by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
A new legend
July 2011: 2K Games president Christoph Hartmann explains why the newly announced Xcom game is a shooter rather than a turn-based strategy game: “… the problem was that turn-based strategy games were no longer the hottest thing on planet Earth. But this is not just a commercial thing – strategy games are just not contemporary”. His ‘hot’ shooter launched just over a week ago to a less than warm reception from media and gamers alike. Since 2011, turn-based strategy games have made a fantastic comeback, not in the least because of 2K’s other Xcom game which – was – turn-based.
One of the games that heralded the turn-based strategy renaissance was Endless Space. Created by a group of former Ubisoft developers under the name Amplitude Studios, the 4X space strategy game was a work of love and captured the heart of many a strategy gamer. Just before Gamescom, the studio announced a new game, Endless Legend. Having only read the headline, I was not – quite – prepared for what they would show me at the expo…
Sitting down for the presentation, I expected a sequel to the 2012 space-themed title. You can imagine my surprise seeing a planet’s surface instead of a galaxy campaign map. I blinked, once, twice, and then smiled. This was not a sequel, this was a completely new game, obviously with a fantasy setting and it looked absolutely gorgeous. The setting proved to be just one of several surprises that Lead Designer Romain de Waubert had in store for us.
Endless Legend is something of a precursor to Endless Space and tells the story of a world brought to the brink of total destruction through a devastating civil war. Things have gotten so bad that the living conditions on the planet are getting progressively worse every year and the remaining survivors are struggling to get through each successive winter. This last part is not just a plotline, it is part of the overall gameplay and players will have to steel themselves against each new winter as it will be harsher than the one before.
The hex-based campaign map is also your – only – map or rather view of the game. Everything from building to combat is done on the campaign map, creating a completely seamless experience. Players will own one town per region and a map can have up to 200 regions. You can expand these towns almost without limits as with each new addition to your town, it occupies another hex to grow the area around it that is under your control. As it increases in size it almost looks alive as it crawls over the planet’s surface, slowly eating up more and more terrain.
Initially, the team chose a realistic looking game world but found it too boring and switched to a different approach. The hex tiles are stacked to clearly mark differences in height, which is further emphasized by the fact that higher areas are more likely to contain forests and snow. These height differences aren’t just for show either: the altitude of the tiles determines what sort of animals, food and minerals can be found on them. All combined, it looks very unique and particularly attractive.
Romain confessed to not being overly proud by Endless Space’s research tree – my only real gripe with the game – and said Amplitude was looking to implement research in a vastly different way. Just how had not been fully decided yet, but one thing that was disclosed was that the game will not feature branching research trees and that some new technologies are unlocked by completing quests.
You’ll still need to generate research points though. New techs can help you survive the next winter – your primary goal if you want to successfully navigate all 6 ages – and so will food. Fortunately you can easily change focus by dragging (parts) of your population from the research box and dropping them in the food or gold box instead.
It wasn’t until the end of the presentation that Romain revealed Endless Legend’s best feature: its multiplayer battles. Like city management, combat does not take you off the campaign map. Armies are usually represented on the map through the heroes that lead them. When two heroes meet they have the option to go into battle and when they do, their armies unfold and spread out over the map, each unit occupying a different hex tile. Before the actual combat takes place, players have a chance to reposition their army, moving units forward or backward to optimize their chances of survival. It was fun to see, but the kicker was that playing these battles on the overall campaign map allows other players to join in the fray. Battles are fully visible to every player and they can choose to let the others duke it out, or join the battle by positioning their heroes close to the action and selecting which side they would like to join on. Nifty!
My enthusiasm had been building throughout the presentation but that last feature had me hooked. Turn-based strategy games are rarely considered to be fun when playing with more than two players but Endless Legend’s combat system may well change that notion forever.
With Endless Legend, the devs at Amplitude Studios look to be well on their way to building a solid reputation as creators of innovative and fun turn-based strategy titles. It may not be the sequel I had expected, but it certainly looks like a game I will want to play.