The Wormhole Swallowed My Time
4X games aren’t my speed. Not by a long shot. Don’t get me wrong; I love attempting to play in-depth strategy games, especially if they’re turn-based, but it’s just that: an attempt. I’ve never been comfortable thinking on that large or broad a scale or multitasking with that degree of efficiency. I’m far better at tackling things linearly, proceeding from one obstacle to the next and surmounting them in turn.
Imagine my frustration, then, when Endless Space landed in my lap and I was told, “Okay, review it.”
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy playing it, but I didn’t really have context for what to expect from it. I haven’t played a true 4X game (having used that term twice now, let’s define it: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate), not since the old days of Master of Orion, and I’d barely even consider what I did with those “dabbling,” much less “heavily investing my play-time in them.”
So, my observations as a neophyte to the genre: Endless Space does not have a gentle guiding hand. I’m not ignoring the tutorial system—it’s there, and they pop up almost incessantly if you have them enabled, any time you want to do anything new—but they’re kind of just information dumps, most of which won’t be relevant without the context of having actually played the game. The same applies to Endless Space’s manual, which provides a little more information, but is largely useless without time invested in trial and error in-game.
Thus, I jumped into the game without a safety net. I figured, worst case scenario, I’d restart and try again. Before one can play, though, the game must be configured. There’s no campaign mode or anything like it; Endless Space provides multiple races with distinct backgrounds, which hint at a deeper storyline, but in the game your race is only functional in that it comes with certain technologies unlocked and is geared toward a different play-style than others. I may have been hallucinating, but I’m pretty sure the amoeba-like race got the entire galaxy map unlocked from the get-go rather than having to explore it star by star. Races have an alignment, on the axis of “good” to “evil,” but this only seems to marginally affect how they interact with each other diplomatically, with no greater narrative to explore.
I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, though: Endless Space inundates its players with options from the moment they choose to play. Not only must one pick a race, but the races of one’s foes (as well as the number thereof), the size of the galaxy and its shape, as well as the difficulty of the A.I. opponents. There are additional “advanced” options, which include the ability to change the proliferation of certain types of stars (which apparently affect what sorts of planets will exist around them). It’s a lot to take in, and incredibly granular, but that’s definitely a point in the game’s favor. Being able to tailor the play experience to one’s own preferences is almost liberating.
Once you’re actually in game, you’re given a single scout ship and a colony ship, as well as one already colonized planet. You are given no direction. So you send out your colony ship, but to colonize different types of planets, you have to work your way down one of the four major branches of the research tree, which is massive, sprawling, and intimidating. When you finally figure out how to read it, it’s pretty easy to queue up some research with judicious clicking and then find some means by which to maximize your “research” output.
You’ll also need tech for further exploration. There are enhancements you can unlock that will allow your ships to traverse wormholes, or even travel off the beaten path entirely and go directly (albeit slowly) from star to unlinked star. This is one manner in which the random galaxy generation can trip you up, by the way: I started one game in which I had access to two stars, the only escape from them a pair of wormholes that I couldn’t access until I researched new tech. Being unable to expand, though, I couldn’t effectively raise my research capital and, well, you can imagine how that went.
So, big galaxy to explore, diplomatic relations à la the Civilization series or Alpha Centauri (probably present in a lot of other 4X games as well; as mentioned before, I don’t have a ton of background in the field), a massive tech tree to field, but, hey, what about the combat?
Combat is there. It exists. It’s kind of neat, in a way, since it’s really the only time you see 3D models of your ships (which you can outfit yourself, using a “frame” and loading it down with attachments and weapons of various purposes). When two fleets come into conflict, you can either allow the battle to resolve itself (it tells you beforehand, with a visual bar, who has the advantage) or take over control. The latter is kind of a timed three-tiered game of rock-paper-scissors. There’s a long-range, mid-range, and close-range round, during which different types of weapons are used (missiles, then beams, then kinetics); the game moves through these stages on a timer. You may pick a strategy for each round, which can enhance your capabilities, while crippling your enemy in some fashion, though certain types of strategies negate other types of strategies, requiring some degree of foresight and knowledge of the system.
One of my biggest problems with the game, though, is that retreat is one such strategy, meaning it’s only accessible from within the battle. You can’t simply tell a battle to auto-resolve with a retreat command, so your choice will often be “lose your solitary scouting ship because it doesn’t have firepower” or “sit through the battle animation so you can make your ship run away.” It’s not as obvious a decision as it might seem.
This is sort of an echo of my biggest general problem with the game: Overall, Endless Space doesn’t do enough for you. For people who are hardcore into 4X games, this is probably perfectly acceptable, since I imagine they love micro-managing each planet on their turn so that they have the optimal empire with which to wipe out their foes (or present them with such abject niceness that they can’t help by join with them in peaceful jubilation). And there are A.I. routines you can attach to each planet you control, but as your empire expands, managing it becomes a headache either way. The one place I would like to see more complexity is in finances; you can apply a flat tax rate to your entire empire, but can’t tax differently by any sort of resource or what have you. This might actually make sense since, other than Dust, the game’s currency, resources are more concepts than actual goods.
Endless Space also has online play. This is handled exactly as you would expect: start or join a game, choose an empire, a galaxy-size and shape, etc., then take turns building your empire and trying to overcome your opponents. Games, in both single- and multiplayer, are score-based, but what composes one’s score is not entirely sure, and I’d sometimes lose a game without having any idea why.
In general, though, it was a pleasure just to watch my empire grow, even if it wasn’t doing so in an effective manner, and I think that’s what counts.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The interface is clean and attractive, the graphics tasteful and not overly complex, and the models used in combat are tailored to your race. 4.5 Control
Left click to proceed, right click to go back, shift and click to queue things up. Nice and simple. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The audio will stay out of your way, which is perfect, considering how much of your attention this game demands. 4.5 Play Value
No two games will ever be exactly the same, and the experience is basically the same online as off. If you enjoy what’s happening here, there’s no reason to ever stop playing. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best