Endless Space 2 Hands On: Buying Planets As The Mafia-Like Lumeris

Endless Space 2 is the sequel to French studio Amplitude’s cosmic 4X game, though it feels just as much a follow-up to their exceptional fantasy strategy affair, Endless Legend. Comfortably sitting next to all the numbers, resources and planetary management are lively stories, epic quests, and fascinating space-faring species, each with distinct hooks – the ingredients that made the company’s last game something special.

I traveled to Amplitude’s offices to get my hands on the game, and thus far my goal is to try and get rich – the noblest of pursuits.

I’m the invisible hand guiding the Lumeris, a species of amphibious deal-brokers, money-makers and corporate Mafia-types. Most 4X games have a wealth-obsessed faction, the Ferengi of their respective titles, but there’s more to this race than makin’ moolah.

Their society is run by four powerful families, whose support of the government is necessary to keep it running. Each family is responsible for different pillars of civilization, like farming and production, and while they compete, they have to work together for the betterment of their species. Family, then, is important to the Lumeris, and as they aren’t ruled by an aristocracy and don’t have much truck with religion – two major excuses for war – they are largely pacifists.

All of this is important because these details aren’t just flavour; they have a tangible impact on the game. With their citizens being driven by economic success, the Lumeris gains +2 wealth for every pop, the abstracted resource that represents these citizens. It even affects how they spread throughout the galaxy. While other races might build colony ships, sending them out into the void in search of new homes, the Lumeris see colonisable worlds as business opportunities. This is reflected by their faction affinity, called ‘planet broker’.

Every species has an affinity that sets them apart from the rest, an ability that defines them. Planet broker means, essentially, that the Lumeris can buy worlds. The idea is that they hire private companies to do all the work for them, removing logistical niggles like constructing colony ships. Each newly purchased planet costs more than the last, ensuring that they can’t just gobble up a galaxy. It’s more than a colonisation technique; it’s a strategy for making cash. Before a fully-fledged colony can exist, it starts as an outpost, and the Lumeris can sell these outposts to other factions for a quick wealth injection. It’s a business.

The Lumeris aren’t the only faction whose colonisation efforts come with a twist. The Vodyani, for instance – a species of parasitic, power-hungry vampires that are reminiscent of Endless Legend’s Broken Lords – are nomadic. When they colonise a world, they are really just exploiting its resources, while all the important stuff, the infrastructure, is kept inside these massive, space-faring Arks. These vampires are a powerful bunch, but they grow slowly, which is why they also have the ability to abduct people from other worlds.

In my desire to swim in a vault of lovely money, I start sending out exploration vessels, hunting for new worlds to add to the burgeoning Lumeris Empire. While this largely involves sending these ships down the space lanes that create a galactic web, Amplitude have given them a new ability that makes exploration a little bit more involved. Probes can be launched, revealing what awaits the ships at the end of their journey, like colonisable planets or potential threats. This is handy, of course, but they also serve another purpose: unveiling the galaxy’s secrets. See, while the systems that pepper space are part of a vast galactic network of lanes, there are some worlds and anomalies outside the web. They can be accessed, eventually, by using a warp drive, but not if you don’t know where they are. Probes can help with that.

My little exploration vessel has been earning its keep, discovering two minor factions: the Kalgeros, who look like four-armed Krogan monks, and the Deuyivans, who are weird pacifist monsters that love science. Neither of them are very impressed when I say hello. It’s in my interest to change this, because minor factions can make convenient chums. Like their Endless Legend counterparts, they confer special bonuses to any major factions they are affiliated with, but must be bribed, threatened, helped, or in the case of the vampiric Vodyani, brainwashed before they’ll be your pals.

While all of this has been happening, I’ve been pouring over the research menu. It’s quite busy, but thankfully still legible. Research is split into different eras, and before you can move onto the next one, you’ll need to unlock eight techs from the previous selection. I’ve had my eggheads working on unlocking the mysteries of Xenobotany, which will give my ships overclocked engines and thus allow them to travel further in a single turn, and we’ll eventually be able to colonise tundra worlds. Who doesn’t want to live on a frozen planet?

Finally, thanks to the efforts of my scouts and my new tech, I find a suitable place for my first outpost. It’s got a lot going for it. I’ve used probes to explore it a little, uncovering special resources – I’m pretty sure they’re magic mushrooms – and even an indigenous species. The latter differs from the aforementioned minor factions in that they are very primitive and are essentially planetary bonuses, and can’t be befriended. Poor guys. I’m going to be their mate anyway, in my heart.

My first outpost is well positioned, connected by space lanes to two colonised systems, the first being my homeworld, and the second being the homeworld of another major faction. This benefits me because populations in Endless Space 2 can choose to migrate. Immigrants can mitigate slow growth, but importantly they also make a world, and thus the empire, more diverse. It’s a pleasantly optimistic mechanic that means the more varied the population, both in terms of ideologies and races, the more opportunities an empire has. It encourages diversity.

The Lumeris are mostly pacifists. This means that they tend to be happier when everything is nice and mellow and we’re not going around slaughtering aliens. Not only does this inform the sort of decisions I’ll have to make to keep everyone happy, it also informs the sort of bills I’ll be able to pass in the senate. The senate is what you’ll want to save up influence for, along with diplomacy, as it’s the currency of politics. From this screen, influence can be flung at bills to augment your society, but what bills you get to choose depends on the traits of your population. Thus, those bills reflect the people toiling away in your glorious space civilization, and the more varied they are, the greater the range of bills.

I start to get lost down the rabbit hole of building a perfect empire. As I obsess over my research options and building list I can see exactly what I need to do to achieve my goals of getting filthy stinking rich. I need this tech to make people happier, and those happy people will give me more influence, and that influence will help me pal up to the aliens, and those aliens will buy all the prime real estate I’m bound to have. Endless Space 2 is by no means simple, but the various interlocking systems seem to fit so well together that it does appear to be quite easy to start making long-term plans, even early on. This is no doubt helped by the distinct and specialised factions.

I’ve yet to touch on war, because I didn’t actually get into a proper one with a big faction. I did, however, blow up a bunch of pirates. Battles are different from both previous games. The card-based combat from the first Endless Space is gone, and there’s nothing like the involved tactical battles from Endless Legend. Instead, fights are entirely hands-off, as you sit there, watching gargantuan space hulks battering each other.

Have I mentioned how stunning Endless Space 2 is? It’s one of the most striking 4X games that I’ve gawked at, from the slick design of the UI to little touches like the way the game slowly reveals planets you’ve discovered with subtle yet cinematic flair. But it’s the battles that provide the greatest levels of eye candy. Damn, they’re gorgeous. A work-in-progress AI director determines what you see, revealing both the monumental scale of these conflicts, as well as minute details like the physical hull damage inflicted by a missile. I know that, after a few hours, they’ll start to become mundane and I’ll just want them over with so I can get back to the game, but they make an incredible first impression.

I do worry about the fact that these battles are just cinematic, though. Space 4X games often shy away from doing interesting things with combat, but both of the earlier Endless games showed some inventiveness. That said, there’s still the planning phase. When you engage another fleet, you get to choose a fairly simple battle plan – it determines the path your fleet takes, from straight lines to feints – based on your tech, and you can see what battle plans your opponent might choose. You might not know exactly which one they’ll select, though you can see which plans they favour, and attempt to counter them.

Heroes, I expect, will be what really determines the outcome of a fight. These important characters can govern worlds, be on the senate, or go off on space adventures with their fancy ships, of which there are four types, one for each class. They can level up and are blessed with special abilities and bonuses, so their inclusion in a scrap makes a lot of difference. Loadouts will help too, obviously. Both the ships of heroes and the regular ones you’ll construct on your planets can be beefed up with new weapons and engines as you work your way through the research menu.

I confess that I might be sold on the early game already. The influence of Endless Legend is clear and welcome, with its quests and fleshed-out, unique races, but it’s the new way of looking at the people who make up these space empires that’s left me most intrigued. The need to juggle all these different species and population groups within the faction is a wrinkle that, until now, hasn’t really been explored in a 4X game – at least not to this extent. The big question, then, is how will Endless Space 2 handle the late game, where so many 4Xs fall apart. With its Early Access launch imminent, we’ll soon find out.

Endless Space 2 is due to enter early access later this year.

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25 Comments

  1. wodin says:

    I love Dominions esp the hands of combat aspect. As long as you do have some input in pre battle planning to the degree Dominions does I’ll be very happy indeed. You’ll wing because your pixel troops and leaders are better than he enemies rather than your skill at RTS games.

    • Askis says:

      But in Dominions (4 at least, it’s the only one I played), you can actually have a lot of control over the battles if you so choose and just piling up your army without at least setting their formations is an easy way to loose a lot of units.

  2. Baboonanza says:

    I agree. The problem with having an activee role in combat in 4X games is that it’s never going to be well developed enough to provide a long term interesting sub-game. The worst case is that you have a situation where you feel compelled to actively take part to get the best result but the action if formulaic and uninteresting.

    Best to avoid the whole issue IMOand focus of the good bits instead.

  3. Askis says:

    Hmm, after Endless Legend I was hoping that combat in ES2 would give you more control compared to ES1’s card system, not less :/

    As pretty as battles already were in the first, once I’d seen a few I just made sure to have a higher combat score than the opposing fleet, pick the cards that would benefit me most and auto-resolved without watching them to save time.

    With even less control, it’s very likely I’ll do the same, so all the effort they spend on making fights even prettier will be mostly lost on me.

  4. nogglebeak says:

    I don’t get why it’s asserted so much that Endless Legend influences this game. You see its title? It’s not even the first Endless Space (first one was pretty bad.) It’s kinda obvious it would be with the title being EndlessX.

    • Fraser Brown says:

      The Endless games have all been very different so far. Endless Space and Endless Legend went in entirely different directions, and Dungeon of the Endless wasn’t even a strategy game.

      I’ve got an interview with the devs that should be posted soon which goes into a bit more detail about the influence of Endless Legend, and how it changed how they looked at 4X games.

  5. Ur-Quan says:

    I remain sceptical.

    Endless Space is one of the few games I truly regret buying and the only 4x i played for less than 10 hours total.

    So far Endless Space 2 looks prettier, but the actual gameplay sounds just as bland and dry as the first one.

  6. MaxMcG says:

    Combat sounds very disappointing. I wasn’t a fan of the first game’s card based system but this sounds even less intereactive. Nice graphics is fine the first few times but it sounds as through I’ll be clicking autoresolve for the most part.

    What’s surprising is that they could have quite easily done something along the lines of Endless Legends or maybe Sid Meir’s Starships. Even Sword of the Stars 2’s combat (when it managed not to crash) was quite good.

    Still can’t wait to play the game but combat seems like a lost opportunity.

  7. Chairman_Meow says:

    I have adored the Amplitude titles I have played so far (Dungeon of the Endless and Endless Legend) but I have yet to try any in this series. I have been warned off the first Endless Space by friends, but this one looks like I might not be able to resist it.

    • shde2e says:

      I actually did play quite a bit of Endless Space myself.
      Personally, I found it basically functional. mechanically it was worked out pretty well, though the rock-paper-scissors combat was not very fun to play around with.

      It’s biggest problem seemed to be a lack of theme, or narrative. Factions felt mostly interchangable, and the whole game had a very sparse , clean, almost clinical feel to it.

      They seem to have learned a lot from their following games, so i’m pretty confident that they can tackle and deal with these problems. So my hopes are high for this one :)

  8. Vacuity729 says:

    The more input you have in the tactical battles, the less relevant the strategic layer becomes as a competent player can always beat the odds. Or save scum.
    I’ll admit to being pretty sceptical about making battles entirely hands-off, but Amplitude have consistently demonstrated a capacity for making things enjoyable; Dungeon of the Endless being an obvious case-in-point.
    So, yes, I’m strongly looking forward to this despite my trepidation.

  9. Yukiomo says:

    The general feeling about Endless Legend once the initial joy wore off was that the AI was a bit shit, right? Did Amplitude ever fix that, and are they trying to avoid that problem for this game?

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      Ericusson says:

      I remember when Endless legends was released there was a bug that made none of the aid actually upgrade their armies.
      And nobody who reviewed the game seemed to notice how broken the game was when released.

      I could never believe in the game. It all seemed … Empty somehow.

  10. TaylanK says:

    My beef with Endless Legend design philosophy was the linear storytelling. It was great on your first play-through with a faction, but the second time around you were revealing the exact same story in the same order.

    Maybe it was just me but I thought there were some pacing issues as well. Most of my games would get down to just me versus another AI really fast even when I started the game with the max number of players. They have done some great world and lore building in that game but it didn’t give me enough time to inhabit that world, which… yeah, made it feel kinda empty, like Ericusson said above.

    Hoping they have a better approach this time.

  11. Neutrino says:

    Is diplomacy rich?

    Have they fixed that awful system view where the planets bounce in and out of the screen whenever the mouse passes over them?

  12. Sorbicol says:

    Inwould quite like to see a combat phase in a 4x game based on Blendo game’s Flotilla. Something fairly simple in a true 3D environment where formation and weapon load out v speed/manveourability would be very interesting.

    Of course balancing that within a 4x game is generally quite difficult. Sword of the Stars made a decent stab at it, but combat was a major focus of that game and sometimes you spent entire sessions fighting rather than expanding your empire.

  13. Zenicetus says:

    I’m glad they’re going this deep into different faction gameplay. Although, how well that works will also depend on whether they all use the same tech tree, which tends to smooth out the differences.

    At any rate, it will be good to have an alternative slanted in this direction to play along with Stellaris, which takes the opposite tack of every faction being randomized from the same basic parts so they don’t have much personality. It’s a good time for space 4x fans with all these choices.

  14. Doubler says:

    The original Endless Space was actually one of my favourite space 4X’s and my go to for scratching the empire building itch until Stellaris came out. That kinda says it all though. It is tough standing out when there’s so many good and interesting space 4x’s around. Looking forward to seeing what Endless Space 2 brings to the table.

  15. Misaniovent says:

    :(

    I loved the battles in Endless Space. You had a level of control without having to spend 15 minutes on each fight.

  16. Laurentius says:

    Endless Space and Endless Legend are bland games, with quite a number of cool idea but devs tiptoing with them to afraid to do somthing really interesting with them because it would probably broke “precious” multiplayer balance. This looks exactly the same.

    The only way to make new great 4X strategy is to when devs realize that they have to ditch mulitplayr when making a draw for game. Or if thay are bent on making multiplayer they have to be ready to actually make to separate games.

    • Someoldguy says:

      I’d tend to agree. For me, all the expansion and development of high tech planets and space armadas are the prelude for some really great, nail biting space combats. Not being able to influence the combat once it starts (and in the case of ES1, getting very little feedback on what was going on, and why ships were not concentrating fire to destroy targets) is a huge turn off. Sure, pick three tactics and hit auto resolve is fine for one sided combats, but not the ones that are going to decide the outcome of the game. It definitely sounds like this title is aimed squarely at a multiplayer audience where more of the pleasure is centred around the rivalry between human players.

      You don’t get to influence much in a Stellaris combat, but at least you have some input. Not having much say personally, but being able to assign one underling to a fleet that can give massive benefits like ES1, feels like a bad joke to me. Of course it makes it easier for the AI, because it becomes about optimal number crunching to build productive planets and effective fleets and they can swap their best leader into a fleet in a split second if they need to. Unfortunately I don’t get any enjoyment ruling a calculator. It sort of works in Paradox titles because there’s so much more to the game than fighting the wars and losing a big battle isn’t game over. It’s rarely even war over. In a space 4x, losing 30 turns worth of ship production in an instant is rarely recoverable.

  17. Jediben says:

    Poring over, not pouring.

    • PenguinJim says:

      Hehe, just read that and assumed it was a filthy innuendo!

  18. Maxheadroom says:

    One to keep an eye on but if I had to nit pick id say the ground combat looks pretty bland with little input from the player (basically an ‘auto resolve’ with visuals).

    Imperium Galactica 2 is over 15 years old and that had a great (if basic) RTS sections for ground combat, why does no one do that anymore?

    Sure it’s a space 4x, not a ground based RTS etc, but having the options for ground combat then having it play out with a simplistic visual or (like Masters of Orion 3) just a text box telling you if you won or not just makes the whole thing feel unfinished