Is Endless Space worth your space-time?
Endless Space is the latest is the entrant into the catalogue of 4X strategy games that require players to build an empire through exploring, expanding, exploiting and exterminating. This is an interesting genre, because games of this ilk seem to stand up better over time than a lot of others. Perhaps it’s because this type of game has seemingly hit a wall, with each new release offering only slight changes to the established formula, save for the presentation.
Endless Space is quite aesthetically pleasing most of the time. Planets are nicely rendered and space battles are at times awe-inspiring, reminiscent of scenes from the Battlestar Galactica remake. From afar, the universe appears as groups of colourful swirling clouds, but isn’t as visually interesting zoomed-in. The ship designs vary from bland to inspired, with the human-like Empire clearly having the Universe’s least creative architects. The soundtrack is futuristic and soothing, again bringing to mind the aforementioned television series and music featured in the Mass Effect games. Outside of combat the only real sound effects are chimes of varying tones depending on the action or notification. In combat, audio is weak-sounding, lacking the booming resonance of a heavy canon that players might expect to hear.
The story of Endless Space is actually quite inconsequential, as one might expect from this sort of game. For those who care enough to visit the game’s website or read the manual, there is some background to the game. Basically, Endless Space takes place in a universe that exists in the shadow of the proverbial “mysterious and powerful extinct ancient race” called the Endless. Nothing remains of these beings except a substance called Dust, that is traded between the universe’s inhabitants as currency. There are nine factions for the player to choose from, who each have their own biographies along with both beneficial and detrimental corresponding traits.
Gameplay-wise, Endless Space doesn’t really do anything particularly revolutionary. There are seven victory conditions, none of which are unique to the game.
Players can dominate the galaxy with military force, triumph by constructing “wonders”, reach total enlightenment by researching all possible technologies, prove their worth through diplomacy, become an unrivalled economic powerhouse, win by populating the majority of the galaxy, or attain a victory through score which takes all of the above into account. Before the game, players can edit options like the shape and size of the galaxy, number of A.I. competitors, and the number of planets present.
The user interface is simple, but again, doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Everything the player needs to monitor or manage is lined up across the top-left of the screen. Galactic emperors can tend to their own empire, adjusting tax rates by raising them in order to gain more income or lowering them to improve their citizens happiness. There is a research tech tree is divided into four self-explanatory branches: Exploration and Expansion, Applied Sciences, Diplomacy and Trade, and of course, good ol’ Galactic Warfare.
Speaking of warfare, the player’s military is customizable, although not to the extent as it is in a game like Galactic Civilizations II. The actual hull of a ship can’t be changed, just the type of weaponry and defenses on-board. As more research is done, new hulls and protection are unlocked. Unfortunately, even on lower difficulties, it seems as if A.I.’s have a leg-up on fallible human players, constructing massive fleets, colonizing planets and conducting research more efficiently.
The only thing unique about diplomacy in Endless Space is the neat holocommunications screen used to select from races to interact with. If you’ve played a 4X game before, then you know the setup. In this screen, war can be declared and cease-fires can be negotiated, as well as many trade options involving resources and research.
Finally, there’s the heroes screen, where mercenaries can be hired and assigned to star systems or fleets depending on their area of expertise. Heroes can each specialize in two of five aspects, including space combat, negotiation, resource production, strategy, or economics. As heroes gain experience and level-up, traits can be selected to improve their performance in any of those five areas. More heroes become available as the game progresses, but only a certain amount can be hired at a time.
In Endless Space, heroes act as admirals when assigned to fleets and give their ships boosts in combat if they specialize in it. Space battles with enemy empires or the plentiful population of pirates can play out either automatically or manually. Choosing to simulate a fight will give the player no chance to influence the outcome. In manual mode, there are five stages to a battle. The first, is the arrival, during which no fighting takes place, but players can choose which strategies they would like to implement in each of the next three stages, which take place first at long range, then medium range, and finally short range. The final stage is simply an overview of the carnage that has taken place.
Endless Space doesn’t do a lot that sets it apart from other games in the genre. Unless one puts an emphasis on graphics, or wants to play a game like Galactic Civilizations II in multiplayer, there’s not much reason to buy a whole new game that is only on-par, if not inferior, to games that have come in the past. The game plays solid, even in a pre-release form, but it’s simply a competent effort, not outstanding.