by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
In Space There Are Plenty Of Screams
Combat between opposing fleets is a simple yet elegant affair. You don’t actually control your ships but you do have a way to influence the outcome of the battle through the use of a fun little ‘card duel’ mini-game. Each battle consists of five phases. Cards - named Battle Actions - can be played in three of them and can increase weapon damage, armor efficiency or activate emergency repairs in between phases. Battle Actions can cancel each other out, making it possible that a card is played unsuccessfully. In contrast, a successful counter of an opposing Battle Action can make the effect of your own card even stronger.
New Battle Actions that become available through research are available to all your fleets, though a few can only be obtained through assigning skills to fleet commanders. Battle Actions and other skills can be assigned as commanders level up and can turn them into defensive champions, hardened attackers or mechanical wizards that make their ships fly faster. You are likely to have fewer fleet commanders than you have fleets and the same is true for the enemy. A high-level fleet commander can have a profound impact on a battle against a fleet without a commander but gives no guarantee for victory.
Battle is nothing short of a dazzling visual feast. Fleets look ever more impressive as larger ship types become available and ships from one race are clearly distinguishable from the next. Once the fleets are locked in combat, space lights up like a Christmas tree. Depending on their loadout, shells start flying back and forth, missiles are launched and shields flare up as they deflect the incoming chaos. Everything is so beautifully rendered and with such amount of detail, it is not difficult to imagine little aliens running back and forth trying to put out fires and repairing the damage to their ship’s hulls. And when they fail… well, I imagine those same aliens screaming their little lungs out as metal slugs rip through shield and armor alike.
With new technologies freshly applied to your warships, the changes are good that you will come out on top. Still, even the most successful ship designs will meet their equal or better sooner or later. When that happens, not even a beefed up commander will be able to avoid losing some or all of his ships and you will need to scramble to get your fleet back up to power and well equipped. Even without controlling the fleet, combat is rarely dull.
A Space Opera
The Battle Action system turned out to be a fun way to deal with combat and I didn’t miss direct control at all. I do hope that it will be fleshed out a little more, perhaps with unscheduled battle events that you need to respond to or something similar to make battle feel a little more dynamic. Similarly, commanders and colony leaders for hire feel a little generic at this point in the game’s development, but I’m sure that this is an area that developer Amplitude is still working on.
In the beginning I said that you take control of one of eight unique civilizations but it is worth noting that the current build only offers a difference in ship aesthetics. Interestingly enough, the ‘one civ fits all’ approach is one of the few real hints that I was playing an alpha. The game is remarkably playable for an alpha and the only other comment I could make is that the interface is functional but perhaps a little too Spartan and that clicking on objects on the global map isn’t always effective.
From alpha to beta and final, there is still a long way to go for Endless Space, yet the current build is already so polished and so entertaining that it is hard to put it aside. Playing Endless Space, I dropped (virtually) off planet Earth and had trouble finding my way back, a sure sign of a great game in the making.