Well hello there.
When playing a lot of one particular genre, a player will, over time, likely develop an acutely personal inventory of likes and dislikes for that game type – be it MMOs, FPS games, RPGs, etc. This is natural for any gamer, I’d imagine – and oftentimes, quite a subjective process. When it comes to 4X games, for example, I’ll know sooner rather than later if the game feels right for me. I’ll know whether I’m going to have to put in extra effort with a particular title, or I’ll have that sense where things might not immediately click, but I know a certain game will likely grow on me and to stick with it. I’ll know, intrinsically, when a game feels immediately obtuse; where everything feels like a slog and I straight up don’t want to learn the various mechanics at play. This doesn’t mean I can’t play and think critically about a wide variety of 4X games – or any type of game. But all players can probably relate to the sentiment I’m aiming at here: some games have an immediate impact and others simply don’t.
All this introductory preamble is a roundabout way of saying Endless Space 2? It’s my new 4X bae, and I knew right away.
The first thing that immediately struck me about Endless Space 2 is the beautiful, clean, dynamic user interface (UI). The presentation in this game is truly excellent, and Endless Space 2 does a fabulous job of avoiding the many pitfalls that sometimes hamper UI architecture in 4X games. As anyone who plays strategy games knows, the fluidity and accessibility of the UI is a central facet of not just navigating a game’s mechanics, but also enjoying it. A good UI should be clear and logical, facilitating a largely seamless and natural interaction between player and game. Barring one aspect (I’ll get to that later), Endless Space 2 achieves this with aplomb. 4X veterans should find themselves at home straight away, and newcomers will have no issue getting comfortable with things.
Show me what you’ve got.
Endless Space 2’s pretty interface is one thing, but rest assured the game itself is not simply all style and no substance. There’s an impressive amount of depth on offer, starting with the game’s eight main factions, which are appropriately diverse. Endless Space 2 also adds an interesting feature in minor factions. While diplomacy with minor factions is minimal, the player can still exert influence over these species with a view to gaining resources from them. If the player’s influence is strong enough, minor factions can even be assimilated entirely.
Empire management is also a joy, as there is a lot for the player to do in this game. First, you’ve a galaxy to explore. Galaxies are randomly generated, and patrol ships can discover new systems by following the available movement paths. However, patrol ships can also send out a limited number of probes into deeper space, opening up new routes and potential discoveries along the way. Once the player has discovered a new system with a colonizable planet, they can expand their empire via a settler ship. Researching particular technologies allow different planet types to be colonized, and this in turn opens up new resource extraction opportunities.
Putting in the effort.
However, once the colonies start piling up, things inevitably get a bit more complicated. Endless Space 2 has a number of resources which need to be understood when it comes to empire management and colony administration: food, industry, dust, science and influence (the technical term is, apparently, FIDSI). Planets can produce luxury resources; these sorts of resources can also be acquired by ‘looting’ a planet. Luxury resources can subsequently be traded on the open market, or even used to mollify Colonies that might be heading towards rebellion.
If it feels like I’m getting side-tracked when discussing what are, ostensibly, basic mechanics of any 4X game, it’s because that’s what this game does. Endless Space 2 does a wonderful job of taking a core genre mechanic and developing it into a network of interrelated functions. Yet importantly, it all feels very natural. Governance is the same: Endless Space 2 features a multitude of political dogmas. Elections are important, election polls can point to burgeoning change (if one still trusts polls…), and colonies require on-the-ball micro-management in order to avoid falling into rebellion.
Behind all of this lies an intriguing backstory, along with in-game questlines which are both interesting and well-written. This, again, is where the game’s diversity really shines; given that playing with each faction will offer the player a truly different experience each time around.
While the overall UI is a thing to behold, one issue I do have on the accessibility front in Endless Space 2 is the technology tree. The tech tree is presented as a circle split into four quarters (roughly equating to economy, science, industry and warfare); each quarter with its own progression tree in terms of research to be unlocked. The player has to zoom in to a specific quadrant to view areas of the tree, and specific research options are presented as circular symbols which display more information as you hover over them. My complaint here is not in terms of detail, or even overall clarity (albeit the purpose of certain technologies is occasionally unclear), but rather user-friendliness – the tech tree is the main management area of the game where I struggled a little with layout.
There are other minor quibbles: ‘heroes’ are citizens which the player can acquire and individually level up in order to boost aspects of colony or fleet management (depending on where they are deployed). Currently, however, they feel a little redundant soon after acquisition. I also found the diplomacy mechanic to be a little narrow, with little nuance involved when it comes to negotiating with AI factions.
Finally, Endless Sky has done a great job with fleet management and battle strategy mechanics. Players can fiddle with advanced tactics before any fight, and are afforded a good amount of control over their ships and setup. However, I found there was little point in ‘watching’ a skirmish unfold in ‘real-time’ after I’d made all my pre-battle decisions. In a way, this is a bit of a back-handed compliment –essentially, I didn’t want to waste my time watching a space battle when I could be getting on with conquering the galaxy. I can understand the temptation to include such a feature on the part of developer Amplitude, but I don’t think I will ever use it.
Fans of 4X gaming cannot really go wrong here. Endless Space 2 is a well-crafted game, that is expansive in all the right places, precise where it needs to be, complicated in an engaging way and truthfully, wonderful to look at. It’s also, after a bit of a time-investment (the tutorial is well-structured in this regard), pretty welcoming to any curious passers-by.
Endless Space 2 has that special, addictive, one-more-turn quality about it. There is real style here, and a hell of a lot of substance to back it up.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.