It’s very rare that a game comes along that moves me. Games like Last of Us and Witcher 3 have a habit of doing this on the regular. Great story lines do a great job sticking with you. All the while using characters that connect the player through relatable situations and emotions. Games like this have moved me. But with their story.
It’s even rarer that a game comes along that moves me without having to use these concepts. Instead, they find their own way into your head. You play and you play, at first, you don’t notice it. It’s just a cool game you tell yourself and I’m really enjoying it. But all of a sudden, it’s 5 am, the sun is coming up and you need to go to bed. Five more minutes can’t hurt.
Endless Space 2 is one of those games. A game where every turn is important, every move could mean your downfall. It forces not only care about the characters inside the game but also your own decisions.
A 4X Sci-Fi Epic created by the geniuses behind Endless Legend and the original Endless Space, Amplitude. Endless Space 2 begins with choosing one of 8 factions and from there, the galaxy is your oyster. Create a gigantic armada, crushing all who oppose you with sheer force. Or maybe form alliances and barter peace treaties between other empires. Fabricate trade routes and create systems full of industry.
Now a word of warning. Apart from a small dabble in Endless Legend. Only once. At a friend’s house. I’ve never actually played a dedicated 4X game. The closest thing I have to compare to it is the original Warlords series in the 90s or the Total War franchise. So this review is for the people who don’t know the terms, concepts, and strategies embedded into veterans brains.
As a beginner myself, the first thing that took me aback was the amount of icons, numbers, and notifications the game presents you with. A short tutorial tries its best to explain everything but otherwise, I found the game extremely intimidating to get into. At times it took me to force myself to play it, only to struggle with the basics of how the game works. It took until my third or fourth campaign did I finally get what everything meant, what the mechanics are and what technologies and buildings are better than others. How to upgrade your ships and how to colonise efficiently.
It’s a game about creating your own galactic empire and it does its job to such detail that every situation has been planned out effectively. In no way do they leave out choices that would otherwise be unavailable. Politics, trade, industry, technology and your military all must be considered before making choices for your chosen faction.
Every certain amount of turns an election is held, voted on by the populace. But only if you’ve not decided to become a dictatorship. These parties in power all have their own laws with certain bonuses you can set into effect, like fewer resources spent on building or forcing everyone to take exams to make them smarter.
Trade companies may become attracted to your empire as its market grows ever expansive, requesting headquarters on one of your systems to create trade routes between other empires. But only if a trade agreement as been accepted by the other factions.
Territory is important, as the generation of a resource named influence becomes larger, as do the borders of your empire. Represented by large circles around the star systems you control, the larger your empire the more small factions you assimilate into your empire, the more anomalies like black holes and collapsing stars that provide bonuses to your scientists.
Send out fleets of exploration vessels whose sole purpose is to map the rest of the galaxy, scout out the enemy and perform expeditions on planets to recover technology or resources. Or instead become a military powerhouse. Besieging enemy planets while defending from other empires.
What struck me the hardest was the sheer difference between the different factions in their playstyle, strengths, and weaknesses.
For example My favourite faction, the Vodyani, are a bunch of religious fanatics. After being driven from their home planet through over-industrialisation, they now reside on their ships. Draining a resource, exclusive to the Vodyani, called essence from other factions systems to build gigantic flying monoliths called Arks that you use to colonise other star systems. Unlike other factions, all construction is instead completed on the ark, allowing you to move the giant ship to a different star system to escape from incoming danger.
You have the Unfallen, a tree like people closely resembling treants. Their goal is to bring peace to the galaxy through diplomacy and eco-friendly solutions. Extending their empire by growing vines in between star systems that cause them to thrive with population, food and provide defence from enemy fleets.
Or the Lumeris. A fish like race of aliens that excel in trade. Using their mafia-like culture to intimidate and dominate the market.
Now let me tell you a story. One of loss, conquest, triumph and in the end, empty space in the wake of a long war. Peace in the galaxy had been a long standing affair. The Vodyani (my empire) had agreed to stop abducting the other factions people and in return, the other nations would stop attacking them. Truces, trade agreements, and peace had been bartered. Silently however, the Vodyani, surrounded by the Unfallen, the human United Empire and the bug-like warmongers in the Cravers, worked away building their fleets to punish the heathens of the other empires.
An alliance between two of the nations was declared and war with the Cravers was becoming more likely as time passed. The Vodyani took their opportunity and attacked the Cravers with full force, wiping out their entire population in the process and colonising their planets. With superior numbers, the Vodyani started to cut off the trade routes in between the United Empire and the Unfallen.
After war had been declared with these two nations, a third had now come into the fold. Horatio. An entire empire made up of clones from one man, Horatio. The Vodyani tried to make peace with this new strange empire and open up trade channels, offering man power and technology. However, the approval for the Vodyani was at an all time low in the galaxy. Their reputation for abducting and attacking friendly factions was not old news.
The Horatio declined the treaty and began to blockade the newly colonised Craver systems.
At this point the Vodyani had already seized a large chunk of territory from the other two enemy empires and was beginning to run out of resources to continue the assault, thus halting their advance. As the Vodyani replenished their fleets, the enemies military power grew, being able to contest against their powerful ships and huge flotillas.
The Vodyani were now surrounded by three factions all pushing to regain control of their territories. Although they continued to hold off the assaults. And after a long war the Vodyani finally pushed through with a few lucky victories and biding time concentrating all efforts on creating bigger and better ships. With all of the other empires military decimated in their attempts to gain control over the situation, the Vodyani pounced, swarming the other empires with sheer numbers and superior technology.
The United Empire was the first to fall. Fighting until the last man, they lost everything. Never surrendering and taking as many of the Vodyani scourge with them as they could. Their allies could not break through the blockaded systems designed to stop reinforcements from reaching them.
The clones were next. After taking the United Empire’s territory, the Vodyani had now separated the Unfallen and the industrial powerhouse in Horatio. Effectively blocking all ability for either faction to help each other, the crusades crushed them with ease as their military power was the far greater than of the other two.
Throughout the carnage, the Unfallen time and time again proposed peaceful solutions. Offering tribute to the Vodyani, trade opportunities and resources in abundance. Without mercy, the Vodyani crushed the peaceful treants, thus ending the war. That was until the next war with the factions from the other side of the galaxy had begun.
Now I’m not a good writer of fiction, but this in its self was about 110 turns of gameplay. And some of the most exciting 5-6 hours I have ever spent in a video game. It sounds like Science Fiction, but these are genuinely the situations you find your self in while playing Endless Space 2. Going back to my original opening about games moving me. Endless Space 2 puts the player into a galaxy and empowers them to create their own Sci-Fi.
Controversially, the game lacks no controllable combat to speak of. For long standing veterans of the 4X genre this is nothing new. But for a lot of new comers they might be surprised to find out that this is, in fact, nothing like Homeworld. I don’t think there’s anything like Homeworld but believe me when I say, it’s a good thing that there is no real time strategy elements at play here.
The thing is that when you find yourself in situations like the short story I provided and you’re at war with multiple factions or being attacked. You usually have to go through a good 5-10 space battles a turn. To play every single one of these out in real time would take way too long.
Combat is instead limited to an interface screen that provides a simple graph displaying the balance of power between the two sides. You then choose a tactic depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy fleet. Short range, Long range, Mid range, a mix of the two, things like that. The battle tactics also give you small bonuses like extra critical damage or a higher shield capacity.
There are also ground battles but these are even more simplistic than their+ brother. You can watch both play out in real time but this is only for cinematic value. While the space battles do look fantastic and the huge 30v30 fleet battles are incredibly detailed and explosive. Watching them does not allow you to have any kind of impact on the outcome however, so skipping the short video is usually the go to.
Endless Space 2 is about 90% interface and 10% actual graphical presentation. So that fact I find the game an absolute pleasure on my eyes is a big surprise for me. The game probably has the best UI I’ve ever seen in a video game, it’s clear, laid out in front of you and satisfying to navigate. The general galaxy map is no bore to look at either and does a number of things correctly but most of all, it’s easy to understand.
Now that’s not to say that the battle sequences with giant star systems in the background, laden with explosions, lasers, rockets and engine trails, aren’t gorgeous. They’re incredibly detailed and loud mosaics of destruction. Grand to the scale of epic proportions and reminiscent of the Battlestar Galactica series.
But the biggest selling point for me was easily the games soundtrack and overall sound design. Boy oh boy, did this game hit me with a haymaker and come back with roundhouse kick. The varied and dynamic excellence in the OST is perfectly subtle but beautiful at the same time. Done so well that after a few hours of playing you may have forgotten about the music completely, it’s just background noise that bear no residing prominence in your conscious mind. But later on when in bed, after a long session or maybe even the next day doing mundane tasks, you find your self softly humming a tune, a melody is playing in your head. The chorus’ and choirs united with a symphony of harps, pianos, woodwinds and electronic synthetic instruments. That, boys and girls, is a perfect OST if you ask me.
The actual sound design itself keeps in the same theme as the UI. Simplistic and responsive, but detailed and beautiful. Every click of the button lets you know what action is being performed but never becomes an ear sore or repetitive. The voice acting isn’t the absolute best but it’s so far and few in between I hardly noticed any small issues I otherwise could have found with the choices Amplitude decided to go with.
Endless Space 2 does something that very little games do or even try to do these days. It made me care about the outcomes of my decisions. Not in the same way that any other cinematic game would where a dialogue option means my character does something good or bad. But it made me feel guilt after wiping out a peaceful people when they begged for mercy. It made me feel wrathful once an allied faction decided to turn on me. And most of all, I always felt in control of the outcome. Aside from a few bugs here and there that I do expect to be fixed at some point, the game speaks to my inner Sci-Fi fan boy.
A game I’d recommend to anyone. A relaxing and masterfully created playground of colour, emptiness and beauty. A sandbox where the universe feels real and an epic sci-fi where the possibilities are endless.