A Better Beta: Infinite Joy In Endless Space

By Adam Smith on June 14th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

Maybe the joy isn’t quite infinite and maybe the space isn’t endless in the sense that might be imagined on first exposure to the title, but turn-based space conquest game Endless Space is already the second great entry in my 2012 feast of strategy gaming. If Crusader Kings II was a roasted hog with a side order of roasted hog, washed down with a keg of mead containing roasted hogs as booze-croutons, Endless Space is a vacuum-packed futurepill of a meal: nutritious, filled with flavour, perfectly formed. And it’s only just reached beta.

Forget the beta thing completely, or at least any negative connotations it holds. Playing a beta is fine but, as Brian Mitsoda pointed out to me recently, a lot of the time people aren’t prepared for how flawed or downright broken an incomplete game can feel. None of that matters with Endless Space. If I hadn’t been told it wasn’t ready for release I wouldn’t have known. Some games don’t feel this polished after a few months of post-launch patching. Simply put, Endless Space is already a more complete, balanced and refined game than some of its direct competition.

Let’s start with the interface. You’re never more than a click or two from where you need or want to be. On top of that, the game always ensures the player knows what tasks remain to be completed when a turn ends. There’s no excuse for missing anything important because little boxes wave at you from the right hand side of the screen demanding attention. Click on them and they’ll tell you what’s on their mind, as well as containing extra information which is available by simply hovering a cursor over their bits and pieces, and clickable links to the screens where all the options await your attention.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to peel back the layers and delve in the guts of the thing though. Ship design, planetary management and plotting a path through the web of available research all allow for deeper complexity. Thanks to tutorials that guide and inform quickly and efficiently on first use of each screen, Endless Space is an easy game to grasp. Easy, but not simple.

It starts simple and here’s one of the cleverer things about the design, something that I only noticed after spending a significant amount of time playing; through research and exploration the game becomes more complex. That seems like an idiotic statement at first, because surely it’s always the case but that’s not entirely true. In many strategy games there’s more and more to manage as time goes on, but the number of actual options available and the scope of the world hit a ceiling fairly quickly. Things replace other things rather than slotting in alongside them. That’s true in Endless Space as well, to an extent, but there’s also a blossoming of new ways to travel, fresh colonisation possibilities, and methods to switch production on a local basis or even to alter the entire direction that your faction is pushing in.

Scope is part of this. The game feels as epic and mysterious as any of its type. It’d be mad not to tip an absurdly large hat toward the music which is the exact audio equivalent of admiring the beauty, fragility and variety of the colourful spheres scattered through the celestial void. Then there are the ships, elegant voyagers that can be modified, refitted and sent plunging into flame-scarred systems for a bout of mostly automated combat.

There’s no direct control once the torpedoes start to fly and the beams start to beam, instead for each phase of the fight – long range, medium range, close – you decide on your overall strategy and then watch the results. They are extremely pretty results even when it’s the grand fleet you’ve spent hours constructing that’s providing most of the pyrotechnics by inconveniently exploding into bits.

I’m perfectly satisfied with having a less hands-on role, considering myself an emperor who wouldn’t know a frontline if it snuggled up in bed next to him rather than a pilot or admiral, but given how exquisite the modelling of combat is in pure visual terms, I imagine some people will see videos or screenshots and assume it’s more involved than it actually is. They will be disappointed, although it’s an area of the game that may receive further development. If so, I’d like the option to keep this mostly self-resolving combat so that I can concentrate on the tech and loadouts of my ships rather than their specific manoeuvers.

The eight factions lend themselves to different playstyles, not only because of the bonuses inherent to them but because of the unique techs they can research later in the game. There are the obvious – rapid researchers, great diplomats, noble warriors – but there are a couple of oddities as well. The Cravers are forefront among them. Every faction is imperial, establishing colonies and expanding is the only real goal in the early game, but The Cravers consume everything and if they don’t expand quickly enough they will consume themselves. No diplomacy, just growth and feeding.

Nice one, The Cravers, you single-minded hunger-bastards. I’m also an admirer of Horatio, a faction named after the trillionaire who founded them and used alien cloning technology to create a race of people who looked just like him. Now he wants to conquer all that is known and unknown and rebuild it, quite literally, in his own image. Gloriously bonkers.

There is a great deal of fiction shoveled like coal into the game’s engines, making it burn brighter than it otherwise would. Not only do the factions have their stories and their reasons, the resources, abandoned moon temples and artifacts that a new colony might unearth all have entertaining descriptions. All of that matters to me; large quantities of decent flavour text can be the difference between an impressive calculating device and a font of narrative delight.

Endless Space may be the former – I’d have to pull apart all the numbers to know and they hide, as numbers do – but it’s certainly the latter. Take heroes, who can be governors or commanders, they’re essentially a list of occasionally increasing bonuses applied to a planet or a fleet. But they’re more than that. They have names and backgrounds, just as the weird plants and anomalies on a planet are essentially pluses and minuses but spark the imagination and provide a much more detailed picture.

Concerns? The AI isn’t the sharpest I’ve ever seen, although it’s still managed to surprise me on occasion. Admittedly, the surprise is sometimes of the sort, “Why have you built a colony on the planetary equivalent of a poisonous icecube?” but it’s surprise nonetheless. It’s the one area I’d like to see improvement – the one area I’m quibbling about, in a beta. I’ve still had some entertaining encounters mind, including a memorable and lengthy three-way conflict that ended in a moody stalemate. I didn’t want war at all as I was attempting a diplomatic victory. Long-term plans derailed, my species retreated into defensive shells and cursed the belligerence of all things alien to us.

A sort of stalemate is common. Upon first encountering a faction, a state of cold war is initiated meaning that any ships outside of a planet’s sphere of influence, which grows as the planet develops, is fair game. This makes exploration hazardous and considered without plunging the worlds into total war at the slightest provocation. There’s also a smart feature whereby new colonies are tiny outposts at first, without any sphere of influence whatsoever. This means they, like ships wandering far from home, can be taken during a state of cold war. In practice, it means they must be protected, which necessitates military buildup, causing even the coldest of wars to become an arms race.

The short version of the above is this: Endless Space is the interstellar strategy game I’ve desired for a long time, with new discoveries on almost every turn, the possibility of a wide variety of routes to success and failure, an interface that other developers in the field should be borrowing from right now, and superb aesthetics. I haven’t even mentioned the multiplayer that has now been added ot the beta. I’ll be looking at that when the game goes gold. Cast your mind back to the obvious place, Master of Orion II, which this game doesn’t emulate but will happily sit alongside, but think also of Ascendancy, the best parts of which are here with a whole lot more.

Oh, and if you’ve been playing already, you do know about the support module list scrolling down, don’t you? It’s alarming how many people don’t spot that. There may be so much more to all of this than you thought.

I’ll be talking with the developers soon to learn just how much more there is to see, the collaborative Games2Gether scheme and how what could be one of 2012s great success stories took so long to come to my attention. The beta is available to play now for those who preorder the game.

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127 Comments »

  1. Mordsung says:

    How similar is this to Sword of the Stars?

    The first one, not the mess.

    Edit: Thanks for the info guys. Looks like I will pass on this or wait for a combat overhaul.

    Or throw rocks at Kerberos until they fix SotS2.

    • doma says:

      I am having more fun with the ES beta, then what I did with the original SOTS.

      Good fun, great interface and wonderful music.

    • Seboss says:

      Not very. The combat system is much simpler (in the rock-paper-scissor fashion of GalCiv2) and battles are largely automatic except for the double-guessing of combat card choice (which feels largely random and not very exciting to me).
      I would not compare the two. SotS is really about coming up with unlikely weapon loadouts and sending fleets after fleets to their glorious and fiery demise while the 4X part does its best not to stand in the way, whereas ES is a much more classic space 4X, only extremely well done.

      • Maniacal says:

        Simplified combat is extremely disappointing, even if they have a lot more in-depth colonization and other features. It looks like I’ll be giving this a solid pass.

    • StevoIRE says:

      It’s more hands on when it comes to colony development. Doesn’t have the same tech tree depth (imo) then SoTS had. Live combat is quite boring. Management is a lot easier. Information is a lot easier to understand!

      It’s like a very very polished and pretty SoTS with some added depth here and there minus real time combat and randomized tech tree.

      It’s a great game but it’s missing that one *thing* that makes it a absolute gem of a game (Mainly ship building/combat is incredibly underwhelming and not epic at all).

    • frightlever says:

      This is in beta. SotS2 is still in alpha, apparently.

      • snv says:

        The words Beta and Alpha have been misused in games-dev so often, and with so many different meanings that they, and any distinction between them, is mostly useless.

        In (Non-Games) Software-Developement alpha phase means you’re still adding features and Beta means features get locked down and only bug-hunting and polish happen. But MMOs don’t get made like that, and they introduced the very public “beta”s.

    • Luaan says:

      Yeah, not much like SotS. But it is a great 4X game, pretty much the only thing I didn’t like is the AI and the battles (and those should get better over time).

      Also, you might want to check SotS 2 out again; it’s getting playable. Yeah, not a great achievement almost a year after release, but I’m having fun with the game now. It does need a bit different thinking, but I actually do like the new features (like the fact that fleets consume supply when sitting in a system, which means you have to think more about supply issues, the tactical battles are also very much improved). It’s not a replacement for SotS 1, it’s more like a new game in the same universe with some of the same features. I still play SotS 1 :D However, about a half of the game is still missing. I didn’t expect it to be working all too well right at release, but eight months after release? :D

      • Mordsung says:

        I never got into SotS1 until after all the expansions had been released. From what I’ve been told, it took all the expansions to make SotS1 the awesome game it is today.

        Hence I’m expecting SotS2 to take A WHILE to get fixed. I am confident it will be one of the best turn based space strategies out there when it is done, but I don’t expect it to be done until an expansion lands.

        They’ll need to revenue from an expansion to afford to properly fix the game, and as I loved SotS1 so much, I’d drop money on an expansion even considering how broken SotS2 is.

        No space strategy game has given me the sheer joy of being space whales who wipe out civilizations with biological weapons.

        What I also find great about SotS is that the fiction is so derivative that it ends up being original.

        If you walked up to someone and said “Hey, this game has space whales, space birds, space lizards, evil space wombats, humans, and space ants” people would think the fiction is really shallow, but it ends up being so amazingly deep despite the race selection sounding like an 80′s cartoon.

        • Homercleese says:

          I think SotS2 is getting a bit of harsh treatment here. Yep, it was a complete mess by all accounts on launch so I tried it for a while before I bought it (last week) and I’ve been playing it solidly. It’s pretty stable and nearly everything is in, in one form or another. Certainly some of those features need polish (in a few cases a lot of it) and the AI ain’t impressive yet but had it launched in this condition there’d have been no problems.

          I think it’s well worth about €30. And since I got it in the Plentiful Paradox Package on amazon with Crusader Kings 2 & SotS1 (as well as some others I can’t even remember) it was an absolute bargain.

          One last thing; I can’t agree with Mordsung enough. The background fiction is fantastically well done. If only they could tie it into the sandbox nature of the game more naturally.

    • jeep says:

      It’s not like SotS really. It is very, very similar to Master of Orion 2 with updated graphics and a little bit more interesting research tree.

      • Vinraith says:

        That’s misleading, though, since MOO2 had tactical combat. MOO2 without tactical combat is basically Gal Civ 2, and that in turn is pretty similar to this from what I can tell.

        • Zenicetus says:

          Right, to me it feels very close to GalCiv2 with just a small amount of player interaction added to the combat. That’s exactly the system I like, but I know a bunch of people aren’t satisfied unless they can micro every aspect of a space battle. So this may not be for everyone.

          What it’s missing compared to GalCiv2 is the variety of strategies for different factions that were introduced in the last expansion. The tech trees have a few faction-specialized nodes, and strategy can be driven to a degree by the other faction attributes. But in the current beta I’m not getting that feeling that the factions are really all that different in how they play.

          On the other hand, there are some great things that make it different from just a re-skin of GalCiv2. Like that idea of “cold war” outside of controlled empires where anything goes, until diplomatic status changes into peace or war. That’s a fascinating dynamic. I’m used to the idea that any attack on another faction’s unit always triggers war in strategy games, so this took some adjustment and I like how it works.

          Diplomacy needs to be more developed, but I think it’s coming along. I have a feeling the diplomatic interaction with the AI factions will be what makes or breaks the replayability for me, since I won’t be doing multiplayer.

          • Leandro says:

            How was I not aware of this game?

            The comparisons to GalCiv2 make me a very happy guy indeed! I was hoping for a game like this for so long! Glad to hear it has more personality than GalCiv2, I’ll admit it can get a bit dry, but I love the combat system. Micromanaging combat too much feels out of place in this kind of game. A tiny bit more interaction in battles sounds like a perfect sweetspot. Damn, this game looks tailor-made for ME.

        • malkav11 says:

          Not quite. GalCiv and sequel are pretty spreadsheety. Minimal personality. I can’t get into them, and I love MOO2 for reasons mostly separate from the tactical combat, though that certainly contributes.

    • iniudan says:

      The first one was also a mess when it was release if you don’t know.

      Kerberos has a history of sorry release, which until recently kind of fitted well with the dev team of their publisher Paradox Interactive, which kind of had the same reputation. =p

      • Tssha says:

        Except that SotS was originally published by Lighthouse Interactive. They went belly-up, so Kerberos went with Paradox. This was, however, well after the final expansion, A Murder of Crows, was released. So your statement isn’t really right on any level.

    • DK says:

      It’s a real shame the game itself is so terrible utterly boring and bland. But looks like it doesn’t matter, because all the games media can talk about is how nice the UI is.

      The game on the other hand is pretty much a prettified GalCiv 2 without the ship design (which didn’t matter anyway). There’s 3 weapons, 3 defenses, and the races all move and behave the same way. +1 Food does not a racial difference make. GalCiv 2′s Rock-Paper-Scissors ship design is copied 1:1, but wait there’s another layer of Rock-Paper-Scissors Card Game on top of it.

      Compared to SotS’ massive weapon variety, interesting ship design (both gameplay wise and visually) and fantastic hands-on combat Endless Space is an Apple designed Cardboard Box without any content.

      • hinowisaybye says:

        Ummm, pretty sure that the creators never said that it would have realtime combat, and while i knew that it wouldn’t i would love it if it did, as for ship design, this game trumps sots, every ship is unique, however, look at sots and what do we see, bugs flying bugs, lizards flying scaled ships, birds flying bird shaped ships, humans in babalon esque ships, and the ‘wobats’(as someone perfectly put it) flying your stereo typical hunks of junk. Can you even say that any ship in this game looks like a ship from another sifi universe?

    • Joote says:

      They are very much alike except for….
      The combat is a lot more in depth and rewarding in sots
      There is a lot more game in sots, as in, things to do and things to build.
      Sots is a lot easier to get into.
      ES is prettier than sots.

      Thats all I can think of at the moment.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        I would say the main difference is that SotS is half tactical combat game half strategy game, and this is mostly just a strategy game.

        In SotS everything is there around the combat and the economic side was pretty undeveloped. In ES the economic side is a lot more developed, but there is very little to the combat other than pretties.

        • Tssha says:

          Some day someone is going to make a chocolate/peanut butter unholy fusion combination of the two. Then our social lives will be over.

  2. sinister agent says:

    I’m not happy with these guys at all. I asked them for a copy of endless space, and all they sent back was a really long blank email.

  3. caddyB says:

    Can you talk about the performance? Do I need to buy a new computer with an i7 processor to enjoy it? ( I have an i5 ) I’ve been watching this for a long time, but I don’t want to buy it if it’s not going to work.

    • Seboss says:

      I have an average i5 and an average GPU and it runs very smoothly on my computer.

    • LuNatic says:

      It runs plenty fine on my Q9400 and 5850. Your i5 should smoke it.

    • psaldorn says:

      I had no problem running it, as with all games it slows the turns down, but at no point did I stop enjoying it. Q6600 processor, mid-range geforce card.

      I recommended it to al my friends and had I not picked up a nasty Wargame EE addiction I would still be playing it.

    • caddyB says:

      Ah thanks. I’ll get this as a birthday present for myself.

    • lordcooper says:

      Hell, it runs fine with Intel integrated graphics.

      • pakoito says:

        Which Intel? The only thing holding me back from buying it is that it may not run on my (only available) computer.

        Celeron 1.2GHz, Intel GMA 4500MHD, 3 Gigs.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I’m not aware of any game that would run on an i7 but not an i5.

      • Gasmask Hero says:

        I guess my beloved i3 craptop could run it then. Oh, to buy or not…on one hand, it’s £20+ and I could be funding the Word Realms kickstarter with that, on the other it has the Adam Smith seal of approval.

        Which one then? Financial security, the warm glow of KoL originated love or the shared mindset of a fellow northerner who, like me, doodles lovenotes to CK2 in his spare time.

        Choices, choices.

    • ShineyBlueShoes says:

      A decent i5 will be able to run anything on reasonable settings long as it’s paired with the right GPU and graphics settings. Virtually every game is going to bottleneck the GPU or FSB long before the CPU.

  4. LuNatic says:

    Whilst I love the empire building side of this, I have to express disappointed at how shallow the combat is. I get that this isn’t meant to be a micro game, but when combat orders treat every ship in the fleet identically, and send my colony ships into the middle of the firestorm, something is wrong. Rather than the frankly stupid card-game combat, I feel this game would be much better with a Gratuitous Space Battles style system of standing orders.

    • Seboss says:

      Yes, it’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. I would even be happier with pre-scripted battles like in Dominions 3. The double-guessing part remains, but you get a much finer control on your troops and get to implement all kind of tactics and fail in all kinds of fun and miserable ways :)

    • StevoIRE says:

      GSP style battles would be epic! The problem currently is that i spend most of my time stacking ships and auto resolving instead of actually getting out of the combat. It’s boring and I never get attached to my ships (which all feel the same to a degree). It is the one thing holding back this game from being truly fantastic.

    • BobbyDylan says:

      Agreed. The combat is uninspired, imho. The games’s biggest flaw, and will be what stops it being a classic of the magnitude of MOO II

    • Luaan says:

      I’m pretty sure I read somewhere this is basically a place holder at the moment. The only good thing about the battles is that the auto resolve option is pretty much as effective as playing it manually (at least as far as my manual battles go), unlike say SotS, where you only auto resolve when you massively overpower your opponent or when the weapon combos are better in auto resolve.

      It’s like a somewhat different GalCiv combat with a tiny card game on top…

    • mrjackspade says:

      I stopped playing this in the alpha because of the combat.

      Are the weapon and defence components still purely rock paper scissors orientated?

      • Giaddon says:

        No, and they never were! I have no idea why people call it rock paper scissors, the three weapon types do not interact with each other in any way! Ships are big bags of hit points, weapons deal damage, and that damage can be mitigated with specific active defenses (flak against missiles, for example). One kind of weapon doesn’t “beat” another.

        • mrjackspade says:

          You have completely misunderstood the concept.

          Rock paper scissors refers to the fact that one type of defence mitigates one type of attack only, and has no effect on the others.

          This sucks because if you design shield ships (for example), you can’t defend against ships armed with missiles. This makes for really shallow tactics and constant refitting of ships to make hard counters to whatever your enemy is building. Stacking a single type of weapon is also key to winning battles (see long analysis posts on ES forums).

          • sinister agent says:

            No it doesn’t. Rock Paper Scissors is when A beats B, which beats C, which beats A (eg: fighters beat bombers, bombers beat frigates, frigates beat fighters). The system you’re talking about sounds like GalCiv’s, where defence A works against weapon A, defence B against weapon B, etc. It’s not really the same thing.

          • mrjackspade says:

            Yes…and people described GalCiv’s combat as rock paper scissors too.

            I agree that the description isn’t exact, but it’s not really an exact science. We’re being pedantic about semantics. It’s a descriptive name and it’s what people called the combat system in the alpha.

          • Cooper says:

            The classic RockPaperScissors design is:
            Cavalry beat Archers
            Archers beat Spearmen
            Spearmen beat Cavalry

            This seems to be along the lines of weapons A, B and C. And defences A1, B1 and C1. Which is not quite the same.

            As such, it’s actually tactically shallower than RockPaperScissors…

          • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

            It does also have the wrinkle that different weapons systems are effective at different ranges. So a ship with heavy missile armament will do its biggest damage before the ship with heavy projectile armament. This could admittedly be beefed up a bit so the difference is much more noticeable.

          • solymer89 says:

            For everyone complaining about the combat, I understand where your coming from, to be sure, however this game is about strategy, not tactics.

          • hurleybird says:

            I have to agree, the combat is pretty lame and shallow, and also serves to cheapen the tech tree to a degree as well. There could be something special here if they ever decide to redo this aspect. As it stands now, there’s no way I’d choose to play ES over SoTS1, or MOO1.

          • KunojiLym says:

            What about the Rock Paper Shotgun combat system?

    • Gap Gen says:

      My problem is that I still don’t have a good handle on if/why I’ll win battles, other than piling on the best kit I can find. Heroes help massively, but sometimes I’ll smoke the enemy and sometimes they’ll tear through my hulls like tissue paper.

    • wcanyon says:

      Yes, this. My unarmed ships aren’t smart enough to stay the heck out of the fray. Lame.

      Other than that, great game. I hope they punch up the combat a bit before it’s released.

    • Flappybat says:

      The combat doesn’t hold a candle to Sword Of The Stars. It makes ship building and weapon research feel shallow and unrewarding. There is little variety or strategy to weapons, all you do is slap the most and biggest guns on whilst attempting to counter the weapons they are using. The only other trick in the book is to make cheap missile boats to soften up the enemy.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      With a bit more balancing of the modules the combat could be quite complicated because of the way the firing is ordered by range. Defenses need to be nerfed a bit though I think.

  5. sonofsanta says:

    This sounds like a modernised, prettified version of Stars! that I used to love so much 15 years ago. If you tell me that’s what it is, I’m all over that like a rash on a regretful gentleman.

    I once broke a computer trying to up the resolution too high to get more play area in that game, in the days when Windows let you push such things beyond the capability of your monitor and didn’t give you a 15 second “are you sure?” grace period. I still have the disc.

    • Nick says:

      ahh, Stars! was great, I put so much time into playing that… all those red and yellow circles and lines held so much meaning.

    • sysdefect says:

      Still waiting for Stars! Supernova Genesis to get kickstarted. I wish I still had my legit copy of stars! 2 somewhere.

      • mrjackspade says:

        If Stars:SG gets kickstarted I promise I will give them all of my savings :(.

      • Salvian says:

        I was just wondering whether there was a Stars! kickstarter yesterday.

        Stars! doesn’t run on Win7 without some sort of emulator, unfortunately, and I haven’t been bothered enough to get it running. Getting hold of the game itself is, ahem, not very difficult though. In fact, I think the devs may have made it freely available.

    • mrjackspade says:

      Ohhh Stars!…that’s a whole part of my childhood there in one word.

      Sadly this isn’t really like Stars! at all. It got it in alpha stage because the map somewhat looked like it, but the ship design, research, combat tactics and resource elements are all inferior to the Stars! systems imo.

    • Tacroy says:

      It’s nothing at all like Stars!, and unfortunately it seems like we’ll never again see the like…

      As people up-thread said, it’s a lot more like Master of Orion except the combat is boring and distant. It’s pretty much exactly what I was craving, because I felt like building empires.

  6. BobbyDylan says:

    It took me ages to figure out the support modules scroll down. I only tested it out of habit.

  7. Nick says:

    I really hope they change the combat.

  8. snv says:

    *Ah well, this was meant as answer to Mordsung’s first comment*

    I’d say I get overall a pretty similar feel from this and SotS 1.
    It is streamlined (which in this exceptional case does not mean dumbed down, as the article here also explains) so much that you can get the same steady flow of turns as in SotS, with the occasional (skippable) quick combat sprinkled in. You spend your time with important decisions and not much tedium.

  9. Jams O'Donnell says:

    I was already interested in this game just from how it looks and the ship designs, but your comments on the music make me more excited about it. The music in Imperium Galactica 2 still stands as the best space strategy music, but maybe Infinite Space can beat it.

  10. Drake Sigar says:

    Preordering a retail copy right now. Don’t mind about the Beta, still got Game of Thrones to get through. Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

  11. Schiraman says:

    This is already a wonderful game, but some areas would definitely benefit from being fleshed out – principally the diplomacy (which is very much an uphill struggle) and planetary invasions (essentially just a progress bar over some nebulous mechanics). Hopefully these are exactly the kinds of things that will see more work before the game ‘goes gold’ though.

    Also it’d be nice to see some more active defensive options (starbases, minefields, planet-bound or orbital weapons that can damage invading ships, etc.) and maybe some unique buildings that force you to specialise your developed systems a bit more in a particular direction (i.e. a huge shipyard, a long-range scanner array or a fortified perimeter – but you have to choose just one per system).

  12. stahlwerk says:

    Surely someone must have brought the limes…?!

  13. Was Neurotic says:

    I thought this was the space-based Rogue-Like, with the simple, top-down ship view and umm, random, emergent, hip events? Which game have I confused with this one then?

  14. lordcooper says:

    IT SCROLLS DOWN?!

  15. Vicho says:

    This looks very perrrty. But I’m not convinced to move on from AI War. I enjoy the pure war of it and getting my dick slapped by its diabolical AI.

  16. liance says:

    How similar is this game to Galactic Civilizations? I quite enjoyed GalCivs 2, but felt like it needed a lot more spit and polish.

  17. neonordnance says:

    GalCiv II is, in my humble opinion, the greatest 4x game of all time. I even put up with impulse just to play it.

  18. Bluerps says:

    I think this game is great. It’s the first space-4X I really enjoyed since GalCiv2. The combat could be a little more complex, but it’s ok as it is. Apart from that I find only tiny things to complain about:

    I don’t like that planetary invasion takes so long. Even with a fleet of ships that are specialized for that task, it takes ages to conquer a planet. That might be a problem that goes away with mid- to endgame technology, though. Or invasion is simply not balanced right at the moment, and will be changed before release.

    Also, I like fluff too, and some of the fluff for the technologies is weird. I can’t recall any specific examples, because it’s been over a month since I played, but some fluff texts describe some kind of scientific advance and then list buildings and advantages that seem to have no connection to that. Something like “We have discovered how we can shield structures in space against the extreme radiation near a star. Therefore we can now build better planetary industrial robotics facilities.”

    I haven’t been playing more because I lost a long game to a bug (the game just crashes every time, after loading the save) and decided to wait for the finished game. But I will definitely spend much time with this game.

    • Schiraman says:

      Yeah, I very much agree with you about some of the tech having little or no apparent connection to the things it unlocks.

      Also some building and resource effects produce effects that seem more like tech breakthroughs (I have a bunch of this resource – now all my ships are harder to kill/go faster, or I build an understanding of how to perfectly tune shields in this system in order that all the ships there are buffed).

      Still, on the whole the fluff is really well written and pretty cool. It reminds me of Alpha Centauri in both regards actually.

  19. Zeewolf says:

    Seems great fun, and this write-up really made me want to dive in. Unfortunately my mouse wheel refuses to work with this game, so it’s unplayable (as you can’t really play without zooming). I download every new version to see if it’s been fixed, but no. Still no luck. I hope it gets fixed before the end of the beta period.

  20. AstaSyneri says:

    I played a lot of GalCiv 2 back when and compared to ES it looks bland and old. On top of that it’s very affordable, complete and I absolutely love the leader mechanics.

    And who is to say we won’t receive more updates / expansions that go into more detail after the first game is a success? Let the developers finish this one with the scope it’s planned for and reap some money, then we’ll see more, I am sure of it.

  21. Gap Gen says:

    All of my 3 games on Normal so far (Easy is, well, easy) have gone:
    - Botch initial expansion
    - Get into horrific war with nearest neighbours
    - Nearest neighbours bogged down in war on other side of their empire
    - Defeat nearest neighbours as they lose the ability to fight a war on two fronts
    - Achieve rough parity with remaining factions
    - AI wins economic victory.

    Unless they’ve fixed the economic victory conditions or AI cheating levels, I’d strongly recommend turning that off in the game setup.

    • Giaddon says:

      Agreed, economic victory doesn’t work quite right. I always leave it off. If you have trouble with the expansion phase, try playing the Sowers; they can colonize any world right off the bat (with some penalties) which might make it easier. The fact that they “eat” industry also helps.

    • Gap Gen says:

      My main botching was not protecting my colony ships properly, and having them killed by pirates or by AI faction bastards.

      I quite likes the Titatium-70 thing, too, in terms of certain planets becoming strategic beyond their positioning. In my first game, I held onto a distant, snaking line of stars in order to cling onto my source of Titanium-70 (although I guess it became obsolete once I got battleships, or as I called them, prattleships, since I was playing the more scientific, less warlike race).

  22. Giaddon says:

    GOD I love Endless Space. I want everyone to buy it so they will make expansions & yeah.

  23. Vinraith says:

    Two questions:

    1) How’s the AI?

    2) How is the ship physics? Nothing bugs me more than ships that come to a stop for no reason in deep space.

    • Giaddon says:

      1) Poor-to-fair at this point. Improving it is one of the main priorities of the beta right now.
      2) There really aren’t any “physics” — ships constantly move forward near each other and fire broadsides at each other. It looks like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1gc1F97dVo

      And, I mean, at the end of the turn your ships just stop. ‘Cause your turn is over.

      • Vinraith says:

        Yeah, that’s fairly inoffensive (and very pretty). Here’s hoping they really do make the AI a priority (forgive the skepticism, every strategy developer says that and so few of them actually do it) because it’s certainly very interesting.

  24. yene says:

    Weak AI is a problem with this kind of games, we find their weakness and exploit it, the game gets boring and is not played again. (hello sins of a solar empire)

  25. DigitalEccentric says:

    Yeah, AI still needs working on but if you look here:

    http://endless-space.amplitude-studios.com/Progress

    You can see they have a list of things they need to do and are working on them as they go along. AI improvements are still yet to come fully I beleive.

    Love this game, it’s a cross between Civilization in space and Sword of the Stars II done right.

  26. piratmonkey says:

    I actually enjoy the combat system seeing how I’m awful at RTS space battles. I think the game so far is brilliant, especially in multiplayer. One thing though, in a competition between Sowers vs. Space Amoeba, Amoeba spread influence like nobodies business.

  27. wcanyon says:

    Played the heck out of this game (something like 80 hours, wow) and have this to say:

    - combat needs more strategy: my beam ships flying right next to my kinetic brawlers is silly
    - need to be able to figure out why conquering System X takes 30 turns while conquering System Y takes 5 — make it more obvious
    - plenty of tech is practically worthless, like the one that gives you farms on every moon or lets you farm on hostile planet types very early in the game — it’s like ‘uhh, great, I guess’ but the cost of the improvement is way more than its worth

  28. onodera says:

    I’m still waiting for a 4X hard science space empire game. Slow ships, slow news…

    • Vinraith says:

      Play SotS as Hivers and you get some of that “Ender’s Game” experience. They have to sublight to everywhere, basically, so they can place gates. Not hard sci fi, of course, but closer than a lot of games.

      SotS also does physics quite well, all the way up to mass drivers imparting momentum to enemy ships and knocking them end over end. Very cool stuff.

      That said, yes, a truly hard sci fi 4X game would be pretty awesome.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I’m all for hardcore sci-fi games, but I think it would be more interesting on the tactical level — i.e. an updated Freespace 2 that included the tactics of fighting where lightspeed limits mattered — than for a 4X strategy game.

      The big problem is how lightspeed limits would throw tech tree advancement out of whack.

      For example, let’s say you send out a combat fleet to attack another star system 50 light years away, and let’s say it can reach near-lightspeed velocity, but it takes time to reach lightspeed cruise with a turnaround at some point for deceleration. That means it takes more than 50 years to reach the target. Maybe more like 100 years in the reference frame of the home planet and target system. Less time for the crew of course, due to time dilation effects.

      By the time your attack fleet arrives, it’s already 100 years out of date, compared to how technology has progressed on your home world, and also on the target system. If the two civilizations were closely matched when the attack fleet launched, it would be like having Nelson’s fleet in a WWII naval engagement. Assuming everyone starts with the same baseline tech and everyone keeps researching, then planetary systems with home defense fleets will always be superior to anything you can send to attack them.

      I don’t know how you’d get around that, unless your ships have a way of magically updating themselves mid-flight to whatever’s going on at the home planet. And that seems a bit cheesy.. I think it’s just one of those depressing reasons why space exploration and combat games have to include magic tricks like wormholes or FTL to allow these 4X scenarios at all.

  29. zeroskill says:

    I have been waiting for a worthy successor to Master of Orion, and this is it. Already put countless hours into it. Also it will support mods, and the dev’s are nice people.

  30. Joshua Northey says:

    “Endless Space is already a more complete, balanced and refined game than some of its direct competition.”

    *cough*Sword of the Stars 2*cough*

    I have had a lot more fun with endless space than I have with SotS2, and I was a die hard SotS player.

    • barelyhomosapien says:

      Funny my opinion is totally the opposite.

      I find SOTS2 in it’s current and continually improving iteration a lot more engaging.

  31. MythArcana says:

    This appears to be sTEAM-exclusive at this time. Nice going, Amplitude! No sale here…

    • Xardas Kane says:

      I never understood all the hatred toward Steam. if nothing else, I appreciate it even more for saving studios like Introversion and Frictional Games. Whenever I don’t have internet I just fire up the offline mode, otherwise Steam never bothers me at all. Maybe I’ve been lucky, I dunno.

      • Brun says:

        I think some of the resentment comes from the fact that it’s been essentially forced on the gaming populace. I don’t have a problem with Steam at all, but I imagine that the small subset of RPS readers that are extremely hostile to change found it pretty upsetting. I understand that some sacrifices had to be made to Steam, but I think it’s given back to the community enough that it’s been a fair tradeoff.

        • Xardas Kane says:

          I honestly haven’t given it anything beyond my money. Hating something for the sake of hating something just baffles me. They basically own the digital distribution market? I’m good with that, they have done nothing to take advantage of the situation. So I’ll say it again, I see no reason to hate Steam…

    • Vinraith says:

      I’ll pick it up, but at my usual Steam price point (ie less than $10). If I’m not buying a product, but instead getting a “service,” then clearly the price should reflect that. Rentals don’t cost $40.

    • Hasslmaster says:

      I bought this on GamersGate. So if you want to circumvent Steam, here you go.

  32. Xardas Kane says:

    I haven’t fallen in love with a space 4X game this much since GalCiv 2. What they have accomplished here is absolutely phenomenal. With an improved AI, better combat and several other minor tweaks this game just might become the best thing since MoO 2, it’s this good. And it also has the slickest and most useful interface I’ve seen so far in the genre.

    On a side note, is it just me, or are TBS games on the rise this year? That Warlock game, Fallen Enchantress, Endless Space, Civ 5: Gods and Kings; the genre is doing way better than their real-time counterparts. Never would have imagined that happening half a decade ago.

    • Giaddon says:

      It’s not just you. Between Endless Space and Warlock, most of my gaming time has gone to TBS recently, and once Gods and Kings hits, well… I’m honestly afraid. And happy.

  33. Lokai says:

    I really like this game too Adam Smith, but I’m quite disappointed by your glowing preview. There is plenty good about the game, but your section of what worries you is incredibly short. Where is all the information about how diplomacy flat out doesn’t work? Or how it’s nearly impossible to not be at war with everyone due to them throwing ships in your systems. Where is the griping about the poor blockading system, where even a single ship can go behind your lines (easily) and stop trading from and production from any planet no matter how strong it’s influence is. Also, scouts..they are useless. Unlike a game like A.I. war were you can discretely send in scout ships to see what an enemy is doing. Scouts in this act the same as any other ship, except they can move more spaces, but they still get attacked by any enemy ships and they cannot run. I really like the game too Adam, but let’s not ignore the problems.

  34. Cambridge says:

    This game definitely looks interesting, but the lack of controllable battles has me worried. For 4X games, my favorite at the moment is Sins of a Solar Empire, and switching to a non-controllable play-style seems a bit foreign to me. I’d much rather have a game that plays just like Sins, but has extensive customization.

    • Vinraith says:

      *sigh*

      Sins is not a 4X game. It has the scale, but nowhere close to the depth. It’s a fun RTS, but it doesn’t benefit from being labeled as something it’s not.

      • Cambridge says:

        Re-read the definition of 4X. Sins fits all 4 perfectly. You may prefer one game’s features over another, but Sins can clearly be labelled as 4X.

        • Vinraith says:

          It really doesn’t, unless you define 4X so loosely that nearly any RTS will fit.

          • Cambridge says:

            Don’t be too narrow-minded to allow something into a category. You sound like someone guarding the gates of a genre of music, only letting their favorite bands in.

          • Vinraith says:

            I’m calling a spade a spade, and believe me it’s to Sins benefit that it not be called a 4X game. It’s a very good RTS, by the standards of that genre. It’s a shallow, brainless 4X game, by the standards of that genre. Whether Rebellion has addressed that is an open question.

          • malkav11 says:

            I’m with Vinraith on this. Describing Sins as a 4X game creates expectations that it doesn’t come close to living up to, and I was very disappointed by it in this regard. I might well have enjoyed it as an RTS, if I were into skirmish play, but I’m not. I would never have purchased it in the first place without a campaign if it had been accurately described to me.

  35. Snafu says:

    Am I the only one that thinks the first ship pictured in the article looks a lot like the Wyvern super-carrier from Eve Online?
    That being said, this is the first space strategy game that picks my interest in quite a while.

  36. Kong says:

    Endless Space Alpha

    My first impressions with the single player part of Endless Sspace Alpha were pretty good. It was easy to get into, although some things were not explained by the tutorial or the manual. I quickly managed an empire that could hold its own against the first enemy attacks. That is an advantage over Master of Orion II or Galactic Civilization II, where I struggled through many sessions on average difficulty until I eventually could survive the unavoidable wars.

    Building colonies is quite nice, designing ships not very complex but satisfactory to my taste. Endless space seemed to be a nice casual addition to the family of 4X games at first.

    Battles are quite lame, although the battle card idea is very interesting. But this also forces me to not use the autobattle function which leads to the grind.

    Cap points for fleets is no new but a good idea. It limits the size of fleets…which makes absolutely no sense when the stupid AI throws 10+ fleets in one sector. It takes forever to get rid of them, even when I have the technological superiority. Each of my fleets can only attack once per turn…

    Systems get captured by the enemy, even when one of my fleets is present there. So I enter besieged system with one mighty fleet, but the enemy has 10+ crappy fleets – of which I can only destroy one. A solution would be to divide my fleet into small groups and reunite them again after every single boring cinematic has finished. Megagrind.

    The battle cinematics are fixed. Homeworld was last millenia, wasn’t it? Here: no free camera, no turrets on battleships which actually point and direct fire at hostiles, no small fighters – nothing.

    On small fighters: Detroyers get destroyed, always. At the advanced stage of the game all you want is dreadnoughts. Mixed fleets do not make any sense. Why make a game that repeats all the old mistakes?

    The old mistake of this kind of games is repeated here. You are either underpowered or overpowered. Endless Space does not end this ancient curse of space empire building.

    This are my observations of the single player alpha of Endless Space. It might be fun for a quick multiplayer session. I will never know, because I prefer Gal Civ II and HW 2.

    Prayer to the Universe: please give us Master of Orion’s Homeworld. Please!

  37. Kinth says:

    Great game but the ship movement bug (Fleets will randomly bug out and no longer move till you restart the game) is keeping me from playing it at the moment.

    Combat needs some work as well.

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