles, so are the ways I could win the game. For example, I could achieve an Expansion Victory by conquering 75 percent or more of the colonized universe. If I am able to be the first person to research the Pan-Galactic Society tech, which is last in the Science tree, then I’ve attained the Scientific Victory. There is also Economic Victory, Supremacy Victory, Diplomatic Victory, Wonder Victory, and Score Victory.
Yet while the game is deep and engrossing there are some small things that could have really fleshed this game out. After all, the devil is in the details.
The game’s learning curve is a bit steep especially for those who might be new to the strategy genre. While the tutorial is very helpful there are still things that could use more explanation especially when it comes to researching technology. Inclusion of an in-game encyclopedia would be a huge help in providing more information and helping to acclimate players to how the game works whether it be researching technology or outfitting ships.
Returning to the game’s graphics, while they are good the presentation is also a little spartan. Time and again I found my attention drifting away from the game because there wasn’t anything to really keep an eye on. Unless you are constantly watching battles unfold the entire experience is rather static. Take a look at the individual solar systems, the planets look nice but they just sit there.
Perhaps Amplitude, the developers, could include little things such as trade ships slowly moving along the various routes while planets could rotate while looking at them. Show ships orbiting the system as well. Little things like that which would make the galactic map seem more alive rather than static.
The music too could use a few more tracks since it becomes rather repetitive quickly. Given the lack of action happening on the map the limited music selection becomes way too noticeable.
Endless Space is definitely a game strategy enthusiasts should pick up. While the outside package is a little boring don’t let that fool you. Under that spare shell is a lot of what will keep you busy for hours upon hours whether playing against the AI or other people.
Review Copy Supplied
Tested on PC