Edit: I happened to glance at my site analytics and this post has picked up a staggering 1300 views over the last week, which mostly seem to be driven by people typing “Endless Space review” into search engines and getting this as one of the first links. Firstly, to anyone finding this post subsequent to this edit, hello! Secondly, this is not a review of Endless Space because Endless Space is still in an alpha state. However, what I’ve written here should hopefully give you a good idea of what that alpha is like and inform your subsequent decision to purchase the game accordingly.
When the advert for Endless Space popped up on my Steam display yesterday evening I didn’t give it much thought. There’s dozens of awful knockoff spacesims being released on Steam every month (while Valve happily reject other, proven genres WHERE ARE MY PINBALL GAMES YOU BASTARDS) and Endless Space didn’t do a whole lot to stand out from the crowd. Generic sounding name, generic looking ships, and the ad didn’t tell me a lot about what ES was actually about. I can’t remember what it was that eventually led me to the game’s store page, but that I ended up there at all was very much against the odds. It’s a good thing I did, though, because in amongst all the obligatory babbling about the intricacies of the sci-fi world the developers have come up, I caught a glimpse of this screenshot of the research tree.
OH MY GOD. Eighteen British pounds flew out of my virtual wallet quicker than you can say “Alpha Centauri”, and forty minutes later I was paddling around in the alpha version that’s thoughtfully been made available to preorderers. Well, they call it an alpha, but aside from the odd rough edge in the text descriptions everything that’s included in it is rock solid; the only thing differentiating it from whatever gets released in a few months is that there are some races missing and (I imagine) a few gameplay mechanics to be smoothed over. Still, this is not a formal review. It would be unfair to review Endless Space when it’s still very much unfinished, no matter how stable it is. It is merely me sitting here and telling you why you should absolutely consider buying Endless Space on the strength of my experience with that alpha version.
Okay, so, who played Master of Orion.2? That’s the current paradigm for the space-based 4X genre which – given the fact it came out fifteen years ago now – is rather telling about the quality of the games which have been released in the interim. It had detailed colony management, heroes who could either govern colonies or command fleets, a sprawling research tree, intricate and complex ship design and tactical combat. Every single space 4X between MOO2 and Endless Space has either omitted or screwed up at least one of these aspects of the game. Endless Space is the first I’ve played which not only includes nearly all the features of a game released in 1997, but which also comes within stabbing distance of getting them all right.
Endless Space does the usual thing of starting you off with a single planet in a star system, a scout ship and a colony ship. Double click on your starting system and you’ll see something like this:
There are other planets in the system besides yours, but you probably won’t have the tech to colonise them yet. It’s still worth having a look, though, because not only can you focus your future research efforts to grab them as soon as possible but you can also see what bonuses/penalties the planets have. Some planets have resources, some planets give inherent bonuses to a certain type of output (industry/science/food/money) based on their habitability, and there’s also random qualities like that Strange Fossils one there which confer a unique bonus to the planet. Once colonised a planet does not function as a separate colony but instead acts kind of like a cultural expansion in Civilization; it gives you more spaces in the star system that can be worked by citizens and which might be more or less productive than the ones you’ve already been working. However, forcing everyone off their nice temperate Terran world to go and work in the strip-mining operation on the lava planet may not go down too well with the population, and you’ll have to deal with potential unhappiness problems.
So you send out your scout to find more planets, and when you find one you can colonise you send in the colony ship to swipe it before anyone else. Meanwhile, you’re clambering your way up the first rungs of one of the most intricately detailed tech trees I’ve ever seen in a game. I’m not saying it is in any way comparable to the exhaustively researched masterpiece that is Alpha Centauri’s tech tree, but it’s a fine effort despite dealing in space magic from the outset. Interestingly while the developers are French they obviously have somebody on their staff who can write decent copy in English; there’s the odd bit of Franglish which crops up here and there (understandable given the game’s alpha state) but the tech, ship and improvement descriptions are all readable at the very least, and some of them even manage the wry sense of humour that GalCiv 2 missed by several light years.
(Oh, one of the other things you should do when you have the cash is hire all the heroes you can get your hands on. They’re incredibly useful as both admirals and governors, and they become increasingly powerful as they level up over time as well. You get to choose how they level up, of course. Very Age of Wonders/HoMM.)
Sooner or later you will get into a scrap with one of your neighbours (the AI in this game is a dick) or pirates, and this is potentially the most interesting part of the game. Endless Space once again goes for the GalCiv 2 approach – there are three types of weapons and three types of armour which deflect each – but once again they actually make it good. Command of space battles is hands-off, and happens in three phases: long range, medium range and melee. Missiles are good at long range, lasers are good at medium range and kinetic weapons are good at knife-fighting range. Before the battle starts you can play one order in each phase which confers a buff/debuff for that particular phase like +40% kinetics damage/-20% missile interception. Of course the computer can do this as well, and some of the orders it plays might outright cancel some of yours – or vice versa. The selection of orders you get to play with at the start of the game is very limited, but as with most things in Endless Space you unlock many more as you climb up the tech tree. It’s a take on space combat in a 4X which is much fresher than the RTS-style blobbing of your opponent, although how it will pan out in the long-term remains to be seen.
Did I mention the AI is a dick? The AI is a dick. I started my first game on Easy and still had to give up by turn 80 after my kinetic destroyers were shredded by laser… pretzels? Actually that’s my one complaint about Endless Space: the ship models you bolt all your offensive tech to are painfully dull to look at. That and the difficulty of finding certain items on the tech tree are pretty much the only things I can find wrong with the game at this point – and remember, it’s supposed to be in an incomplete alpha state. Fix those problems, add a searchable encyclopedia of everything in the game, add more races and make them fully customisable and this game would not only be feature complete, it would actually have a shot at usurping MOO2’s fifteen-year reign. That’s not something I’d say lightly. If you like the space-based 4X genre at all you owe it to yourself to take a look at Endless Space. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
Shut up I can’t afford it shut up I’m not looking lalalalala
I was going to buy it but then you made the Heze pun and I put my wallet away.
Those captions don’t write themselves, you know.
Does it, or will it, have simultaneous turn multi-player?
Judging by the way the AI ships behave I suspect simultaneous turns may be the default. But I’m not sure.
Huge MOO/MOO2 fan here. Saw your review yesterday and you convinced me to give it a chance. You were dead on with your review. This game could have been MOO3. (And I’m not talking about that turd from 2005.) Also, congratulations; You have earned another blog subscriber as well.
It’s not a review! But thanks, anyway. And the more people buy this the better; it’s not even started going through polishing and balancing and it still works really well, and the developers deserve as much support as they can get for managing to get right what half a dozen companies have tried and failed to do over the last fifteen years. On the downside there’s a few more annoying bugs than I thought but hey — it’s an alpha.
You mention GalCiv2 as a game that doesn’t meet your standards (at least it sounded like that) – Why exactly is that?
I tried playing MOO2, though i think i’m late to the party as it can’t really interest me. GalCiv2 however does a good job of keeping me occupied. What are your thoughs on GalCiv2?
That’s a good question. Mechanically GalCiv 2 is a decent game (if not quite what I’d call good) but Stardock really, *really* screwed up on the ambience part, with the two major examples being the tech tree and the space battles.
With the tech tree, if you go up the Laser branch you progress through a series of technologies called Laser I, Laser 2, Laser 3 etc., each of which gives you +1 damage to lasers (or something) and no other effect. Then when you’re done with lasers you get onto the next stage of the branch which is Phasors, and you go through a series of technologies called Phasor 1, Phasor 2, Phasor 3… It’s tremendously unexciting; I’ve always thought that researching a tech in a 4X should give you something concrete for your trouble — a new building, a new unit, a new government, whatever — to keep the player interested and to try to pass it off as something more than an artificial brake on their progress. Why does increasing my laser power require me to research ten similar technologies? Why can’t I just research “Lasers” and “Phasors”? I don’t understand, and I don’t like it.
And then you’ve got the ship design and the space battles. Ship design is basically fiddling with numbers; there’s a vast amount of shit you can bolt onto your ship to make it look pretty but it’s entirely cosmetic and won’t change how the ship functions at all. When you take those ships into battle it’s entirely automated with no player interaction whatsoever and is basically just a prettier version of an autoresolve button. Endless Space suffers from the same problem to a degree, but just by adding the basic options for interaction that the cards represent it had me taking a lot more interest in each battle. I’d check to see what weapons and armour the opposing fleet was kitted out with and try to either target their weakness or blunt incoming damage, and I’d often be on the edge of my ship watching the fleet HP bar slowly decrease, hoping they cracked before I did.
Foof. Those are some pretty blocky paragraphs but I hope they can give you a picture of why I, personally, did not like GalCiv 2 that much, and why I *do* like Endless Space.
Thanks for the Alpha review. May take the plunge now rather than later just for the steam discount (25% off) and Alpha access.
I am one of the few that found your page after looking for a review. I’m looking for a 4X game to spend some time on and I cant decide. Any suggestions?
I just reread it, Masters of Orion it is. Thanks
Yeah, pretty much. Sword of the Stars (the original) has an excellent research tree and ship design element to it, but the empire management is drab and boring. GalCiv 2… well, I’ve said what I thought of GalCiv 2. Sins of a Solar Empire isn’t a 4X. Even after all this time Master of Orion is still your best bet for a space-based 4X.
There are a few other good MOO2 games out there Imperium Galactica II & Ascendancy were good games.
The AI was a bit stupid in Acendancy if you build about 5 sheild generators on the planet and they invasion fails they just stay there doing nothing & not re-stocking their invader models or upgrade their ships then you just build up your ships in the other galaxies & then attack since they never went home to get upgraded tech they are easy to kill.
I have fond memories of Imperium Galactica but I wouldn’t want to go back and play it today. The ground battles were complete garbage.
Distant Worlds was a good recent attempt at space 4X as well, one I enjoyed a great deal. Its biggest problems were lack of publicity and that it is from a not-well-known niche publisher who prices their games too high (IMO) for what they are. GalCiv2 and sequels did lack a certain amount of flavour despite relatively good AI (gods, I miss Alpha Centauri, but it wasn’t really space 4X), Sword of the Stars 2 suffers from the same sins as the original, and you’re right, SoaSE isn’t 4X, although it often /feels/ like one, and I do enjoy playing it.
Thank you for this alpha non-review, I am tentatively impressed, and thinking of getting it. Does it (yet) have a campaign/story mode, or is it purely sandbox 4X?
In the current Alpha build, there is no campaign to speak of and I am not aware of any plans/announcements by the game devs of a campaign for the full release.
It seems to be a pure 4X with a randomly generated map every time, a la Civilization. Which is the right way to go, I think; I always thought 4X “campaigns” were kind of missing the point.
Also I’ve never heard of Distant Worlds and am now in the process of looking it up. THANKS FOR THE TIP.
Distant works is quite good. Its the only one I’d suggest past MoO II. Its not quite in the vein of MoO, you don’t control many mundane aspects of your empire. Also I agree with Gal Civ (while fun) felt like no effort was given to combat/tech tree.
Very interested in seeing your thoughts on Distant Worlds in the future!
Having bought and played the game, I would like to see some ground combat options, the ability to commit war crimes, better diplomacy, and be able TO MOVE MY FREAKIN SHIPS!
Everybody wants to commit war crimes. Alpha Centauri is the only game that actually lets you, which incidentally is another reason why Alpha Centauri is awesome.
OH FUC FA
OH hell, now I have to go buy this. When I googled “Endless Space Review” I was really just hoping to confirm my suspicion that it would be a lazily-crafted-generic-blah game. Apparently that’s not the case. After I get some game time under my belt, I will post back with my thoughts!
I hope you enjoy it, it’s still very rough around the edges but even in its current state it’s a lot of fun and I really hope they can smooth it out into something amazing.
I’m one of the many Kerberos orphans who have picked up Endless Space to ease sots2′s long, painful 7 months from release to playability, and I’m very impressed. The strategic gameplay is very good, and looking through their forums reveals some very intelligent people working on the various rough edges, so seeing it polished to perfection by release is looking to be an enjoyable ride in this case.
Since I saw you had missed Distant Worlds, I was wondering if you’ve caught Armada 2526 and Star Ruler? The first is a good traditional MoO style game, and the second is a spectacular real-time 4X, that is, a real RT4X of the kind SoaSE could only dream of.
Those I have at least heard of, but the absence of any kind of real word-of-mouth buzz about them meant I wasn’t really inclined to part with my hard-earned pennies. More inclined now, though.
Just bought this after reading your post and played for the last hours. Looks like a lot of fun, I am on turn 65 and holding my ground against my neighbors. I’ll have to go and do some conquering now.
Interestingly, the only game like this I’ve played is the only one no one has mentioned and that no one seems to know of. That game was Pax Imperia: Eminent Domain, which I believe was a sequel (and was also published in 1997). I had a lot of fun with that game and it still holds up today. Ever since then I’ve been trying to find a modern alternative but as you mentioned, it doesn’t seem like there have been any excellent games that are similar in a long time. I might check out Master of Orion 2 or Alpha Centauri though, since those seem to be well-liked here in the genre.
Not sure about Endless Space yet though. Not sure if I can get around the turn-based thing. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the patience for a turn-based game and with today’s technology in games, I don’t understand why it’s necessary. That’s another thing I liked about Pax Imperia, which I mentioned earlier, everything was real-time. Your empire management would pause for space battles or attacks on planets, but even those were real-time. Otherwise all the customization/management/exploration in those other games sounds familiar. So I guess I’m not sure why no one wants to make a modern version of that.
Anyway, I’m stating to babble so I’ll stop here. Just some other things to think about.
I don’t believe turn based strategy was invented simply as a means to get around old technology. There are turn based games out there because people enjoy them. I find them quite exciting and more thought provoking than real time. It’s like a game of chess. With that in mind I’d like to plug in some of the best games I’ve ever played. Imperialism 2 (turn based), seven kingdoms:ancient adversaries(realtime) and Netstorm (hybrid)
I’d say turn based strategy is still the only way to go for actual strategy. I’m one of those people who would prefer that real time strategy be amended to real time tactics; They are not strategy games, they are action games with very particular mechanics that nonetheless reward dexterity more than thought. AI War is about the only RTS I can think of that’s paced right for true strategic play at all levels, but I may just have a limited roster of games in that respect.
While disliking turn-based games is a perfectly valid point of view, whether a game is turn-based or not has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with the sort of game it is and the kind of person who it is aimed at. You wouldn’t turn chess into a real-time game, would you?
Hmm, real-time chess could actually be quite interesting if you could get past the whole hand-bashing problem. Nonetheless, it would definitely be dexterity over deft thinking.
The loss of Alpha Centauri from modern operating systems is a tragedy for sci-fi strategy – I still remember playing that and the tech tree really conjuring the imagination. It’s a shame that no game has really matched it since.
I’ve been contemplating Endless Space for a while and having read this will give it a go. Despite your claims that this is not a review, it would seem to be close enough to one to influence general opinion!
I’m actually regretting writing this a little bit, because it was a spur of the moment thing that wasn’t quite objective and I wasn’t expecting it to get anywhere near the number of hits it did. I enjoyed the alpha of Endless Space and I wanted the game to get a bit more traction, but the more I played the more it became apparent that while the alpha was structurally solid it wasn’t remotely balanced and needed a lot of fine-tuning, and I feel a little guilty that I might be sending people off to buy something that’s probably changed a fair bit from when I played it a month ago.
genuinely typed in “endless space review”, so fair play sir. looks shit though
eh, if your reaction upon reading this post and looking at the screenshots is “shit” then it’s definitely not for you
“there’s the odd bit of Franglish which crops up here and there”
I love the coinage “malus” for opposite of bonus. “A -2 ship movement malus applies.”
Taken from dictionary.com. No Franglish here.
Main Entry: malus
Part of Speech: n
the return of performance-related compensation upon the discovery of deficient performance
There is a malus clause in his contract.
If I had to name my number one vocabulary-enhancing influence, it’d be books. If I had to name my number *two* vocabulary-enhancing influence, it’d be games. In this case, Baldur’s Gate 2 and the Greater Malison spell. They’re very good for archaic/alternative terms that don’t often get used these days.
You made me buy it!
It gets a full release in like two days! I’m very excited!
I just found this, though I used the word “preview.”
I just wanted to remark on how I still play both Master of Orion 2 and Alpha Centauri. I play lots of the modern games on the market, but I keep coming back to those two quite often, particularly MoO 2.
For me, the Turn Based Space Combat with ships I get to modify the tech on is one of the reasons I keep coming back and actively avoid the “real time” crappy combat that gets put in most space strategies nowadays. I kind of liked Space Empire until they too switch to real time combat. Who in the hell decided people playing a turn based game would like a real time component pasted on? I really wish someone would bring the turn based ship combat back. MoO2
Real time combat is awesome well when its paused the turn and you get to control your force going against the enemy manually. My favorite example of this even though its not Moo2 is the Total war series which combines the 2 magnificently.
I have one question.. is there any limit on the number of any ships you can build or is the game economy based? Such as I don’t have to do research in order to build higher amounts of ships.
Thanks for the review… and BTW, Alpha Centauri can be installed on current computers. I got it from GoG…(http:www.gog.com). As a matter of fact a lot of the old games are available there like MOO and MOO2.
I like your preface. I’m really surprised that nobody has reviewed this game, especially since it looks like the best 4X space game since Gal Civ 2 Ultimate at the very least.
Any chance you could do a follow up of this? I’m still skeptical as to whether or not I would want to spend $30.00 on this, and would appreciate knowing if some of these flaws have been tended to, or if I’m going to be essentially buying an Alpha version of the game.
excellent assessment of the game, I’m sold.
[...] the not-review a couple of months back has put me in a bit of a fix here since I’m going to end up repeating [...]
I’d like to add to this recommendation. It’s a very solid game with a great sandbox mode vs the AI, but where it really seems to shine is the multiplayer. Not only is it endlessly fun (har har) but I’ve never played a 4X online that ran this smoothly before. I play all the time now. Single player, it’s tough to say if it’s truly a match for MOO2, but multiplayer it blows every other strategy game I’ve played out of the water.
This game is amazing
Sounds and looks a bit like Total War. Amirite?
Nitpicking – why should kinetic weapon be close range, when there is almost nothing to slow them in space; contrary to energy weapons like laser which dissipates and are affected by range squared?