Endless Space 2 Review – Endless Perfection the Third?
Platform: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Amplitude Studios
Release: 18th May 2017
Disclaimer: Review Copy provided by Amplitude Studios
Last year I had the luck of discovering the almost famous 4X games from Amplitude Studios and instantly fell in love with them. Not only did Amplitude understand how to make an easy but deep representative of the 4X genre but also how to design visual appealing menus packed into a great presentation. After I played both, Legend and Space, I found myself often coming back to Endless Legend rather than its predecessor, so with the full release of Endless Space 2, their latest installment, I wondered if they can surpass themselves once more. Yes, they can, although in a very safe and unsurprising way.
As nearly every 4X game Endless Space 2 doesn´t offer a real “story” or goal you should achieve, except winning obviously. Instead we take control over one of the eight available factions, each with their own neat little past and storyline, to lead them into a better life or even make them the ruler of the galaxy. Sounds pretty cool on paper, right? Yet, if you already played previous Amplitude games, your expectations shouldn´t be high. Like every previous games the only way to even notice an overall story are the inital race descriptions and quests, which mainly exist to guide and reward you throughout the game. Luckily, the few things you will read are not only excellent in writing but also illuminate your mind with creativity, making it an even bigger loss to not have a few more insights into this truly interesting world.
To compensate the lack of change, necessary or not, in the story department Amplitude focused on one of their best aspects, the races. Something I always loved about the Endless-series is the way it handles the different factions, rather than throwing a ton of similar ones at you they focused on a small but excellent collection of races, quality over quantity. Especially Endless Space 2 shows the full potential of this concept by providing you with races, that can´t be compared to anything else. Always wanted to buy and sell planets or systems? Now you can! Have the desire to control time with your race? We got ya! No matter which race you pick, no playthrough will be the same, making their approach to races not only a great way of adding content but also to add a new layer of tactic and strategy, by forcing you to adapt the different playstyles and weaknesses. A great enhancement of an already great feature.
Once we choose a faction we jump right into the Endless Space, which experienced some huge improvements over its predecessor when it comes to the presentation. The already beautiful intros, faction portraits, quest pictures, that always gave the Endless-series an unique touch, and the simplistic menus, which rather convey their message over symbols than text, are now accompanied by hugely improved graphics. Every colonized planet now features its own little microverse, with moving little lights etc, in addition to very sharp textures on planets or ships. Overall, Endless Space 2 keeps everything we love about the series and enhances them in every way possible, making it one of the best looking and stylized 4X games to date.
On the other hand, not much else changed at the basics, in fact, nearly nothing. People who are familiar with the mechanics will quickly get a hold of Endless Space 2. Yet, newcomers won´t be left behind either, due to the simple basics, revolving around the four main resources Dust, Food, Science and Production. Each one of them serving a purpose, Production speeds up your building speed, Food gives you more Population, Science let´s you research faster and Dust gives you the possiblity to buy buildings or nearly anything else. Especially the way these four core parts are visualized is truly amazing, simple symbols combined with a characteristic colour help you remember and understand the connections between different menu parts and your resources. However, it´s not even expected from you to manage all four perfectly in order to win. Often you will just focus on 2-3 important ones for your race, since everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, making Endless Space 2 as newcomer friendly as the predecessors. One change I found rather interesting compared to Endless Legend were the huge amounts of said resources thrown at you, where Legend presented us with tiny and easier to comprehend values, Endless Space 2 quickly gets into the hundreds and thousands, taking away a tiny bit of its accessability.
Unsurprisingly Endless Space 2 also heavily relies on eXploration, in order to eXpand your empire. After you established your first smoothly running planet it´s time to colonize other ones, favourably in your already established system. Unfortunately this won´t always be possible because the game actively forces you to discover new systems, by mostly giving you not yet colonizable planets. So, with slowly discovering your part of the galaxy and colonizing more planets, to gain more and more resources, to build more things and colonize more etc, you will quickly notice two significant changes compared to Endless Space 1. Gone are the wormholes, connecting the different galaxy branches and replaced with quite a flow changing feature, the drones. Now, the only way, to expand over the limited borders of the different micro-galaxies, is to send out little recon units, so called drones, in all hemispheres, hoping they may find another branch. Once equipped with the right research you´re then able to travel and discover the newly found planets. Compared to the rather straight forward method of Endless Space 1, it obviously slows down the game quite a bit, you may hate it but for me, that´s a welcome little addon.
A vital part of 4X games, or strategy games in general, are the menus and navigation. As previously said, Endless Space 2 continues the tradition of big and catchy menus, filled with pictures and symbols rather than text. Every menu is simplistic art, narrowed down to the very essence of each aspect, packed into pictures and little texts, making it a joy to only look at them. Where other menus bombard you with confusing or clustered menus, Endless Space 2 successfully manages to create understandable indicators and menu trees, while conveying its core messages more over pictures and colours than texts or numbers. Only the research circle is still a mess, compared to the split up tech ages of Legend, forcing you to read every single tech, before you know what to research. It may not be surprising, considering the menus are nearly exact copies of the previous ones.
Surprisingly, Amplitude sneaked in a nifty new little improvement for the political points, you could only spend on more or less useful bonuses in Legend. Instead of paying some diagram for boosts you can now introduce laws with them, based on the political tendecies of your empire. You heard right, Endless Space 2 introduces politics, giving the population a new weight, since they decide which focus your empire will have, based on your actions. If you fight a lot, you population will be heavily influenced by the war faction, granting you new bonuses on your ships or attack power. A huge improvement, over the unfitting system Legend introduced for them, giving you the tools to establish a certain theme in your empire.
Last but not least, let´s talk about eXploitation and eXtermination, a huge part of 4X games after all. Want that newly met minor or major faction under your control, without spending hours on building a relationship to them? Then, the military is your place! At the beginning it may not be an appealing option, to threaten anyone with your little starting ships but by progressing in tech, a progression in weapon and ship designs is unevitable. By researching new hulls, shields, weapons etc. you´ll quickly discover the giant customization options for your ships, offering you a great way to optimise your ships or even build special recon or transport units.
Once equipped and ready to engage, maybe even combined with a hero unit, that gives you special bonuses depending on their level, you can set out to challenge nearly every living thing in the galaxy in space or ground battles. Yet, none of those really give you the tools to actively command your armies, the space battles in particular, leaving you with great looking but lackluster “cutscenes”. So, I was quite happy to see, how the new ground battles offered far more possibilities and even better graphics, resulting in a neat new way of capturing those damn enemy planets. I was never a big fan of Endless´s combat and Endless Space 2 may not be a huge exception, luckily Amplitude seems to work on improvements in this department, leaving me with high hopes for future DLCs or games.
Without a doubt, Endless Space 2 is a great game, probably the best of the series. However, I expected nothing less from Amplitude and the Endless series. Instead of trying to appeal to a broader audience they decided to build on their foundation with some neat little addons and improvements, providing a more than solid base for the sure to come DLCs.
Unfortunately, my love to Endless Space 2 gets clouded, thinking about the little amount of new features, added to the series over 3 games. If I would have only thematised said improvements, this wouldn´t be a 9 paragraphs long Review, rather a 2-3 long one, making me question, how long this series will be able to last with such small enhancements every new game. While it may be a great game now, the Endless series has the potential to quickly become a recycling of the same game in other settings, resulting in the whole Telltale dig for themselves.