Posted on December 2, 2016
Endless Space 2, Early Access First Impressions
For anyone who likes space adventure and conquest games that are a bit demanding, Endless Space is a gem. Amplitude, the studio behind this intergalactic 4X game is back with a second episode that is now in Early Access on Steam. After the success of the first, expectations are high. Good news, Endless Space 2 didn’t stray too far from what made the success of its predecessor.
With Sins of a Solar Empire, Master of Orion, Civilization: Beyond Earth, Galactic Civilizations (no relation to the former) or even the excellent Stellaris, the 4X genre (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate) seems irremediably attracted by the concepts of infinite space and galactic empires. And while this may came as surprising for some, the first 4X game, Reach for the Stars released in 1983, took place in outer space. Almost thirty years later, it is a French studio that stands out in this genre with Endless Space, a title that has now reached the status of cult for all the space opera lovers. Do not forget that Amplitude is also one of those studios that always seem to know how to renew its successful licenses. After passing through the medieval fantasy with another 4X called Endless Legend, and the dungeon-crawler with Dungeon of the Endless, Amplitude goes back to Endless Space, this time under the banner of Sega.
First of all, keep in mind that the game is in early access. Regardless, the game still looks great in its final version and no noticeable bugs have affected my gameplay so far. Moreover, developers are always working to improve what can still be improved, and slowly adding the many missing features. Thus, there are only two types of victory conditions available in early access, scoring and military, which somewhat limits the game experience. Regarding the races, there are currently 4 available ones. And big news, they are totally asymmetrical, each has its own style of play.
The Cravers, for example, are militaristic, expansionist and generally motivated by a desire to destroy, where Sophons are nice scholars, most likely to focus on scientific development than on fights. The Lumeris, meanwhile, are merchants, always looking for their best financial interests. The Vodyani, however, are difficult to describe. This race is the result of uncontrolled overdevelopment, and literally sucks the resources of the planets they encounter without bothering to colonize them.
The principle remains unchanged from the setting of Endless Space: the player is the leader of a nation in the middle of space, which will expand its empire and explore the galaxy, develop itself technologically and militarily, but also manage its domestic policy, with a galactic senate system divided between factions or clans. These are separated according to their affinities (Ecologists, Religious, Militarists, Pacifists, Industrialists), their loyalty to you changing according to your actions. Moreover, the atmosphere of Endless Space is still clearly present, both in the the interface and some of the new options. Evidence that a studio take the best of its previous titles to offer increasingly complete and enjoyable games.
UI navigation is now much more fluid, without the player being drowned in numbers with each click. Tabs display the minimum required information, without polluting the statistics screen, which are obtained through the very friendly “scan” function. This displays the details of planets, their economy, their population, and so on. No need to beat around the bush, the interface is rid of all reproaches that we could have against Endless Space.
Diplomacy and policies will play a major role in Endless Space 2. Each player action, from the choices of quest to the assimilation of other races, and even technological research or construction of buildings, will impact the factions within your senate and the results of elections held regularly. And the weight of each faction will determine which laws you can vote for or repeal, knowing that the dominant political faction can pass laws without your consent. Note that (fortunately?) you can rig elections by funding your candidate, bribing or threatening the opposing candidates, and so on. Thankfully, these shenanigans are rarely required, and the political changes regarding who is in power can sometimes be beneficial. Additionally, certain quests will move the senate towards the direction you desire, or conversely bring about the end of your empire, plunging into the sort of political anarchy that has Trump elected as president.
Regarding the military matters, some might be disappointed to see that there are no fight where your are in manual control. You are the emperor, not a lowly space admiral. The fighting, generally offers three tactical choices, more or less compatible with the type of vessels or land units that you encounter. It is, admittedly, a bit limited and we can only hope for the addition or more options in the final version of Endless Space 2. But for now, depending on your choice and the forces you are fighting, it is the AI that determines the outcome of the battle, the player here being only a passive spectator.
As it stands, Endless Space 2 promises to be a great title. Graphically beautiful, intuitive and readable without disappointing fans of 4X hardcore games. The developers are really taking advantage of the Early Access to reveal its flaws and improve the game. Each patch balances the game with a number of fixes, gradually correcting anything fans could complain about on release. We can also expect new playable races, perhaps new political factions, a more extensive technology tree and a fleet that moves a bit faster. What really matters is the transformation of gameplay, more intuitive, more fluid, more accessible, strongly inspired by Endless Legend.