Space has had a soft spot in this geek’s heart from the first time I saw Star Wars as a kid. The Death Star, aliens, the endlessly vast, dark-mattered frontier – what’s not to love?! It’s also a fairly common strategy genre that, after working for OSG1 for a while and having reviewed many of these space titles, I’ve grown somewhat wary of. That being said, Endless Space takes the space strategy genre and fully exploits each and every opportunity for strategy execution. This title isn’t online, but in keeping with our strategy-as-a-whole interest, we review nonline strategy titles every once in a while. If it’s really fucking good. I’ll just come right out and say it – Endless Space is a game every OSG1’er should have a go at.
Fresh off the press from Amplitude Studios, a medium-sized development studio in Paris with a dazzling group of talent (Amplitude employs some of the coders behind Ghost Recon and Battlefield), Endless Space was released on Independence Day of this year, July 4 2012. I can say that I’m already stoked to see what these guys produce next — from the research I’ve done (and I even managed to get an email from an unnamed dev after reaching out to Amplitude), they are a tight-knit core of a couple dozen guys who love games and who stay engaged in the gamer community for suggestions and insight into not only what titles to create, but how to improve and update the titles they’ve already released. It gives Amplitude a major advantage over behemoth studios like EA who are out of touch with the average gamer due to their massive size and corporate structure.
Jumping into the game, I was immediately struck by just how customizable the world can be in Endless Space. The year is 3000 A.D. and you’ve been given the opportunity to colonize a planet. Rad! Upon entering the game for the first time, you’ll be presented with a handful of galaxies / universes to choose from, and after you’ve chosen, you’ll need to pick a faction to be a part of. There are tons of factions within each planet, and you can even create your own (the options / parameters for creating your own are mind-boggling in number). Control freaks rejoice. Each planet, galaxy and faction is proportionally different from one another in size and population and technology development, allowing for differing complexities in strategy and execution. I was pleased with the relatively easy and user-friendly layout of the maps, it didn’t take much time to click around and get a feel for where every planet and station was located within the map. Once I chose my galaxy, a short cutscene played out and I was thrown into the game. If you’re a fan of tutorials, prepare to be impressed. Each turn of the game in the beginning greets Player with a short tutorial (mostly made up of info bubbles that pop on screen) on what control buttons correspond to what actions. It’s not a standalone tutorial, it’s not optional, but it is completely unobtrusive and intuitive in its execution. Each planet (and each faction within each planet) has pre-defined levels of technology, tech, natural resources etc., which aren’t fully obvious until you get into the task of exploring and maintaining your empire, which keep each “game” unique and different should Player start multiple colonies. I had three going by the time I finished my 25-or-so hours of gameplay in, cool nice AI feature.
Resources come in the form of Food, Industry, Dust and Science. Food and Industry are fairly self explanatory (the bigger your empire expands, the more food you require to sustain your population, as is the case with industry expansion). Dust is the “space currency” of Endless Space – a uniquely propertied substance that the Endless species left behind before the current age (obviously, dust is highly valuable) and is gathered simply as you move through the game and literally explore your map, your planet and your environment. Dust is important as Player is unable to increase expansion, train and rebuild HP during battles. Science unlocks certain ship types, planetary features and ways to tap into natural resources, etc. Your current status with each of these four resources (also known as FIDS) will determine your “approval rating” – basically a rating of your empire’s current health – which will determine how you can move forward and expand into new planets. It also unlocks “luxury resources” which allow you to add things like turbo boosters to your ships for getting around quickly. Expansion isn’t as simple as clicking and waiting however, which brings me to another huge plus for this title – every star and location within your map that you explore contains new pieces of information, tidbits which expand your understanding of the types of people and technology you can interact with as a colonizer. I found the diplomacy end of this game to be rather complex though – the tutorial system I mentioned doesn’t really expand into the diplomacy portion of your expansion strategy, which means when interacting with different peoples / races / freaky aliens, you’re left to the tried-and-true “see what happens” method. The first time I encountered a different race on my planet I made the mistake of requesting dust units and was blown to bits. It’s this kind of exploration that I enjoy, every move is a learning experience, but some gamers who are used to clear-cut “rules” of how to function may find irritating.
The ‘exterminate’ factor in Endless Space is executed fairly well too! In the screenshot above, it’s fairly easy to see how a player’s given planet within a faction is allied with (or pitted against) another faction, and the combined strengths (FIDS) of your faction play the biggest role in how you’ll fare in combat with others. Research and development all play into this FIDS cumulative, as I wasn’t as well equipped weapons-wise as other players who had researched more than I had, allowing them to acquire better-functioning weapons. As your research and FIDS goes up, you’ll have access to purchase better and longer-range offensive weapons to equip to your ships (in addition to better and stronger defensive attachments). It’s a game of experience and experience. The more you engage with other factions, the more learned you become, and because each engagement is tri-staged (long-range, mid-range and close-range), I had the opportunity to use different weapons in the same battle. What types of ships a certain enemy faction has and how their equipped offensive and defensive tools (like missles, lasers, countermeasures) will affect you predict the outcome of any skirmish. The more technologies you research before getting into battle, the better equipped you’ll be (no pun intended). I was left well-developed and well-equipped in the combat category due to my obsessive researching of every nook and cranny of my planet when getting involved in combat during my testing, boosting FIDS and tactical know-how. The more you play, the more it pays.
The graphical prowess of Endless Space isn’t anything spectacular, but solid two-dimensional graphics get the job done. It’s not rudimentary in any sense, and although it’s not gorgeous like Oil Rush, it doesn’t need to be. I was so engaged in expanding, learning and researching that I was never craving a deeper graphical experience. The cutscenes, though, are super beautiful, on par with that of Final Fantasy X. This totally satisfied my nom-nom for eye candy, it’ll satisfy yours too. This game is not an online title, yes, but the breadth of detail necessary to explore and understand in executing successful strategy is too good to pass up. We give Endless Space two paws up.