Trouble Thinking

May 24, 2012

Endless Space Alpha Impressions

So I caved, obviously.

Endless Space is an upcoming game by newcomer Amplitude Studios. It’s currently available for purchase both on their website and on Steam, for a 20% discount. It’s still in Alpha at the moment, so you’re not getting the complete version quite yet.

I would recommend that if you’re into 4X games, particularly space-based ones like Master of Orion or Sword of the Stars, that you give this one a purchase. It’s surprisingly solid for such an early stage in development. I’ve spent hours on it already testing out the races that are currently available and it maintains entertainment into the end-game. I do want to stress that it’s still an Alpha, though. There isn’t really “balance” or “a functioning late-game AI”, so you will usually either get rolled or roll over your AI competitors quite easily.

What Amplitude have brought to the table here is a very traditional world (or galaxy) conquering empire-building game and stripped off a lot of the useless bits that have built up over the years. They focus on allowing you to easily exploit your current resources, expand to new areas, explore the galaxy, and exterminate your enemies. The user interface that got me interested in the game via screenshots is completely as wonderful as I had hoped. It’s clean, it’s simple, the tooltips are useful, and you’re never at a loss for what to do. Your traditional turn is spent choosing a research, building basic “exploits” on your currently colonized planets, building ships or projects on your older more established worlds, and looking for new worlds to conquer. You spend resources to build, and use new planets to get access to more precious resources which are divided into FIDS: Food, Industry, Dust, and Science. Food keeps your population growing which adds a multiplier to all of your resources, Industry makes things you’re building pop out quicker, Dust is a catch-all “gold” resource letting you buy things fast, and Science adds a certain amount to whatever you’re currently researching.

When you inevitably meet other players who would maybe prefer you didn’t conquer their worlds, it’s handled elegantly if a bit simply at the moment. Your default state on meeting a new race is “cold war”, in that you can attack and kill their fleets so long as you’re not in their borders, but they won’t necessarily declare war on you because of it. In a nice twist, your early colonies are considered “outposts” rather than proper parts of your empire, so in the cold war phase of diplomacy they can be attacked and even conquered without consequence. Well, without going to war. It makes for a nice way of preventing the Civilization thing where people would just drop shit in the middle of your territories if your borders didn’t quite cover every square inch of land and now you suddenly need to go to war to take that city. The combat is also great fun, if a bit simple at the moment. It’s designed to be quick, taking a maximum of a minute or so each time, and gloriously space-operatic with big glowy ships firing cannons at each other from around the orbit of a binary star or whatsit. The combat is at base mostly a Civilization style clash of armies, and whoever has the most stuff wins. But if you choose to take command yourself, you can play “cards” at each of the three battle phases that can really turn the tides. For example if you notice your enemy is using mostly kinetics, which are deadly at close range, you can play “deflectors” in the last phase of combat, to give you a plus 40% chance to deflect their shots. It’s a neat system that seems easily extensible. It also didn’t wear on me even after hours of play. Something about seeing a big fleet of spaceships fire at another big fleet of spaceships is always entertaining.

If looking at a map of a galaxy and wondering whether you can take that star system by … force if necessary is something that really appeals to you, this isn’t likely to disappoint. If you’re really conservative, it’s still only going to be $25 at release. God I love budget games these days.

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