Explore. Expand. Exploit. Exterminate. These are the four tenets of 4X video games; the four pillars upon which an entire genre of gaming rests. You scout through the fog of war and discover new lands. You plant your peoples’ flag on these lands, claiming them for your own. You drive your own territory down to skin and bones, through incessant mining and farming. And you amass yourself a military force like no other, using clever micromanagement and tactics to ensure that your civilization lives on while others perish. Endless Space is a 4X game created by 4X enthusiasts – one that doesn’t just abide by, but embraces the four tenets of the genre so wholeheartedly that myself, and other fans of the genre, will find themselves so engrossed in their galactic conquest that, by 4 in the morning, we’ll agree with each other that this is a game that can proudly stand alongside Master of Orion and Sid Meier’s Civilization as one of the best examples of the genre.
As with any 4X game, Endless Space will require a large investment of time and energy if you’re going to take it seriously. Without putting in this effort, you’ll honestly have a tough time conquering the galaxy even on the easiest difficulty setting. But if you are prepared to embark on the journey that is Endless Space, you can be prepared for one of the greatest strategic gaming experiences that you can imagine. You take charge of one of eight space-faring civilizations, each taking their first toddler steps towards galactic conquest. Beginning with a single colonized planet on a single star system, it’s your duty to expand your civilization throughout the stars – exploring and settling in neighbouring systems and, eventually, travelling through wormholes and making the galaxy your own. The technology tree is divided into four distinct sections, each loosely modelled after one of the tenets of 4X. Star systems can contain a number of different planet types and sizes – jungle, ocean, lava, gaseous, even asteroid belts can be colonized eventually.
But I digress. There is so much more to Endless Space than its depth, which is really considered a necessity in any strategy game. Each of the 8 civilisations is balanced to perfection, and you can just as easily take victory through incessant colonisation and clever diplomacy as you can through amassing an indestructible military force. A hero system enables you to hire heroes, which are available in a very limited number, and assign them as either governors for your star systems or admirals for your ship fleets. Heroes can be one of five classes, each with distinct ability trees which advance as they level up.
One of the most unique features of Endless Space is the turn-based/real-time mashup of the tactical battle planning. Battles consist of three stages – long range, short range, and melee – and you can either simulate your fleet’s battles or choose to manually oversee and organise the tactics. At each stage, you’re tasked to select a battle card, each of a distinct tactic, in order to counter the card that you expect your opponent to play. Unfortunately, in a match against AI, this seems like a bit of a pot luck scenario rather than true tactics. It feels a lot better in a match against real people, as you can at least try to predict what your opponent will do, yet it still lacks the sort of tactics that one would expect from a 4X game. Due to the nature of the world map, there’s no flanking benefits or terrain benefits; and so, while I’m glad that it’s not just a matter of higher-number-wins, it seems to lack the depth in combat, even with the beautiful-looking tactical combat screen. Your ships can be very highly customised – your missiles, engine, shields, etc can be tweaked to suit your specific needs – but in the end, the battles really come down to a roll of a dice.
And everything looks nice. Very, very nice. The graphics are all crisp and the buttons intuitive. Endless Space has the epic scope that is necessary for a space-based 4X game – assuming you choose the correct settings, the galaxy feels like a galaxy. Each star system menu looks fantastic. I just wish there was a way to rename a planet from the generic numbered star system name to something custom – maybe there is and I just haven’t figured it out, I dunno. On that note, the tutorials could be a lot better. The first time you enter any type of screen, you’re greeted with a pop-up wall of text that explains every little button on the screen at once. This, of course, resulted in me skipping the tutorials and then thinking “oh shit, what am I supposed to do?”
A limit of seven opponents bottlenecks the grand scale of any one game – remember those games of Civilization in which you set a huge map with like 24 opponents? Well, while the map will still feel as big, the diplomatic options and complex alliances are are comparatively non-existent in these large games. Customising the shape and star density of your galaxy is an excellent touch though, adding another level of control you have over your in-game experience.
While it does have its host of problems, these are issues that can easily plague any 4X game. The core concepts, however, are explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate, and Endless Space is the pure embodiment (in video games) of these tenets. Each is perfectly explored, for want of a better word, and perfectly balanced, with no one ideal taking superiority over the others. The combination of these factors, as well as the obvious influence of the strong pedigree boasted by the developers, result in Endless Space being one of the best 4X games released in recent years. This should quench the thirst of those longing for a quality sci-fi 4X game – standing alongside Sins of a Solar Empire, this is a true spiritual successor to the much-loved classics of the ages.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Endless Space by Amplitude Studios.