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Endless Space Review

By on July 10th, 2012 1:42 pm

Endless Space

Endless Space is a 4X turn-based space strategy game consisting of up to 8 unique races, each striving to obtain victory over the rest of the galaxy. The 4X’s are of course, eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. Endless Space is brought to us by Amplitude Studios, an independent video games studio based in Paris.

I am going to break my review down into these 4 categories to explain how Endless Space handles each of them. As some people may care more or less about a certain category, I hope this helps them make their decision on whether or not this game is the right choice for them.

Exploring Endless Space

The exploration phase is where you will spend the bulk of your time in the early game. This is the phase where you will traditionally begin mapping the galaxy by scouting out your surroundings in search of inhabitable planets and discoveries. It is typically one of my favorite phases as it offers the opportunity for numerous suprise moments and is usually free of the micromanagement tedium that sometimes fills the mid-late phases of 4X games.

Travel in Endless Space is traditional, and consists initially of starlane travel, with technology allowing you to later travel via wormholes (starlanes you can cross in one turn, but which use all of your remaining movement) and eventually warp drive, which is essentially free travel between points without using a starlane or wormhole. This is a tried and true system used by many 4X games, and serves its purpose adequately. One issue I do have with their implementation of this system is that enemies in free space or between systems can not be engaged in combat in any way.

What you’ll be exploring on the galaxy map consists of numerous star systems, with each system having up to 6 colonizable planets. Each planet can in turn be one of many types ranging from Ocean and Terran to Lava and Methane Gas Giants. In addition, each planet can have one of several anomalies, some offering bonuses to things like food, industry, science, or dust (known collectively as FIDS), and system happiness. Other anomalies are negative, but by obtaining the proper technological discoveries, these effects can often be mitigated. Aside from the planet type and anomaly, the planet also has a chance of containing manufacturing and luxury goods of different types.

For each planet you colonize that contains a luxury good, you obtain a bonus in some ways similar to an anomaly. If you hold a majority of these luxury goods, you obtain an added monopoly bonus on top of the usual benefits. The manufacturing goods are often required for certain ship design components and hulls, but once you have at least one source, I find I am generally not that concerned with them. Having more than 4 in your possession does offer an empire wide bonus though. All in all, the system works well, and the UI both on the galaxy map and within the system map are excellent. It is very easy to see by looking at icons near the system exactly what the system contains in terms of planets, colonies, and goods.

Unfortunately, beyond the discovery of inhabitable planets and goods, there is very little else to discover out in space. There are no ancient tombs or pre-existing civilizations to discover, features which have long been present within the genre. Master of Orion II for instance allowed you to capture the planet Orion and receive exclusive technologies unavailable by normal means. In Distant Worlds you can find abandoned starships, ancient ruins, and space monsters.

These type of unique elements encourage exploration and really help spice up gameplay. Though some prefer a more static galaxy, I personally prefer a galaxy that appears to be teeming with life and is full of surprises. Though the game does feature nameless/faceless pirates, there is no interaction with them beyond attack/defend, and in that sense they are essentially space “monsters” flying ships. It would have been nice if there was a way to obtain services from them as I’ve seen in other games like Distant Worlds. Aside from the pirates, there are no space monsters or other threats to worry about during the exploration phases.

Endless Space

eXpanding your Empire

As you explore, you will also need to expand. Creating colony ships to inhabit new systems is again the standard here. Each colony ship subtracts one from the local population and takes a certain amount of your production points to construct.

Speaking of construction, it is worth mentioning that Endless Space uses a “system” based build queue. Though a system may have up to 6 planets, all production must funnel through one queue. Nearly all buildings, except for “Planetary Exploitations”, which are specific to the planet they are built on, are system wide buildings. They affect every planet in the system, and the entire systems population is used for any population based calculations. As you can probably guess, building something like Public-Private Partnerships (+1 science per system population) is a much bigger priority in a very heavily populated system than in an up and coming one where it will yield little return. There are some flat upgrades that offer +X science regardless of population that are more appropriate for small 1 or 2 planet systems.

Endless Space | Empire Management Screen

Now, coming back to expansion, in order to build a colony ship, you must dedicate all production until it is complete.

Endless Space uses a shared ship/building production queue. This can force some tough decisions very early on, as you must weight building something like a Heavy Isotope Factory (+10 production and an additional +1 per population on specific planet types only) versus early expansion. Depending on the planets you discover nearby in the short term, it may be worth colonizing a desirable world right away.

I must now cite what I consider a relatively major failing of the current game state. The Endless Space universe has 8 playable races, and every one of them will thrive best on a Jungle, Ocean, or Terran planet. Regardless of what their original homeworld type is, and a few of them do live on non-ideal homeworlds, they will still be seeking out the same planets and terraforming (once researched) existing planets to one of these ideal tier 1 planet types. The primary reason behind this is that the maximum population and output of these planets is higher than any other type. I would prefer that other planet types, especially their homeworld type, be just as ideal or even more ideal than the standard top tier planets.

As you continue to colonize, you will notice your new colony does not project a colored ring, called influence, for several turns after creation. During this early stage, your outpost can be invaded by other alien races without repercussions as long as you are in a state of cold war (this is the default state). Eventually, your colony will begin projecting influence of its own. This influence sphere can be viewed as a virtual barrier, and races you are not friendly with will not be able to colonize any systems that happen to fall within your sphere. Your ships will also have increased movement within one of your own spheres. Unlike some other games, you are unable to capture or claim enemy systems through the use of the influence.

eXploiting weaknesses

Exploitation is the phase for me that entails research, trade, construction, espionage, and diplomacy. Not only are resources being exploited, but other races are exploited as well during this phase.

Research consists of 4 technology trees, each a completely separate tree from all the others. The design behind each tree is fairly straightforward, and it is generally very easy to know what your research is going to provide you with and what you can get if you continue down that research path. There are technologies to unlock additional heroes (discussed later), larger fleet sizes, production buildings (FIDS increasers), ship hulls, battle cards, planetary exploitations (FIDS increasers that are planet rather than system specific), ship and travel speed modifiers, and a few other odds and ends. It is within the research trees also that you will unlock the ability to colonize new planet types, reduce anomaly effects, and explore moons (moons will sometimes contain a temple that grants a decent bonus to the system).

Overall research choices are interesting, but the vast majority of these trees are shared between all of the races. Each race does have a few unique techs, conveniently outlined in orange on the research screen, that are either truly unique or are techs juggled to a position earlier in the tree than usual to allow the race earlier access than other races. Even the unique choices are typically only slightly better versions of an ability or weapon someone else gets, and sometimes in the case of weapons there are higher level options available that make these unique choices obsolete anyway. This lack of diversity can hurt replayability as it homogenizes gameplay. Overall, I found that most of the races could be played the exact same way and be just as effective as one another. Only slight differences between them change this experience, but in the end aren’t compelling enough for me to desire to play them all. You can customize your own race from the ground up by the way, which is always nice.

Endless Space | Research

Trade is abstracted through the use of trade routes. Certain technologies will unlock the ability to have additional trade routes per system. If you are able to maintain peace with other races, you will receive some dust (currency) and science from each trade route. All of this is abstract to the player, and in the end viewing your systems and looking in the top right corner at the trade routes and gains is the only way I’ve found to see how trade is progressing. Unfortunately, there are no trade ships or other activities taking place on the galaxy map that show trade taking place. The system works, but is not exciting in the long run and wouldn’t be missed by me if it didn’t exist at all in the game.

Construction has been explained in the eXpansion section as taking place in a system wide queue. During the eXploitation phase, you will use your researched technologies to build new structures that increases the FIDS produced by your system. In addition, you may build some structures that enhance your defense against invasion or expand your influence. From the Empire overview on the galaxy map, you can assign an AI governor to control the production of from one up to all of your systems build queues. You can assign them a priority which helps them work towards your eventual goals. I typically choose Production or Science to promote the building of industry and science enhancing buildings.

Food is typically a non-issue as your colonies will continue to grow regardless as long as you have a positive gain each turn, which isn’t hard to do the majority of the time. A surplus of food is not generally useful, as unlike excess production, it can not initially, without research, be channeled towards extra science or dust generation when the build queue is empty. I do appreciate the presence of the governors as micromanagement is not something I particularly enjoy once my empire gets large and building production falls behind research. They appear to do a generally good job and make adjustments to accommodate newly researched technologies.

One other thing worth mentioning as it relates to construction and system development is tax rate and dust production. Unless you can achieve very happy colonies with high taxes, which is possible with advanced technology happiness increasing buildings, it is advised to set your taxes as low as possible. Dust isn’t particularly hard to come by and is worth much less than the huge production hits you will take from a non happy or ecstatic system happiness status. Right now, the balance is clearly off as happiness should not have as large an impact on FIDS as it currently does. And, since dust is not so limiting I see myself building the same improvements almost everywhere with no apparent negative  consequence, which makes system improvement construction a bit shallow at the moment.

Heroes are an element I have not yet discussed but which fall into both the eXploit and eXterminate categories. Heroes can be hired from the Academy and assigned tasks as either system administrators or fleet admirals within your empire. These heroes can level up and acquire new abilities as they gain experience. Administrators typically increase FIDS and happiness, while admirals will enhance the strength of your fleets with offensive and defensive bonuses and occasionally new battle cards. Assigning an administrator to a system can lead to large boosts as an experienced administrator can easily increase production of certain FIDS by 20%, 30%, or more. You are initially limited to 3 slots, but you can add more through research. Interestingly, the Horatio can clone their existing heroes and duplicate their really experienced and trained ones instantly. This is a very powerful ability when used correctly.

Diplomacy is pretty finely tuned at this point and has seen significant improvements throughout the beta and final release. In the initial stages of the game, all races begin in a state of cold war. This means you can attack each other’s ships and outposts (colonized worlds that have not yet become fully established with influence spheres) without a declaration of war. In order to establish peace, trade agreements, or alliances, you will have to complete some research in these fields. Once you have the proper agreement researched, I found that approaching the race with a bribe of some technology was often all it took to get them to sign a peace agreement and begin our relationship. In my most recent game on “serious” difficulty, which is above the game’s hard difficulty but is not the highest difficulty, I was able to quickly establish peace and trade agreements with 3 out of the other 4 races.

Endless Space | Diplomacy screen

If you’ve read my AAR, then you know that my alliances fell apart in the beta due to steep penalties for being near one of my allies and for maintaining a small military defense. This has thankfully been patched since then, and it is now easier to maintain peaceful relations as long as you don’t expand too large. My biggest remaining gripe about diplomacy is that it is not possible to make any requests of your allies or vice versa. They won’t ask for your assistance defending a planet, and you can’t ask them to send forces to defend you either.

Espionage is not present in the game at this time, but I wish it was.

eXterminate your enemies

Combat and victory conditions, that is what extermination is all about. Combat is of course, the most common element associated with extermination. Endless Space allows a player to obtain victory in multiple ways however, and I would be ignorant to suggest they aren’t viable ways to exterminate your opponent’s threat as well.

Combat in Endless Space is based on a rock-paper-scissors system at its core. Combat between two fleets is essentially an interactive movie. When you engage an enemy fleet, you are given the choice to simulate or manually control the battle. If you choose to manually control, you will be presented with a timer counting down the battle start and on the left side you will have three card slots, one each for long, medium, and melee range.

To better understand what these distances mean, I must first cover the weapon/armor types. It boils down to this. Missiles are okay in every phase but excel in long range. Lasers excel at medium range and closer and kinetics excel in melee range. Missiles are designed to be countered by flak, lasers by shields, and kinetics by deflectors. I typically used lasers as their accuracy at long range is still very good and you can typically eliminate a foe using kinetic or missile weapons within the long or early medium range phases. The AI was not very effective at retrofitting their ships in either my beta or post-release games. I was able to design ships that could effectively take down ships that had double their military value without even being scratched. Speaking of which, ship design is relatively basic due to these limited choices. You have 3 weapon choices, 3 defense choices, and then a group of engine, armor (HP), and miscellaneous upgrades you can tack on to one of the pre-existing hull’s you’ve researched.

In each phase of combat, you can play a card in advance. Each card has a type such as Engineering, Sabotage, Offense, Defense, etc. These offer various bonuses from 20% repairs to your ships for that phase, to + 40% to your shields, to -25% effectiveness of enemy defenses. These cards also counter another type of card. For instance, I may play an offense card that counters a defensive card. If my opponent plays a defensive card that round, it is voided and he receives 0 benefit from it.

Personally, I auto’d most battles unless I thought card choice would matter. In general, combat in Endless Space is a big negative for me. The pace of each round is quite slow and there is not much to watch aside from a line battle. Both sides literally line up across from one another, fire one of three weapons that come in a few colors each, and that’s it. Over, and over again. They recently added a free battle camera mode that allows you to move the camera to any position and angle during the space battle, but rather than make combat more interesting, it actually makes it more obvious how drab it actually is. In addition, you have limited time to select your cards to begin with, and trying to move the camera into position at the same time is quite difficult.

Defensive structures are not present in Endless Space, and this is a missed area of opportunity. I would love to see orbital defense stations added to the systems in the future so that systems behind the front lines can still maintain some minimal defense without a fleet. One particularly annoying aspect currently is that single scout ships can blockade an entire system’s production for a turn even when a huge defensive fleet is present in the system. It is very easy to auto a battle to eliminate them on your turn, but the next turn they may just fly another in and again reduce your production to zero for a turn. I ended up having to have clean up fleets in my systems just to clean out any scouts that flew in to harass me.

In addition to eliminating all your opponents in combat, you can also win the game through diplomacy (allegedly at this stage), supremacy (capture homeworlds), expansion (75% ownership of all systems), economic (obtain X amount of dust over the game), diplomacy, wonder, or score. I’ve successfully won the game by expansion several times, and I’ve also lost due to the AI obtaining an economic victory as I was finishing them off.

eXtras regarding AI and difficulty

AI is a very important part of single player gaming and especially strategy gaming (the game offers multiplayer by the way). If the AI plays poorly or too predictably, the game can quickly become repetitive. The AI in Endless Space is effective in some areas, but in other areas it plays rather poorly based on my experience with the Serious difficulty.

The AI seems to be quite effective at the exploration and expansion phases now, and was able to beat me to wormhole travel technology and expand earlier than I did. They also were quite competitive in system infrastructure, and managed to keep me out of 1st place for FIDS and research despite my emphasis in that area. Granted, they did have slightly more systems than I did, but I was still pleased to see that I was not able to blow past them through my strategic tech choices and system upgrades. In the end, I lost to a United Empire AI who was beating me in all victory conditions and who got so close to victory they forced me to go to war with them. While I was taking their systems, relatively easily I might add, they managed to beat me via economic victory as I mentioned.

That brings me to the combat aspect of the AI. As I mentioned, combat is a huge weakness in Endless Space in my opinion, and the AI doesn’t help make it any better. Even using the automatic battle option, my ships were crushing fleets twice their size without taking damage. I was able to bring my empire from dead last in military to #1 throughout the galaxy in around 30 turns of ship design/building. I built fleets of 3 Dreadnought ships that in total were around 8,000 military power. I was able to kill fleets of 15,000mp that were led by level 18 generals without my health bar even moving. This shows how strong the rock-paper-scissor mechanics are and how weak the AI is at adapting. Instead of retrofitting their ships to counter my lasers, they continued to build ships that I countered and I continued to take their system very quickly.

Ground combat does not exist in Endless Space. When you orbit an enemy system that does not have any defending ships, you simply press the invasion button and the strength of your ships invasion rating is compared to their planet’s defenses and some formula calculates how quickly you will take the system as evidenced by a circular bar around the system that gradually changes from their color to yours. Unfortunately, there are no ground battles to watch or even cinematics to accompany this.

Final Verdict

Endless Space is quite strong in some areas, but for me fails to bring the entire 4X package I had hoped for. The biggest controversy by far is their decision to go with cinematic battle card combat mechanics, and even beyond that, to use a very limited 3 weapon/3 defense system. Had the cinematics been more involving, with ships zooming around, smaller ships flanking larger ones, carriers launching fighters that harass, and ships displaying gaping holes as they got damaged, I would have enjoyed the combat a lot more. Even the ship explosions are rather lackluster and don’t give the audio feedback I’d expect.

If you can look past the combat shortcomings in design, AI, and mechanics, Endless Space is a great 4X game in many areas. The system wide upgrades make it easier to handle 5 and 6 planet systems without micromanagement nightmares. The UI is very slick and highly intuitive. It’s really easy to see at a glance what your empire and fleets are up to. I appreciate the level of detail they have put into making everything very accessible to the player.

I have experienced very few bugs during my time with the game, and not a single system crash since alpha. I did see ships I was at peace with bypassing my blockades without open borders being in place, but that was the only noticeable issue I encountered in my most recent game.

Endless Space

Ultimately, Endless Space is not a genre changer, but is a nice game at its strategy level with a relatively low learning curve. However, those looking for exciting combat or more involved strategy elements would likely be better served by other games based on my experiences.

My review is based on over 40 hours of gameplay overall and several completed campaigns during alpha, beta, and post-release.

Endless Space (PC, Mac)

Buy at GamersGate, GameSpot, Green Man Gaming, SteamIceberg Interactive or Amazon

Space Sector score:
8.0/10
great
The Good:
– Graphics and intuitive UI look great and readily provide essential info
– Managing planets/systems is intuitive and enjoyable
– AI is competent at system development and management and offers a challenge in these areas
– Low learning curve makes it a good choice for new players
The Bad:
– Combat is unexciting in both design and implementation
– Exploration is unrewarding with not enough surprises and life (static galaxy feel)
– Replayability is hindered by simplified gaming elements and limited racial diversity
– Fails to innovate or expand the genre

Keith Turner, also known as aReclusiveMind here on SpaceSector, has been an avid gamer ever since he first laid his hands on a Commodore 128 in the mid 1980s. He enjoys multiple computer game genres, but his primary interests are in deep strategy games, 4x games, rpgs, and action rpgs. He enjoys writing and hopes to contribute with additional reviews, previews, and informative AARs to the community. See all Keith’s posts here.

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42 Comments


  1. Hamil says:

    I can only say, i agree to all your points, the cons and pros. Endless space is fun to play for some hours. But the game mechanics and AI get boring too quickly.

  2. Chris Biot says:

    Great review, might get the game. Altough I am a sucker for exploring worlds, random events and such. I always liked that in MoO and GCII.

  3. Zero says:

    Nice comprehensive review. I really love reading these reviews as it’s like a checklist for me of stuff I want to address in StarDrive!

    • Adam Solo says:

      Good, because that’s part of the idea :) To help the players decide, but also to help the devs make better and better space strategy games. As people agree with the thoughts on the reviews of course.

      Now, you’ve been reading all these reviews about other space 4X games here, and in other places. There’s no excuse not to deliver what we all want. Of course, not all of us want the same, but generally we tend to agree in lots of things :)

    • Keith Turner says:

      Adam makes a great point. There are a lot of gamers out there, and even among us space strategy enthusiasts, opinions differ widely on what features a game should or should not contain. I do feel as though there are some basic elements everyone would agree on though.

      I don’t envy your position as a developer trying to appease us, that’s for sure. I do wish you the best of luck though!

  4. Mathias says:

    Yes, great review. I’ve been watching “let’s play”s of Endless Space and share your opinions as well. Fair score. Definitely not a 9. I don’t expect too much from LoP, so let’s see what comes next :)

    • Keith Turner says:

      Thanks for the comment on the review, I’m glad you liked it.

      I’ve been following Legends of Pegasus for awhile now and, like you, I’m not sure what to think yet. Word on their forums is that they will be releasing more videos showing gameplay soon. There are certainly a significant number of people asking for more info about the game on their forums.

      I think many of us would love to see LoP succeed since it is the closest thing to what SOTS II was supposed to be offering. Turn based with real time battles is a nice mixture I think. I’m a big fan of turn based/turn based battles as well though. Anyway, a new studio and IP offers a lot of potential… what they do with it we shall find out pretty soon.

  5. Jay says:

    Well if someone would just listen and make a game like DW but with Sins RT combat and ES UI I think we would have a winner. The problem is in a 4x game if you don’t get one thing right then it drags the rest of the game down. Of course SOTS II had everything wrong but the main thing is immersion. You have to have immersion to have a great 4x’er. That just one more turn feel along with exploration and combat down. LOP looks promising right now but we 4x’ers all know too well by now that looks can be deceiving.

  6. Ermdog says:

    I agree with just about everything you said Solo. Something that I didn’t think about was the random events, and random exploration events that they lack of. It could of been better.

    The Achilles heal is definitely the combat. It gets boring after a few times and there is no new visuals to see with upgraded weapons. The more I think of it, I guess the battle system in MOO2 is really the way to go. You had a say in what was going on as well as plenty of different visuals. One thing I noticed a lot about most current space 4x games, is most of them lack any weapon depth. Most of them go the route of just upgrading the current version until you reach its max potential. MOO2 had a lot of different weapons and visuals for those as well. It made so where battle didn’t seem boring and wasn’t always the same.

    They really came close to putting a great game together. They did a good job with the UI and planetary management, but its little things that make this from being a great game. I wonder how much, if any they will do to make this game better.

    • Ermdog says:

      Sorry, I meant Keith, thought Adam wrote this for some reason

    • Keith Turner says:

      You are right about MOO II. It has a lot of features and neat elements that recent titles just
      can’t seem to match. Prepare for a length post here. I want to make a few observations about what MOO II has done that not a lot of other games have, and I’ll compare to Endless Space directly in a few places. To make the whole story short, I haven’t seen a game yet that has mastered both the stategy and tactical gameplay as well as MOO II. Some games do well at the tactical side, others do well at the strategy side, but none that I’ve played seem to bring it all together.

      Combat wise: (Turn based is rather rare of course… but beyond that…)
      The weapon system it uses offers a lot of variety. The vast majority of the weapons can be
      miniaturized and/or modified as you make technological advances. This helps avoid the tendency to always use the best weapon as a lesser weapon may be really useful with a certain mod attached, perhaps even more useful than the new toy you just got. Missiles can be built to take out engines and allow you to close in, they can be built to avoid anti-missile defenses, or they can be built to fire more warheads at a time. Torpedos have their own characteristics that make them quite different from missiles. Beams can be built for close range combat, for more accuracy, and even for defense. You also have to factor in their facing and firing arc. There are also weapons that can bypass some defenses (shields/armor/anti-missiles) entirely, weapons that are specifically built for taking out planets, fighters, and boarding. The point here is, tons of fun toys… I mean options, to play with.

      Range in combat plays a much bigger role since you can actively work to keep your long range missile ships at long range. You don’t automatically keep advancing all your ships towards your enemy like in Endless Space for instance. In MOO II it’d be suicidal to move your long range bombers in to fight ships stacked with ships toting heavy or autofire modified beams.

      Defenses in MOO II are also quite advanced. Shield facing and direction matter. Defensive bases and troops are an important part of your defensive strategy. You don’t have to have a fleet to defend a system against minor attacks.

      These elements help eliminate some of the repetitiveness experienced in a game like Endless Space. My ship design in ES, once I designed my initial prototype with the components I wanted, consisted of going back into the ship screen, pressing auto upgrade, and exiting the majority of the time. Whatever the latest weapon I researched was, that’s what I installed. You don’t have the ability to selectively choose what your weapons target, so using multiple weapons has very little advantage compared to something like MOO II where you will want to use your weapons, especially special weapons like shield and armor piercers, on specific foes depending on the battle.

      Another nice aspect of MOO II is you can watch the space battles, but still use auto to allow the computer to fight for you. In that instance you can play ship designer without having to play tactician if you don’t want to. The ground battles are basically cinematic, but watching your soldiers actually fight it out is much more engaging than watching a small bar fill to your color after a few turns.

      Anyway… I’m going on about combat a lot, but that isn’t the only thing MOO II got right. The GNN news network announcing the random events makes the galaxy feel more alive compared to a simple checkbox and short message like in Endless Space. The galactic election was fun to participate in. The races had more interesting diplomatic comments to make, and I liked being able to see a rather large animated image of them during communications. Colonizing planets, naming them, and watching the dropship land for some reason made me feel more attached to the colony. Heroes came with pre-built pros and cons and you couldn’t hand craft your heroes into the exact same best case statistics in every game (I always build my administrators the same way in Endless Space), so you may get lucky or may not, either way its interesting. Even really minor things like seeing a member of your race on the tech screen other than yourself made me feel like I actually was that race. In Endless Space, the racial images and differences are so small I treat them all the same and don’t identify with my own race at all. Finally, I should mention space monsters, natives you can exploit, spies, ancient threats coming back to kill you, mythical planets
      containing a treasure trove of cool technology… I could go on but I’ll stop here.

      Endless Space does a great job at streamlining elements like producing buildings and managing production at the system level. It’s a better system in my opinion than having to build items on every planet like in MOO II. The other way to go would be to reduce the number of planets per system to make managing them less cumbersome. I think the systemwide queue and structures works well though, and I appreciate that they came up with this idea. If there is ONE thing I’d want future games to take from Endless Space it would be this system and some of the UI elements as a secondary wish. Any good 4x game should have at least one element worthy of theft from future projects, and in Endless Space it is the system build queue (aka tedium reducer) in my opinion.

      There is a reason both Master of Orion and the similar Master of Magic game are considered some of the best 4x games of all time, and it isn’t just nostalgia.

      • Adam Solo says:

        Excellent post Keith, I totally agree with your points.

        The MoO2 tactical and strategic depth, the options, the ground invasions, the colonization little cinematics, the GNN news :) And so many other things.

        In Steve Barcia’s (MoO and MoO2 creator) own words in reply to the question: “What was the original idea behind Master of Orion?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=z5DD0zPOB-A

        “We wanted a game with a lot of emphasis on your design, and … the combining the technology in the way and the fashion you want to, and the trade-offs, make sure there’s some tradeoff and some … steps you have to do to achieve, to attain a technology, and that was the basis for Orion, and the methodology for building ships and combining technology and go out there and fight it. Everything else came on afterwards” ~Steve Barcia

        I also always hit “auto upgrade” in ES for upgrading my ships. I see now that I was not being lazy. Or both of us are ;) Always build the administrators the same way also, check (there are just too powerful traits like the construction ones, and the morale: +30 right there, wow!) I also don’t identify with the races much (portraits are too tiny I agree).

        MoO2 is much better than ES. Even taking out the nostalgia effect (that we always try our best to when scoring of course). Here’s some cool gem I found this morning while looking for other things: http://dvc.f2o.org/moo2/moo2.htm

        I automatically rejoiced just by hearing a couple songs. Enjoy, MoO2 fanatics!
        Can’t MoO2 be beaten?

        • Ermdog says:

          I agree Keith on everything you said about the combat and planetary management. I do think ES did a better job with the building and production levels. I like how all the “FIDS’ are pooled together from each planet and how there is only one production que for each system. This prevents from repetitive construction of buildings on new planets. I do agree that there are a lot of planets you can colonize and it does take time to manage them all. Reducing them would be a good idea, or make gas and asteroid planets non colonizable, and replace with a research base you can put on them for system improvements.

          It’s funny how the little things made MOO2 so great. As you stated before, the interaction with the races, the ground combat, to the GNN network. Those all added to the greatness of the game and it set high standards for games to follow.

        • Ermdog says:

          Nice link Adam with the MOO2 music. I do think I’m going to play a game tonight because of that. Main Galactic Theme 1 is by far my favorite.

        • Adam Solo says:

          Oh yes, Main Galactic Theme 1 is just great. Why can’t we have more of that? Just look how amazing the races music are. Ok, I played more than 3 songs, now I’m in the mood to play a game also :)

        • dayrinni says:

          Wow talk about some major nostalgia!

      • zigzag says:

        What distinguishes older games is their reliance on their developer’s intuitions. Endless Space, by contrast, was the product of very careful design. In their design documents, Endless Space’s developers present very reasonable arguments for implementing the various features of their combat system – including the features that we dislike.

        If Master of Orion 2 is ever beaten, luck will play a significant role. Even if fun can be reduced to a set of design principles, I doubt that it’ll ever be understood well enough that developers will be able to apply these principles to their products and guarantee it.

        (Another example of failed reliance on careful design is the removal of town screens from Heroes VI. From a design standpoint, this removal seems like a streamlining of the interface. However, it caused such uproar that the developers are re-implementing town screens in the latest patch.)

  7. harry says:

    WHY? it looks so much better that distant worlds legends..

    I loved the cynematic invasion in Moo2 .. i loved the combats…
    Why are they doind such thing…

    The UI looks so nice.. Big chance missed. I will not buy this game.. After spending so much money for distant worlds and completely dissapointed I will wait for the Pegasus game..

    Somebody must create a good game for space 4 x..

  8. Seboss says:

    Great review. I wish you would have gone a deeper look to the multiplayer mode and how the streamlined combat design relates to it though.

    Deep, detailed real-time battles in SotS style are very nice and good, but playing a multiplayer game over hundreds of turns with 4min battles every other turn is not really realistic. I think Endless Space is really designed with multiplayer in mind and its implementation of combat hits the sweet spot between purely auto-resolved battles and lengthy detailed manual battles, without sacrificing too much tactics and control from the player, and keeping the double-guessing element of combat.

    This said, as a purely solo game I understand the combat may seem underwhelming. I’m sure Amplitude has many great ideas in store for future expansion.

    • Keith Turner says:

      You make a good point, Seboss. This is something I thought about and should have mentioned, but I did not in the review. I do think some of the streamlining was probably done with multiplayer in mind. I can see how this system would allow for faster combat and turns. Multiplayer would also alleviate many of the AIs shortcomings.

      I don’t personally play many 4x games online because they are quite time consuming for me and tend to take place over the course of several evenings or longer. As a husband and father now, I don’t always know what my availability will be from day to day, so single player is great since it is there when I need it. I also prefer my strategy and tactical gameplay to be rather in depth, and in many ways I do feel like Endless Space has succeeded in keeping a fair amount of elements in place while likely keeping multiplayer playable. It isn’t quite deep enough to satisfy my needs though. Game balance is a huge issue in a multiplayer environment and typically requires many many hours to get right if you create really diverse races and options. I can certainly understand why they didn’t perhaps diversify a bit more as I would have liked.

      I do suspect ES will be improved over time, but for now I had to judge it based on the release status. Time will tell, but I don’t expect to see combat revamped in any large way based on their planned goals as of now.

  9. Smoking Robot says:

    Here’s the thing that kills it for me: The tech is meaningless mumbo jumbo. In Civ you can easily see ‘if I research this I can build a chariot archer’. Or ‘if I research that I can build the Statue of Zeus and get various benefits.

    The descriptions for the tech in this game are a joke. ‘Early meetings of non-terrestrials showed the asymptotic representation of the hexagonal field modifiers’. Seriously. That’s how it reads, only two or three times longer than that. It’s just nonsense. I want to see ‘LETS YOU BUILD A MEDIUM SIZED HULL’ or ‘ADDS +1 HAMMERS TO PLANETARY CONSTRUCTION.

    This game looks great and has some nice features. But the BASICS have to be good. And they really pooched research.

    • matt says:

      On the tech tree screen in max zoom you’ve got 1-2 icons of improvements next to every tech icon. Mouse over them and you see the description of building/component/whatever it is.

  10. dayrinni says:

    Great review.

    IMO, the game plays and has a great UI. It is very polished. I just don’t feel it has enough depth to be a long time favorite for me. But I still think it is worth the cost and deserves 8/10. They really proved they can make a good game and they deserve our money – who knows what they could do with x2 the budget?

    • Keith Turner says:

      I definitely got my money’s worth out of the game. I’ve gotten over 40 hours out of the game and paid less than $1 an hour for the experience. Like you though, I feel like it will be regarded as a “nice” title in the long term and won’t ever evolve to become anything historically significant to the 4x space community. Amplitude is a new studio, so we shall see what the future holds.

      • dayrinni says:

        Yeah, I played the beta version for about 20 hours and felt I surely got my (discounted) money’s worth.

        I am sure they will continue to deliver some good games, assuming they don’t bite off too much they can chew (aka SOTSII).

  11. jackswift says:

    This is a very fair review… I admit that when I first read it I went into fanboy rage mode of “How can you not think this game is the best evar!!” but after looking through all the points, you pretty much got it right. If ES had the things that are lacking that you mentioned, it would be an awesome game. I’ve got over 100 hours played and no end in sight, maybe it’s because I like really streamlined things and don’t care for random things too much (especially in SotS, I would almost always turn the random encounters to zero) because they mess with my grand plan. I can just watch the battles over and over again and not get bored because I like watching things go boom. Probably explains why I have over 2000 hours of Titan Quest characters and playthoughs even though it’s simple hack ‘n slash… it’s just plain fun (for me). Endless Space is the same way. I’ve spent a lot of time making “alternate” factions for each race and inventing my own narrative, although I wish ES would let me play with all of them together.

    • Keith Turner says:

      2000 hours in Titan Quest? Oh my! I’m a fan of Titan Quest as well, and I’ve likely logged a few hundred hours a few years back, but that pales in comparison to your journey. I’m glad you enjoyed the review and were able to see my points, even if they don’t necessarily completely line up with your feelings about them. Odds are my favorite 4x game (which is some unknown title that may someday be developed that I am still waiting for) won’t end up being yours, but it is great that we have this much variety in our 4x games. Thanks for commenting.

  12. Wayne Basta says:

    That was a useful review. I was thinking of picking this one up, but I think I’ll pass for now. I have greater hopes of Legend of Pegasus.

    • Keith Turner says:

      I’m glad you liked it. So far I’ve seen people say that they are going to buy the game based on the review, and others (like yourself) have said they are planning to pass it up now. I do feel like Endless Space is not going to be a game for everyone, and I’m glad the review seems to reflect that. I have hopes for LoP as well. I only hope our hopes aren’t dashed by this time next month.

  13. JohnR says:

    I agree with the review, though I think you were a bit too kind giving it an 8. I gave it a 6 on Metacritic. One big thing that killed it for me was, as you mentioned, a rather static and lifeless galaxy with no surprises. Also, after two games I found myself bored with it. Not because it was too easy, in fact I think the AI cheats. Rather what bugged me about it was the rather dry, unengaging, and detached gaming experience. Most of all though, I think you were spot on with your final criticism about how the game doesn’t really move the 4X genre forward. I would definitely expect more innovation from an Indie developer. Anyway, the game has been getting a lot of hype the past few months and I haven’t quite figured that one out. I think though it was a case of much ado about nothing, and it taught me a lesson I should have learned a long time ago: always try the demo first.

    • dayrinni says:

      IMO the hype was all about the UI.

    • Keith Turner says:

      Hi JohnR! I’m glad you agreed with the review, and I also can understand your personal score of 6. For some people, the shortcomings of Endless Space are going to be judged much more harshly than by others. Unfortunately, Endless Space is not a game that is going to appeal to all fans of the genre based on some decisions Amplitude decided to make. I keep hoping for a deep strategy game that can bring it all together, both at the strategy and tactical layers. A game filled to the brim with replayability and variety that will keep my playing for years. Perhaps its a pipe dream, but its one I will have until the game I’ve been waiting for comes out. When it does, I will happily bestow it a 10… or at least a 9.5, ha.

  14. JohnR says:

    I hear you Keith about waiting for the ultimate 4X space strategy game. I dunno, I mostly liked the first Sword of the Stars and SINS: Trinity, but after a week or two with those games felt I had my fill and have not been moved to return to them. I will definitely try the Legends of Pegasus demo when it is released, though I must say that in watching the videos to my eye the ships look ugly.

    Speaking of space games, I’ve been tempted to try the Star Wolves series as they look a lot like my beloved Homeworld. ;) The trouble is, from what I’ve been reading the UI and controls are awful.

    You know, just like Crusader Kings 2, a lot of people seem to like Endless Space, and I haven’t figured out why? Maybe it’s a case of the Harry Potter syndrome. That is, back in the day kids who had never heard of JRR Tolkien or CS Lewis really jumped on the Rawling books thinking they were something new and different. Similarly, with Endless Space it may be that for many younger players this is their first experience with a 4X space strategy game.

  15. Tom says:

    Great game, except:

    1. No command over orbital bombardment
    2. Where are the carriers
    3. Waste not to allow multiple targeting if you design ships with a ton of missile launchers.

    With the exception of MOO2/3, recommend something that deals with the above? :)

  16. Pipewrench says:

    A great review for a game that becomes boring quite quickly.
    Just a few points.

    – The tech tree has no surprises after you play 6 or so games. It becomes a simple matter of memorizing steps to optimize output.
    – The combat system is rock paper scissors that becomes very boring very fast.
    – The AI spams ships and sends mismatches that no human would ever do.

    This is a basic civilization game in space with a very clean UI but no soul to speak of.

  17. JohnR says:

    Well-said Pipewrench. You were right on the money with your comment about Endless Space being sort of lifeless and without any soul. That was my impression exactly. Again, I feel with ES that I let myself get drawn in by the pre-release hype, but at the end of the day felt the game was the proverbial emperor’s new clothes. I mean, people on the web were raving about it, but after trying it myself I just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.

    Sid Meier’s Civilization Five, on the other hand, though not without it’s faults, has soul and atmosphere aplenty. The Civ5 world is teaming with life and surprises, and I love all the little touches that make the game memorable, like the animated AI faction leaders insulting you during negotiations, or the beautiful paintings and great quotes you get when completing wonders of the world.

    Having said that, I feel that although maybe ES got many of the high-level abstractions right, it’s missing all the little aesthetic touches that would give the game more soul and atmosphere.

    Anyway, I’m not getting my hopes up about the soon to be released Legends of Pegasus, but who knows? Maybe Kalypso studios will do it right.

  18. Maximo Roboto says:

    Which game is more worth getting, Endless Space or Distant Worlds?

    • Keith Turner says:

      I don’t own Distant Worlds, but I’ve watched several long Let’s Plays and am interested in picking it up, perhaps later this year. The biggest issue/hurdle with Distant Worlds is the Matrix Games pricing structure. The base game is still the same price as Legends of Pegasus will be, and is actually more expensive than the pre-order price for LoP. Adam has also said on numerous occasions that picking up Distant Worlds without at least the first expansion, Rise of the Shakturi is not advised, so factor that cost in as well.

      Now, if I throw cost aside, I’d already own Distant Worlds and its expansions. It is a much deeper game than Endless Space. It has also seen very favorable reviews, including Adam’s review here on spacesector. Endless Space is a fun game for a short while, and is much cheaper, but in my opinion does not have the options and depth to provide the long term entertainment that Distant Worlds can offer.

      Just to reiterate, I don’t own Distant Worlds. I would like to… but I’m cheap, and I’m going to give Legends of Pegasus a chance before I start looking to invest in more expensive 4x options. There have been a few discussions on the forum here about Distant Worlds if you want to find out a bit more about it.

    • Pipewrench says:

      Distant worlds, Hands down.
      I don’t want to hi-jack the thread but it is worth the cost.

  19. Starbuck says:

    since Endless Space had multiple extensions (and free for most of them), and will get a very big new one by June 26th, maybe a new review could be in order, to assess its playability compared to the other games available ?

    best regards,

    • Adam Solo says:

      Yes Starbuck, we also thought a new review would be interesting at this point, after the several add-ons and an expansion now. Expect the review some time after Disharmony’s official release (around a couple of weeks after perhaps). Cheers.

  20. Belzebub says:

    Interesting thing about this game: I found nothing that excited me too much, but the whole package is somehow just…right. Good balance, decent visual presentation and honest number of hours went away with this game


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