Premature Evaluation: Endless Space 2

Every Monday we jettison Brendan into the uncharted quadrants of early access and demand constant progress reports. This week, Brendan is away so Adam did the only thing he knows how to do: he spent a few hours playing a strategy game. It’s Endless Space 2 [official site].

I’ve been looking forward to Endless Space 2 since around the time I played Endless Legend and fell for it hard. Actually, I’ve been looking forward to Endless Space 2 since I played the first Endless Space and a wonderful feeling washed over me – here, in Amplitude, was an exciting new studio making strategy games that were forward-thinking and unafraid to muck around with genre conventions.

Now that Endless Space 2 is available in Early Access, I should be soaking it up, exploring every corner of what already exists and speculating about the shape of things to come. Instead, I’ve been playing another 4X game and didn’t find a spare minute to look at Amplitude’s latest until this weekend just gone. And now, I’m not planning to go back until the Early Access period is done.

The original Endless Space excited me because though it was a sci-fi 4X game, it didn’t seem like it had been drawn exclusively from experience of the usual suspects (Master of Orion and Galactic Civilizations) but from some of the more unusual suspects as well (Ascendancy, Sins of a Solar Empire), and it had heaps of home-grown qualities to go alongside those influences. Its mythology of Dust and its collection of weird and often sinister factions helped it to stand out and its universe has only become stranger with the addition of Endless Legend and Dungeon of the Endless, which expand on the setting in unusual ways.

In an odd way, the imperfections were the things that excited me most about Endless Space. It contained good ideas that didn’t quite reach their potential and other ideas that might have been better off never having left the drawing board. It was a thrilling game because it felt like a genuinely inventive release in a genre that often looks to the past and iterates slowly around set ideas. Endless Space might not have ripped up the rulebook, but it took a whole packet full of markers to it and went to town.

Some games are ill-suited to Early Access. Usually, it’s those with a strong narrative component that I’m accustomed to avoiding until they’re complete, or close to complete. While the Endless games have some of the best world-building in their genre, they’re not likely to be spoiled by visiting those worlds before they’re quite finished. The problem here is that Endless Space 2, like its predecessors, is clearly doing a lot of very clever things, and a couple of hours play suggests it might be best to wait until all of the tutorial systems are in place to understand those clever things.

As things stand, there is a tutorial but it’s for ‘expert’ players rather than the likes of me. I’m probably a half-expert, the kind of person who can probably bluff and educated-guess their way through most of the details, but is unlikely to be able to explain precisely how things work after the fact. And that would be fine with almost any other game, but Endless Space 2 seems to be building on one of the strongest features of Endless Legend with the inclusion of extremely distinctive factions who all play by their own rules; to master even one of them is going to take a thorough understanding of the way they work as well as the workings of the underlying game.

There’s a race that live on their ships, exploiting the resources of systems but not actually colonising the planets. They essentially devour the life-force of the creatures on those planets. Do I want to control the destiny of a bunch of ark-dwelling space-borne parasites? Of course I bloody well do, but if I jump into a campaign with them I’m not going to learn anything about colonisation or planetary management, or diplomacy. That last is an assumption. Maybe I will learn about diplomacy in between banqueting on the population of an entire star system, but it seems unlikely.

For my first game, I decided to go with what appeared to be a relatively well-rounded option. The Lumeris are a trade federation or a galactic mob of gangsters, depending on how generous a description you decide to attach to them. A little from column A and a little from column B in reality, as I assume most trade federations are. After an intro movie that made me feel like I was going to play a third-person action game about Al(ien) Capone and his gang, I was in familiar territory. A screen with a star system, a colony and a couple of fleets to command.

From there, a research project can be selected, orders can be given to ships and colony alike, and a hero unit can be assigned to either the planet or a fleet. Already, there’s a lot to take in. Should I be concentrating on tech that allows me to explore the galaxy or one that lets me develop my home planet? How much does my chosen race play into that decision? And what about this hero? He seems like he’d be suited to some interstellar exploration, given that he’s a member of the Seeker class, but I’m not entirely sure that’s where he’d be best used right now, or whether he can learn the skills that’ll make him a useful planetary governor.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that this Seeker chap, Yelchin Ordara-Arrakyo, is a Senator. Yes, the chap I’m considering sending out into the unknown in the hopes that he can become Han Solo and smuggle some goods back home is the head of a political party. The Pacifist party. Fiddlesticks.

My home planet has two factions: the Pacifists and the Industrialists. I’ll be able to encourage their growth by building certain planetary improvements and through the actions I take, but right now I’m still wondering whether I should send Yelchin into space or not. It seems a little irresponsible to send a politician into space – after all, what has space done to deserve that kind of treatment?

I stumbled through thirty or so turns, coming to grips with the basics but unsure as to whether I was making any use of my particular Lumeris-ness. Maybe I should have plumped for the space vampires and accepted that it was better to ignore planets entirely.

Another thirty turns later, I made the decision to stop and I don’t think I’ll be back ’til after Christmas at the earliest. Most likely, I will wait for the full release, so that I can embrace the elegance of the interface rather than fretting about whether I’m missing anything. It’s not that Endless Space 2 feels particularly complex, it’s more a case of recognising that Amplitude have created another game where the strengths are found in unusual corners, particularly the management of populations and migration. The strong focus on factions within a species seems like a fantastic way to expand on the distinctive playstyles and rulesets associated with each race.

Some of those systems aren’t entirely finished yet though and early exposure to them seems more likely to muddle my understanding of them than to reveal their secrets. This is Early Access for those who enjoy watching a game’s pieces fall into place and picking through the details as that happens. If you are one of those people, and don’t mind seeing through the polish and the paint of what might turn out to be a superbly well-integrated and consistent UI, I wouldn’t warn you away from Endless Space 2. Learning the four major factions already integrated would probably occupy you for the next few months.

If you enjoy Early Access games that feel a little more like a finished article though, I’d hold back for now. I’d be surprised if Amplitude don’t raise their game again in this next outing but enduring through the balancing and the confusions of the current state of the thing isn’t for me. Instead, I’m going to go back to that other 4X game. Not Civ VI, though that’ll be part of my diet as well – I’m talking about Endless Legend, which has one more new expansion to dig into.

For an in-depth look at Endless Space 2, look no further than this massive preview.

From this site

15 Comments

  1. Pravin Lal's Nuclear Arsenal says:

    “It seems a little irresponsible to send a politician into space – after all, what has space done to deserve that kind of treatment?”

    You have a point. Back to the drawing board, then, we’ll need a new plan.

    About the game: is the sub-factions thing specific to the Lumeris or the other races will get something along those lines as well? Just today, skimming through the articles about Civ, I had the thought of how much better diplomacy would be in 4X games if the factions/races/nations weren’t all so monolithic on the inside. Instead of a generic happiness meter, specific groups to appease would make interactions with both your citizens and with the other factions so much more interesting.

    • jeppic says:

      The short answer is this is essentially what they’re trying to do.

      For the long answer there’s a Design Document they’ve written to convey their intent with this system.

      • Pravin Lal's Nuclear Arsenal says:

        Well, I guess the short answer is that this is fucking brilliant! Thanks. I hope they can pull this off, it’s exactly what I was thinking.

    • brucethemoose says:

      Stellaris almost has this with population ethos and the factions they form when unhappy.

      Unfortunately, the potential is squandered atm. Getting pops to form factions is something you actively try to avoid in-game, as factions = potential rebellion. I’ve nipped every faction in the bud in all my Stellaris games so far, which means I’ve never had to even consider their needs.

      But this is Paradox. The skeleton is there, so I’m sure they’ll flesh the system out with more benign factions in future DLC.

      EDIT: And when I say factions, I mean groups within your own empire.

      • gpown says:

        This is the problem with Stellaris as a whole to me. There’s lots of systems, but for each of them there is a convenient way to circumvent it. Factions? Supress. Building management? Sectors. (I don’t even know if they ever use my fancy special buildings like visitor centres) Edicts? Man, I can’t afford edicts with the amount of Influence I have to spend on obligatory stuff like frontier outposts (cause the galaxy RNG fucked me over and I can’t inhabit anything in sight) and replacement leaders.

        • brucethemoose says:

          The option isn’t a bad thing though.

          In fact, that’s what Distant Worlds is (in)famous for. It has decent AI and options to automate or deautomate EVERYTHING.

          Want to command a ship and explore the unknown? You can automate your whole empire! Don’t like war? Automate it! Craving micromanagement hell that would make a supercomputer cry? Turn it all off!

          No, what’s bad is when they DONT give you the option. Like sectors… The sector AI is pretty bad. The worst part is that you’re forced into using it as your empire grows, where we should have an option to ignore it, and some decent automation alternative like mods already provide.

          • gpown says:

            Alright, I think instead of automation I mean rendering things pointless. I would like to set up a default spaceport template (econ buildings + max level for fleet cap) for all colonies and then I won’t moan about circumvention – that’s just moving my effort from repetition to a good plan. But if I can slap away all the *interesting* stuff in the game by just saying NOPE to them: nope, don’t want to deal with factions, nope, can’t use any edicts, then that’s boring.

            It’s similar to how MGSV included a plethora of tactical options and then everything just flat-out loses to a silenced tranquiliser rifle. It’s so overpowered that you only actually play the real game before you research it and after you unlock the Subsistence mode.

  2. Zenicetus says:

    From what I’ve seen so far (bought into the EA), it’s shaping up as a nice alternative to Stellaris and I’ll play them both. Stellaris for the huge number of other factions and ability to custom-design my faction, and ES2 for a Galaxy where every faction is much more unique and interesting, with different play styles.

    The only minor gripe I’ve had so far, is that every main faction starts with a minor faction on their home planet. I guess that’s carried over from Endless Legend, but it still seems weird that you’d have an intelligent, civilized minor faction right there on your home planet before you ever take a step out into the Galaxy. I’m hoping it’s a test for something optional you can incorporate later on, with migration of different races between planets.

    The tactical combat is even more hands-off than ES1, with just an order phase for formation and movement you choose before the battle. They’re basically ditching the semi-controlled turn-based tactical combat of Endless Legend, but I do think there is some interesting potential in this system. It feels more like a space admiral’s pre-battle planning, and less “gamey” than the card draw battle system in ES1.

    • brucethemoose says:

      That planning is something Stellaris tragically lacks.

      Pre battle formations? Priorities? Nah, we’ll just have the whole fleet fly over to the other side of the system to attack a dinky mining station while the missile spaceport they SHOULD be rushing is blowing your ships out of the sky.

      It works the other way too. With a bit of micro (I suppose you can strategize a little by splitting fleets, but it’s tedious and the game penalizes it with admirals), enemy fleets are easy to cheese.

    • Unclepauly says:

      “The only minor gripe I’ve had so far, is that every main faction starts with a minor faction on their home planet. I guess that’s carried over from Endless Legend, but it still seems weird that you’d have an intelligent, civilized minor faction right there on your home planet before you ever take a step out into the Galaxy.” – Zenicetus

      Trumpaloompas. That is all.

  3. vahnn says:

    Hmm, a little disappointed that you’d give up so easily because the tutorial doesn’t cover everything. That’s exactly how Endless Space and Legend were, with tutorials that barely coveted a fraction and the rest left to the players to figure out by playing. Was hoping for you to at least do a hundred turns with one faction. I usually really enjoy your early access coverage.

    • vahnn says:

      Oops! Skipped the intro this time! Just now read it (after its too late to edit, of course!) and realized it’s Adam, not Brendan. Makes a lot more sense now!

      Um… maybe Brendan can write up a new one when he returns?

  4. SaintAn says:

    I was looking forward to the completed game, but I recently played Stellaris and don’t see how it can be anywhere near as good. In comparison it’s an outdated mess with horrible combat, and that’s just the foundation ES will be building off of. They really should be trying to copy and improve Stellaris instead of making Endless Legend in space without needed improvements. Shame I wasted $30.

  5. psychowitch says:

    I have played through with two factions now and so far its been enjoyable but nothing ground breaking.. ultimately I win on a pts basis (turn 126)… the parties/elections are great for boosts and add an interesting element to the game, however I feel the tech tree is lacking something at the moment.. it never feels as though you are researching anything unique or indeed game changing, perhaps trading does if you dont get attacked early which means you earn a load of dust but apart from that nothing really stands out on the tech tree. Battles are a yawn tbh and there is little in there on both planet and space that makes you feel as though there is a massive amount of strategy going on.. there is in building the fleets but right now with the tech tree you can only get 9 ships depending on type in one fleet so no huge space battles… and ground battles are just plain awful…so whilst I like the space exploration and building fleets the battles leave you a little meh…

  6. bill says:

    Sounds very like my experiences with all 4X games. Should I be concentrating on this or this right now? No idea…

    Does Endless Space 1 have much character or visual flair? I’ve been playing Gal Civ 2 and it’s just so dry…

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