Preview: Endless Space 2
French based studio Amplitude might be a small company, but over the course of the years, they managed to build a strong reputation among strategy game players, by building a common universe split into three different games: Endless Legend, Dungeon of the Endless and of course Endless Space. I had the chance to get my hands on a preview copy of their Endless Space 2, sequel to their early 2010s 4X strategy and first ever game.
If you never played these kind of games, Endless Space 2 is what we call a 4X strategy game (4 Xs stand for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate), but with a great twist: the game is completely crowdsourced even on the development front. While Amplitude Studios did get acquired by Sega recently, the process called “GAMES2GETHER” is still there, allowing community to take part of the creation process of Endless Space 2, with probably the help as well of other Sega studios that are known for these strategy games (Creative Assembly and Relic Entertainment). In any case, Endless Space 2 has the 4X base roots of the old game, pushing you to work on the development of your economy, while juggling diplomacy and other elements inherent in this space, while reaching for the ultimate goal of becoming Emperor of all space.
On the front of gameplay, little has changed from Endless Space, but I found the majority of the elements that made the charm of the original title. You start on your home planet with a survey ship and a settlement which you will need to take care of to extend your borders. That will need lots of building, research, colonize new areas while repelling pirates and making sure not to get invaded by other races. The game mechanics are still running on some pretty conventional ways found in the majority of 4X games, such as managing resources like food, production, science, satisfaction, mist (which here replaces energy or gold) and influence that allows to take diplomatic and political actions. However, besides the important government and political system (which I will discuss later and makes me almost describe the game as a 5X), is the way the technology and heroes were redesigned.
The technologies are no longer separated by four trees forming a gigantic spider web, but are now grouped by eras like in Endless Legend, so you can research without any particular order in the first era, and once you have gained enough of them, you will be able to advance to the next one, and thus more advanced technologies. This has the merit of offering a more flexible technological path, and not focus on “unnecessary” technology to get the key one you aim for in the tree. Experts of the game with a specific plan of victory in mind will appreciate this, but this may be a bit overwhelming to new players, because unless you thoroughly read the description and bonus details in each technology node, it is very easy to miss absolutely indispensable ones such as instant purchase of buildings and more.
For now in this preview access, only four out of the eight factions are available, each with a fairly specific feel and concept. The Sophons are weak militarily but they are brilliant scientists and explorers, and can see which technologies have already been discovered by other empires. This allows them to have the technology advantage than any of the other factions. The Lumeris on the other hand are mercantile and peaceful amphibians, focused solely on making money. They can for example delegate the colonization of planetary subsidiaries against a small fee, instead of having to build colony ships. This allows them to spread rapidly throughout space and resell to other empires. Then we have the Cravers, an insectoid race, built like cybernetic warriors, and consume planet resources to survice. Their fleets are larger but less expensive, making it the perfect pick for someone who opts for a warmongering tactic. Finally we have the Vodyani, religious fanatic worshipers of the Endless, extreme industrialist, they exploit resources and drain the life force of the people of all colonized planets from within orbit. Each have their own fun, and it’s all up to you to pick what fits best your lifestyle.
The heroes for their part are also entitled to their own dose of novelty. They will still fill the role of governor or admiral, ultimate authority of that race, and now have their own vessel that can be customized and enhanced. I appreciate the way the adoption of the “talent wheel” of Endless Legend has been implemented, which allows planning the specialization of each character depending on the role you intend to give them.
The largest integrated novelty though for Endless Space 2 is probably the policy management system that is deep but easy to handle. As mentioned, each main race has its own profile and distinct philosophy, and this is reflected in their political life, whether you are at the head of an empire or a galactic republic, the opinion of the people and senators will have an impact on the laws you can make. The Sophons will therefore focus as much as possible on science and it will be easy to enact laws that promote this era, but when we need to expand and conquer, you’ll have to change the attitude of your people, which can be an arduous task. After all, why settle for a big science bonus when you can have an equally solid of money or production?
Whether you want to or not, expanding your empire means getting attacked constantly by minor races which you can retaliate, ignore or incorporate within your ranks if you have enough influence. For now, this aspect of the game is a bit simplistic, but once a minor faction joins your empire, you will benefit from its special features, but will have a say in your internal policy. This is a good opportunity to get new useful laws, but you may have trouble controlling your forward legislation when you have incorporated many other races that have as many different viewpoints as your own. I discover that the hard way when I influenced the Cravers to join us, and they started consuming themselves.
Now what would a good ol’ 4X strategy game be without a good deal of fighting? In Endless Space 2 it is inevitable to engage in some battles, if only it is to eliminate pirates. While it is quite possible to finish a game without fighting any war against another race, it is also possible to eliminate all of its competitors by force. However unlike games like Civilization, Endless Legend or whatever titles with a very tactical approach to combat, assigning roles to each unit, it’s completely different in Endless Space 2. Here, you have an empire to manage, and admirals or captains will take the decisions on the ground on their own. Your efforts will focus on the preparation and distribution of a comprehensive strategy, such as what to build and which technology to focus on.
It will take a fairly substantial experience in the game to control warfare, as each weapon type has a different scope, each type of armor blocks a specific type of weapon, etc. It is quite possible to get slaughtered by the opponent in record time at long-range if you do not have good defensive setup for example, while your weapons were never in range to start. In parallel you can choose to invest in support modules for other roles, as picking the best reactors, troops transports, bombs to eliminate defensive measures, or elite combat fighters. The possibilities are endless but it can be quite intimidating at first to know what to pick.
Space combat in themselves only ask you to choose a strategy among several possible, each with its own maneuvers and specific bonuses that depend on the composition and the size of your fleet. For its part the possible strategies of the enemy are displayed, giving a kind of Rock, Paper, Scissor system which can have a large impact on the resolution of a fight that would normally have been tight. Having a hero in the fleet is obviously a large advantage with its bonuses, and while It’s very nice to waste some time to admire an epic battle with your brand new vessels, it is hard not to be a little frustrated by your own squad AI impotence.
In any case, Endless Space 2 has good basis for a new standard of 4X space strategy game, with an overall gameplay that is solid and intuitive, a clear and practical interface, and finally a good art direction to support all of that. Now let’s hope the final product is up to the task, and the extra features will bring more to the table.
Endless Space 2 was previewed using a an early access key of the game provided by Amplitude Studios, and is currently available to preorder or back up via Steam Early Access. The game was tested on a PC running Windows 10 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 960 fitted on a 5th Generation Intel i7 4720HQ 3.2Ghz CPU and topped with 16GB of RAM, as well as on a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 for Touch Screen controls. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published