Endless Space – Review
Platform | Release Date
PC | July 4, 2012
Developed by Amplitude Studios
Published by AMPLITUDE
This galaxy is ancient, and its first intelligent life was the civilization we call the Endless. Long before our eyes gazed upon the stars they flew between them, though all that remains of this people is what we call Dust. A substance found scattered or in forgotten temples, it once gave powers to admirals and galactic governors. The galaxy will belong to the faction that can take control of the Dust and uncover its secrets…
I can hire an amoeba general to eradicate his own homeworld.
First off: space amoebas! How cool is that? Secondly, autogenocidal space amoebas.
Endless Space is a turn-based 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) game which begins in the year 3000 A.D. All trace of human history has vanished. The humanoid races have some vaguely historical flavor-text in their descriptions, and the alien factions are rather original in their design (see above). The entire way the game is written, in its technology descriptions, its random game-altering events, and the randomly populated list of “heroes” you can recruit, is intended to build a story. I enjoy the anachronism of Civilization more than I do the story here but it makes each new game fresh beyond the randomization inherent in the procedural map generation.
The UI can be described as clean. Much like Sins of a Solar Empire, the vast majority of information is presented right there on the minimalist main screen. The real problem comes in trying to parse it. Sins: Rebellion shipped with a combination of tooltip and interactive tutorials, the latter being very useful. Endless Space has a tutorial mode that expends thousands of words into your eyeballs, but it conveys incredibly little useful information. I can accept alt-tabbing to wikis to learn advanced strategy but alt-tabbing is a requirement here.
For example, “Applied Casimir Effect” is an absolutely crucial technology to research. What does the game tell you about it?
After decades of experimentation with plates of the right size, material, and distance, the vacuum energy created through the quantum mechanics of the Casimir Effect can finally be exploited as an energy source.
Huh? The writing sounds good. But, seriously, just tell the player this: “unlocks the ability to jump through wormholes”. The tech tree is littered with vague, unclear, and just plain non-descriptions.
A good in-game version of the Civilopedia would go along way towards improving the experience. Better still: use a multi-linear tech tree, cordoning off upgrades into ship hulls, ship weapons, planet upgrades, etc. The current tech tree looks pretty but, in practice, is painful to use. Why is asteroid colonization the direct prerequisite for building battleships?
Once you memorize what does what, understand a little bit of build order priorities, the game is enjoyable. Sins: Rebellion is about as slow-paced as an RTS can get, but it never truly stops. Endless Space is peaceful, analytic, academic, a galactic chessboard where small mistakes early will kill you big time twenty turns later. When I’m wiping the last few amoeba planets away, positioning my fleets for the final campaign is fun, albeit in a sterile way.
As long as you turn pirate activity off, combat is rare in the first 50 or so turns, even on smaller maps. On first contact with another faction, you settle into what the game terms “Cold War”, a rather nifty mechanic. Ships outside an empire’s direct influence area and settlements younger than thirty turns are fair game. Invading them will piss the faction off, but you can steal several planets before provoking outright war. Provoke that war, however, you’d better be prepared to pour your entire science budget into military research.
I struggled understanding all of the backend information which goes into the Exploit and Exterminate parts of the game. Endless Space is strong when it comes down to Exploration and Extermination. Scout, scout, scout some more. If a small map has thirty systems, ten are worthless, fifteen are acceptable later in the game, but only five contain “top tier” planets. Gobble those up, gobble mid-grade systems near checkpoints, but expanding too fast leaves you with thinly-settled planets of pissed-off citizens ripe for the taking. Balancing the need to expand with all of the related penalties is the game’s core, and it’s quite good.
For all of the beauty in its art and UI design, Endless Space is a game most people will bounce right off of. Put up with bad in-game documentation and your patience will be rewarded. Sort of.
Space is sterile and the game injects only a small amount of life into it.