Endless Space 2 is the latest game by Amplitude Studios, the team behind the famous Endless series, all games which I thoroughly enjoyed despite its flaws. The game has officially launched on Steam on the 19th of May, after being on Steam’s Early Access program since early October in 2016.
Like its predecessor, and very much like its brother Endless Legend, Endless Space 2 is a turn-based 4X strategy game with a strong sci-fi theme to it. The game improves on pretty much every single aspect of the original, adding not only a lot more depth to it but also by adding a lot more variety. The game consists of you, playing as one of the eight different empires, trying to become the dominant one in the galaxy by emerging victorious through one of the six different victory conditions. These range from simple conquest of enemy homeworlds to building wonders or becoming an economic powerhouse. There is a vast range of possible ways that you can use to achieve one of these victory conditions, especially when you take into account the different playstyles that each different empire can develop, thus providing a suitable experience for people with different playstyles.
Usually, story and narrative aren’t the strongest suit of a strategy game but, like other games in the Endless series, Endless Space 2 world building manages to be superb and it’s one of the main reasons why I find the game to be so compelling. Very much unlike the original game, but more in the veins of Endless Legend, Endless Space 2 features a quest and event system. These two not only give the player some sense of purpose, especially to those who tend to get lost in these kinds of games that can go on for dozens of hours, but it also provides some sort of narrative which is partially unique to the empire you’re playing as. With that said, the detail that has been put behind each construction and research options, in their own descriptions, is really staggering. Just a single paragraph, like the ones used as descriptions,add so much to the already vast and intriguing lore of the Endless universe that, at times, it doesn’t even seem that you’re playing a 4X game but, instead, that you’re playing a much more narrative focused game.
It has been a few years since I played the first game but, if my doesn’t fail me, this sequel is clearly an improvement all across the board in terms of gameplay. You’ll be expanding your empire while increasing your pool of the many resources in the game, from the main ones such as food, industry, dust, science, influence and manpower, to rarer ones like luxury and strategic resources. The production of the former group of resources is dependant on the size of the population living on the planet where you have these resources. However, you can construct system improvements in order to increase your production even further. With that said, resources like food and industry are exclusive to the star system they’re produced, while other resources like science and dust are shared throughout your entire empire. This is done so that the cumulative amount of science you produce per turn helps increase the speed of technology research, for example, while food increases a star system population growth and while industry decreases the amount of turns it takes in order to construct something.
Like other games in the genre, in Endless Space 2 researching new technologies is imperative to your success. The research tree is divided into four different sections, military, empire development, economy & trade and science & exploration. In turn, each one of these sections is subdivided into different tiers, and in order to access a higher tier you’ll have to research a certain amount of technologies on the highest tier you can access at any given moment. As far as dust and influence go, these can be used to instantly complete production and research queues or to build specific things. Still, influence is vital in the development of relationships with minor factions and in influencing the political sphere of your own empire. Minor factions can be approached via peaceful means, which gives you specific bonuses while you’re in good terms, or via a more militaristic approach. In any case, you’ll be able to assimilate them into your empire sooner or later, which gives you even more bonuses and also gives you more population diversity. Not only the game has a diplomacy element to it, but it also has a strong political side to every action you take. Your actions can affect the six political parties stances and, every 20 turns there will be elections, where you’ll be able to show your official support to one of the parties, and the winners will get to occupy the senate. On that note, you’ll be able to pass laws, depending on the parties that have a seat in the senate, which provide massive bonuses to your empire but which are subject to your influence and the influence of specific political parties. Going back to the population types, there is quite a fair amount of depth put into it, which is worth delving into. Your population is also divided into the several different political parties with each reacting differently to specific political outputs and choices that you make, which will affect the popularity of these parties in each election. Besides that, there’s also an element of happiness to each star system’s population which directly affects your research production.
In terms of actual map layout, the game is mostly played either from the galaxy map or the star system screen. From the galaxy map you can see different constellations, which are composed by star systems. You can interact with them by zooming in and inspecting individual planets. In the same sense, you also command fleets through the galaxy view, which can be composed of one or multiple ships. On that note, exploration and travelling is initially done via star lanes, which connect the various star systems, or, once you discover that technology, via warp drives when you want to reach another star constellation. Still, fleets can only be issued new orders once they arrive at their destination, you can’t issue them new orders while they’re in the middle of a star lane. In regards to planet variety, which was a key feature in the first game, that’s even better in this one, with planets of all sorts, providing a lot more room for discovery and replayability. Some have unique luxury resources, strategic resources, moons, ruins or special characteristics that allow you to develop a certain specialization. They can also contain certain anomalies which you can investigate, either by sending a probe with a ship from orbit, or by creating an expedition if you have colonized a planet on that given star system.
Now, one other big part of the game are the spaceships themselves, because what would be a space themed game without those, right? Each ship hull in the game fits a specific role, so individual ship design plays a huge role. You can design your own ships from scratch upon selecting one of various hull types, provided that you’ve researched them. During the design process you’ll be able to give your ship a name and select individual modules for it, which come in three different variants, weapon, defense and support modules. This resumes to choosing between a wide range of energy and projectile weapons, plating and shields, as well as a series of support modules that grant you bonuses or certain abilities. In turn, different kinds of these modules work better with specific hull types designed for certain tasks, such as, exploration, attacking or tanking. Besides that you’ll also get to choose a series of tactics cards which you’ll be able to use at the beginning of a battle. The game does give you room to customize things to your liking, and to use both a combination of different ship designs with different tactics to turn the tide of battle in your favour but, ultimately, like the first game, I feel like the combat, despite having improved, is still one of the weakest parts of the game.
Combat is really basic and you have no real way to affect the outcome besides choosing a tactic and employing your fleet before battle. While you do get to watch the fleets battle each other, you have no direct control over your ships. This results in you having to plan and take a wild guess on the enemies weapons systems, their defenses and effective range before battle, while also checking out the odds, in order to engage with a specific type of ships and tactics. I’m pretty sure the combat was one of the weakest and most criticized elements of the first game, and so, the fact that they decided to stick with the same combat system really boggles my mind. The game also features ground combat but this is even more basic than space combat, since it consists only of three different unit types, infantry, armour and air. In any case, each have their own stats and effective range of combat. The game also features a unique set of units called Heroes. These are unique on their own and have their own role, personal back story and their own set of skills that you can develop as they level up. These units can be assigned either to fleets or systems, in order to boost their overall effectiveness. Besides that, they also have their own unique ship that you can customize and assign to a fleet.
One thing that really benefits the game in terms of longevity and replayability is the fact that it supports Steam Workshop, which has already allowed many users to share their creations, that not only add new things to the game, but also optimize or balance out several aspects of the game’s mechanics. For those who like to customize things to your liking, you’ll be glad to know that the game allows you to rebind keys. There are also separate audio sliders for music, sound effects, interface and master volume. However, one thing that did disappoint me was the graphics menu, which is rather minimalistic. It only allows you to choose one from six presets. Still, the game does provide a description as to what each one of these has activated or not, as in, the amount of anti-aliasing, pixel light count, amongst others features.
Alongside the combat, the other main complaint that most people seem to have with the game right now is that it has a fair share amount of bugs. One issue that I have encountered repeatedly consists in the game crashing during the initial loading screen every now and then, which is kind of a nuisance. I also came across another bug, which was the game freezing whenever I selected a newly found star system. Luckily, I was able to bypass this by disabling the cutscenes in the game’s options menu. One other bug which I haven’t encountered yet, but that I’ve seen some people complaining about in the forums is that the game can stop responding, whenever there’s an election, and that happens every 20 turns, which I think forces you to start a whole new game.
One small caveat I have with the game are the sound effects, most notably during combat, because they sound rather dull. On the other hand, the soundtrack is a masterpiece on its own. The battle themes and the main theme are extremely enjoyable to listen to, and I often found myself just idling while listening to these tracks. In any case, where the game’s music and the work of FlybyNo really shines is in the individual factions themes. These are exceptionally unique on their own, and give you a sense of overwhelming discovery and the dawn of a new empire, which is more than enough to give you goosebumps. In the same sense, the game’s visuals and art direction is breathtaking. From the splash art to the individual ship design from different empires look and the unique planet designs that change slightly as you colonize them, everything looks top-notch.
In terms of UI the game has a very clean look to it, and small icons and other little details really help in performing simultaneous and different actions more smoothly. In the end this helps new players quite a lot since everything feels fairly intuitive. With that said, the game has many surprises in store for you, that you’ll unravel as you play, and this is one of the main reasons as to why this game is so engaging and addictive at first. The game is so much better in every possible way when compared to the original. The attention to detail is spot on. Each building and research has its own tiny bit of lore that makes even the slightest thing sound so much more interesting. Still, no matter how much fun and how good I think the game is, and the potential it still has to become a lot more, bugs need to be taken care of because, as of right now, they seem to detract from the experience quite a lot. If the bugs were eliminated and the combat was more engaging, giving you direct control of individual ships, this would probably be one of the best 4X games I had ever played. As it stands, it’s a very good game on its own and I’m looking forward to see how it will evolve.