|Dev: Amplitude Studios|
|Release: July 24, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Shelby Reiches
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.