Endless Space Review

by

Endless Space is vast, complex and ultimately let down by some odd design decisions which overshadow what could have been a truly stellar 4X space strategy title.

Story
Like many of its peers, this 4X title game focuses on taking your chosen empire from a single world to domination of the galaxy, either through military might or diplomacy.
All the usual boxes are ticked – micromanaging planets and systems, designing starships, negotiating treaties and scouring moons for hidden treasure.
In fact, the game is so deep that at first it can be quite the daunting prospect for any gamer, let alone an experienced strategy nut.
Sure, there’s a tutorial which plays out when you click on something new, but as it mostly uses reams of text, understanding the game’s interface can be a trial.

Interface
Even after you get to grips with the interface, the game sometimes seems deliberately confusing, and often requires trips to Google to look for explanations.
Take, for example, fleet size.

Combat is pretty, but stilted

Combat is pretty, but stilted…

Early on, I was wondering why the enemy AI had fleets twice the size of mine, and had to turn to Google to discover which section of the four massive tech trees I needed to research to expand my own fleets, as the game doesn’t spell it out.
Similarly, a lot of the planetary and system improvements on offer are unintelligible, buried in a ream of data which simply isn’t needed.

Combat
As for the space combat, while it initially looked promising – with plenty of ships to design and battle formations to adopt – two major issues raised their ugly heads after a few battles.
Firstly, the AI is punishingly clever, even on ‘easy’, and will retrofit its ships to counter every move you make to counter their own weapon modules.
As combat revolves around a rock-paper-scissors method of ‘combat cards’, rather than actual real-time strategy, this can be very irritating, as you watch your carefully crafted anti-kinetic warships taken out by a single enemy battleship which is suddenly packing more torpedoes than the US Navy.

Planets can hide all kinda of secrets...

Planets can hide all kinds of secrets…

Secondly, despite the fact that you can have a fleet of 40 ships in orbit around a planet, in an actual battle you’re restricted to far, far less.
I found this unbelievably irritating. I simply can’t understand the design theory behind this move.
If I’ve taken the time to design and build a fleet of warships, I should be able to use them all – not a minor selection, which requires me to jiggle fleet formations around after every bout, so fresh warships are ready to fight.

Grinding
This makes combat a tricky choice – which is admittedly a big part of 4X strategy, as thinking ahead of your opponents is key.
It does, however, mean that taking over enemy systems is a slow, grinding task which takes altogether too long, as you get bogged down in tiny fleet battles, with 35 warships waiting in the wings.

Graphics
Graphically, however, Endless Space is a good-looking title. The space combat is pretty to watch (despite the gamer not being able to directly command warships), and being able to zoom in and out of the galaxy view is always a joy.
However, the on-screen text can be difficult to read at times, simply because there is so damn much of it – and considering the amount of customisation options on offer, from galaxy shape to empire traits to warship modules, it can be mind-numbing.

Factions all have their own agenda...

Factions all have their own agenda…

The score is excellent, and though there is little in the way of voice acting, the sound effects pass muster easily.
While light on plot, once you get stuck into a game of Endless Space the title throws up plenty of random encounters, hidden technology, and challenging choices to make.
There’s also a lot of work in hiring and managing your heroes – characters who can boost system and fleet skills, and rank up as they go.
It’s just a shame that the core combat mechanic lets the action down so badly.