- Expansive tech tree
- Multitude of options for ship customisation
- Plenty to explore
- Pleasing visuals and music
- Tutorials lack depth
- Initial steep learning curve
- Can become overwhelming
A diamond in the rough, or in our case, an exquisite rock in an asteroid belt, Endless Space from indie publisher Iceberg Interactive gives us a space strategy game in the vein of Sins of a Solar Empire or Civilization. Although it’s always difficult to produce a game to battle such heavyweights, Endless Space gives us a unique experience and is perhaps a hidden gem that can be deeply rewarding with a little perseverance.
The ideas from both Sins and Civilization are prevalent and there is no need to reinvent the wheel on such matters, such as tech trees, diplomacy and resource gathering. What sets Endless Space apart is the plethora of options available to the player. When first loading up the game, you’re presented with tutorial screens to explain the basic elements of how to play. My only problem with this was the reams of text you are presented with; to explain everything within the first twenty minutes is nigh on impossible. From creating your own alien race to customising ship schematics for fleets, you are barraged with options and more options. Even clicking through some of the menus can be daunting. It can take a while to feel comfortable in your turn based actions.
The game is so expansive that you are overwhelmed at first. There are no campaigns as such and you play against the computer or a friend in a multiplayer game, and with a large map the number of planets you can colonise is astounding. These are colonised by producing Propagator ships to expand your territory. Planets and moons provide certain resources; Dust equates to gold (which reminds me of Spice as a resource in Emperor: Battle for Dune), along with food and science points. Some planets and satellites are heavily weighted to a particular resource which you can exploit.
Having more science will expedite learning new technologies and so on from the tech tree. A quick peek at this tree gives you four paths to follow, from developing warfare and weapons to diplomacy and colonisation. I can tell you now that this tree is more akin to a forest as the paths you can take do indeed seem endless. There is a very useful search button at the bottom of the screen to look for particular technologies; certain abilities such as warp technology, colonising harsh environments or trading with other alien species can only be achieved when certain abilities become available. Although vast, other branches from the tech tree left untouched can be easily unlocked later on if you have already unlocked the majority elsewhere. This is most welcomed as clicking through turns waiting for science unlocks can be tedious at times.
Not many games give you the ability to customise units, and this option is thoroughly implemented within Endless Space. You cannot implement aesthetic customisations, but factors such as armour, weapons, modules and other hardware can be added or removed to provide you with a multitude of options. This in turn can provide you with improved combat scenarios against other races or randomly appearing space pirates. I stumbled upon such nefarious ships while scouting and paid a heavy price by providing inadequate defensive ships. I was more prepared for my next encounter however, and I was taken to the combat screen. Fleet vs. fleet battle encounters are resolved by choosing three combat cards for the long-ranged, medium ranged and melee options. Each fleet is equipped with certain combat cards that carry out tactical battle actions such as sabotaging weapons or other more offensive tactics. Once your cards are selected for the three slots, you can sit back view the beautiful cinematic playing out your combat decisions. There is a set time to choose your cards, so decisions must be swift.
Even with the steep learning curve for your first few battles, the game is so deep that it’s worth exploring the many choices that can be made. Playing with a friend always helps at the beginning as the AI can sometimes be ruthless if you are new to the game. Keeping planets happy adds to the difficulty as I discovered that two of my colonised planets were on strike. Hero units can alleviate problems, providing additional points and attributes to help with your economy or fleet depending on where you assign them. The balance between prosperity and poverty can be complex and, before I knew it, five hours had already passed. Overall, Endless Space will give you endless amounts of gaming (pun certainly intended!) and something different if you are willing to put in the time.