It goes on and on and on and on…
I actually liked Endless Space. At least, I think I did. I liked Endless Legend more – it felt more like an actual game, while Endless Space almost felt like a scaffold upon which greatness could be built. Unlike some gamers, I don’t have the stamina for a game like Stellaris anymore – it’s simply too big with too much going on. Something like Civilization VI is probably as far as I want to get involved (even then, I just don’t have the time for drawn out games). Maybe it’s a symptom of being particularly time poor, but I tend to gravitate towards somewhat more straightforward TBS games these days.
Endless Space is a game that I enjoyed and yet got tired of fairly quickly. Unlike Endless Legend, where there was a driving quest plus other things to explore, Endless Space was a lot of gameplay mechanics, some fairly shallow, centred around a slick UI that few have managed to match. It felt finished, but it always felt like there should be more to do it. Does Endless Space 2 fix some of that? Well, yes and no.
What is it?
Endless Space 2 is a 4x turn based strategy game set in space. You take control of one of several empires (or build your own), each focused on a particular gameplay style. From there, you set off to achieve victory in a number of different ways (or by simply being the last empire standing). From here you engage with a number of different systems to achieve those goals – colonising planets, managing strategic and luxury resources, managing relations with major and minor races, handling internal politics, and conducting research – amongst other things. Endless Space 2 is very much a fusion of Endless Legend and Endless Space – the lessons learned from Legend transplanted into the space setting.
If you’ve played any 4x space game in the past 20 or so years, the formula will be familiar. The execution is not. Firstly, the races are all quite different from each other, with different strengths and weaknesses, and thus different play styles. Each are driven by overarching quests, along with plenty of smaller side quests and faction events, with decisions to be made. This gives your gameplay a structured story to a point – like in Endless Legend there’s a driving motivation for your faction, but your participation and path is up to you to forge.
New additions from the previous game include new government types and factions, an expanded economy aspect, quests, more ship designing freedom, minor races which can be assimilated into your empire, competing population groups on planets, and expanded hero options. There’s lots here to consider – many of the systems have been expanded, but the core gameplay remains the same. You’ll still be researching technologies to extend your reach, acquiring more strategic resources to build better ships, going to war with those who stand in your way. Some of the mechanics from the past have been changed though.
Firstly, let’s start with combat, the series’ weakest point by far. Combat is still a passive process whereby you choose some strategies before the event, and then watch it unfold via an autoresolve feature. Pirates have been modified – they now only spawn from disgruntled minor planets. Otherwise it’s more or less the same as before – just with more stuff. Governmental management has been significantly expanded. Your government now has parties/factions that fight for power in elections. You lend your support to whichever factions you believe will further your goals. Factions that have significant support will affect what empire-wide laws you can enact, providing useful bonuses – so attempting to get the parties you want into power proves beneficial. There’s no significant penalty for factions losing, just the loss of bonuses.
Some things have been expanded, like diplomacy and victory conditions, but they’re not really massive changes and are more about refining the already-existing elements. The slick interface remains and has been made better than before. At its core though it’s still Endless Space, except with more structure and expanded gameplay mechanics.
By and large, the game is good. Almost everything worked in Endless Space, and it basically does the same here. The FIDS system (Food, Industry, Dust and Science) is back and in force, with lots of information and options to play with. The core gameplay is intact and it’s just as good as it was before. The interface makes managing all of this fairly simple and easy to do – and a quick mouse over of anything you don’t understand is usually all you need to figure it out.
The expanded options for research, construction, and ship design means that there just feels like more stuff to do – and this carries on through to the midgame. There’s lots to explore, there are anomalies to uncover, minor factions to assimilate or annihilate, and quests to follow. Random events keep the game from getting too monotonous.
The government/election system isn’t a bad addition – in fact it’s probably one of the better ways to add it in without becoming too oppressive. The bonuses obtained from managing it are useful, and it’s not a ‘game over’ system if your supported parties fail to win elections. It’s a pretty good system that doesn’t require a lot of management and helps to keep the game interesting.
Managing a sprawling empire isn’t too difficult. There’s a lot of things going on, and the tech tree is positively monstrous, but the game tries to make it a little easier on you by allowing you to remove some micromanagement. There are recommended tech pathways to follow (and these are suggested in the ‘new research’ popup as well as on the main tech tree). Systems can be automanaged to focus on particular FIDS output or other goals (or just set to ‘balanced’) to reduce the effort required to maintain large numbers of systems. I wouldn’t necessarily use it for everything, but for unimportant systems that are just going to be quick click fests to help them develop into something useful, it works fairly well. There are lots of tables and screens to help give you an overview of what’s going on in your empire. You are always well informed.
Graphically, the game is impressive. A wide array of stellar phenomena are present and beautifully depicted in a mix of 2D and 3D graphics. The artwork is fantastic – even better than in Endless Legend. There’s also voice acting, which on the whole is fairly okay – not cringey, but not exactly great either.
Combat was the weakest part of Endless Space, and it’s the same in the sequel. They’ve dicked around with it, and yet managed to come up with a system that’s basically the same as before – a curious decision after Endless Legend. While it’s somewhat traditional for games in the vein of Masters of Orion to have TBS battles, many just boil down to an autoresolve sort of event like the Civilization games. Endless Space 2 has a really weird system that isn’t satisfying. While designing ships is pretty involved and fun, the actual combat aspects of the game aren’t.
Basically, you have to research new weapon/shield/etc technology, and then select a bunch of potential tactics to use before a battle commences. This gives you access to a screen that depicts the battlefield and what your ships will do – with extra options unlocking with research. The different tactics affect the different groups of ships, offer bonuses, and target particular ranges. Combat operates in phases of long, medium, and short range, with different weapons being more or less effective at different ranges. The idea is to maximise your ships’ weapons at useful ranges while countering the enemy.
In practice, it comes out as a bit of a mess. The tactics don’t seem to really do much – even where forces are evenly matched. A doom stack will always win because that’s just the nature of overwhelming force, but when fleets are closely matched you’d expect a good selection of tactics to tip the balance. And yet it rarely does – when matched well, combat often ends in a stalemate where nothing really changes except both sides take a bit of damage. Insert a few more turns of grinding down HP until someone gives up or loses.
It’s a curious backwards step for the developers. Endless Space had a similar system, but the ‘cards’ you would play before the match could effectively counter enemy cards and provide significant bonuses. Endless Legend had an actual TBS combat engine built in that provided even more control – I was kind of hoping for something similar. I don’t mind not having direct control over ships, but having these options seems entirely pointless. Micromanagement for the sake of it doesn’t make for better game design nor a superior game. By and large the best way to win is to ensure you can outpace the enemy with raw damage output, otherwise combat ends up in a frustrating grind of recurrent stalemates.
By and large, Endless Space 2 is an excellent game. It has one of the best UIs of any of the TBS games out there. It’s starting to get a richer lore, the likes of which we saw in Endless Legend, with a fleshed out strategic layer. Most of this works, and it works in a fairly unobtrusive way. They are positive additions. This part of the game feels great and induces that ‘just one more turn’ addiction that only the best TBS games can generate.
But the combat is a significant problem, and it’s strange to see how it could stagnate despite the feedback from fans about the system being inadequate in both this game and its predecessor. They changed it, and yet it’s no different than before. That’s an odd accomplishment – and not a good one either.
That said, the rest of the game is particularly good, and I have hopes that with some tweaking the combat system can at least become better. Do I recommend buying it? Yeah, I do – if you like TBS space games. But combat is such a big part of the game, and it’s a weak part – so I’d recommend getting it on sale.