I don't know if you've noticed it from my repeated coverings of what's happening with Endless Space 2, but this is a game I'm very excited about. I've been a fan of the games produced by Amplitude Studios for awhile now, and while I was somewhat worried about their partnership with Sega (given what's happened to a lot of the other games they get their hands on) I breathed a sigh of relief however, when I powered up the game and started to play around with it. Despite being in early access, Endless Space 2 could turn out to be Amplitude Studios at its finest.
They're a young developer, Amplitude Studios is. They started out as a little project comprised of former Ubisoft employees back in 2011 out in Paris. The following year they released their first game, Endless Space. Unfortunately I wasn't aware of Amplitude Studios at the time so I missed the launch but boy am I glad I was around for the sequel. They've come a long way in a short period of time, recently being acquired by Sega Europe, which is something I've had my reservations about but I think that Amplitude has created a real winner with this one.
Endless Space 2 is available on Steam for $29.99, but please keep in mind it is still in early access, so there's only four factions available and some features are missing. We can expect it sometime early 2017, after its gone though a few more months of letting the fans toy around with it as it currently is because if there is one thing the developers are known for its letting the fans have plenty of time to see how the game is turning out and then letting them put their own two cents in.
It would be wrong to say that Endless Space 2 has a story. Rather it has several stories that all run parallel to one another. Each playable faction in the game has its own unique faction-specific quest line, turning a 'Go here and Kill X' mission into a hyper-detailed chapter in a larger story. So instead of an over-arching plot connecting every race together, each campaign feels like its been zoomed in on that one faction, granting you a greater insight into your leader (as each campaign centers around the leader of your faction.) As I was unable to pick which of the factions I wanted to play first I slapped the random button and trusted the winds of chance to take me where I wanted to be. And surprise, surprise, I started with The United Empire.
Made playable less than a week ago at the time I started my campaign, The United Empire is led by one Emperor Maximilian Zelevas who had, ahem, united his home planet under one banner and was now taking its first baby steps out into the stars. Our storyline then centers around him. It seems that The United Empire is not as united as he first thought, and there is a faction set out to dethrone him. This faction has been laboring away in the shadows for decades, unseen and waiting for the right time to strike.
The storyline follows a quasi choose-your-own-adventure style. The outcome is always the same but you get three options, usually requiring you to do a certain task, like collect 600 Dust. Sometimes you get to choose your own reward, for example as we followed Maximilian we were asked to pick a successor, an Emperor-elect from one of three candidates. Who you picked became your second official hero, powerful politicians and generals who govern your planets and lead your fleets.
I will admit I was a little worried when I first powered up the campaign to find that the player wouldn't be getting much help from any kind of virtual advisor. Of the three, Beginner, Advanced, and Expert, only Expert was available. This meant that I would only be getting help from the advisor on subjects that were new to Endless Space 2, which is going to be off putting to those of you who hasn't ever played an Amplitude Studios game. You see, those two features hadn't been implemented yet. This is a game that's still in early access. So naturally, my review will not cover everything in the game and things will absolutely be changing along the way until we get to our release date.
Right off the bat after I've picked my species is that I've noticed Amplitude Studios has our standard setup for galaxy type, number of worlds, you know all of the things that you should expect a RTS game to have for setting up a map. I did like how the Galaxy Shape had options that you didn't normally see in the genre, for example there was one option that let you play in a galaxy that had collided with another galaxy. So naturally we picked that one.
The first thing I wanted to do was to explore the galaxy. I put my first hero (with an unpronounceably Russian sounding name FYI) at the helm of my patrol fleet and set off. Not only the admiral of my fleet, this particular Hero was also the leader of one of my two political parties. The United Empire at the start of my game comprised of two parties: The overwhelmingly dominant Industrialists and the weak by comparison Militarists. Over time the tables would flip, as I found myself in an increasingly hostile galaxy. But new parties did join as I grew and completed side quests, such as the Pacifist party. You can pass certain laws using your influence according to the party that is in power, and certain laws will naturally become unavailable depending on who is in charge. Every twenty turns you are hit with an election cycle, with a helpful pop-up telling you who is likely to win while cautioning you that the polls can be wrong and should be held with suspicion (something we Americans have recently had to learn the hard way).
By the time I had started figuring out the politics I had reached my first inhabitable system and it was time for Amplitude Studios to wow me with the visuals. Upon arriving at each new system after traveling down one of the lanes connecting stars the game proceeds to do a slow zoom through every planet in that system. While not as spoiling as Endless Legend was with its visuals, it is still easily the most beautiful aspect of the game in its current form. Below is a photo of the first planets that I came across that I could colonize. All in all, it wasn't anything too impressive in terms of resources. But I settled it anyway. Upon entering of this system my fleets became aware of multiple 'anomalies', curious blips that had popped up on the radar that I could dispatch a probe to in order to scan. Some planets had none, some had two or three.
These anomalies often grand bonuses or show you hidden resources, some of them offer choices that will give you one of two rewards. Most of them start a small side-quest that takes a turn or two to complete. If there was a disappointing area of the game as it is right now it would have to be these side-quests. There are only a few of them that I've gotten so far and most of them lack the depth I've seen from other Amplitude Studios games, which is a shame because the game does have some fantastic writing and these quests provide an opportunity to both show this off and provide the player something to do while sitting around waiting for your construction to finish.
The basic resource in Endless Space 2 is dust, as seen in the photo of Khras II second to last in the list of resources. Each one serves a basic role, with food being the most obvious. Industry is used for the development of your ships and as such is vital for your empire while science is used to unlock technologies, and controls the rate of technological growth in your society. The United Empire is an industrial powerhouse, and I quickly catapulted to the top of the leaderboard in terms of military size. It was around this time that I started to run into the other factions and pay a little more attention to my pops. They're the often unseen, driving force behind your space empire and absolutely essential. I noticed, however that when I started the game my home planet already had several alien pops.
This didn't make any sense to me, as according to the lore behind The United Empire, they had just started to get their feet wet with FTL travel. There's no way that aliens (specifically the Hissho) could have popped up on the planet when the established lore says they've just left their planet and are starting to contact aliens. In fact, I find the whole immigration system confusing! So pops are generated on a planet based on food output, but it seems like the type of pop is random. One turn I could be generating a Hissho, and then the next I'm seeing species names that I haven't even encountered yet and wouldn't know about if not for the faction list which I had to continue to check. I've no idea why Sophons, who are a pacifist race, are popping up on worlds controlled by a violent expansionist, militaristic and authoritative Empire. How is this measured? What makes my worlds so desirable for pops belonging to factions with wildly different outlooks on life. It's like waking up one day in your bed to find that the house next to yours has been sold to Chungus, a 12 foot tall cockroach with a receding hairline and seven toes on one foot.
I started to notice that more and more of my border worlds were beginning to fill up with pops of an alien race, rather than my own. That's all well and good, I'm no xenophobe. The entire point of The United Empire is to go out and meet new peoples before turning them into new patriots, after all. But this particular race wasn't the most friendly out there, they were Cravers. Cravers, as the name implies, are hunter-gatherers created by the Endless race during their brutal civil war to feed. They cant make peace with other factions, they exist to consume other races and expand. Of course, being a peaceful and non-threatening nation that couldn't be allowed to continue. And so we went to war.
Or to clarify, they declared war on me. Oh well, not like I wasn't planning on it eventually. But it did catch me with my guard down. At first, the combat was a bit confusing. It's not like most space RTS games I've played, where combat is narrowed down to dice and as it is in Stellaris or in Sins of a Solar Empire. You don't have much control over combat apart from picking a battle plan. For example, you can set your fleet to fight evasively or to snipe at the other ships from a distance. These each have their own pros and cons and different ships fill different roles.
In Endless Space 2 the space combat feels tense, at first. You've got a handful of ships, four or five in a fleet and You can't do anything but sit there and watch, hoping that your ships pull through. It certainly doesn't hurt that the cinematic isn't too shabby to watch but after awhile I can safely say that it does get a bit repetitive. Luckily, you can fast forward through it. But it seems like the combat does need some work because you could just hit auto resolve and not have to load the cinematic and deal with it at all, which is something I did end up doing as the war progressed. But I want to say again, Endless Space 2 is still a work in progress. With weapons technologies and ship modules and the hero ships that double as your admirals there's a lot of potential for diversified combat. Ships can be modified at will to function with different roles in your fleets and different resources found in your empire will allow for the construction of newer, better weapons. I won't write off combat as a complete failure and low point in the game yet because there's still plenty of time for things to change. But right now it feels very rock-paper-scissors. I would like to inform you now that as this game is still in early access, some features are missing. One of them was the ability to reinforce your fleets in combat. I had to learn this fun little fact when in the middle of invading a solar system.
Ground battles were where things started to get interesting, and confusing for me. Ground battles follow the same formula as space battles. You've got three options, as seen above during my invasion of the Gano system. I chose Preemptive Bombing because I personally think its the best choice for most of my battles. But to launch these massive planetary invasions, you need manpower. Manpower is a resource, and the more manpower your planets have the better they'll do against invasions and the more manpower your fleets have, the better they'll do in combat. But for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to get manpower. It seemed like my fleets had sucked me dry of all available manpower, and no matter what I was doing I couldn't get it back. I realized eventually that in order to recover manpower you have to return to a planet you owned and regenerate it, but for the impatient player (or the one in desperate times) you can 'research' a particular tech on your worlds in one turn that turns pops into manpower. The war waged on for many days and many nights, with mounting casualties on both sides. And that war still wages on in my campaign right now with no end in sight. But the advent of new technologies from the next Era have turned the tides in my favor.
On that note, lets detour and talk a little bit about technology before we wrap this section up. Technology in Endless Space 2 is split into multiple eras, with Era 4 have just recently been unlocked and made available to all players. By researching a specific number of technologies you move up to the next Era. Just to give you an example the number you need for Era one is 10. Technology is split into four quadrants like on a grid according to what kind of technology it is, what part of your empire it focuses on improving. There's a quadrant for empire development, science and exploration, diplomacy and population, and warfare. Some technologies are given to you for completing a quest that are unique to you, which are displayed at the top of the Era menu alongside your faction specific ships hull type on the right. Some technology is faster to research than others and some technology is just useless for your faction and shouldn't be considered at all. How you choose to research is up to you, but be sure to keep this in the back of your mind: researching some technologies automatically means you can not research others.
Graphics and sound
The graphics and sound in Endless Space 2 are good but nothing too exciting or wowing. The graphics feel like a step down form Endless Legend, but they're very good and the soundtrack compliments the game perfectly. Which as I've said time and time again, the soundtracks job is to compliment the main game and Amplitude Studios has never had problems pairing a soundtrack to a game to create the right atmosphere. The art style follows the same general theme we've gotten with previous Amplitude Studios games but it deviates just enough for to to not look like its cut and paste. Endless Space 2 stands on its own two feet in this regard.
I'd give it a strong eight right now, despite the fact I want to give it a ten. As Endless Space 2 is in early access, there's a lot of stuff that needs tweaking and improving. There are only four factions and a lack of quests but I attribute that to the fact that we're in early access rather than any fault on the developers. The galaxy doesn't feel like its living, and I think that this is arguably its biggest flaw. You have AI minor factions but they sit there and the galaxy really feels empty except for your ships, and the occasional ship from another fleet coming into your territory. They've tried to fix this with pirates, but this just doesn't feel like its enough to offset that emptiness. But fans of anything that Amplitude Studios has previously produced will certainly like this one, and its sure to draw in new players.
|+ Good visuals||– Limited quests|
|+ Well written storylines||– Some poorly explained mechanics (pops/migration/manpower)|
|+ Exactly what I expect from an Amplitude Studios game||– Combat can get boring after some time|
|+ Work in progress, plenty of time to improve, by no means completed.|
|+ Buying it now allows you to provide input on how the final product will turn out, thats why Amplitude put it in early release|
|+ A bargain right now in terms of price|