For the last few months my gaming interests have been shifting away from video games just a bit and moving more towards board gaming. Specifically hobby games like Arkham Horror, Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy, and Dust Tactics to name a few popular ones. There’s a point to that last statement and it will come to meaning shortly.
Endless Space was a game that I never saw coming as I’d been largely tuned out from gaming news. But that’s not to say I would have heard of it otherwise as I think most gamers might not have. Endless Space sort of slipped through the cracks and I was fortunate to have stumbled upon it .
If you’re familiar with the 4X genre – eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate – then you know more or less how Endless Space is going to play out. You start on a planet in your local solar system with a fledgling empire and no idea what’s really out there beyond your home star. Sounding familiar, human? From there on out it’s a mad dash across the galaxy to discover habitable planets, take advantage of the available resources, and protect your borders from competing alien empires. Along the way you’ll research new technologies, encounter aliens species, and either wage galactic warfare or engage in diplomatic relations with your neighbors. This is very similar to Civilization and one of my personal favorite board games, Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy.
The planets that you explore will have different compositions. Common planets will be gas giants and barren rocks. Terran worlds that are naturally life supporting for humans will be less common. There are numerous others to be found and although early on you won’t be able to colonize many of these planets future technologies that you acquire will enable you to exploit some of the less hospitable worlds.
The technology trees are divided in four categories – diplomatic, warfare, applied science, and environmental. While I haven’t explored the entire technology tree I’ve dived deeply into environmental research and I was able to expand across the galaxy pretty effectively. Through warfare I was able to start developing some pretty powerful weapon systems for my ships… or so I thought…
It didn’t take too long for me to realize I had spent way too much time colonizing worlds and exploiting their resources. When the aliens came they arrived in battle ready fleets and crushed any opposition I could throw at them. It was wholesale slaughter – space is a hostile place it seems. Battles are played out through automatic or manual modes. In automatic mode the battles are decided by the numbers and the stronger force emerges victorious. In manual mode you have a little more control over the subtleties of the encouter as your fleets close distance. You pick from a selection of cards to indicate what you wish for your fleet to do. You’ll pick one action for long range, one for medium range, and another yet for short range distance. So for example one card I play at a far distance will reduce enemy weapons accuracy. Medium distance I might raise up my shields. And up close I go all out blitz with my kinetic weapons. To be honest – the cutscenes are great and it could be argued that the real excitement is watching the battles unfold. Impatient gamers are going to pick automatic mode after the first manual encouter though I suspect.
There are different kinds of ships for the different species you play as – humans have colony ships to establish solar systems outside the home system. Defenders do just as you would assume – defend your colonies from aggressive opponents. Finally scout ships are great for quickly working your way through the galaxy to see what’s out there.
Admittedly I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of Endless Space having only tried a couple of species and pursuing a couple different types of victories. While I’ve not won a game yet playing on normal difficulty I feel like I learn something new every time that’s going to give me an advantage in future matches.
With Endless Space I almost feel as though I’m playing something originally tooled to be a board game. Maybe it’s just my recent foray into the world of cardboard but something tells me the person who designed this game brought the idea up for a board game and someone told them, “You’re crazy – this is going to make Twilight Imperium look like a round of Boggle…”. And thus it was born a video game!
So how do I feel about Endless Space? It may very well be one of my top games of the year. It has a great theme, solid strategy, and epic space battles… even if those battles are number crunches above all else…
If I had to cite anything negative about Endless Space it would be the tutorials. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are useless they don’t do a great job of teaching you how to play the game. You end up just click on random stuff and it tells you what it does. I like a game of this complexity to help lead me by the nose early on until I get the hang of stuff but the tutorials here. So the tutorials aren’t going to impress anyone. Also the mouse clicking action is really temperamental. You have to click in exactly the right spot for some objects which makes the learning process all the more difficult. Once you get over these poor design elements and know how to play and know where to click this game really opens up and starts to shine.
Endless Space is a PC game available through the Steam service for $29.99 and while it’s listed as an independent strategy game it feels just as well put together as any game out there. If this game were being published by EA or Firaxis you wouldn’t even know it was an indie title. I am very hopeful that the devs take away what they’ve learned from Endless Space to craft a sequel that improves upon this new and exciting series.
|Pros||Deep gameplay and well balanced strategy elements to satisfy any 4X fan|
|Cons||Uninspired tutorials and some difficult mouse clicking here and there|
|Verdict||One of the best strategy games to come along in a while. Play this with a pair of headphones and just space out. The best game you've never heard of. Improve the tutorials and the mouse response and it's damn near perfect.|