Trouble Thinking

July 11, 2012

Endless Space: Spacey Good

Endless Space came out last week, it’s made by Amplitude Studios and is pretty neat! It is a great Space 4X that you should give a try because it’s like $30 and what like you’re really so flush with Space 4X games that you can’t afford to try another? I mean I guess Sins of a Solar Empire, sort of, but that really boils down more to RTS mechanics than 4X mechanics.

But let’s talk a bit more about Endless Space and why it’s worth a shot.

Endless Space is a game about taking control of an alien race (or plain old humans if you’re boring), and guiding them from humble beginnings in their home system to becoming a massive Galactic Empire. You begin with a single colonized planet, a colony ship, and a scout ship. To accomplish galactic domination, you need to do several things. First of all, you need to Explore the galaxy, finding out what planets are nearby, what routes connect to them, where the wormholes are (as we all know wormholes are pretty common in Game Space) and whether or not there are any nearby alien races. As you explore, you’ll find new planets that look just as good as home, if not better. That’s where you drop the Colony ship! You basically keep doing this at each new planet that looks decent. At first you can only colonize reasonably temperate planets, but you’ll unlock the ability to colonize asteroids and gas giants later. At first your new Outposts will be a bit low-producing, and they won’t expand your imperial influence, but over the course of around 30 turns at first and 10-15 later Outposts turn to Colonies that may eventually outstrip even your home system in production.

As you Expand further, you’ll find new resources to Exploit. In Endless Space resources are divided into those that are necessary for production of certain improvements and ship systems and those that provide useful benefits for your imperial economy. Access to a resource allows any connected system to use them, as well as allowing you to trade any excess to other races. If you manage to get 4 or more of any resource, you get a unique bonus, like +60% to the movement speed of your ships. As you grow, you’ll research new technology, which will allow you to build new structures that usually serve to either increase your production or increase your influence, with some having unique effects based on the layout of your system (+2 production per colonist on Gas Giants for instance). When you inevitably meet other races, you can talk them up a bit. You always start in “cold war” which means that so long as you’re not in each other’s respective influence areas you can fight, take over Outposts, generally be dicks without consequence. You can choose to make Peace official, though, and eventually start trade agreements and alliances. Pretty standard Civ-style diplomacy.

And that’s it! Explore, Expand, Exploit resources, research and conduct diplomacy and oh also murder like most of the people you meet. Combat in Endless Space is interesting. It’s a compromise between the Civilization style of just having stacks hit each other with rules governing who wins, and the Master of Orion method where you actually control fights. You design ships by choosing from different size “platforms” and then attaching whatever modules (usually weapons and shields) that are going to be most useful. Then you produce one ship at a time, stack them together in groups of 5 (with research you can increase that number) and send them to different systems. If there’s an enemy ship stack in that system, you blow them to hell. If you take manual control of the fight, you see a nifty automated space battle that you can use “cards” to affect in 3 stages. Each card counters some other type of card, so you can play Barrier (increases ship armor and health) to counter Sabotage (decreases accuracy), and you come out of it shooting straight and nice and well protected for that battle stage. There are three stages, and three weapon types with each weapon favoring a certain stage. Kinetic weapons do well up close, lasers at medium range, and missiles hit very hard right at the end of the first stage. All fights take place at systems, there’s no intercepting fleets en-route. You can, however, prevent someone from leaving a system by setting a fleet to “intercept” at that system. It doesn’t mean they need to attack, or you do, but it does mean that they can’t move their ships unless they take out the intercepting fleet.

So all this hangs together pretty damn well! There’s really not much else to say, if that sounds like fun to you you will definitely like the game. There are a few weird issues that I do think they could do with fixing up. First, the game isn’t “turn-based” in the sense that each player gets to move, then the other, it’s actually simultaneous turn-based. So it can be hard to tell when a thing is going to happen. You might see enemy fleets seem to move during your own turn because you’ve taken a ship off Intercept and suddenly that move order from last turn is viable and the enemy leaps right out of the system where you thought you had them trapped. There’s also an issue with the combat, in that the enemy AI doesn’t seem to quite make decisions fast enough to fight effectively. It heavily favors Kinetics and Missiles, which means that if you take the cheapest lasers, and put them all on the cheapest ships, you can usually overwhelm their ships (as you might be defenseless, but so are they against lasers) with fleets of shitty craft. Building up to the super-cool Dreadnaughts doesn’t necessarily grant enough of an advantage. Dreadnaughts don’t have any real unique ability to overwhelm smaller ships or provide fleet bonuses or anything, so they wind up being the equivalent of 6 shitty ships, which are all cheaper and can be thrown up once a turn. But this does seem like something that can be fixed with a few data changes.

The other issue is that frankly diplomacy is too easy! You basically can just be a nice neighbor, and suddenly you’re on your way to victory because it’s 3 against 1 in any war. There’s no real conflict unless you’re directly next to each other early on, fighting for planets. I wouldn’t mind slightly more in-depth consequences of allying with someone, or manners of frustrating your enemies beyond simply denying them the pleasure of your company.

Also, I haven’t actually played Multiplayer yet, so I can’t comment on that.

The nice part is that between the Games2Gether voting system and the forums, they seem to be addressing these issues pretty quickly. So basically, definitely buy this game if any of the previous description appeals to you at all. It’s pretty as hell, it’s fun, and the issues with it are pretty minor at this point.


Edit: Oh and it is $30, so for goodness sake it’s a dang budget half-price game. Can you believe that? Look at the screens and say that looks like a budget game. It’s beautiful.

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