Endless Space 2 PC Review

Endless Space 2 is without question one of the most immersive 4x strategy titles on the market.

By Woozie, Posted 23 May 2017

When Endless Space popped up on Steam, back in 2012, I wasn’t expecting a game that would draw me in so easily. Amplitude’s first title was a companion during many rainy college nights, when conquering the stars seemed more palpable than the oft insurmountable act of studying. A large part of my fondness with it came from its varied factions and great lore, this fondness growing considerably with the studio’s next title, Endless Legend. Fast forward to a few days ago, and we’ve Endless Space 2 receiving a significant update right before leaving Early Access. I’ve my fair share of skepticism around Early Access titles however, Amplitude Studios have shown yet again that they can handle their stuff fairly well. Thus, let us jump straight into how Endless Space 2 plays.

Endless Space 2, Screenshot, Review, PC

As I mentioned in my Endless Space 2 Early Access Preview, the title expands upon the population system the previous game employed.  Pops are individualized, providing different bonuses which can synergize with the type of planets, the presence of anomalies and other elements. They also have influence on political matters, having an inclination of their own. This means that in order to work on your empire’s efficiency, when it comes to the production of FIDSI (Endless Legend’s Influence has been added to the series’ take on resource systems), you’ll need to move them around quite a bit. Minor factions have lore attached to them and come with a specific trait. While foreign populations can be found by exploring the galaxy, assimilating a minor faction either through conquest, diplomacy or gene splicing (provided you’re Horatio), also gains you their trait. Getting a system upgraded to level 2 comes with a starport, allowing you to move population types even between star systems. When pops are moved, it is done so via logistics ships which cannot be controlled by the player, but are seen on the map. The same goes for resources and trade companies. Having routes blockaded means potentially losing these small ships and their cargo, regardless of its nature. Against an aggressive enemy, one has to carefully consider which routes to prioritize defending, as production can take quite a blow otherwise.

Heroes feel a little too uniform, despite belonging to different factions and there being four classes of them. Similar to the first game, they can be assigned to either systems or ships and, while they do come with bonuses that strengthen whatever you assign them to, they don’t feel particularly unique, from a gameplay standpoint. A stat boost is always welcome, and you do get to see their ships in combat, but a hero should be more than that. There could have been a higher level of synergy, or some unique ways in which they affect battles or system development. For now, however, they’re pretty far from becoming recognizable faces in any empire.

Endless Space 2, Screenshot, Review, PC

A gripe I usually have with 4x strategy games (and frankly strategy in general) regards diplomacy systems and their lack of adding to the impression you’re going against empires with actual plans. Endless Space 2 didn’t turn out to be the game which changed my mind. The AI doesn’t do a whole lot in terms of diplomacy. It will yell at you when something as small as an exploration ship passes through their territory, or let you know that they’d be interested in trading, provided you’re one of the stronger factions. Whether it is actually trading resources or technology, proposing trade or science agreements, or forging alliances, it’s always the player that has to make the first step. The AI does tend to make some silly decisions, as well. On one occasion, I proposed peace to an AI player, only to have them cancel the deal one turn later. I went on doing this for a couple of turns, with the exact same results playing out in the exact same fashion. I’ve also had factions on the brink of destruction declare war on me a couple of turns prior to them being erased from the map. Regarding fleet behavior, while they do seem to make better use of larger fleets than during Early Access, I could still see fleets of just one attack ship moving one after another in between systems (this being a common issue with the pre-release build of the game).

A divisive element of the first title in the series was its battle system. The cinematic battles have also made their ways into Endless Space 2. The three phase approach was replaced with a, simpler, one phase approach. A pool of tactics from which you can choose is available on your empire. More can be added to the initial choices via exploration or military research. Before each battle you choose one, depending on yours and the enemy’s fleet composition, and roll with it. The battle will then play out in front of you, provided you don’t auto-resolve. While the cinematic battles do end up looking a bit too similar after a while, lacking any real dynamic ship movement, the quality of the game’s visuals had me going back repeatedly to see dreadnoughts rip through pirates and opposing factions. Discounting the combat system based solely on its hands-off approach during actual battles would be a mistake. Ship customization and fleet composition need to harmonize with the tactics you have available. Add to that the fact that every faction’s ships differ in terms of number and type of add-on choices and you’ve got a good amount of things to take into consideration. Ground battles have also received a similar treatment. Manpower goes towards different types of units (ground, armor, and air) that function in a very rock-paper-scissors way. One tactic is chosen before the battle ensues and you’re treated to a small board upon which the battle happens. Overall, I found myself enjoying Endless Space 2’s take on space battles as the cinematic element does add a moment of respite from the intensive empire-management that lies at the core of the title.

Endless Space 2, Screenshot, Review, PC

Faction, cooperative and competitive quests weave a strong narrative aiding the immersion factor immensely. On top of that, ranking high (based on contribution) in cooperative and competitive quests provides a significant resource advantage that comes in handy at different stages of any match. Not only do they spice up turns where you’d otherwise wait on buildings to finish and fleets to move, but they can also end up having a say in how you develop your empire for a number of turns. Some involve making choices which may require you to shift the empire’s focus in a different direction for a small number of turns. That being said, bugs did pop up during my playthroughs either through quests that wouldn’t register as completed despite the objective being achieved, or by rewards not being given out upon completion. As far as game customization goes, turn timers and the option of having a global game time (x number of hours, at the end of which a score victory is calculated) are included alongside a decent number of galaxy modifiers. Add to that six victory types which require different approaches to playing the game and you’ve got yourself a good set of options to choose from.

Political systems are a new addition to the series. Every Endless Space 2 faction starts with different Government types and political orientations, depending on their lore. The Vodyani will always have a Spiritual majority initially, while the Sophons will be led by Scientists. The political preference of different types of population plays into this however, the driving force behind political shifts lies in your actions as a player. Building lots of ships will see a rise in Militarist approval, while system improvements will help Industrialists. Empire-wide laws can be given out, those available being determined by the political factions leading the Senate. This is where it gets interesting. The way in which you’re sometimes required to react may have it so that a new faction takes the Senate seat. When a faction whose laws are in effect gets removed from the Senate, their laws also get removed. This adds an interesting variable to the game. Sure, there are workarounds in actions to influence elections or the possibility to refine population types once you have enough of the luxury resources they require, but these aren’t always handy. Be that as it may, the political system doesn’t always impress. Populations rarely contest your choices, which feels a bit strange. On top of that, a faction of Pacifists will quickly go to having (and accepting) Militarists as Senate leaders, provided you dedicate a couple of turns to building military vessels. While having militarists leading during wartime does have its perks, this does make your empire’s population (whose lore orientation could be Ecologist, or Pacifist) feel quite soulless, robbing them of nuance. Seeing this expanded, so that your population’s opinion is louder, is something that is quite needed.

Endless Space 2, Screenshot, Review, PC

Endless Space 2 comes forth with exceptional, if not flawless, UI, visual and sound design. From the artwork behind the short planet colonization clips, to the intricate, unique, faction-specific ship design and the galaxy itself (regardless how far in or out you’re zoomed) everything in Endless Space 2 looks amazing. The UI is designed in a very slick manner and offers all the information that’s required without having you jump through a large number of hoops. The inclusion of what the studio calls Augmented Reality applies a screen-wide filter which singles out different types of information, depending on your level of zoom. I’ve yet to be as impressed with an UI’s mixture of aesthetics and utility as I was with Endless Space 2’s. Then, there’s the soundtrack. When dealing with space games what I refer to as “spacey synths” a lot become a first choice for composers. Obviously, there’s a risk of the soundtrack feeling too common, but FlybyNo steers as clear of that as my cat does of staying awake for large periods of time. Predominantly assignable to what’s called electronica, the tracks take on different elements depending on the faction you’re playing as adding just the right amount of spice to an already amazing soundscape.

I’ve gotten so far into reviewing Endless Space 2 without going into detail on what I firmly believe to be Amplitude’s most significant contribution to the medium: unique and interesting factions. Starting with their first game and continuing through to Endless Legend we’ve been treated to some factions that ooze originality. Endless Space 2 follows in that trend. Certainly, from a gameplay perspective they’re not reinventing the wheel. Instead, they’re just adding certain elements that make playing every faction feel different. To give a few examples, The Vodyani need to harvest Essence in order to create Arks (the large ships that act as their homes) and pops. This means that not only will you be relocating your home bases around, but you’ll also need to find other factions to harvest. The Unfallen, have a wholly different take on colonization. Instead of sending ships and waiting for outposts, they have their colonizer ships wait in orbit, while roots go down starlanes. When these roots reach the system, you can instantly colonize it and begin production. Elements like these are present with each faction, however, the place where they truly shine is in the lore. Every faction’s quest tells a story that’s very well written, making the player feel that they are playing their part in a large space opera. Certain characters and events will end up sticking with you, as long as you give the far-from-negligible quantities of text your attention. Add to that the fact that there’s a lot to learn about technologies, planets and mercenary heroes and it’s easy to see you’re dealing with a welcoming universe that’s waiting to be explored. It’s true that the inclusion of races from the first Endless Space somewhat lessens the freshness of the faction roster, at least compared to Endless Legend, however, all their stories are worth experiencing.

Endless Space 2, Screenshot, Review, PC

Endless Space 2 takes elements from both the first game in the series and its planet-bound cousin, mixing them together into a great package. It has its flaws, as I mentioned when discussing heroes, diplomacy and the bugs that gravitate around quests. It also has amazing visuals, audio and UI design, coupled with what Amplitude clearly have a knack for: uniquely different factions. As with any 4x strategy game, the content that’s, hopefully, to come will expand on various elements of the game. Be that as it may, throwing your money at Endless Space 2 right now already gives you a great package that plays both the immersion and replayability cards well. It might not be perfect in every aspect, but Endless Space 2 is a damn great 4x strategy game.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Amplitude Studios
Developer(s): Amplitude Studios
Genres: Turn-Based Strategy
Themes: Sci-Fi
Release Date: 2016-12-31

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