The universe is huge. Ominously so. Yet, no game in recent memory has captured this momentous feeling better than Endless Space. If Civilization chronicles a player on their journey to explore and conquer the world, Endless is only appropriately analogous to the galaxy. Beautifully so. Rarely is the experiencing so enticing as to sink – pardon the pun – endless amounts of time into happily being pulled into a game with all the strength of a black hole.
Crafted with a lumbering, majestic pace in mind the 4X strategy title from Amplitude Studios is nothing short of humbly asking a potential player to sit back, relax and become addicted with a junkie’s vigor. Offering a seemingly overwhelming amount of options, from the multiple selectable, or player creatable, civilizations to tech trees and onwards to the sheer amount of planets amid the universe, Endless Space speaks to that primal exploratory urge that will perpetuate players reaching outward from their home system. While somewhat prodigious in presentation, there are more than a few welcome mats for those looking to create their own sprawling galactic empire.
Namely an exquisitely crafted user interface juxtaposed against a well-crafted tutorial system that, regardless of a handful of problems, serves the overall experience admirably without causing the underlying gameplay to suffer. Honestly, the UI is one of the most gorgeous I’ve seen in a game and, realistically, it demands being mentioned here. It’s slick, fast and succinct while also being positively gorgeous. When an encounter is first initiated in a game, the tutorial will complement the UI so a player knows exactly is going on without any doubt or confusion. This will continue throughout the game as moments are triggers, which while laudable and descriptive, fails to prepare the player leading up to these moments.
During my initial playthrough, I noticed Endless Space has an unspoken expectation that every first encounter will be a situation the player may not be aware of, but is pleasantly pleased to learn about. While it’s nice that the game was happy to let me know what was going on, this still happened moments before I needed to know them. Walls of text, intensive and informative as they may be, do little good as ships are rolling into combat. I’d have preferred to know before. Similarly with economic, diplomatic and scientific matters — Endless tries very hard to show and tell, but falls a bit short on illustrating – pushing slews of text upon the player at the moment the information is needed as opposed to easing into things.
Moreover, the various improvements performed on systems, which supposedly augment the growth of an empire, feel more like a crapshoot more often than not. Over the course of trying to keep a population happy while exploring, expanding and at time expunging other races from the solar system, the management, albeit turn-based, can feel confusing as the tech tree under research isn’t exactly perfect. There are little in the way of recommendations and it can feel like reading Greek when under pressure to discern the next big potential breakthrough to keep a player ahead of opponents and satiate populace alike.
So, this leads to a scenario where a best guess is significantly better than opting for nothing, forcing the player to be a bit less than satisfied with a potentially poor choice because of a vague entry in the research options. But you reach around in the dark long enough and things mostly look good, until a civilization grows a bit too large, too fast, subsequently becoming beset on all sides by other space-faring races all too happy to grind players down into dust. In this case, the game offers heroes that can manage systems or fleets in lieu of the player forcibly micromanaging.
Eventually, the longer I sat behind the screen, watching my empire struggle with happiness and generally getting things done, the more desperate I was to get my hands on the heroes more than happy to serve my fledgling dominion. And it worked fantastically so.
I hired all three initially available heroes and within the span of a few turns, they proved well worth their economic upkeep. It felt like a manager hiring competent underling to do my bidding and each of them did great work, warranting their successive upgrades until it became virtually impossible to imagine running things without them. My only complaint being that I couldn’t acquire new heroes fast enough and that I was off-put about putting them into use in combat.
Now, that wasn’t necessarily a failing on the characters, more so as it was a concern on my part languishing over from years of hours wiled away in slews of strategy games. I just like running the show and while the combat is oddly unique in Endless, there is something intangibly fun and cinematically charming about it that I found repetitiously enthralling.
Utilizing a rock-paper-scissor style of combat with cards that allow various fleet actions, flotillas of vessels jump into an area and close with each other engaging while utilizing the different cards which can enhance or be overridden by the opposing forces cards, limiting their usability. On one hand, there’s something delightfully ingenious about it, but it also felt lacking in personality at times, which may fail in achieving a timeless quality with some players.
Similarly, the territorial expansionism the game continues to perpetuate, combined with diplomatic means feels a bit cold and sterile during certain moments. While there are slews of options, anomalies and varied circumstances that can make each new planet new, diverse and ultimately extremely interesting there are an equal, if not more, that are just another planet to be discovered, colonized and exploited to contribute back into the whole of the empire. And damned if it’s hard to keep everyone happy.
Realistically, Endless Space is fun, but quantifiably so. The nigh infinite amount of options coupled with the Disharmony DLC and other content from Amplitude has made it a vast experience that can easily supplant any and all responsibilities you may have had in a given day, week or months – continually asking a bit more time without necessarily demanding it – which sets it apart slightly from world-builders like Civilization. The ruling of an empire, from research to economics and onwards to heroes and warfare are all interesting in their own rights, but lack a standing personality that will make it a recurring topic in discussions on the genre a decade down the line.
For the time being though, Endless and Disharmony are good times that warrant some slow-paced attention. The sort of game where you can snack comfortably with a well-mixed drink in hand and slowly, but surely, watch your influence spread across the galaxy, one way or another. But for all that the game lacks, it brings contemporary sci-fi themes wrapped in a laudably modifiable package. And, almost surreptitiously though, Endless will usurp whatever you had planned for the rest of the evening and, perhaps on more than one occasion, will cause the player to catch a sunrise.
Final Score: 3 / 5