While under the deluge of so many space games, I learned of a game called Endless Space a little while back, and thought it sounded pretty intriguing. After having an interview with the devs, I was even more excited to try this new turn-based 4X game (I do loves me some turns). After spending time with both the alpha and beta versions of the game (Yeah, I know, I should’ve written this a while ago, I blame too many good games being released, and ADHA ;), I’m fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinally read to share my thoughts. Will Endless Space be a source of endless joy, or a one-shot thrill devoid of any real happiness?
Endless Space has been available on Steam as a pre-order for a little while now, so a good number of folks have gotten the chance to play it. Hopefully when you’re done reading this preview, you’ll be among them. Let’s just say, the first thing you notice about Endless Space is just how darned polished it is, especially for an alpha/beta. It looks pretty, clean and usable, the graphics are quite good for a (formerly) indie title, and the excellent music is reminiscient of Battlestar Galactica (the recent one, of course).
For my latest session — the one in which I got screenshots for this article, I had played a couple prior — I played beta version 0.48.2. I played as the Sophon race — there are eight in total — against three AI opponents in a spiral medium galaxy. The beta also has multiplayer, but I didn’t try it (sorry guys, hate multiplayer). ;) As soon as you begin your first game, the tutorial pops up, which I absolutely adore.
I’ll be honest, I love a good tutorial. Even though I’ve been playing games like this for YEARS, each game is different, so it’s my feeling that EVERYONE should go through a game’s tutorial. In the case of Endless Space, the tutorial screens are non-interactive, but they give a wide range of detailed information about basically every facet of every screen, from the galaxy map to the system map to research and everything in between. It’s fiiiiiiine that it wasn’t interactive, as it didn’t really need to be. There are subtle differences between Endless Space and other 4X games, so I was happy for such a detailed tutorial.
One of those differences is the way systems and planets are handled, and is a big indicator as one word I’ll likely be using throughout this preview, “streamlined”. Unlike many other games in which planets are modeled individually and can have their own production, population and so on, or games which model just the system and not individual planets, Endless Space does a bit of both. A system is made up of planets, which all contribute to its output, be it industrial or scientific. This means if you have two colonizable planets in a system, colonizing them both adds to the net result of that system’s output. It, again, is really streamlined, and works very well.
Another area that feels different, to me at least, is research. The research tree has four main branches — such as weapons, planetary improvements and so on — and you can queue up several improvements to research at once using the SHIFT key. One thing I DIDN’T like is that if you clicked another improvement just to look at it, it would cancel your entire queue. I did this multiple times, but it wasn’t TOO much of a bother to reset the queue back up. There is also a ton of stuff to research, and each race has some unique improvements as well.
Now, let’s talk a bit about how the game actually plays. Endless Space, at its core, is a traditional 4X. You explore new systems, send out colonization ships to settle new worlds, exploit new civilizations that you’ll meet, and exterminate all who oppose you…hopefully. Exploring and expanding are, once again, very streamlined. Once you’ve scouted a system, it’s VERY easy to see from the galaxy map if it has colonizable planets, using a color-coded system for each planets — up to six — in a system. This makes it easy to see, at a glance, which planets are ripe for expansion.
One more way Endless Space not only streamlines things, but makes it different from its competition, is same-system colonization. If a system has more than one colonizable planet — which can be discovered when first scouted, or be attained later through research — you don’t need to send another colony ship there. The population of the system as a whole will send some of its own to the new planet to colonize it, which I just really loved. It just seems like such a simple, elegant solution, and really saves on building colonization ships. ;)
Along the way you’ll meet other races, who can either like or dislike you (duhr, I know, but I felt the gradual like/dislike levels were worth mentioning), and this can change based on how you treat them and others. I didn’t engage in diplomacy too much, but after sacrificing many ships to pirates in order to protect my own planets — lord I suck at the combat in this game — the two other races I had met proposed peace treaties, which I thought was nice.
Moving on, much of the gameplay in Endless Space revolves moving units around a map to explore, expand or exterminate, or heck, stay put and protect your interests, like in the screenshot above. This is, like the rest of the game, very streamlined, and it’s easy to build ships, merge them into fleets, move them around and so on from one end of the explored map to the other. Eventually, however, your ships will run into folks who aren’t that nice, and will want to blow y’all up. This leads me to the next big difference Endless Space has with other games…the combat.
Combat can be handled one of two ways, automatically or “manually”. I put that last word in quotes for a good reason, which I’ll explain in a moment. Automatic resolution takes some factors like fleet strength and such into account, but honestly it led to me losing much of the time. This wasn’t much different than the result of the other approach, honestly, but it was a tad frustrating. Manual combat let’s you take a bit — I emphasize a BIT — more control over your forces to try and get a better result, but this, to me, is a mixed blessing.
Combat happens in several phases, the arrival, long range, medium range and short range phases. For the ranged phases, you can pick a specific action from a deck of cards, which let you go on the offensive or defensive, depending. Once these cards are chosen — and if you take too long, the battle will start without you — your captains and admirals will do their best to follow your orders. I’m not sure if it was just me, the cards I chose, the beta state of the game, but I found myself rarely ever winning unless I had a significant numerical advantage (i.e. three of my ships versus one enemy ship). I know my race wasn’t great at combat, but c’mon…
Now, I can see the reasoning behind this method of combat. From a storytelling perspective, it makes sense. If you’re a grand emperor or whatever, you likely won’t be directly controlling your forces into battle, but rather giving your admirals basic instructions that they should try to adhere to, while they handle the nitty gritty. I can also see why combat is the way it is from a streamlining perspective. Honestly, however, I’d prefer the option to take charge of my forces my own self, if I wanted to. I don’t mind a hands-off approach if done properly, but it feels a bit…too much so here.
Technically, one might be surprised that this is (or at least was until Iceberg Interactive came into the mix) an indie title. The graphics are, in my opinion, VERY eye catching, with clean lines, vibrant colors, different racial designs and so on. Audibly, I just adored the music. It reminded me of the soundtracks from the aforementioned Battlestar Galactica series, by Richard Gibbs and Bear McCreary. Tribal, epic and heart pounding, especially during combat. Endless Space is definitely one of the prettier space games in recent history, and it’s also pretty dang stable, as I only had one crash whilst playing the alpha version, and none in the beta.
Besides the combat…which I could likely get used to in time…I had a flat-out delightful time playing Endless Space, in all honesty. The game gives you plenty to do each turn, makes managing your empire streamlined and efficient, and there are plenty of random things to make the game spicy. The combination of streamlined, fun gameplay along with lovely graphics and sound just sweeten the deal. If you have any interest at ALL in 4X or turn-based galactic conquest, this is DEFINITELY one game to put on your radar.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this preview of Endless Space. There’s a lot I didn’t mention because I didn’t want to give all of its little fun secrets away, but this should hopefully give you enough information to make an informed decision on buying the game or not, even in its current beta phase. Thanks for reading, and please enjoy the gallery of all of my screenshots taken for this article below.