Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Endless Space Review

I haven't played that many 4x strategy games and I'm barely familiar with the term, but I have played an immense amount of strategy games and you can see Endless Space being influenced by many classics, like the Galactic Civilization series. Endless Space is a 4x turn based strategy game that puts a heavy focus on exploration, diplomacy, economy and war, but don't expect something combat focused like Sins of a Solar Empire or Freespace, this game is more focused on building your empire. You have eight different races to choose from, all of which have their traits, bonuses and negatives, and you can play the game singleplayer or multiplayer. Each race also has a massive tech tree, most of which is the same between all races, but each tree has unique technology specific to each race. There isn't a story based campaign in Endless Space and it is just big open sandbox style game that lets you customize everything. It came out on July 4th, exclusively on Steam and PC, and costs $30. The game can be played solo or with many other players online. For a general preview of the game watch this video, but the rest of this post will be focused on reviewing the different portions of the game.

One of the first things you may notice about Endless Space are the details. Every planet in the game has a specific type, size and can have many different resources attached to it. If you jump into the ship designer you will find quite a few options for designing your ships, like the chassis type, different armor options, many different weapon types and a lot more. Everything in Endless Space is pretty detailed, but not overly complex like many games of the genre. There is a tutorial system, but it is not in depth and basically just explains things with help boxes every time you do something for the first time. The tutorial system could use a lot of work, especially since it explains very little about late game and diplomacy. Despite the lack of a full tutorial system it isn't very hard to learn all the basics. 

When you play Endless Space you choose the parameters, like how big the galaxy is, how many races will be in the game and how difficult it is. They are all pretty normal options for this type of game and Amplitude Studios did a good job making enough options to keep each playthrough feel like you are in a different galaxy. To win each game you have to pick one victory type and go for it, much like the Civilization series, and you can win an economic victory, military victory, science victory or diplomatic victory. This one of the points where the lack of a full tutorial really hurts and can easily infuriate the player. The economic and diplomatic victories do not have obvious requirements, unlike the military and science victory. It can create some really terrible experiences where a player could lose just because they don't know what the requirements are, while the AI they are playing with obviously do. Learn by doing is great, but not when it can take an entire game to figure something out, especially when you could have won through a more obvious route. 

The battle system in Endless Space has its share of negatives and positives. I like to refer to it as a card based battle system, mainly because you play abilities per each of the three phases in a battle and each ability is displayed as a card, but many people seem to inexplicably hate the idea of a card based battle system for a space game. When you roam around the galaxy with a fleet, which is just a icon on the map, you will engage in battle with other players or pirates when you both come into the same system. Battles relies entirely on your abilities, many of which are researched and a few are earned by hero abilities, and how well your ships are designed. There are three main weapon types, plasma, kinetic and missile, each of which have their defenses specifically designed to protect again them, so it is pretty tough to always have your ships equipped the best for any battle, but you can try to prepare by scouting the enemy and seeing what kind of ships they have. Take a look at the battle system in action. 

Many people seem to hate the battle system because it is automated and you don't have any direct control, which is a valid complaint, but not so much for the type of game this. Traditionally these types of strategy games don't allow you to fully control combat or go into in depth like you would with a Total War game. Nevertheless, combat doesn't feel all that exciting and despite the exciting visuals it does become stale and repetitive once you have to go up against an enemy who has twenty or more fleets. There are a few things that could be done to give the player more control of a battle, like allowing ships to pick priority targets so you actually strategically take out the greatest threat first. The battle system does work well and it is gorgeous to watch, but it needs more to keep players interested in it and more to give it strategic depth.

Graphically Endless Space is one of the best looking space games out there. I always thought Sins of a Solar Empire was  supreme, but Amplitude Studios did a great job making each galaxy vivid, colorful and a pleasure to behold. Even a single planet in a solar system is impressively detailed and I found it hard not to stare at some of them just to watch them rotate in their magnificence. The graphical interface in combat and on the galaxy map work very well. It is one of the better interfaces I have seen in a space game and they have made it really easy for you to fluidly access any part of the game. The details on each ship, during battle, is also quite gorgeous and they environment for each battle makes you wish could pause battles and take some time to appreciate it all. 

The soundtrack in Endless Space definitely gives you a feeling that you are exploring a huge galaxy, but it is quite limited. The music is pretty good and fitting, but it could use a bit more variety and it becomes background noise pretty quickly, especially after you've played through a ten hour campaign. The combat sounds are pretty good, but they could use more emphasis on some sounds. For instance, explosions are quite underwhelming and missiles don't sound like they are giant metal contraptions of death flying through space. You could also make the argument that there should be no combat sounds at all, since it is space and space realistically doesn't have sound, but that just wouldn't be any fun.

The artificial intelligence in Endless Space is bound to make you appreciate it and dislike it at the same time. This is one of the few games out there that will actually let you have a peaceful co-existence with other the AI and after playing so many games that promise that, and fail, it is delightful to see. Each race has a focus, like diplomacy or economics, and they also have a basic demeanor, like friendly or warlike; the AI actually adheres to those. Furthermore, if you ally yourself with someone you don't have to worry about inevitable betrayal, especially if they are a friendly race. The AI does have problems though.

Endless Space is turn based and the turns are simultaneous, so each player goes at the same time, and the AI will take advantage of that and wait until you move. It is irritating at times to watch the AI cheat in this way, especially when you are trying to catch their fleet. There are also some odd design choices with the AI, like allowing them to force their allies in a ceasefire, which doesn't give the player any options other than to accept it. Even if you decide that the ceasefire is too much and cancel your alliance with an AI, it won't fix the problem. The ceasefire lasts twenty turns and if they force it upon you it is set in stone, even if you cancel your alliance. It will make alliances incredibly annoying and can make it so your ally wins the game instead of you. There are a few other instances where the AI isn't so pleasant to deal with, but for the most part they did a better job with the AI than most other strategy games, even strategy games from huge companies like Creative Assembly.

Last Comments
Endless Space is one of the best turn based strategy games to land on PC in years. Sure some of elements of it are a bit lackluster, but as a package it is a impressive experience. If you are looking for something action packed and devoid of depth then don't look here, for Endless Space lets you control a massive galaxy of star systems and go through the game however you wish, but it doesn't let the AI work with in perfect synchronization. It is an impressive offering that has a ton of content, especially between singleplayer and multiplayer, and they are continually updating the game and planning for new features in the future. This is a well made, well supported game and it is worthy of your $30.

 Violent Score: 8 out of 10

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*Review copy provided by Reverb Publishing and Amplitude Studios
-Written by Sean Cargle


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