Of course you want to rule a galactic empire; who doesn’t? And the last year or so has been quite generous for gamers with such aspirations. We had Sword of the Stars 2, Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion and some smaller, not as good titles. And this summer continues to surprise us with games we didn’t hear much about before. Endless Space is yet another 4X game that provides a galaxy for us to rule at our pleasure.
Like many other 4X space games (with the exception of Galactic Civilizations II), Endless Space does not have a singleplayer campaign. We only know the following: before the modern races started mucking about in the universe, it was the domain of the Endless, a mysterious ancient civilization that has disappeared (like ancient civilizations always do) a long time ago. Only their artifacts remain, sparking the curiosity of Spacaras Crofts and Moonthan Drakes everywhere. The most sought after resource is the Dust – vaguely explained nanoparticles that are so useful, they can be a legitimate Applied Phlebotinium. One thing is known for sure: most living creatures that come in contact with it perish. The survivors are, interestingly enough, turned not into some horrific abominations, but into Heroes, people of great talent and limitless potential.
Oooh, baby, I want to settle you so hard...
The civilizations you control also have their own stories, presented in short 2D clips. But they’re mostly for flavor. In the game, the races differ cosmetically and in various traits or shortcomings. The biggest of these are the race specialties – these differ wildly from one race to another and will be seen in any custom races you make. United Empire, for example, gets a bonus for industry on higher taxation levels. Pilgrims, on the other hand, can pack up all their stuff – population, planetary improvements and all – onto a big ship and resettle it in another system. Horatio – a race made up entirely out of clones of Horatio – can clone heroes.
There are other traits that make races different – these are useful for custom building your own galactic empire. You have a pool of points and each trait has its price – with negative ones giving you points They range from simple things, like bonuses (or malices) to damage and accuracy, to the ability to settle any damn type of planet that you want (with minuses to production until you research the required tech) or inability to make peace. I mention these two because I took them both for my custom race and it worked great. Another one I would heartily recommend is a naturally happy population (more on that later).
Later on, you can unlock more ways to run away!
Now that you have made yourself a race of Playernamelings, or watched the short intro for a preset race, it’s time to take a look at the map. It looks like Sins of a Solar Empire in medium zoom, suns connected with narrow hyperspace lanes. However, each of these suns has a set of several planets (single planets are very rare). These can be accessed in the system menu. And while each planet can have its specialization – Food, Industry, Dust or Science (FIDS) – the production queues are handled system wide. And once again you can’t build planetary improvements and spaceships simultaneously (or research two things at the same time, for that matter).
In building up a system you have to consider the types and strengths of your planets – lava is better for industry, while scientists have a fetish for gas giants. Some improvements are actually worthless in some systems – the easiest example would be Xenotourism, for there are only a few types of planets that supports it. It’s not unusual to have Science systems or Forgesystems, especially since food only matters in the system it’s produced in. Forgesystems are especially encouraged, since in time of idleness (read: peace) 25% of their industrial capacity can be given to bolster science or Dust production. Add in such factors as Hero bonuses and population happiness and it can add up quite a bit.
As I said before, population mood matters quite a lot. Mainly because it’s THE speedbump on the road to colonization. Certain (read: most) types of planets actually detract from population happiness. I mean, who wants to live in a desert, dodging Sarlac pits every time they go out for a walk? And people hate being shipped to such places, so even the citizens of old and well off systems tend to grumble against colonizing. This makes early settling rushes a very inadvisable tactic.
What is advisable, however, is science. The four branches can be summed up as commerce, war, industry and space and all of them are important, though the military branch tends to be overlooked. Each new thing researched gives certain bonuses, abilities or things to build. And everything is to be used in the eventual conquest of lesser peoples.
Some plucky Hissho is going to challenge the central computer to a game of Global Termonuclear War any day now
For that you need ships and ships need to be designed. On the surface, arming them won’t be anything new for veterans of Galactic Civilizations II: there are lasers, railguns, missiles, shields, adaptive armor and countermeasures that defeat them. Balancing between them is a tricky issue and it pays to know which type of weapons and defenses the enemy uses. Your fleet might be numerous and stronger, but it can be blown up in the first salvo if, say, you don’t have any countermeasures, while the enemy is packing rockets. AI tends to overlook one of the three branches, so that makes things easier when lasers start flying.
The combat system itself is pretty interesting. Battles are separated into five periods – approach, long range, medium range, melee and post-battle. While you can’t command the fleet directly, you can choose tactics cards for each of the three battle phases. This is the place where you can also shamefully lose to a smaller fleet. Visually, it always looks the same – one fleet is present, the other jumps in and they fly towards each other at an incline while blasting their guns at the same time. This can get a little tedious at times, maybe they’ll patch in some more interesting animations later on.
Because that is entirely possible. Endless Space is made using the “Games2Gether” system. Registered forum users can vote on one design decision or another. People who actually bought and supported the game get more votes than the others. So one day the vote might as well be for implementing new combat cinematics.
The Hissho are a lot more overt about being birds, unlike Turians, who pretend to be space kitties
Endless Space looks really damn good for a 4X game, while not trying to kill your computer (unlike Sword of the Stars II). Heck, I even managed to run it on my old as hell laptop – which sees the original Far Cry as a challenge. The only thing missing from the game were the ship textures. On new PCs, though? A feast for the eyes: the ships look great and original, and so do the combat cinematics. One thing I especially love is the whole style of the interface. You should definitely try it. A pity that the sound part is not as great. While it has no weak points by itself, the music track is either too sparse or too memorable and you quickly realize that you’ve been listening to that for hours. And that detracts from the overall feeling.
All in all, Endless Space is a welcome addition to the 4X space games fold. The gameplay is solid, the learning curve is non-too-steep and the overall feeling is great. Do yourself a favor and pick it up next time you visit Steam.
- Great design: Everything from UI to ships looks great
- Unique universe: not every day you see a nation of clones
- Ship design: it’s quite easy when compared to some other 4X games
- Flavor: The text is neither too serious, nor to humorous; the Goldilocks choice in writing
- No campaign: but do we really expect a 4X game to have one?
- Repetitive music: a shame, since it is pretty great
- Repetitive battles: could use some more, different animations