On and on and on: Endless Space Reviewed

14 Jan
Start Screen

Be prepared for a looong journey…

When I was young(er), I played the hell out of a little space strategy game series called Masters of Orion (MOO). It pioneered (or at least made popular) the 4x genre (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate), and was brilliantly designed (except for the third game, which was a bit of a wreck). Games have come and gone since then, attempting to recapture the magic, but none have come close. So how does Endless Space compare?

You begin Endless Space as one of several competing factions – each with their own corner of the galaxy. An ancient super substance called “Dust” has everyone rushing to expand and acquire as much of the stuff as they can – apparently in the future everyone’s a meth head.

Each system has one to six planets you can potentially colonize, though many will be inhospitable until you acquire the right technology. The harsher the environment, the less happy the colonists will be – and a happy population is the key to a healthy empire in this game. Why they aren’t constantly happy with all that “dust” around is beyond me, but anyway…

At the beginning of the game, you’ll be limited to travelling along “space lanes”, which connect the star systems inside a constellation. Wormholes to adjacent areas in the galaxy cannot be traversed until the appropriate technology is researched. This creates a need to strategically plan where to colonize. Do you take that desert planet – and take the happiness hit in order to hold a strategic choke point? Or, do you wait until you have tech to make people happier and risk losing the system to a neighboring faction?

There are several different faction types to play, but (as with MOO) you can create your own. Each faction has advantages and disadvantages, and when creating a custom faction you can load up on negative traits to get some really good ones. There are also faction-based traits, of which your custom faction can choose one – which leads to potential balancing issues. The amoeba trait – which lets you see the entire map from turn one – gives perhaps too unfair an advantage compared to the benefits the other factions give you, though that may be just my take from the several games I’ve played.

There are four main research areas, each important in their own way. They ramp up in cost quickly as you progress in any direction, so focusing on one too much can make you fall behind in other important aspects. (Tip: I’ve found it helps to just bounce around and grab the technologies that only take a few turns to research – unless you’re desperate for a specific tech).

Exploring and ramping up your empire is pretty fun. Most systems you discover will have goodies (or pirates) to deal with, and you generally have time enough to pump out several colonies before you have to worry about warring against another faction. When you do meet someone, you start in a state of cold war – you can freely attack each other’s fleets and outposts without officially going to war. That’s a nice touch. It’s satisfying to take out a neighbor’s scout or colony ship before they can discover that mineral-laden system you’ve had your eye on – and not pay for it by spending the next 20 turns fighting them.

Endless Space gets a lot right, and definitely invokes memories of MOO games past, but it does come up lacking in some areas. While pretty to look at, the rock-paper-scissors card-game approach to combat is too hands-off to be fun. The game could really use more options in combat, such as concentrating fire on one ship or moving ships forward to protect damaged ships. The AI is weak enough that you’ll seldom want it managing your colonies for you – which leads to exponentially longer turns as the game goes on (especially on huge maps). Be prepared for really long games. And finally, it feels incomplete. There seem to be rules for spying and hero to hero combat, but those aspects are nowhere to be found. My hope is that the gameplay evolves over time as the developers listen to the player community, and some of these issues are addressed. From what I can tell, the developers have been doing just that since the game launched – so I’m optimistic that this game will get better as time goes on.

As it stands, the parts of the genre that it does get right are more than worth the cost (currently $30, but Steam has sales from time to time). For fans of 4x, I definitely recommend giving it a try. Just be prepared to look up and realize that it’s suddenly two in the morning because you kept saying “just one more turn”.

Brings back memories of the good old days…


7 capital ships out of 10

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One Response to “On and on and on: Endless Space Reviewed”

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  1. Waiting for Moodot – GalCiv 3 Reviewed | Two Geeks, One Blog - May 23, 2015

    […] are view-only. There’s no interaction at all – even the rock-paper-scissors approach of Endless Space would be an improvement. They try to mitigate this with a battle AI that puts ships in one of […]

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