Exploring the universe, colonizing planets, and meeting (while sometimes fighting) alien races is a good summary of what you will be doing in Endless Space. Endless Space is a turned based space strategy game similar to the Civilization games where you expand your empire and try to defeat other empires along the way. Endless Space seems tailored towards people who love to play a Civ game their own way. There’s no real single player narrative to speak of and the game doesn’t need one. The single player mode is a completely customizable gaming experience with many different options. There is a multiplayer mode as well which just adds a friend into the game as one of the other empires that you can either align with or destroy.
The single player game mode gives you the ability to customize everything about a match. You can choose how many systems there are, how big the universe is, how many empires, how many planets, and just about everything else. The game literally lets you play any way you want and given the commitment of time you have to make for each match this really works in your benefit. Whether you love the long drawn out games or short bursts you have the ability to customize any match to your style of playing. There are quite a few empires in the game that all have different advantages and while the game is mostly serious there is some self awareness such as an entire empire made up of one guy cloned a billion times. While there isn't a lot of fiction in this game what they have is pretty great.
The beginning game is a slow burn. You start with one system and two ships, one for scouting and one for colonizing, and you are just told to go. There is very little story and the most you get is a little intro video telling the history of whatever empire you chose. The game is mostly focused around exploring the universe and colonizing planets. There are multiple systems and each can have up to six planets of different terrain types ranging from barren, to lava, to gas giants, and even jungle. When you colonize a planet you can appoint an exploitation that helps boost its resources (called FIDS) which basically boil down to science, food, engineering, and money. One thing with the game is that a lot of the systems are incredibly complex and it may seem like the game isn’t conveying enough information all the time. There are mad tutorials in this game right when you start. Every time you open a new menu you are brought into a tutorial to learn the basics but I felt there was still more they could have done to provided more information.
You will find common factors in this game that relate to other strategy games of this nature such as a technology tree, diplomacy menu, and military management. There’s also a galaxy menu that shows you the happiness of all of your systems and what they are currently building as well as their FIDS statistics. With the more science points you have you can upgrade things faster on your tech tree to give you new abilities such as faster space travel, being able to colonize planets with extreme terrains, and better military specs for your ships. That brings me to the military function of the game. The first game I played this game I was quickly destroyed as I spent too much time just focusing on my tech tree and taking over planets so my ships were no match for my enemies. It took me watching the tutorials again to realize that you can make custom ship schematics with the new upgrades you get from your tech tree to make stronger and better ships.
The combat is also its own learning curve. There is not much control over the combat even though there is a manual or automatic battle option. The manual option doesn’t let you control the ships, you just get to pick combat modifiers that can possibly cancel out your enemies actions and give you an advantage. I never could get the hang of the manual combat but I often did it because in this option you could actually watch the ships fight instead of just watching a bar fill up. Another thing about this game on the combat side is that the AI is stupid hard! If you don’t get a quick grasp on your empire then the computer can be very quick to wipe you out of the universe. If you want to focus on building up your empire it’s good to make sure you have a sizable fleet ready just in case. I’ve even had other empires declare war on me because they thought my military was too weak which made me somehow suspicious so that’s another thing to watch out for.
While this is a very deep and complex game I don’t find it to be as deep as your average Civilization game. It is just complicated in a whole different way. You really have to pay attention to the tutorials to know what you are doing. One thing that can help is you can hire heroes to assign to a system or fleet and they can help by giving bonuses in combat or development. However there are other things around that can help or hinder your empire. There are random environments in the universe going on such as random pirate attacks that can damage your fleets or worldly discoveries that might aid your development skills.
Endless Space is a rather simple looking game because; well space is kind of just blackness. The games interface however is very well laid out and when you zoom in on your planets they do look spectacular. The best looking moments come from the manual battle videos. You get to choose your battle options and then just watch these ships fight each other and while it looks similar to just old school pirate ships flying by each other launching weapons at each other they do still have great ship designs and nice explosions. It makes it worth doing the manual battles just to watch the action take place. Other than that Endless Space isn’t a heavy graphics game but what there is to look at looks pretty damn good.
The one problem Endless Space has is that it is unforgiving as hell! If you fall behind the AI’s development then it can be quite a struggle to catch up. I was stomped quite a few times by the enemy empires before I managed to get some kind of military mindset in place. I highly recommend playing on easy, especially for beginners to these types of games, to have the most fun before and learn the systems before you start cranking up the difficulty. With that being said, when you get a good amount of fleets built up and you start expanding your empire this game can get incredibly addicting. I’ve been looking for a great Civ in space game and while Endless Space may not be exactly what I’m looking for it is a lot of fun to play. Strategy experts may not be dragged down as much by the high difficulty but even new comers can find some enjoyment in this game as long as they follow the tutorials and practice their micromanagement. It’s also hard to deny how satisfying it is when you start having your fleets just stomp your enemies. Exploring the universe and colonizing planets to the point where you own half the screen just puts a smile on your face and if you can keep the AI at bay you can easily find a good time.
As long as you are quick to build up your empire, Endless Space can be one hell of a good time. The tough and unforgiving AI may get in the way of people who like to move at a slow pace and just build up your galaxies but the game does well to force you to learn new strategies and still manages to be fun. While this may not be entirely comparable to a well made Civilization game there is a layer of depth here that is worth learning. With as much match customization that there is in this game, anyone who loves a punishing experience or a simple challenge can set up a game that will work for them. It’s a nice framework and I look forward to any kind of expansion or follow up to this title. If you like turn based strategy games and want one that takes place in space then Endless Space can surely scratch that itch.