I am a big fan of the science fiction genre. Whether it be games, movies, or books, it does not matter. The idea of intelligent life forms and alien civilizations existing outside our Solar System is very appealing to me. So you can imagine my excitement at learning about a new sci-fi indie game recently released for PC on Steam. Endless space, a 4X turn-based strategy game developed by Amplitude Studios, explores the concept of space travel and planetary conquest. You play the role of an advanced, space fairing species; working with or against other, potentially hostile alien civilizations in a race to conquer the galaxy. I hope you have got “endless” time on your hands, because once you embark on your odyssey into the complex, micro-managing economy of Endless Space, your friends and family may never see you again.
Despite not having a massive amount of experience with similar turn based strategy games, Endless Space is surprisingly approachable despite the various management systems and customizable options. The game features a competent, comprehensive tutorial with an innovative interface design for accessibility and ease of use. Stackable game screens, multiple paths to performing the same actions and tool tips from highlighted icons make navigating surprisingly pleasant. With a little patience and investment, I found learning the intricacies and nuances of the game’s mechanics to be a lot less daunting then I expected.
At the beginning of each campaign, you will be faced with a variety of set up options and win conditions to customize how your session plays out. Want to change the shape or size of the galaxy? How about wormhole limitations or the amount of empires you’ll face? Even the AI difficulty and progression speed are yours to command. If you are not keen on any of the 8 unique starting races like the gentle, knowledge seeking Sophons, or the deranged, world consuming Cravers then why not head into the faction editor to create your own, personalized civilization with dozens of specialized traits to combine. You can even write your own custom background story about an evil race of sad space clowns, ridding the universe of laughter or something less creepy. Countless choices and paths equates to countless, original gaming sessions that will intrigue and challenge you differently, every time.
Speaking of time, you probably think you are ready to master the universe and dominate all of life within, right? In time young one, expanding your people’s legacy across the vast reaches of unknown space is no easy task. Each turn you play requires you to manage a multitude of different variables – every planet and solar system has resources to gather, industries to administrate and sciences to research for upgrades and enhancements. You’re people are fickle and need to stay happy to be productive, so equalizing unstable planets through technology and exploiting taxes are only a few of the ways to appease the ungrateful public. Thankfully, if your empire becomes more then you can handle alone, you can hire and assign heroes with specialized roles in combat and government to your ships and solar systems. Often times a hero alone can turn the tide in a battle or enhance efficiency and approval on your planets.
Being successful in Endless Space depends on your ability to learn and adapt, so you’ll rely heavily on the skill tree in the research tab. This consists of four complex, individual webs of upgrades, new technologies, bonuses and abilities will help you accomplish your empire’s goals, and hopefully keep you alive. For example, early investment in food and industry research could promote faster planet populating and shorter production times of ships and buildings; allowing for faster expansion and colonization. This being said do not get greedy because if you lack the points in diplomacy or strong military might, pirates and other hostile races will come along and take your precious little colonies for themselves.
Establishing peace treaties and trade agreements with other empires will grant you trading route bonuses and access to rare resources, but you run the risk of exposing your systems to prying eyes. If the idea of peace with alien scum isn’t your bag, you can always declare war on the filthy vermin and wipe them off the face of the universe – unless they get to you first! You can also customize your ship designs with various offense, defence and support modules to provide greater travel speeds and powerful weapons and armour; as well as add various abilities to use in battle.
I personally found the combat system be a tad lacking. The battle is divided into three combat phases; long, medium and short exchanges. In each phase you are prompted to select a battle action in the form of cards that provide you with bonuses and penalties to your ships offense and defence values. An example of a card would be “Weapon Overclock”, which adds +40% to kinetic damage and -20% to antimissile interception, making it a great counter tactic for short and medium ranged battles. Every encounter is a calculated game of rock-paper-scissors, with each side attempting to out play the other by selecting the appropriate counter to tip the odds in their favor. While I enjoyed watching the beautifully designed ships of each species barrage each other with lasers and torpedoes, I found myself uninvolved with the majority of each battle – often opting for the automated combat to quickly end the fight.
Combat isn’t the only thing you can automate by the way. Amplitude Studios caters to beginners and experienced players alike with an intuitive automation system for planet management and ship design – giving the player control over their own level of participation.
The visual aesthetic of the game is sleek and stylish. It is really easy on the eyes, and like I mentioned before, the interface cannot be beat. The art used in the title screen, race avatars and cut scenes are beautifully drawn and very distinctive for each faction. The planets, solar systems and general design of the galaxy view is simple to navigate, and the ship models of each race are really well developed. If anything, I only wish there was more of it.
I believe Endless Space sacrifices some of its visual presentation for a more polished, balanced back end since that is what 4X lovers come for and in that respect, Amplitude Studios has certainly delivered. They have worked very close with their loyal community since their Alpha days of development, establishing a relationship with them through a program they call GAMES2GETHER, essentially providing a voice for players to participate and give feedback on the creation of the game and its design.
Endless Space is a tribute to intelligent design and meticulous polish, offering endless hours of micro management goodness on all fronts. Whether you are duking it out against an accomplished AI in the games single player or vying for cultural dominance online, this 4X turn based wonder accommodates all levels of experience and play styles, providing countless sessions of entertainment for newbies and pros alike.