Real Talk By: Eva
Amplitude Studios’ “Endless Space” is the new turn-based strategy on the block–following in the footsteps of other titans of micromanagement, such as Sins of a Solar Empire, and the ubiquitous Civilization series.
Endless Space offers up a very crisp and streamlined rendition of the traditional turn-based goulash, with easy, navigable interfaces, and a tutorial, which, while lacking in demonstrative animations, can be conjured up in the middle of any game, in order to refresh yourself on the many tooltips. This is not to say the game is without a serious learning curve. As you’ll be punished for wasted turns and ill-advised choices in upgrades and research, the magnitude of information that one has to digest (in upgrades and tech trees alone) simply to win a 1 v 1 on normal difficulty, is tremendously daunting. The AI is brutal and unforgiving, even on the lesser difficulties, so a more leisurely stroll on “Newbie” difficulty might be necessary for even the most veteran of turn-based gamers, at least until they can get themselves acquainted with the lay of everything.
The maps are arranged upon the arms of a galactic spiral, with star/planetary systems forming the grid upon which one expands their empire. The various colonizable systems come in a variety of ‘flavors’, such as desert or ice planets, and are prey to certain naturally occurring anomalies, like magnetic fields or a methane atmosphere. Without the proper research, many systems are too inhospitable to be settled upon, so sending out scouts is imperative in the early game, that you might survey the most proximal systems and have the proper technologies to tame them by the time they’re in your grasp. Anomalies are another factor that will affect what resources can be harvested, and how easily and in what numbers your colonists might settle upon new systems. (People aren’t too fond of breathing methane, I’ve discovered.) As complex as it can be, it is in Endless Space’s colony research that we see one of the game’s more streamlined features, as improvements and research effects are blanketed, and will apply to ALL of your colonies–which goes far in minimizing some of the micromanaging fatigue.
‘Heroes’ can be hired to assist you–both in leading forces in battle, and in governing your colonies. They’ll apply bonuses to your resource intake and military strength, in exchange for “Dust”–being the currency of the game. Heroes lend the game a little bit of story and personality, as they each possess a portrait and a small blurb about their achievements. However, other than these short descriptions on the Heroes, and a single opening cinematic for each faction, the various empires have little in the way of personality, and thus come off as a little faceless. Certainly, Endless Space is not much a game for storytelling, and the immersion extends only to the gameplay, and not the sci-fi universe it takes place in.
Before too terribly long in a game, you’ll start bumping into the the other faction(s), who, without some initial diplomacy, will all start out on a ‘Cold War’ status with you, and be able to engage your forces in any unoccupied territory. Combat is an interesting and oftentimes nail-biting affair, composed of three main phases: Long Range, Middle-Range and Melee Combat. As you move through each phase, you’ll watch a cinematic of your ships going toe-to-toe with the enemy, before a set of cards–embodying your fleet’s capabilities in both offense and defense–are displayed. By anticipating the capabilities of the enemy fleet and the cards that they are likely to be using, you must pick the card that is most likely to give you the greatest benefit. Cards come in all sorts of varieties, and represent everything from cloaking devices, to countermeasures used in sabotaging enemy guns. When you’ve chosen a card, it will be matched against the enemy’s–and a rock/paper/scissors decision will settle who has won the bout. However, victory in the three phases does not necessarily determine victory on the battlefield: how well a ship is upgraded is far more important than how well one did in with the card-play. There were many times when even after winning a combat phase, the resultant cinematic would show my fleet erupting into flames. Again, the AI is relentless, so it seems as though even a single turn spent dawdling, will find you woefully behind in technology and military strength.
All in all, Endless Space is another great turn-based strategy: a finely polished venture with all the fat trimmed out. However, for all its fine organization and helpful tutorials, it seems a title singularly unsuited for beginners of the genre, as the learning curve is steep and brutal, and the AI can be the stuff of nightmares.
Endless Space Gets
Out of Five
+Streamlined Interface and Tutorial
+’Blanket’ upgrades cut down on some of the more tedious micromanagement
+Addictive once picked up
-Brutal Learning Curve and Unforgiving AI
-Lacking in lore and story, which makes the factions seem faceless
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Review Copy Provided By Reverb Communications*