Endless Space 2
Ever since a little game called Master of Orion came out back in 1993, I’ve been hooked on 4X games. A few years later its sequel (MOO 2) dropped on the gaming masses like an atom bomb, and became an instant classic. There was just something so special about running a space empire from its meager beginnings as a tiny space fiefdom, and developing it into a full-fledged galactic powerhouse.
Although I appreciated what Sid Meier’s Civilization series has done for the 4X genre, I could never really get into any of those games. For me, taking the helm of a pre-existing, historically-based civilization just wasn’t that appealing to me. I’ve always liked to play more fictional factions with which I could customize to match my play style, or even better—the ability to create my own race using a game’s race generator.
Throughout the years, the 4X genre begin to wane as more as more gamers turned to first person shooters, and most recently, MOBAs. However, as of late we’ve seen a massive uptick in 4X games being released (thankfully). Although there have been some much anticipated strategy games that have flopped (2016’s Master of Orion remake, anyone?), others such as the excellent Stellaris and the Endless Space series have carried on the proud tradition of providing us strategy geeks deep strategy games to delve into.
Although I did enjoy 2012’s Endless Space for it novelty as well as its unique take on science fiction 4X strategy games, I felt that it was a little under-developed and featured a rather bland combat system. Five years later, and Amplitude Studios seems to have gone back to the drawing board, taking the best elements of the original game and eschewing what wasn’t working.
Endless Space 2 still features the clean interface of its predecessor, there’s just way more under the hood this time around. In fact, playing through the game’s excellent tutorial is highly recommended, as the game and its various systems and mechanics are very beefy and comprehensive. In spite of this, ES 2 never overwhelmed me with too much data, or made me feel like I was trying to navigate a bunch of spreadsheets (such as in the truly disastrous MOO 3). Everything is presented in a way that makes managing your burgeoning space civilization a breeze.
Speaking of civilizations, there are eight major races to choose from. Right from the outset, I really appreciated how the developers made each race very different from the others. This lends itself to not only plenty of RPG-like emergent storytelling opportunities, but also some seriously asymmetric gameplay.
Take for instance a fan favorite called the Vodyani, who are basically a race of gypsy-like space vampires. What was so interesting about the Vodyani is that they reproduce at a snail’s pace, and must suck the life essence of other beings in order to survive. Therefore, they travel throughout space in gigantic space arks and when they come across a richly populated system, they immediately begin their parasitic life-draining procedures.
Then there’s the United Empire, what I thought would be a more or less generic human faction. Not only are the aesthetics of the UE highly stylized and unique, but their overall ethos and values (or lack thereof), make them a hilariously dark-humored civilization that reminded me of the tongue-in-cheek militaristic world government of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. The other six factions are likewise very unique and play completely differently from one another.
As a game, ES 2 more or less follows the typical 4X formula. You begin with a single planet, must send your probes out to find colonizable and resource-rich planets, invest in various types of technologies, and expand your civilization’s reach. The more you expand, of course, the higher the chance will be that you’ll begin rubbing borders with other races, both major and minor.
Depending on what types of planets your scouts come across will determine how fast your empire will grow. For instance, many of the colder planet types are rich in mineral deposits, which can be great for allowing your faction to build up (and customize) their naval capacity more efficiently. Or, if you come across planets that are hospitable to your race you can drop some colonies down on them and greatly increase your overall population, and therefore get a boost in your total production capabilities.
When you do encounter other civilizations, you can either engage in diplomacy and form trade deals or alliances, or you can go to war with them. The latter allows ES 2 to showcase its new and improved combat features. For instance, Instead of merely giving you the cinematic view of battles that was present in the first game, you can now zoom out and get a more top-down view of the proceedings, allowing for more strategies to be implemented.
Overall, the graphics have been greatly enhanced. ES 2 looks much, much better than ES—particularly the various stellar bodies within the galaxy themselves. I really enjoyed the brilliantly colored planets, moons, and asteroid fields, gorgeous ship models (each complete with individually moving parts), and stunning multi-hued backdrops. This is definitely a game that you’ll want to show off to your friends, especially if you’re playing it on a beefed up gaming laptop.
The only thing that I didn’t really like was that during ship-to-ship combat, when a ship is destroyed it merely blows up in an orange fireball, and then it’s all gone. That’s it. I would have liked to have seen more detailed things such as multi-stage explosions (leading up to one final one), and perhaps the massive hulks of the ships themselves drifting through space after detonating. However, this is a minor complaint and I doubt if many people will even notice these elements.
Some folks may have been a little upset that they had to wait five long years for Endless Space 2 to finally come out. For me, however, I’m glad that Amplitude took their sweet time in crafting this magnificent science fiction strategy game. You can tell that they really put a ton of meticulous detail into this labor of love, and it has clearly paid off. Personally, although ES 2 is a fully-featured game as of its release date, I can’t wait to see what sort of DLCs or expansions that Amplitude and Sega have planned for this excellent title.