On Tuesday I did something I havenāt done for a very, very long time.
I went to the gym.
I was forced to go after an intervention by my friends, because all Iād done over the weekend was play Endless Space.
When I first got the preview code that would enable me to look at this up and coming title from Amplitude Studios, I wasnāt expecting much. It seemed like the standard 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) title fare. Yāknow, I thought Endless Space would be like Civilization V, but not as good, and in space. Whoop whoop.
What a surprise I was in for.
Endless Space, even at alpha stage, is a truly impressive experience. It's engrossing, engaging, and it took up my whole damn weekend. I even prioritised it over some hardcore yo-pro partying, it was that interesting.
Endless Space is a turn based strategy title set in space. Obviously. Its has a massive āworld mapā style of gameplay, except its across star systems and galaxies - instead of continents and islands. Think the Civilization series, meets the strategy map from Total War, infected with the cool factor of Gratuitous Space Battles. As overused a phrase as it is, āthere is something for everyone hereā.
The mechanic is set around the colonisation, and then domination of galaxies - of which there are a vast and varied amount to choose from. These galaxies are populated by a variety of alien factors, all of which are playable (there were only four to choose from in the preview code, but more are on their way). And they look absolutely stunning. Iām the kind of nerd that watches documentaries on solar storms, and worships at the altar of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I know a well rendered twin spiral galaxy when I see one.
In classic 4X style, you send āsettlerā spaceships off to star systems to colonise their planets and increase your control and domination of the galaxy. So far, rather standard. But underneath that familiar framework there is already shaping up to be some incredibly complex gameplay. So complex, in fact, that Amplitude Studios might need to put a little more thought into how to present it all in a more intuitive way. But once they figure that out, Endless Space will offer what looks to be a pretty impressive slice of turn based gameplay.
Like most 4X titles there is one core mechanic that sits underneath the entire gameplay experience, and that's managing the economy. For a writer like myself, who follows New Zealandās economy every day, this is manna from heaven. But even for the less aware gamer, Endless Space makes it abundantly clear how to go about amassing your riches.
Each galaxy is full of star systems, connected by spaceship flight paths. Each star system has a number of planets with different types of terrain. Each type of terrain has different strategic bonuses, population carrying capacity, and production levels. As you research and level up your technologies (the pursuit of which is incredibly important, and deserves an article all to itself) you can improve the output of these productive worlds. Some star systems have more planets than others, and some planets have strategically important resources - which are needed for ship upgrades and new combat weapons. Being able to control the right ones, at the right times, is incredibly important.
This kind of gameplay isnāt necessarily new, but there are some strange and quirky twists that Amplitude Studios have introduced which are just unfamiliar enough to make things interesting.
First is that, for the most part, the strategic map limits the paths that units can take. This makes sense; when galavanting around the galaxy, ships are going to take the most efficient route. But it results in the strategic map having a feel much more like Chess, or Risk, than like Civilization or Total War. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and it really ramps up the importance of strategic play. But it results in some star systems becoming pathway āfulcrumsā which constantly see most of the action.
The second twist is the way the combat happens. What's relevant here is ships, ships, ships, and fusion torpedoes. Combat happens in orbit around star systems, and is fairly basic on a strategic level. Your units duke their battles out in a series of animated cinematic exchanges. Just like a chess game, what matters is what units you have, and what kind of heat they are packing. This doesn't leave room for micro, however the battles are are beautifully rendered (but they would really benefit from a free camera).
To mix things up a bit, Amplitude Studios have introduced the ability to influence the outcomes of battles by selecting ābattle cardsā that give your ships special buffs. Some cards can cancel other cards out, in a glorified version of rock paper scissors. It's not particularly groundbreaking - but it's fun enough for what it is. Given the impressive cinematic feast on offer in front of your eyes thereās not much lost by removing the ability to individually control units.
You can judge a good 4X title by its āpokie machineā factor. Does it cement you to your computer chair because you want just one more turn? Would you keep being drawn back for one more go? Would you abandon your children in your car outside an internet cafe just to boot it up? From what Iāve seen so far, Endless Space is on its way. Except for the car thing. I was kidding about that.
Endless Space has a little bit of a way to go, and there are some tweaks that need to be made to its ease of use and intuitiveness - but it is shaping up to be a very interesting title with lots to offer.
One way to win in the Civilization series it to make your way to Alpha Centuri. Maybe Amplitude Studioās Endless Space is just the continuation of a theme. if so, it's a welcome one. But it will mean you will need to book more time at the gym.
The Good: Fusion torpedoes. FUSION TORPEDOES.
The Bad: Un-intuitive GUIs and a steep learning curve
The Ugly: Always running out of money. Damn you, deficit!