Too Long; Didn't Play: Endless Space

Sponsored By: Math

What’s the bounding on variable Endless? 89 minutes

XXX Review

Nope. Not going there. Try Mass Effect instead if you want one of those space games.

XXXX Review

I never remember what the four exes are in a 4X game. Explore, Exploit, Exposit and Execute? Examine, Express, Exchange and Extract? Extrude, Experiment, Extemporize, and Explode? Exit an adult film?

A web search reminds me that it means Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate, which strikes me as a fancy way of applying the logic behind the term “murder simulator” to strategy games. Way to own that pejorative! Good show!

The last 4X game I played and enjoyed was Sins of a Solar Empire, but I don’t know if that counts as a 4X game. It’s the nearest analogue to Endless Space that I have in my history, so I’m going to say that it is. They both have the core “get big and conquer everyone” objective, and they both have massive, impenetrable tech trees. The main difference is that Sins of a Solar Empire is a real-time 4X game, and Endless Space is turn-based.

In practice, that means that the tech trees in Endless Space are considerably more complex, because the player has time to mull over options. If you’re worried about not knowing what to do, Endless Space will explain everything, at length, the first time you open any menu. Pay attention, because it will give you this explanation exactly once. There will be a test later.

Tutorials in complex games like this are tricky to do right, and on balance I’d say I prefer the brief-wall-of-text tutorial of Endless Space to the make-the-player-use-menus-that-will-be-grayed-out-for-the-first-500-hours tutorials in, say, Europa Universalis IV (which is another game that may or may not be a 4X game, but it has all of the elements that count as far as I’m concerned). Endless Space tells you everything you need to know to make sense of the available menus, and then it sends you on your way.

A few things aren’t explained (or I missed them while reading the big wall o’ tutorial), but maybe they don’t need to be. For example, research options in the tech tree have a cost associated with them. I am eighty-percent certain I didn’t have enough of whatever currency I needed to begin research, but the game let me do it anyway. Now, I said I was only eighty-percent sure I didn’t have the resources, and that’s because I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what menu option brings up my currency wallet. How much dust do I have? I don’t know, and I can’t make the game tell me. It’s like being a college student with my first credit card. Well, I guess I’ll just buy stuff until someone tells me I’m out of money then.

So far I’ve been playing on the easiest difficulty, so I haven’t actually encountered any other civilizations as I explore and expatriate. My scout ship found some hostile forces, but since I hadn’t researched any offensive technologies (the research branch for F-bombs hasn’t been unlocked yet) I recalled my scouts as quickly as their little hyperdrives would carry them. When they got back home four turns later, I forgot why I recalled them in the first place and sent them back out, and they haven’t run into anyone since. So I may be doing crummy on the Exterminate thing, but my Explore game is top flight.

On the other two X parameters, I’m muddling through. Expansion is proceeding apace, but I’m not entirely sure about the Exploiting thing. So far I’ve only been able to increase mining efficiency and boost food production, which seems less like exploitation and more like “competent resource management.” But hey, po-tay-to, po-tah-to, right?

I’m enjoying my time with Endless Space – more so than I did with Endless Legend – and I’ve spent some time thinking about why that is. Endless Legend has a campaign mode in which it tells you to do things without telling you how. Endless Space only has a skirmish mode – which is another thing that compares favorably to Sins of a Solar Empire – which means I can do what I want, when I want and why I want. If I lose, I can start over and not make that mistake again. I prefer to play strategy games like I play my roguelikes: quickly and haphazardly, and the lack of a campaign means I don’t have to feel guilty about ignoring the hours and hours of work done by writers and level designers and instead replay the same scenario over and over again.

Will I Space Out Endlessly?

Endless Space has captured my interest, and I think I’ll keep it around for when I’m in the mood for some low-pressure tech-tree management. (I have other options for high-pressure tech-tree management).

Is it the Dark Souls of 4X games?

Nope. The developer clearly says Amplitude Studios, not Paradox.

I know I’ve told that joke before, but cut me some slack. I’m trying to grow my Exploit skill by strip mining some old jokes for the last few laughs they contain.

And I’ll need the practice, because someday I might feel compelled to turn the difficulty up to level two of eight. Presumably, that means that I’ll have to have mastered at least one X to beat the AI. Right now, I’m on level one, and I expect that means I have to be good at half an X.

So as long as the game lets you half-X your strategy, it can’t be the Dark Souls of 4X games. One out of Eight souls.

Comments

Glad you're enjoying it!

Re: the research costs, here's the first bad analogy I could come up with...
Think of the techs on the research tree as little buckets.
The "cost" listed is how much that bucket holds.
Each turn your "research output" is dumped into the chosen bucket.
When you fill the bucket, you get the tech.

Unfortunately it's been a while since I played ES1, so I can't recall where to look in order to find out how much research you're outputting per turn. Probably on the tech tree somewhere.

No "Is space an issue? Does it have to be a 4x?" puns? Missed opportunity, there.

I bounced off this pretty hard originally. I may go back and try again.

Nice review. So this has no campaign-type mode? I wonder if the sequel does... I liked the mechanics of Sins of a Solar Empire, but I do not like the sandbox open ended lack of story.

LeapingGnome - Endless Space 2 (and I think to some degree Endless Space) have mission sets for each of the species which provide some story and context as well as explain unique mechanics. However, neither has a real campaign, so if you're looking for a more guided or tactical experience this might not scratch that itch.

In my mind what makes Endless Space/2 stand out is that it features a hybrid turn-based/real-time fleet combat system. It's both fun to watch and very easy to control, so it can make the combat portion of the game far more interesting than a Civilization equivalent.