For those of us who remember the 90′s with a certain level of fondness, you may have been a fan of some of the brilliant Sci-Fi strategy games of the era. Amongst such brilliant titles such as Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri and Starcraft stood one of the mightiest examples of the turn-based-strategy genre ever created: Master of Orion II.
Featuring great visuals and sound, an intuitive interface, and almost limitless depth, MOO2 (as it was lovingly referred to as by fans) became an instant classic. Unfortunately, a disappointing sequel amongst other things swept the series away on the winds of time, never to see a sequel again. However, the legacy of Master of Orion has by no means been lost! A new title flying under the moniker of Endless Space seeks to bring back a bit of the strategy that made MOO2 so engaging. Does it succeeed? Read on.
Terran up the Night
Endless Space is at its core a 4X strategy game – starting with a paltry band of pitiable followers you must develop an empire, expand to new planets, research technologies and obliterate anyone foolish enough to stand in your way. It’s a formula that goes way back to the days of Civilization and Alpha Centauri, yet has remained ever-popular and has seen many interesting permutations; such as the mould-breaking real-time approach taken by Sins of a Solar Empire.
Like ye olden games of lore, Endless Space grants you command over one of several drastically different interstellar civilizations; from the military-industrial United Empire to the ravenous alien Cravers to the knowledge-thirsty Sophons. Once you have chosen parameters such as difficulty and the cosmology of the staging galaxy, your race is plonked on a suitably habitable planet and the game begins.
I could waste an hour going into the details of the various gameplay topic of Endless Space, however it would be wasted as the core tenets are much the same as any other turn-based strategy. The gameplay is solid and entertaining if a little dull at times, but what really stands out about Endless Space is how brilliantly it manages to both present itself, and convey a positively Asimovian science-fiction atmosphere.
Whilst presentation is a quality that really needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated, in this case a few specifics can be picked out: The interface, as well as being smooth and intuitive, absolutely oozes the overlying sci-fi theme; almost every button is a simple icon-imprinted circle, which when clicked transitions gracefully to star system management displays, the elaborate technology tree, or the Star Wars-esque diplomacy menu. Not only does the UI look suitably space-y, but it is also accompanied with an audible array of beautiful chimes and echoing pulses. These pleasing sound effects are themselves underlined with an absolutely mesmerising soundtrack; incorporating ethereal chants to a bevy of soothing halcyon melodies. From the immense galaxies to the smallest planetoids, Endless Space simply feels science-fiction, and there’s even a Dune-esque lucrative commodity to go along with it.
I’d go as far to say that the above qualities alone could make a fantastic game, and they’re certainly ones we need in today’s scene. That said, style is always trumped by substance, and it’s a good job that Endless Space does a good job of that, too.
For those of you worrying that Endless Space may have fallen into the banal tradition of covering up shallow gameplay with fancy presentation, rest assured that this is a game that also offers a fantastic level of depth. Possibly the best indicator of this is the colossal technology tree; divided into four individually massive branches it comes together to form an nigh-endless myriad of sciences, all will help propel your people to galactic domination. As well as being part of a huge picture, the technologies in Endless Space also feel like technologies; taking on the mantles of real-world science as opposed to the generic ‘Big Guns’ and ‘Bigger Guns’ route.
Another excellent part of Endless Space is a feature that harkens back to the old days of Master Of Orion 2. It is of course the custom ship designer; allowing you to fit your own classes of ship utilising new military technologies you have researched. Not only is it rather cool, it adds a layer of strategy in combination with the need to keep your ship’s hardware on top of the evolving wargame. Although combat plays out automatically, it’s more than satisfying to see your newly-designed dreadnought tear an unsuspecting enemy fleet to shreds in what is a rather riveting 3d combat sequence.
In a day of endless heated adrenaline console shooters, it’s excellent for just one turn-based strategy game see release. From an indie studio no less; Endless Space offers up an engrossing level of depth with an excellent science-fiction visual mantra.
Whilst there is something to be said for intriguing twists on the genre by titles such as Sins of a Solar Empire, it’s even better to see some refined returns to the roots of turn-based sci-fi strategy. This too is a motif that Endless Space pulls off with extreme finesse, depth and grace. If you can overlook some of the slower or more demanding parts of the game, then you’ll be in for a treat.