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Endless Space: Disharmony and Re-Review

By on July 9th, 2013 8:16 pm

Endless Space: Disharmony and Re-Review

Endless Space: Disharmony is the first full expansion of Endless Space, a turn-based 4X game released last year by Amplitude Studios and publisher Iceberg Interactive. I wrote a review of Endless Space in July of last year, and despite some shortcomings, felt it was overall a fun experience at the time.

Prior to this review, I’d not spent much time with Endless Space since then. While I could see its strengths, for those whose preferences could look past its weaknesses, I personally felt it lacked several aspects which would compel me to spend more time with it. Since then, Endless Space has released 4 add-on packs, each of which offered a fair amount of content, especially when the low asking price of free is considered. While these were not enough to require a re-review on their own, together with the Disharmony expansion, we felt it would be a good time to take a new, fresh look at the entire package.

This review will therefore be a review of not only the Disharmony expansion, but the base game and its addons as well.

New Faces Around Here

The very first thing I noticed when starting my first Disharmony game is that there are two, or three depending on what access level you had before, new races in the game now.

The biggest addition that comes with the Disharmony expansion is the new Harmony race. The Harmony are a race of crystalline beings that have apparently been drifting through space since the universe was born. Eventually, they came across the galaxy of the Endless and a group of them were broken off from the others due to the power of the Endless’ dust. Therefore, their faction’s affinity trait is that they do not use dust (the game’s equivalent of money) and are actually punished for having it in their systems. Their goal is to purify the galaxy by eliminating all of its dust. Along with this change, the Harmony has numerous other changes, but I’ll discuss these further below.

Endless Space: Disharmony and Re-Review - A Lone Harmony Ship

A Lone Harmony Ship

The other two races include the Automaton, a race of robots that was added in the first free add-on. They are able to earn interest on unused production, but otherwise seem unremarkable other than their rather stylish ship designs (which are also new with a recent free update).

The other race isn’t exactly new, as they were technically already available for “Emperor edition” owners, but the Sheredyn are now available for all players and have received a few modifications. They still use the same ship models as their parent faction, the United Empire, however. Their special affinity is that they can buyout/instant finish items in the queue for 50% less dust, and they prevent opponents from retreating in combat.

What’s been added

There are quite a few other new features in Endless Space since I last played pre-expansion and addons. Not all of these are really noticeable or worth mentioning though. Here are the features I found most significant.

The Disharmony expansion has added quite a few new combat mechanics, but I’ll get into those in the combat section below.

There are now random exploration bonuses. These play a role really early on and provide bonuses like a few extra dust, a temporary boost to your resource production or happiness, or other such small bonuses. They are only given to the very first person to explore the planet, which is nice. Unfortunately, I found these to be a rather half-hearted attempt at bringing life to the galaxy. There’s nothing wrong with them, per-say, but in general they just aren’t exciting or interesting.

Random events were introduced in one of the free add-ons, and thus are also new since I last played. Sometimes, these events are simple notifications, providing a brief background story which explains why you (or sometimes everyone) are receiving a helpful or harmful bonus. Other events are a bit more involved, allowing you as the player to choose from 3 different options. These represent how you choose to handle the encounter. Each option will clearly list what benefit or loss the option is going to give you, and in some cases, also indicate that the option selected will continue the event and provide further choices later on.

Random events are a much nicer addition compared to the exploration bonuses and play out almost like a choose your own adventure. I was able to receive a free tech for instance. The tech itself was not unique, but just one of the cheaper techs I had not researched yet. Similar to the random exploration bonuses, these events are nice little distractions added in, but the ones I experienced did not add to or change the game in any significant way.

Endless Space: Disharmony and Re-Review - A Choose Your Own Random Event

A Choose Your Own Random Event

Some planets now have special structures called Wonders. These wonders offer very powerful bonuses, but must be unlocked in some cases before their true benefits can be obtained. Unlocking these is not an overly complex thing to do and basically involves having access to the right technology and resources. Now, I said they were powerful, but only in the sense that they offer rather large bonuses to existing stats like production, happiness, xp gain, combat, etc. In that sense, they are like having really nice anomalies or luxury resources. They are certainly worth having, and are a nice addition to existing gameplay, but don’t offer something you haven’t seen before.

Each race now has its own intro movie. These are relatively quick, and consist mainly of still images scrolled across the screen, but they offer a quick glimpse into the faction and help set the tone for your play session. I found these to be really nice additions since I last played.

Another bullet point on this expansion is that the AI has been upgraded by way of a new “Adaptive Multi-Agent System”. Those are Amplitude’s words, not mine. To be honest, it’s been so long since I had last played, I couldn’t tell you how improved it actually is. The AI seemed to perform slightly better in some cases, but it also made some of the strange rather odd decisions I’d seen it make in the past as well. I’ll explain some of those a bit later on in this review.

What’s all this about Intense Combat

One of the bullet points that has been emphasized when it comes to Disharmony is that battles would be more intense due to the addition of fighters and bombers, battle formations, a new target system, a new weapon system, and enhanced invasions. I’m here to tell you that, yes, things are a little different, but no, combat is not improved. In fact, I’d say its worse now than it was before.

If there was one area in Endless Space I was particularly critical of, it was its combat. I wasn’t really impressed with the rock, paper, scissor style combat, nor the fact that ships seemed to sail forward like sea vessels firing broadsides at one another. After spending many hours with the new expansion and addons, I have to report that this is still very much the case.

Formations and the target system really fall into their own category together. These are two new options that are available whenever you engage in combat. The formation can not be changed once combat begins, but the target system can. The formation system basically allows you to organize your ships in a specific order, so for instance you can choose to place your more experienced ships in the front or back, or your high defense ships in the front, or your cannon fodder up front, and so on. It seems this is a direct counter to the new target system, which offers the attacker three specific options. One is to split fire across all enemy ships. Another is to send all fire against their front ship until destroyed, then the next, and so on. The last option is to split 1/3 fire against the first 3 enemy ships. I don’t have much more to say about these as they are relatively self explanatory.

Endless Space: Disharmony and Re-Review - So, who do you want to get blown up first?

So, who do you want to get blown up first?

Weapons have new options too

Kinetic, Laser, and Missile weapons now have three distinct distance settings to choose from. These must be selected during ship design and are not alterable in combat. You can for instance decide you like missiles but want them optimized for medium range. Or maybe you want long range kinetic fire? You can now do just this.

It is important to note that this is not as good as it sounds though. Each version of these weapons is still optimized for its original range, and any changes to the range alter its statistics, including how often it fires, accuracy, and damage. It also alters its weight, typically making it heavier than normal. This makes it difficult to justify taking a weapon outside its normal range, since it will cost you weight that could have been used to simply attach more weapons in the preferred range instead.

I’m not sure this really adds many benefits due to these modifications. For instance, unless I had really poor lasers and fantastic missiles, I don’t know why I’d want to put missiles in my medium range slot. The game doesn’t really provide any information other than a tooltip of stats to explain why I’d want to do it either, so if there is some hidden advantage to be gained here, it isn’t evident to the player without further research.

The other problem is that your missiles always take the missile slot, regardless of range. You can’t stack missiles in your melee, medium, and long range slot, because all missiles have to be set to the same range when you design a ship. This is true of all weapons. There is no mix and match of melee lasers and long range lasers on the same ship.

Remember how I said lasers were my preferred weapon in my original review? Well, in most cases they still are. The AI has gotten a bit better about countering them, but early on they are still my favorite.

It’s all about the bombers (and a little about fighters)

When I first heard about bombers and fighters being added, I was really excited. Now that I’ve had some time to play with them, I will say that bombers and fighters are more or less what I expected. This is a good thing, as I expected them to add a very cool visual flair to combat, and they indeed do just that. They have even added a special camera that allows you to view things from their perspective, and whether you’re watching a squad of fighters or just a lone bomber or two, it’s still a really cool way to watch combat unfold. It almost makes me forget I’m watching a ship of the line battle.

However, the greatness of these agile craft is seen only when you unlock them, which can take a bit of time as they aren’t initial combat techs. Even then, the early versions of them are both very heavy, slow to engage, and of minimal combat effectiveness. They are more fun to watch than practical to use, so to speak.

Endless Space: Disharmony and Re-Review - Fighters look nice in formation

Fighters look nice in formation

Bombers and fighters, in a similar fashion to weapons, have three settings, and you have to select these during ship design as well. These include a battle option, which makes them better vs ships, an invasion option, which allows them to do more damage or add more siege power when invading, and a balanced option that is great at neither and that I’d never select. In most cases, I used the battle versions of these as they offer the most damage versus enemy ships.

Fighters tend to come in packs of 5, fire often, and do small amounts of damage. Bombers come in packs of 1, and initially seem pointless as they fire very few times for minimal damage. Thankfully, this is not the case with the higher level bombers. Although they take two special slots (very large ships only have 4 total) and are very heavy, the heavier bombers can cause very heavy damage to enemy ships. At this point though, you’ll also have very powerful weapons to use, so bombers are best to use as a backup method in case your enemy has defenses against your primary weapon. I included them on my dreadnaughts and found them to be quite useful in combat. Fighters were not as useful, but may have been had the enemy been using more bombers against me.

One odd thing about bombers and fighters is that their bay weight seems to be proportional to the ship size. A bomber bay, though identical in stats whether on a destroyer or dreadnaught, is heavier on a dreadnaught. It’s a bit odd considering weapons and other items don’t generally scale this way, and it again reduces their use to more of a backup weapon or novelty than a serious tactic. Some ships have reductions in fighter/bomber weight, so in those cases it may make more sense to use them, but the fact that a bay carrying the same number of bombers/fighters is heavier on a bigger ship just doesn’t make much sense. The bay should weigh the same or weigh more and carry more ships when placed in the larger class ships.

Invade and Conquer

Invasion has changed a bit since last Endless Space and I spent time together. Invading a system is no longer a siege-only affair. There haven’t been any major changes to the invasion system, so don’t expect to see anything in depth like tactical ground battles, for instance. These changes are more subtle, and basically provide the player a couple more options aside from simply waiting out a siege.

You can now bring bombs with you, either via bombers or in a special slot on your ship, and these come in anti-personnel and anti-infrastructure variety. These are good if you want to annihilate your enemy but don’t necessarily want to take the planet over in-tact. I didn’t use these a lot, but this was mainly due to the new drop troops I’ll describe below. In all actuality, what these systems amount to is a new ship module, a couple UI tweaks to accompany the new options, and a way to harm your enemy without waiting for a siege to finish.

Endless Space: Disharmony and Re-Review - New Invasion UI

New Invasion UI

The other new option is a game changer when it comes to invasion. I’m talking about drop troops, their upgraded version, and their variants. There are multiple settings you can select for these, in a similar manner again to bombers/fighters and weapons. You can choose elite troops, numerous, or something else.

Elite troops always made the most sense to me as they provide the largest battle strength and only cost 1 population. Yes, I’m afraid these drop troops are going to cost you population in a manner similar to your colony ships. However, they are completely worth it. You see, when you siege a planet, it generally will take you a minimum of 10 turns (and potentially many more), and that only if you have brought enough siege strength to overcome all of their siege defenses. Then, for those turns, you have to protect them from attackers until you finish the siege.

This is not the case with drop troops.With drop troops, you get a new invasion option which provides you a % chance to instantly take over the colony. As long as you have enough drop troops with you to overcome the defenses, you can achieve a 100% chance and instantly take a colony, whether it has 2 people or 25 population and their capital. It almost felt like cheating once I discovered this, and it became my new go-to tactic for expansion.

Endless Space: Disharmony and Re-Review - Forget the bombs, drop the troops!

Forget the bombs, drop the troops!

Broken and Unbalanced Mechanics Abound

With a clear understanding of the new features out of the way, it’s time for me to get into the meat of the review. Endless Space has some issues, quite a few of them in fact, and some of them may even date back to the original game. Perhaps it’s only in a replay of the game after so long that I’ve discovered these issues, or perhaps they simply annoyed me more than they did back then, but regardless, I’m going to explain some of the huge exploits, bugs, and just odd design decisions I’ve encountered during my time with Endless Space: Disharmony.

Endless Space is not a very well balanced game. In fact, I have the feeling this recent expansion has made it far worse than it was when I last played. The races themselves emphasize this before you even start a game. Sheredyn, a decent affinity, have bonuses that add up to +4 and -2 according to the developers. Sophons, with a good affinity, have bonuses worth +9 and -3. Horatio (one of my favorites) have a great affinity (cloning), and bonuses worth +11 and -2. This is just at a glance, without really needing to dig deeper. Perhaps it’s not supposed to be evident on this screen but rather through gameplay instead though.

The Harmony, flagship faction of this expansion, seem very weak and underpowered. Not exactly what I expected, to be sure. Unlike most factions, which are unable to grow in population only while you train a new colony ship, the Harmony can not grow when you are building any ship in that system. If you end up in a war early, as I did due to close proximity with the United Empire, you must halt your growth entirely to build ships to defend yourself. Add to this that you can not instant buy any ships or upgrades due to lack of dust, can not retrofit ships, you do not get heroes to enhance your fleets or colonies at all, and that you suffer a constant disharmony penalty in your colony if you have dust producing colonies in your system. I felt like I was being kicked while I was down.

It was only by the grace of the Empire’s poor ship design that I was able to counter their kinetics and overwhelm with starting lasers to take their homeworld from them. The Harmony, as a faction, feel like hard mode. A lack of upkeep cost, something which my dust using factions can ignore as they always have massive excess dust, does not compensate for all of these losses at all. Their other change, a mind vs matter slider (food vs science) rather than the tax slider, does not really compensate either. Now, it’s possible I’m just terrible at this faction, but I personally find it hard to believe that this is the faction worthy of the expansion’s name. Also, why are crystalline creatures in need of food to grow, anyway?

The new weapon mechanic does not allow you to downgrade to weapons you actually have the resources to use. If you research an enhanced weapon, one which requires a specific resource you don’t have – or had but have since lost access to – you will be unable to use that type of weapon on any future ships until you have it or until you research a higher level tech you do have the resource for. Unlike range, there is no toggle to use a lower level weapon. I have no idea how this made it through QA, but it is a terrible mechanic which punishes the player for making research progress. It’s completely broken.

Endless Space: Disharmony and Re-Review - I guess we threw away the old kinetic weapons...

I guess we threw away the old kinetic weapons...

The retrofit mechanic is tremendously overpowered. Remember the drop troops I mentioned? They are very powerful infantry capable of instantly taking over enemy systems. Their biggest downside is that they cost you population to create, and they are used up during the invasion most of the time, leaving the ship behind with only empty bays. What if I told you that by simply editing the ship design and re-saving it, you could then retrofit all of your ships with these modules (if you have the dust), and instantly have full troops again without the population cost. Well, you can. Yes, this is a very cheap and broken tactic, but it does work.

Even without this though, retrofit allows you to take an existing ship design, one you have perhaps dozens of ships deployed already, redesign it, and then instantly convert the ships as long you have the dust and they are within a friendly system. Facing a new threat that is immune to your lasers? No problem, edit the design, change all lasers to missiles, and re-save it. Now, pay to instantly retrofit your ships. Next turn, show them your paper is gone and destroy them with your new rock to their scissor. It makes no sense to instantly change the entire layout of a ship, simply be editing an existing design, but that is how this game works. There is no repair or retrofit time needed to change the dynamic of your entire armada of ships other than the initial turn where they lose their movement.

Victory notifications don’t appear to be working properly. The game notified me that the Harmony were close to a wonder victory even though they had 0% progress. It then notified me they were close to a scientific victory only a very short time before they actually achieved the victory. Unfortunately, this cost me the game, as I needed only one more capital to complete my supremacy victory, and I had my siege ships en-route. On the positive side, it was good to see the AI was capable of obtaining victory in other ways.

Other Things I just Don’t Understand

There are other design decisions with Endless Space and Disharmony that I just don’t understand. Why is it that enemy ships continue to move throughout my turn? I try to move a ship to engage an enemy and they simply fly away. I try to take a ship out of the hangar and it immediately gets attacked. I get attacked again in another system while trying to check out my research options. Did I mention this was all on my turn? I just don’t understand why a turn-based game has so many other things going on during my turn. Perhaps it’s for multiplayer purposes, I suppose, but it is utterly annoying to try and engage an enemy during my turn only have to them zip away after I issue my movement. Also, if they fly the way I just came from, I can not turn around in mid flight but must instead reach a planet first. Also, since ships can fly off of starlanes, with later technology, why is it that I can’t attack ships within starlanes or open space? Why can I only engage ships when they are in planetary orbit? It again makes no sense.

Technology upgrades don’t always match the name of the actual upgrade. For instance, a weapon is called one thing on the research pane and another in the design screen. I’ve had to do a double or triple check at times to make sure I had the right tech, but sure enough, it was. Some technology or ship locations are also missing tooltips. For instance I saw a tooltip clearly indicating it was a variable name, with a name of %ModuleInvasionMilitaryPowerDescription.

Why does the enemy feel the need to have 79 fleets, many of which have 1 single ship in them? Why does it then feel the need to attack me not once, not twice, but seventeen (17) times in a row during my turn. I could hardly believe it, but the enemy actually sent 17 individual 91mp ships to fight against my 1500mp+ fleet one at a time. Even with auto combat and no card, formation, or target changes, these take around 10 or so seconds each. This was immensely frustrating, and when this occurred a few turns later, I disbanded the fleet after 10 or so attacks just to stop the madness. One further annoyance, the AI can seemingly attack multiple times per turn with the same fleet, but the player can only attack once per fleet, so clearing out numerous enemy fleets at once is impossible.

Endless Space: Disharmony and Re-Review - Endless Fleets?

Endless Fleets?

The new AI doesn’t seem up to speed on the siege game. I found that they would send in numerous siege fleets, fleets with no weaponry, prior to making any efforts to clean out system defenders first. This led to a repetitive cycle of them entering my system, my ships attacking to defend, and their retreat. The AI didn’t consider the fact that unarmed ships may not be the best thing to send in alone.

The Retreat battle card indicates you suffer 2 free rounds of attacks. This appears to be the penalty for fleeing, at least how I read it. It does not do this in practice however, as numerous times I watched my defending fleets be attacked by an enemy ship, and whether manual or automatic, I’ve watched it fly away unscathed despite my missiles being enough to easily destroy it in the first round. What’s particularly annoying is that a single enemy ship can fly in to a system and blockade it, even with a defensive fleet stationed in orbit. This makes not destroying these ships all the more troublesome.

Performance

During mid game, once most of the galaxy is exposed due to exploration and alliances, I began to experience long end-turn delays and stuttering both during the end turn and my turn. I’m somewhat used to 4X games taking some time during the end turn phase, but the odd thing about Endless Space is these hangs and delays most often occur after the next turn has begun and control has been given back to me. Trying to take action immediately after control is given back to you is often impossible during mid to late game. Late game in my case tends to be around turn 200, but problems tend to start quite awhile prior to that based on the games I’ve played.

I was able to watch my performance monitor and did not notice my cpu or memory spiking, so I’m unsure what the actual cause was. It seems to be when I can see most of the AI, or perhaps due to the number of fleets they were using. As I mentioned, at one point, I saw 79 individual fleets stacked up in just one location. It seems like the AI should combine many of these single ship fleets into a larger fleet, but for some reason the AI didn’t choose to do so.

Multiplayer

I didn’t mention much about multiplayer originally, and that’s because I don’t tend to play 4X games in multiplayer mode. While I feel as though a number of Endless Space’s mechanics were designed with multiplayer considerations in mind, I can not confirm or deny this. It is fair to say that Endless Space may be a more enjoyable game when facing other human minds rather than the AI.

Things I really liked

I love the system-wide construction queue and governors used in Endless Space. I’ve said it before and will say it again, but I really feel this is the crowning achievement of this game from a design perspective. It successfully eliminates the tedium of empire management for me, and it never makes me feel like I need to heavily micromanage to optimize my systems. At the same time, it provides me with a lot of individual planets, different planet types, and little bonuses which are worth watching out for.

Endless Space: Disharmony and Re-Review - Still love the empire management

Still love the empire management

Endless Space has fantastic artwork and visual appeal. I really love the look of this game. The faction spaceships are all very pleasing to look at and admire. Even though I find combat a bit too oceanic in its approach, due to its broadside fire approach, I still enjoy occasionally viewing the manual battles just to see the interesting designs and models they’ve come up with. The bombers and fighters have made this aspect even more fun, and in many cases I’ll watch battles they’re involved in just so I can switch to the fighter cam and watch things unfold.

The new random events are a positive step and help add a bit of life to the universe. They don’t change the game significantly, but they are a nice step in the right direction.

I’ve never experienced a crash in Endless Space. I’m not saying they don’t happen, but I’ve never had one. I can’t say this about many other games, so I have to say that Endless Space has a very reliable engine running underneath it.

Some people praise the unique tech tree provided to each race, but I myself find them a bit lacking in personality. While each race does have a few unique technologies, in a research tree with hundreds of technologies, very few of these feel like they impact gameplay in any significant way. Each race also has some technologies that are orange colored, as if to indicate they are unique, but instead just indicate a different placement in the tech tree than normal. This means they can access a tech sooner or later than other empires. While it is good to see some diversity here, the techs to me just feel bland.

Final Thoughts

I know I’ve been rather harsh in this review, and please believe me when I say I really wanted to love this game and expansion. In fact, I enjoyed my time with the original game last year, and thought I’d get that same sense of satisfaction this time around. I did enjoy the game again, at least for a short while, but it was after these initial hours that the game started to lose its shine. Issues kept popping up, and annoyances kept appearing, and these things diminished my game experience and enjoyment. Some of these things were things I either missed or looked past in the original review, while others were mentioned back then or are new since then. In any case, I’ve had to consider all these things when reviewing and scoring this game again, and in this particular instance, my impression is more negative than it was originally. It’s certainly not a good sign when I am firing the game up only for review purposes and not for my own enjoyment.

If you didn’t like Endless Space before, you are most likely not going to feel differently with the Disharmony expansion now. If you did enjoy it, you may enjoy the new features, but you’ll need to be wary of the bugs and exploits currently present in the game. I’d wait for a patch or two, at the very least, if you’re still interested in it. If you’ve never played it before, or are new to 4X games in general, I’d caution you to pursue other reviews and videos before purchasing. This is not a game that everyone is going to fall in love with, but for some players it fills the particular niche that they enjoy.

Endless Space+Endless Space: Disharmony

Endless Space

Buy at GamersGate or Steam.

Endless Space: Disharmony

Buy at GamersGate or Steam.

Space Sector score:
6.0/10
fair
The Good:
– Graphics are visually pleasing
– System wide management queue and governors make managing large empires easy
– Random events are a step in the right direction
– Bombers and fighters have made combat more entertaining to watch
The Bad:
– Galaxy is still largely lifeless despite new exploration rewards
– Combat changes do not noticeably impact gameplay
– AI movement and attacks during your turn feel out of place
– Limited replayability due to similar races; lack of strategic options that feel meaningful
– Fails to innovate or expand the genre
– Balance feels off with a lot of broken or cheap mechanics
– Game still feels unpolished from a design and QA standpoint
– Performance issues in mid to late game

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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56 Comments


  1. Jim Holden says:

    Thank you for an excellent review, Keith. I’ve been on the fence about getting the expansion, but now I’m convinced of waiting for patches to sort some of the issues that you mentioned out.

  2. DevildogFF says:

    Another fantastic review, Keith. I’m now done buying games until I see reviews from you all.

    You hit this one on the head. I still think this game is absurdly boring. It has no personality. I hate the amount of time turns take. I just feel like this is a spreadsheet masked by good graphics.

    Stardrive and Endless Space need to talk to each other. What one is missing, the other one has. In the end, however, I believe Zero has captured the essence of a good 4X game much better than the entire team at Amplitude.

    They should have made an expansion that added more personality and story to every thing. More distinction in the different races. This is exactly how to make an expansion that adds nothing.

    Look to the Brave New World expansion for Civ V for an example of what to do. It’s absurdly good.

    • Keith Turner says:

      Thanks DevildogFF, appreciate your comment.

      I suspect Adam will be all over the Brave New World for us. I’m waiting to see what he has to say about it. :)

  3. reynanuy says:

    There are so many things wrong with this review, it’s actually hard deciding where to start; not to mention that this can get long and tedious really fast. Most of the things you complained about are those you didn’t understand, thus you continuously ask why this and how that … On top of it all, a game that has the strongest 4X MP community currently, gets 0 coverage in this review. I mean how can you review a game, when you don’t understand it and/or totally ignore half of it?

    Straight to the point, some answers to the questions you left here, quickly before going to bed:
    – Specializing a weapon for a certain phases(besides the “optimal” one), gives you a chance to out think your opponent, by doing a lot of damage from that type; in an unexpected phase. This can both negate your opponents cards and power up yours.
    – The enemy fleets move in your turn because all players move units simultaneously. This is great for multiplayer since players need to be really careful about their moves, adds a lot of tension to the strategic part.
    – This is not a question but needs to be addressed. You can’t talk about performance without explaining what kind of computer you ran the game with. It might have been an Alienware or old grandpas Thinkpad, without knowing that nothing you wrote there is useful.
    – The reason why the AI send 17 one ship fleets to your planet is probably because it still thought it was a staging area. Play on harder difficulties and the AI will update those much more frequently.

    • Keith Turner says:

      Thanks for the comment. I’ll do my best to address the questions at hand. It’s true that there are some mechanics I may not understand, but I’d consider that a fault of the game, its tutorial, and it’s UI rather than mine alone.

      RE: Multiplayer & Ship Movement during my turn

      As I mentioned in the review, I don’t play 4x games for their multiplayer community. Endless Space may indeed be a phenomenal multiplayer game. I’ve been playing 4x games for over 20 years now, and I’ve always been a single player guy. Anyone looking for a review of Endless Space from a multiplayer perspective should certainly not base their purchase on my word alone (though the broken mechanics I describe will still exist), which I why I specifically mention that aspect is not considered. I’m simply not qualified to judge that part of it.

      I did mention that certain mechanics (fleets moving at the same time) may be in place specifically for multiplayer. The bottom line is they are very disorienting and frustrating when these mechanics are used in the single player experience. It seems to me this would still be disorienting in multiplayer since you can’t attack unless you are orbiting something, for some reason. Moving to attack an enemy only have them move away during your turn is frustrating. Especially when you can’t move during their turn, but they can move in yours and theirs. They can also attack multiple times when I can only attack once. Even trying to bring a ship out of the hangar to combine with other ships on my turn leads to my ship being instantly attacked and destroyed during my turn.

      RE: Weapon Range Changes:

      As I mentioned in the review, if I want to “out-think” my opponent, I’ll simply design ships with different weapons types, the same as I would have in the native game. This may add a meta-game to multiplayer, but it
      does nothing to enhance the game’s single player mode. When facing the AI, I can simply build lasers early to counter all the AI designs. Later on, I can scout out their defenses and build around them. If need be, I can then retrofit all my existing ships to missiles or kinetics or whatever counters their ships. In this manner, I don’t lose weapon efficiency by adding excess weight and reduced damage either. Again, this mechanic may be great in multiplayer as you mention, but I don’t think it has much use vs the AI.

      RE: Performance

      To be fair, I’m running a modest system by today’s standards. Phenom II X4 B50 3.1ghz (unlocked quad core) with 12Gb ram, Samsung 830 SSD, and a Nvidia GTX 660Ti. CPU is a few years old. I did not experience performance issues with Endless Space when I reviewed it a year ago on the same rig (actually, with a worse gfx card). I believe my cpu is between the required and recommended and my memory and gpu are much higher than required. Win 7 of course.

      As mentioned in the review, I did not notice a spike in CPU or memory usage while playing the game. Cpu cores didn’t rise above 25% or so. The issues with performance appeared to be engine related, not hardware related. Particularly troubling was the fact that I could not take any actions for a while even after “control” was turned over to me. If the game needs time to process, I’m actually fine with that, but don’t pretend to give me back control only to stutter my sounds and deny me the ability to take any action for awhile. I was playing in a small galaxy with only a couple of AI opponents in one game and still had issues. I think the main issue was the pure number of fleets in use by the AI. 79 in one system, mostly single ship fleets, for instance.

      RE: Ship Spam

      I want to make sure I understand. Are you saying that the solution to the AI behaving badly is to increase the game difficulty? Whether or not that is true, what you are saying essentially is that new players or players who aren’t adept at the game will have to deal with ship spam of this caliber, and that this is acceptable? Perhaps I have misunderstood what you mean?

      I’m curious if you have played a lot of single player vs the AI recently? How do you feel it compares to the multiplayer experience? I’m wondering if our opinions vary due to SP vs MP. It would be valuable to have the opinion of someone who really enjoys the multiplayer aspect to indicate the differences here for other readers here I think.

      • jackswift says:

        I only play ES for the single-player, so I can see where Keith is coming from. The fleet AI is really in need of some tweaking to make the game more enjoyable.

        One tid-bit I feel the need to add though, I did see the AI building ships with exactly my designs.. made me take a step back and have to design some counter designs for my own ships. :)

        As far as updating goes, there’s a big patch coming out tonight to address many of the AI behaviors brought up in the review (among other balance changes and performance improvements). http://forums.amplitude-studios.com/content.php?310-Disharmony-Improvements

      • reynanuy says:

        Ship spam might be annoying, but it’s a safe way to destroy your opponent ships, without taking any losses; after all individual ships have no chance against a proper fleet. Thus the AI doesn’t manage it’s ships properly, so that it’s easier for the player to destroy them. Again, something rarely seen on higher difficulty levels.

        To be frank I haven’t played as much as I’d like of the new expansion, since I hardly have the time for anything. Something like 3 full SP games(1 not finished) and a little of MP(a couple of games with the new expansion). The game has it’s issues, as you have pointed out, but they are not that grave IMO.

        In multiplayer the game is simply a blast to play, on the fly alliances and tense “real” cold wars are always fun. The community is in general very good, very few annoying players(rage quiters, trolls, etc) in there. How and when you move your fleets become very important in MP, the timer keeps the pace and the pressure on; so that’s always a plus. It’s certainly a totally different beast from SP and it works now, because there was a time sync issues made the MP part a pain; but that’s in the past now.

        Many people here have pointed out that other games in the market are in worst shape than ES right now, but have reviews with a higher rating. Stardrive specially was a huge let down for me, it had such great potential and now it’s barely alive. It just seems totally unfair for ES to get that score, regarding how complete, polished and fun the game is. Not to mention the amazing support by the devs, punching out free add ons and patches very often; plus the whole GAMES2GETHER system(which is awesome) you skipped in your review. I think it has already been pointed out, but several bugs you came across are in fact fixed in the latest patch. So that’s it, I just think ES deserves better than a lousy 6; but that’s my opinion.

  4. evrett says:

    Totally agree with this review. Amp dropped the ball when it comes to polish and balance. Mp might be a different story but ES is a single player game first and SP isnt healithy or understandabke atm. Shame too I liked classic ES

    • Keith Turner says:

      Thanks evrett. I have to agree, the original experience was much more enjoyable for me. I just did not feel the same way about it this time around. Even things that didn’t bother me that much originally seemed amplified this time around. The AI and QA both need work desperately. I feel as though the game may be balanced more around its multiplayer aspects.

      Also, it’s been a week and a half since release and still no patch for some of these issues. The loss of access to weapons/armor if you research higher techs (or lose access to the resource they require) has been discussed at length in numerous places already.

  5. jackswift says:

    I can appreciate the review even if I disagree with some of the points and conclusions. People that love the game will love it and people that don’t, won’t.

    I am wondering though about the score system, is your 6.0 just for the Disharmony expansion or for the entire base game, add-ons and expansion combined? Hopefully the former as going from an 8.0 in your first review to a 6.0 for an the entire game experience would seem silly (if it is just for the Disharmony exp, then feel free to ignore that last bit).

    Also, a few of the bugs and annoyances you listed are intentional. I get the confusion regarding the retreat card/no damage part, and I discovered what was going on just through repeated playthroughs. There are *three combat phases* in each battle encounter, long, medium and melee. In each *phase* there are *four rounds*. It will say on each weapon how many shots it fires per round/how long it takes to reload (missiles), how many rounds it takes for the weapon to hit the target, etc.

    The reason your missiles were not connecting before the enemy AI retreats is that you had long range missiles installed, and those take a full 3 rounds to connect.. not so good when the enemy can run away in two rounds (not phases, I got confused between rounds and phases too at first). Maybe now you see a little more use for those shorter range missiles? :)

    • Keith Turner says:

      The review is for the entire experience, not just the Disharmony expansion. I re-evaluated all aspects of the game, including the free-add ons, and then applied our scoring system to it. I think a full read of the review reveals the reason for the score being what it is. I tried to convey this in my final thoughts as best I could. Obviously not everyone is going to agree, but I did my best to match the site’s scoring parameters with my impressions and the expectations and interests of our readers.

      Thanks for the retreat card explanation. It’s a shame that it’s description isn’t more obvious. To be honest, I still don’t see a use for non-optimal missiles though. I would have just retrofit one of the ships to a different weapon type to clear them out instead of letting them retreat. After all, retrofit is an instant action (minus 1 turn of no movement), and most of the time they were retreating with only 1 ship at a time. Except when they attacked… randomly, with a 71mp ship vs 1500 and died instantly. The AI really didn’t seem to have a sense of what it was doing at all.

      • jackswift says:

        I read the last couple paragraphs again and it’s clear why it got the score that it did. I’m sorry for the confusion. It sounds like you’d be better off just playing “classic” mode (original game + all 4 free add-ons) on startup if you play ES in your spare time. I’m glad they included that option.

        It is a failing of the game that many of the things (like that retreat card) are not explained properly in detail. I do agree with many of the points you make (like the retrofit mechanic, although normally I don’t have the cash to spare until the endgame), I guess I’ve gotten used to the quirks: have enemy ships flying willy-nilly through your empire? Park a couple dedicated ships at chokepoints and tell them to blockade. Feel like retrofitting drop troops is a serious exploit? Don’t use it.

        There are a few serious issues in this new expansion (not being able to use older weapon tech is my biggest peeve), usually Amplitude has been pretty good about patching things up and listening to their fans. Hopefully in a month or so they’ll fix those.

  6. Ant says:

    The review seems spot on – the QA for this release really does seem shocking (or nearly non-existent) the bug for Mac players where the enemy retreating during a manual battle crashes the game is unforgivable.

    On a gameplay front I was quite underwhelmed by the combat changes – less weapon variety for starters.

  7. salvo says:

    I mostly agree with the very detailed review. I think ES is primarily designed with MP in mind, as such it is above all tailored to the needs of the very vocal MP crowd. As for most MP games it becomes more a social event, a common experience for those who play it. As for SP, the game is apart from its mostly indeed very clean and intuitive interface (though it has some UI weaknesses too, i.e. the design interface) rather underwhelming, broken in some aspects (being tailored to MP) and boring in the long run, especially combat. It’s unfortunate for SP, but that’s how it is.

  8. Jeff P says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive review. I own vanilla ES, and have never been impressed with it. No game is perfect, and all games have their strengths and weaknesses. But those games that hold my interest for months (years?) and keep me coming back have some compelling element that makes them unique. The SotS tactical game is superb; GCII has a great ship building module and the AI personalities are always entertaining; fleet actions in Sins are white-knuckle dramatic. But I can’t think of a single aspect of ES that is either unique or compelling. I’ve started many games, but never finished one.

    That being said, I wonder if your “6” score isn’t a bit harsh. The game is stable, has been constantly improved since launch, and the developers are doggedly adding content to supplement the experience. Perhaps they will get it right some patch in the future.

    Contrast that with Stardrive (which earned a 8.1 score in April 2013) despite numerous issues (missing features, instability, balance) which remain unresolved months after release.

    ES isn’t my cup of tea, but it is probably better than Stardrive (at this time.) Perhaps SD needs a re-evaluation as well.

    • Keith Turner says:

      Hi Jeff P, thanks for the comment.

      I’d say Endless Space has actually gotten worse with time, not better, actually. That has been my experience at least, thus the reduced score. I actually expected quite the opposite going into the review. I was really excited to get back to the game and see the new features, and I was quite shocked to find myself generally displeased with the entire experience.

      I have to disagree on Endless Space being better than StarDrive. From a gameplay perspective, I don’t feel this is the case. Yes, in some respects Endless Space feels like it has less incomplete features, but at the same time, Endless Space’s features all feel half hearted or bland. Things like the random events and exploration events, for instance, are much more enjoyable in StarDrive as compared to Endless Space. Yes, StarDrive could use more variation in the crash sites/ancient temples/etc that are found on planets, could use more refinement on its pirates, and could use more events like the Remnant secret techs and the Owlwok liberator technology, but in the end, at least it is trying to implement interesting things. Endless Space seems content to only do the bare minimum so they can place a checkbox next to a feature and say they’ve included it. I’d rather have one half implemented interesting mechanic than a dozen meaningless bland ones. Again, tastes will vary, but StarDrive gets points for at least taking some risks.

      I’d love to see a 4x space game with the quality of something like Legendary Heroes (minus the micromanagement hell). Great exploration, great random events, interesting things to discover, and fantastic tactical combat. Perhaps some day.

      • ashbery76 says:

        ES has have a fully developed planetary specials and resources system and as well as many wonders,leaders and multiple victory conditions.

        Last time I checked Stardive planets had 3 stats and half the events do not even work.Domination is the only way to win which kinda kills the point of pacifist races.

        I am confused about these so called risks Stardrive took.I saw nothing original.

        • jackswift says:

          It does seem like ES here is being penalized for adding content like exploration events and random occurrences. There seems to be an element of dissatisfaction towards the developers and not the game itself, as in, “Endless Space seems content to only do the bare minimum so they can place a checkbox next to a feature and say they’ve included it”. If this were a review of ES marketing strategies and how it’s presented to the consumer, then it’s a fair point. Right now it reads like “They [events] add something to the game that wasn’t there before, but since they didn’t go far enough to my liking, it sucks.”

          I do disagree with the assertion that they don’t change the gameplay though. The exploration events don’t really, sure (unless you spawn a pirate fleet in your undefended backwater planets!!), but they’re nice little bits that add some flavor. Maybe one event will allow me to get to purchase a hero two turns earlier or research a tech earlier than I had planned. Not anything super special, but nice.

          The random events though, can really add to the experience. There are some that are just “pick your free stuff: morale, money or tech”, but there are others that are great, like the one where everyone’s FIDS are cut and morale lowered for 20 turns… all of a sudden that war you were planning on executing grinds to a halt, or the one where all your sensors and influence are cut in half… all of a sudden you have to have ships in every system to see what’s going on. Or the one that cuts all your ships speeds in half… yikes! There’s even some awesome story arc events (that could eventually make every gas giant useless if you pick certain choices…). The full list is here: http://endlessspace.wikia.com/wiki/Random_Events
          They add spice to the game and although some may find them bland, I find them refreshing, interesting and a great addition to the game.

    • spyonmetoo says:

      Largely my thoughts (aside from the not my cup of tea part). I also consider it noteworthy that I can still downgrade my weapons in vanilla. So this issue seems to affect expansion owners only.

      I am also a bit irritated that not being able to attack fleets / turn around in deep space seems an issue. From a scientific point of view, maneuvering at lightspeed percentages is horrible due to inertia. Adds a bit to the much lacking flavour to me.

      To me the developers are a bit too much focused on expanding the game instead of consolidating it. But a lot of people drool for features, so they may me going where the money is.

      Actually, I’m quite fond of the combat, which IS a compelling feature to me. It gives you the admiral feel of: “Here’s the plan guys, you know what you have to do.” But most 4X players seem to need the “I’m the all-ship-captains-at-once superorganism” feel, although they click Auto-resolve 3/4s of the time.

  9. Mark says:

    Thanks for the excellent review Keith, nice to see such a comprehensive review from the perspective of someone who is primarily a single player gamer like me.

    After hearing that combat had been improved, I had renewed interest in this game despite their use of starlanes, which I hate. Thanks to your review, I now feel pretty safe in giving it a miss entirely as there doesn’t seem to be anything at all here that would interest me in the slightest.

  10. Mezmorki says:

    “Other Things I just Don’t Understand”

    This whole section of your review is why I struggle to enjoy ES. Especially in regards to the fleet movement “during” the turn – it drives me crazy. Are we playing a turn based game or an RTS here? Plenty of other MP 4X games work fine without this strange movement behavior. I don’t get it.

    The fleet size limit is also a deal breaker – I can’t stand it. And it results in battles requiring inordinante amounts of time to watch/resolve. I appreciate the system in theory with issuing orders and using the cards (I don’t like overly envolved tactical combat anyway) – but I just wish it didn’t split everything up into all these micro-engagements.

    My other gripe (not really mentioned) is the overall pacing – especially in regards to the technology tree. The majority of the techs are all just incremental advancements, requiring you to cue up ever more incremental system improvements, and retrofit your ship designs with evermore incremental upgrades. The technology tree gives the illusion of choice – but really it all ends up in the same place, and the incremental nature of most improvements don’t give players any real sense of progression – that the technologies are unlocking new strategic options. Some of them do – but most are meh.

    I desperately want to like Endless Space. The UI and graphics are amazing, I do like the races and overall history/flavor of the game – but I’m just left with an empty feeling. And it’s not because there isn’t enough “stuff” in the game (the pursuit of which is misguided). It’s because ultimately so few of your choices actually matter in the game. It plays on autopilot.

  11. Haree78 says:

    The review seems absolutely spot on, I don’t own the expansion but many of the things talked about here are part of the vanilla game.

    As for the multiplayer, anyone claiming this is a good experience is 2 drum sticks short of a bargain bucket. Expect desynchs in your games so your opponent has a different game going on than yourself and the only way to know this is when weird stuff seems to be happening causing you to save and then reload probably with your entire game changed from what you were playing, research tree looking different, even fleets built wrong, it’s terrible.
    Even if there wasn’t desynchs the whole no turns thing is even more an issue in multiplayer than single player. Your opponent can move away fleets when you send ships in before you get a chance to attack, or he can attack before you have a chance to move, these race to do your actions are quite common and you need to house rule amongst friends how to deal with it because it is so cheesy.
    Don’t buy this game for multiplayer.

    I happen to really like the art style, aesthetics, music and feel of the game but I still wouldn’t give the base game a 6 in it’s current state. It has an unplayable multiplayer and an incompetent AI that feels too much like a computer making stupid decisions but with cheats, so what are you left with? I only hope those who invested in the expansion actually got a much improved AI than what is in the base game.

  12. ashbery76 says:

    The expansion was rushed out before completion which is a real shame but patching should save it.I do wonder though why Stardrive got such a high score when it shares many of the same issues and was a full priced game while this gets a 6.ES is in my view is a much better game with full content.

    • Apheirox says:

      Completely agree. I had StarDrive on preorder but thankfully cancelled it right before release. I don’t understand the praise for the game, at all – and that’s speaking as a hardcore 4X’er who played them all.

      I think this is a solid review, and I agree with all the criticisms. I do think Amplitude has dropped the ball. This expansion is just more of the same: A few new features, the interesting, but mechanically broken Harmony faction, but the real problems and weaknesses don’t get addressed. That said, and while I can fully understand the 6/10 score it gets here, it is better than a 6 for me. StarDrive, on the other hand – that amateurish, half-finished game – seems a much better candidate for such a mediocre score.

  13. Sam says:

    Great review Kieth.

    I played multiplayer when this first came out. I didn’t play it much solo except to practice up and it wasn’t much fun solo. It is hard to make a multiplayer game and they did a pretty good job especially in the short tactical battles–you can’t stop everything for just two players’ one-on-one tactical battle and you have to let players fight simultaneously in different sectors. I think this is probably the main reason it isn’t a good solo game and the ai is so lame.

    I will probably buy the expansion just for multiplayer–for solo there are much better 4x games.

    yours
    Sam

    • Mezmorki says:

      If that’s the reason – it seems like it would’ve been better to just have an “in-between” turn to resolve the fights. That’s what Armada 2526 did and it was a pretty fun multiplayer game. Cue up your combat orders, hit the button, and see them all unfold at once.

  14. Evrett says:

    Amp just released a patch supposedly addressing the various AI issues. Timing is everything ..:(

    • Apheirox says:

      Have you actually read the patch notes for 1.1.19? It isn’t going to change a thing. They are fixing some of the worst offending bugs, but none of the problems mentioned in this review nor the Harmony faction are receiving the attention they need.

      Here: http://forums.amplitude-studios.com/showthread.php?446-Release-Notes/page3

      • jackswift says:

        I read the patch notes and saw a few things addressed from the review:

        DISHARMONY 1.1.9

        CHANGES AND FIXES
        [AI] Allowed to run the AI with some cooldown turn (2 turns in newbie in order to weaken the AI)
        [AI] Fixed several issues when AI proceeds to an invasion
        [AI] Fixed: Too many Scout Fleets are built
        [AI] Fixed: Pirate has no invasion modules
        [AI] Allowed the AI to attack while moving to target
        [AI] Refactored the “Is the ship exploration ready” method
        [AI] Fixed: attack are not fulfilled in military power

        Increased the battle performances of the fighters and bombers

        Tolerant trait changes:
        Lvl1 new effect – 8% growth per colonized planet until required tech as Harmony
        Lvl2 new effect – 4% growth per colonized planet unitl required tech as Harmony

        Harmony hulls: Replaced Freeze Growth by Slow Growth => -100% positive growth to -50% positive growth

        So it seems like they gave the Harmony a half growth while building ships instead of freeze growth (mentioned in review), some bonuses for using tolerance, increased effectiveness of fighters & bombers (mentioned in review), fixing the AI to where they don’t build tons of 1 ship scout fleets (mentioned in review), sending said scout fleets on suicide missions (mentioned in review), AI invasion strategies (mentioned in review), etc.

        It remains to be seen if this patch actually will do what it says it does (after SotS II, I just don’t have the faith I used to in developers being able to patch a game up), but it does seem like they’re addressing the problems.

  15. Lens Flares Suck says:

    This is the game that made me give up on 4X space games.

    Done. Finished. No more. They’re just not fun.

  16. Tridus says:

    Pretty much agree with this review entirely. For me, Disharmony is a worse game than vanilla Endless Space is, and that’s just sad. The ship design bug where you lose access to old weapons by researching new ones you don’t have the resource for is in “someone should be fired for ignoring QA and letting this ship” territory. (Fun fact: Most of the time people say QA missed something, QA didn’t actually miss it. QA doesn’t get to decide what gets fixed before shipping and what doesn’t.)

    Performance degraded for me too, in a way that classic ES didn’t. Fighters & Bombers are lousy. What the weapon ranges do is incredibly opaque (you weren’t killing retreating people with long range missiles because it takes 3 rounds to hit and you only get 2 on the retreat card, so you do no damage). What’s the difference between long and short range lasers? The game doesn’t tell you. What’s the difference between lasers and missles? In Disharmony, almost nothing. (In classic ES, the weapons/defenses had different mechanics. Now they all work the same way.)

    Module tonnage scaling is just silly. Why are 5 fighters heavier on a dreadnaught than a destroyer? Did they put a swimming pool in the fighter bay? Did the pilots get fat on the all you can eat buffet? Why are *sensors* bigger on one ship than another for the same benefit? It’s absurd.

    As for the people saying it’s an MP game and you didn’t review MP… well first of all, the genre is dominated by single player users, as is ES. Vocal MP community aside, they’re not the majority.

    Secondly – this is a game that still lacks allied victory. Want to play coop? Great! One of you is going to lose. It’s a shame since the game is actually pretty fun coop (or at least classic was).

    It’s sad, overall. I was super excited for Disharmony and I’m not playing it at all now. It seems like most of this stuff should be fixable in patches, but it’s clear that the release was MASSIVELY rushed. I mean the special weapons that they documented on their website as an expansion feature are just plain missing.

  17. catwhowalksbyhimself says:

    I love Endless Space, so the expansion was a must buy. Boy was I dissappointed.

    A couple of things I must address though. First, the Automoton are completely unique and play very differently from any other faction–if you understand what their ability actually does. This, the game never actually explains.

    Basically, when their systems are idle and producing nothing, the Automotons save up their production and keep it for use later, up to I think 5 turns worth. They also get interest in saved productions, giving them in effect a large production boost and a lot of flexibility. If you aren’t producing nearly everything in one turn with them, then you are doing it wrong. You can also save up your full 5 turns of production, then produce dust or science and keep your saved production. Someone just declared war on you? No problem, take that saved production and instantly build multiple war fleets. About to get a vital new tech for a building or new ship class? Start saving your production now and build it the turn after you finish researching.

    Of course this means you can’t use the queue, so lots of micromanaging is required, but worth it, IMO.

    As for the rest of the review, I agree. The thing with not being able to use old components? That wasn’t a mistake. Devs said they did that on purpose to prevent players from building lots of cheap ships. Apparently some folks in multiplayer were using that to build loads of cheap 1 ship fleets to make invading their planets impossible no matter how outclassed they were simply because a fleet can only attack once per turns. A problem to be sure, but the wrong solution, surely.

  18. Taliesyn says:

    Decent review, but I did have one minor quibble. You kept referring to the computer doing things during ‘your’ turn, but the fact is that ES uses simultaneous turns. Basically, the turn advances when every player has hit the ‘end turn’ button. At that point, any fleets with movement orders which have not yet moved are advanced as far as they can go, turn maintenance runs, and the new turn starts.

    It does take some definite getting used to, I’ll admit.

  19. Noldor says:

    Thanks for the review.

    Yeah I am forced to agree with this review. This game ES, promised a great deal, but failed to deliver and it’s expansions are not doing so hot either.

    There are some serious bugs still under the hood and I would not be surprised if this expansion broke a lot of stuff in the process. I always found the game to be a bit simplistic, the combat, and overall feel to it.

    Perhaps if they added more depth – yet at the same time, I can understand why you do not like this title; there are some design decisions that I strongly disagree with as well.

    It feels like the Space 4X genre as a whole is facing stagnation at this point. Not many new titles that are likely to shake things up and existing ones like SOTS2 and ES are underwhelming.

    • Alien JD says:

      I think I’m the only one but I really liked SOTS 2 once they released the enhanced edition (and another 3 or 4 patches). This might be because ship design, fleet management, and combat are my favorite parts of a 4x. Endless Space got all of those wrong (really really really wrong) so I don’t care for it. The user interface is nice and I loved the galaxy map. But otherwise…

      4x games are hard as hell to make. They seem easier because you need fewer art assets (the levels are black screen, white dots) and the programming is easier (no crazy 3D math, performance isn’t an issue if you use a good thread library, etc). But balancing 6-20 races all with different play styles is hard . Finding all the bugs and exploits is hard. Implementing an AI that is engaging and challenging is really really hard.

      Then there is the content. Sure, you need fewer art assets. But a 4x game with a thousand planets needs a lot more content than an FPS. Otherwise you end up with a universe that feels dead. Nothing happens and exploration doesn’t feel rewarding.

      I think 4X games are stagnating because they look like something you could do part time on the side or by yourself but it quickly becomes apparent that everything is more work than anticipated. So we get half finished games that frankly suck. I have big hopes for Horizon. By limiting the play to one race (humans) and making it single player they are starting with a smaller more manageable task. (I never play as humans but this one time…).

      Sometimes the developer holds on long enough to finish the game and make it nice (Distant Worlds, SOTS2) and other times not so much (Legends of Pegasus). Endless Space is still selling and people seem to like it so maybe it’ll get better. Not for me (the combat is too awful and I don’t think it can be fixed) but for others.

  20. Xyggy says:

    Spot-on review, imo. I actually regret getting this expansion. I thought the vanilla game was meh, and this expansion landed ES solidly in the “regret” pile. MOO2 and GalCiv 2 are still the best turn-based 4x space games out there (in that order, imo). No other game has seemed to come close to either of those since. I have hope for Horizon, but it’s a shallow hope. My only real hope for a modern 4x turn-based space game of any merit is GalCiv 3. Hopefully it will actually have tactical turn-based ship combat. Any news on that? Haven’t heard boo from StarDock.

    A “Sid Meier’s Alpha Centari 2” would be pretty epic, too. Firaxis? You made good with XCOM… how ’bout it?

    • jackswift says:

      Brad has been a big tease when it comes to GalCiv 3… there’s been plenty of hints dropped, but nothing concrete. Our best evidence is a thread with art assets from “5 or 6 different projects”, some of which are clearly space oriented and Gal-Civ like.

      http://forums.elementalgame.com/445174

      • salvo says:

        thanks for the hint, I really hope for a GalCiv 3, I think Stardock is one of the few devs which could do it right. Hopefully including tactical combat as well.

  21. Thiosk says:

    The reviewer is entitled to leave as low as score as they like. If the single player is garbage and the MP is amazing, I really need to see the 6, rather than the average of 6 and 10, to make my choice. I won’t play competitive multiplayer, and prefer to play 4x like a glorified city builder with fleets.

    ES was one I was hoping for because it essentially eliminated battles– I find battles, especially late game, to become quite tedious in this genre, especially once the game has lop sided in either my, or my opponents’ favors.

    • Mezmorki says:

      Try Armads 2526 and disable manual battle resolution (which is a mostly poorly done real-time thing anyway). Battles can be important, but Aramada does away with ship design (which I also find tedious in most games) and battles are redcued to some strategic choices about engagement decisions when used in auto-resolve fashion.

      I’m amazed that Armada doesn’t get more recognition. The design itself was really interesting and well thought out.

  22. Ace of the Stars says:

    Haven´t tried the Harmony race yet, but I guess it will only get me where I am right now, I lose every game against the AI, they literally throw fleets after fleets at me and I can´t defend myself for very long. Any advice on the ship design department? And how can I expand without my people striking on me after a few turns?

    • jackswift says:

      That last update really made the AI a fair bit of nasty. Normally I have no problem on hard, but in the most recent game I played they handed me my ass on a silver platter. I turned the difficulty down to normal and they still put up a decent fight.

      For ship design, look at what the enemy is making and build/retrofit ships to counter them. In general, you can respond to the enemy designs faster than the AI can to yours. Get a good fleet or pilot hero (ideally both) and stick him/her on your best fleet… heroes make a big difference. I am usually able to counter lots of AI fleets with a well prepared of my best tech ships that use all the command points available. I’ve noticed the AI using the concentrate fire option a few times, so make sure to put some ships with a ton of defense first in your formations.

      Happiness is a little trickier. There’s always a careful balance you need to achieve between expansion and morale. As a rule of thumb, colonize planets in systems that have resources that give more happiness than the malus of the planet type. If there’s a juicier planet (like say, a huge jungle world), take those first and then colonize any remaining planets that have more positive approval bonuses than negative. Try not to colonize single planet systems unless there’s a really nice world (or critical resource), expansion disapproval depends on number of systems colonized, not number of planets. Also, the empire tax slider is your friend… usually at the start of games I lower the tax rate to jump start production and research, then creep it back up to stockpile some cash, then lower it after the first wave of expansion to keep them happy, then raise it when those colonies can build their own approval structures (supermarkets and the passport thingy).

      • Ace of the Stars says:

        Thanks for the help jackswift, I’m getting really tired of not winning a single game vs. the AI. :( I mean, I play the game just to have fun (like everyone else right?) but reaching a point and getting almost obliterated is too much, I noticied it happens sooner on this expansion, that’s not good.

        Will be more on the lookout for the AI’s ships, gotta make use of the defenses they aren´t putting on their ships if I want to kill’em all! Seeing a fleet with MP’s of 8000 or more is worrying though, since I never get there at the same time as the AI does, so I guess I get really behind on military issues. :(

        One thing I’ve learned is don´t expand like a madman, take your time and colonize the best planets early on, leave the rest for later. Sadly, I only got this late in my playthroughs, but everyone learns at some point. I always use the tax slider (would be in deep trouble if I didn´t) but “Strike” appears everytime in more than 5 systems at a time, gotta expand more slowly as I said.

        Good advice on the formations of the ships, never figured that out.

        Well, let´s see if the advices and experience are put to good use in my games, as I see, I´m not a really good player at this.

  23. Michael says:

    Thank you Keith for the in depth review and insights, and thank you also to your readers that took the time for their in-depth comments that were also very helpful.

    I have some newbe comments for the game (after about 100 hours of playing both games – lots of early games). My computer system is relatively advanced (top as of a few years ago) with near-top video card as of a year ago. There were zero slow-down or performance issues on the highest resolution (I bought Disharmony including the Classic Game, I didn’t play it when the original first came out).

    I am looking for an excellent space chess for my buddy and I to play. We have been MOO2 (others include MMH6) fans since it came out. I like the way in ESD how, at first, the tech’s really matter and each give a major, needed capability. It leads to fun and highly strategic initial choices. The custom faction creation is a bit disappointing. Click on the Sophons and then “add” and discover you are, without changing them, at 77 out of a maximum of 65 points. So to improve on the faction through customization requires throwing away a net of 12 points (in that example)… a major downside. This aspect of the game isn’t even covered in the review but it is a major, perhaps the major element for my friend and I. The biggest strategic element is of course who you choose to be as you play.

    By space chess I mean the thousands of decisions made, from the beginning, to win or lose the game, with success or failure determined almost entirely by the relative quality of those decisions (grand, developmental and tactical). It is a major improvement over MOO2 that research costs x research points, period, with no randomness. Random factors are fine if they are balanced (we usually have to turn that off in MOO2). If random factors are so major as to determine who wins and loses, however, why not just draw cards and declare a winner? In some ESD games you have a system with six large useful planets a few clicks away. In other initial setups finding a system with 1 useful planet is tough. Still, experiencing a variety of conditions and situations is excellent fun in multiplayer and winning and losing some games due entirely to luck is fine because they are (with honest players who respect each other and will resign) very quick. If such luck factors are balanced it is fine. Overcoming a few negative luck factors and winning anyway is very satisfying. I noticed that playing a “young” universe gives better systems and improves strategic play.

    The point made in the comments to this review above about research being incremental… yeah, that is a negative. That is the huge distinction (mostly) of MOO2 orver MOO1 and MOO3 where researches were just more of the same (boring, non-strategic) thing. Here it is somewhere in-between, having several of the same thing incrementatlly better, but also some excellent major jumps (like going from a +1 research system improvement to a +5 research improvement (in Disharmony only). That is a major jump and obtaining it, or not yet, is a strategic choice. It is expensive and powerful, as strategic choices should be.

    As a newbe to Disharmony and ES at the same time, I found the description of combat to be so sparce as to be non-existant. I still do not get it. One of the comments above mentioned rounds and phases. In manual mode do you need to do something, what, how? What keys? My bad but I spent tons of turns in an early game trying to take over a planet with 4 full fleets and making zero progress by not knowing about invasion modules (or the window that shows progress – or lack of). The Wiki strategy guide online is so full of annoying advertisements it is basically unreadable. It also has only about 15% of what is needed. About the rock/paper/scissors nature of combat, that is too bad… completely unnnecessary and not a strategic element… but eventually it should be okay (familarity neutralizes such factors eventually).

    So my review of the three major phases of the game from my perspective:
    Faction Creation: 6/10 (Nice but built in disadvantages going to custom)
    Game play during the first three “ex”‘s: 8/10 (mostly excellent research tree and planet/game factors initially but beomes incremental (this appears better in “Disharmony” vs the “Classic Game – which earns a lower score of 7/10 for this second phase there). For the third phase of fighting I am not qualified to evaluate but found it difficult to understand as a newbe… there is a major lack of good, clean documentation. Your review was the best in-depth info I found so far, but it was only accidentally a decent usage guide.

  24. Zaknafein says:

    A very good review, seems the things I hated about the original game are still alive and well ;p saved me a couple of bucks, thanks

  25. Rikonius says:

    The Harmony aren’t underpowered. They’re endgame players. If you play in a big galaxy, turtle up at first, they’re a horrific unstoppable force of devastation.
    Once you get the tech that lets you purify systems of dust, you can make all your territory practically useless to any other faction in 5 turns. Even if you can’t hold the territory for long, take a system, hold it for 5 then leave it undefended and let the other faction try to adjust for the lack of dust.
    And no upkeep for fleets or improvements means that you can get systems with insane levels of system defense that can churn out almost a full fleet a turn. And you can keep building fleets until you have an armada that would crush the economies of all the other empires combined.
    I’ve been playing as the Harmony at normal level, huge 8 armed spiral with 8 other empires. I spent the first 100 turns dead last in everything, got that purification tech, and within 50 turns I was 3rd in tech, 4th in military power, 5th in FIS, 4th in overall score. 50 more turns and I was first in everything and had the tech tree maxed out.
    And last night just how insane my military buildup is was made apparent. I’d taken the last few systems from the Sowers and was moving my fleets to Pilgrim space. On the turn that the fleets arrived, I saw the “fleets without orders” counter appear. 1… 4… 7… 12… 25… 56… 84… 107… 118. 118 fleets with 5 dreadnoughts apiece. And that’s not all my fleets, just the ones that were not currently sieging, moving, or defending. If I were so inclined, I could park a full fleet on every enemy system and blockade/siege all non-Harmony territory and still have enough left over to steamroll all capitals next turn. If I weren’t taking things slow to try to get the fighter swatting and troop collateral damage achievements, I’d do just that.
    I did the end game to check out the circle graphs, and I have a little over half the territory, and about 90 of the military might in the galaxy.

  26. Starbuck says:

    Thx Keith for taking the time to re-review Endless Space.

    To Michael,
    actually, custom-designed races are usually way superior to classic races.
    I’ll give you an example in single-player mode :

    CRUSADERS
    Sophon Affinity/Pilgrim appearance

    negative traits (-48 pts)

    Black Thumb (-10% food production)
    Price of beauty (+10% ship cost of production on Empire)
    Unlucky colonist (adds an anomaly on home planet)
    Dust Impaired (+100% Dust cost on hero abilities)
    Micromanagers (-40% on hero XP)
    Sloppy Sawbones (+100% healing time on heroes)
    Slow Travellers (-2 movement points on fleet)

    the first 3 are minor growth impediment, and the third is usually removed in the early phase of game with research
    the next 3 are all focus on heroes, but since my planet administrators are rarely in fight or use special abilities, they mean nothing.
    As for my fleet heroes, I don’t remember ever losing one (and pretty much never use their Dust abilities in single mode)

    slow travellers is more of a handicap, especially early on. This means that you must absolutely equip all your ships with good engines.
    but mid-game, you can cancel this with travel bonus throughout your Empire or with a Command ship that provides bonus movement to fleets.

    and now, here are the positive traits I can afford (way above a classic Sophon race) :

    Big Fleets (+3 Command Points)
    Dust Recyclers (+10 Dust on each enemy CP destroyed)
    Knowledge Gathering (+20 Research on each enemy CP destroyed)
    Optimal Structure (+30% ship module capacity)
    Strong Alloy (+20% on ship structure)
    Scientists (+20% Research on Empire)
    Businessmen (+10% Dust on Empire)
    Crowded Planets (+2 pop on Tiny/Small, +1 on medium)

    the first 5 are clearly designed to create large fleets early on and use that to gather ressources (Dust, Research) from your neighbours or pirates.
    Everything is good to shoot down : even a measly scout ship will bring you net 10 Dust and might be enough to complete a research 1 turn earlier.
    Also, the larger the fleet, the more firepower you can concentrate on enemy ships, thus ensuring their destruction, limiting your own losses and eliminating enemy fleets by round 1 or 2 of a space battle.
    the extra space is more than useful to compensate the need for engines (Slow Travellers), and when using fleets on choke-point planets, you can very nearly have double firepower than whatever the AI throws at you (you start with fleet of 5 CPs, I do with 8 CPs). At mid-game, those +30% module space capacity will help you have a definite edge for your ship customisation.
    The next 3 are more about Empire management and are very useful at boosting production + better System defense (most improvements are population-based)

  27. Starbuck says:

    To Ace of Stars (and others),

    as already said, a space battle is comprised of 3 phase (long, mid and short range), each subdivided into 3 rounds of fire.

    each of the 3 main weapons have a “natural” range :
    kinetic > close range
    plasma > medium range
    missile > long

    this means that you will fire more often at your normal range (or below), but that you do less damage on each shots than if you were to select a higher range
    just as importantly, weapon systems on shorter range take less space, thus you can carry more.

    let’s look at kinetic basic weapon :

    long range
    weight 9
    0.7 accuracy
    x2 critic multiplier
    35 max damage
    35 min damage
    5 projectiles per salvo
    3 rounds before reach
    3 rounds before reload

    the last 2 details are very important.
    It means that when your ship will fire at round 1 of Long Range phase, they will reach your target by round 3 of that phase, and your weapons will be able to fire again at round 1 of Medium Range Phase.

    put it differently, you’ll fire only once during that Phase, and you need to survive 3 rounds before you can hope to destroy your opponent (not guaranteed, though ;))

    now, same kinetic weapon but at medium range settings
    weight 11
    0.3 accuracy
    x2 critic multiplier
    14 max damage
    14 min damage
    15 projectiles per salvo
    1 round before reach
    1 round before reload

    that weapon system is more cumbersome (weight 11 compared to 9), a lot less likely to hit on each shots (30% compared to 70%), and do less than half the damage.
    but you compensate by firing more shots.
    More importantly, you shoot at each rounds of the Phase, and you hit at the end of that round, meaning that you wear down your target’s hull structure continuously rather than wait 3 rounds to see what will happen.
    that will help you prepare for the upcoming Phase in case the target has a hard shell, but it’ll also be more likely for you to destroy ships gradually rather in a “all-or-nothing” setting at Long Range.

    since the amount of damage you take is directly linked to how many enemy ships are still available, the sooner you destroy any one of them (even just 1) will go a long way to ensure your ultimate victory at the lowest cost.

    and now, let’s look at close range, the “natural” for kinetic weapons
    weight 7
    0.5 accuracy
    x2 critic multiplier
    2 max damage
    2 min damage
    30 projectiles per salvo

    here you have a quasi-continuous stream of bullets being shelled at your opponent with a better accuracy than at mid range, but with very small damage, compensated by their very high numbers (30 projectiles)

    Now, if you combined that data with your fleet tactics in focusing your firepower to ensure as fast as possible a destruction of enemy ships, then there is no reasons why you couldn’t defeat fleets up to twice your firepower.
    for example, focus either on 1/3 of the enemy ships, or just one at Long Range. Then 1/3 or spread it all at Medium Range if you are dealing enough damages, or Retreat and come back later ;)

    Finally, try to use ship designs in their best fields.
    Destroyers have small Hull compared to a Dreadnought, but their weapon module cost 25% less space. And they are just 1 CP compared to the 4 CPs of a Dreadnought, meaning that in exchange for survivability of individal ships, you can drastically increase the firepower of your fleet.

    like said by other posters, now it makes sense to have a big, well defended ship in front, with plenty of small ones armed to the teeth behind.
    Also use a Command Ship to provide fleet with boni to weapons damage, repair and movement.

    Best regards,

  28. CraftlordDark says:

    Excellent review D:

    Im happy to see more 4x players that think like me about this game D:
    Sadly, im one of the few that was tricked with the pretty trailers and pre-order this unpolished game… D:

    Keep up the good work D: I really enjoy your reviews D:

  29. Malakai says:

    Thanks for the review, but just to bring up a small grammar problem – you’re using the world “then” instead of “than”. Greater THAN, rather THAN, faster THAN, etc. It ISN’T greater THEN, rather THEN or faster THEN.

    Still, thank you for your review. It has reassured me that StarDrive is the game for me.

    • Keith Turner says:

      Thanks for the comment, Malakai. I do proof all of my articles, but some things do get missed. You wouldn’t want to see my first draft. I’ll pay closer attention to this in the future.

      Glad you enjoyed the review!

    • vahnn says:

      Reading this a couple years later, but I really had to mention this as well! The constant misuse of then/than was driving me nuts!

      Then is used when sequencing events, Than is used in comparisons!

  30. vahnn says:

    I’m just now revisiting this game, having not played since a few months after the games original release. I haven’t played enough yet to discover a lot of the problems you had with the game, though. Given it’s two years since this review, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a lot of these issues already adjusted or fixed in various patches.

    One answer to your confusion as to the usefulness of adjusting weapon ranges is that it’s probably primarily a multiplayer feature. Each weapon type is known to have a specific specialized range, and there are cards that can be played that will either protect against or enhance your own projectiles of a specific type. If an enemy player is reliably reducing your attacks in the specific range, you’re forced to use a counter card. But now you can instead adjust the range of your weapons and make that opponent waste a card during that phase and you can instead repair or sabotage their weapons while still increasing your offensive capability during the new optimized phase for your weapons.

    It wouldn’t be practically to retrofit to change this between every fight, but you could create a couple different types of ship with different weapon ranges to throw them off!


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