by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
What’s In Four Names
Namedropping is a powerful thing. When creative director Romain de Waubert says his new game can be best described as “a lovechild of Civilization, Master of Orion and Total War”, people pay attention. After sinking 30 hours into the playable alpha, I’m inclined to say that Endless Space fits in with that crowd in terms of sheer quality but that it has a different parentage. It is a 4X strategy game but it also shares more similarities with Sins of a Solar Empire than anything else. And that’s a good thing: Sins is a great game.
In Endless Space, the player takes control of one of eight unique civilizations taking their first steps into space. Armed with two ships, one for reconnaissance and one sporting an all-purpose colony pod, you set out to rule the galaxy.
Of Galactic Proportions
Your first order of business is to find more living space for your people. Initially, the galaxy is and vast unknown, and mapping out the systems close to you can point you towards the best place to colonize next. A system can contain up to 6 planets of various types and it is entirely possible that many can’t be colonized straight from the get go. You have a little time to look at the potential of each system for generating dust (cash), conducting research, build an industry and feed the population. You can even zoom in to each planet and scroll between them using handy side-scrolling arrows on either side of the screen. Once colonized, other planets within the same system can be colonized without the help of a ship.
Systems are connected by lines, indicating a path between them that can ships can use to travel between them. Most planets have two or three connections but sometimes only a single connection gives access to a system. Later on, new technologies open up travel between systems outside of the ‘beaten’ paths but for now you’re stuck on the grid. Depending on the size of the galaxy, you will soon see other ships zipping along the lines. You are not alone and a confrontation will turn out to be inevitable.
To survive, you will need to expand quickly, and in order to do so, you will need to do research. The tech tree is split up into four different branches: Galactic Warfare, Applied Sciences, Exploration and Expansion and Diplomacy & Trading where you can conduct research into colonizing new planet types, new ship technologies, advancements in production and even into researching more efficiently. Most of the technologies suit the description of these four categories just fine but in some cases, things can get a little confusing. New ship types consist solely of warships but are part of the Exploration tree, and some deflection technologies are found in the Applied Sciences category. As many 4X games have this problem, it’s forgivable but wouldn’t it be great if Endless Space is one of the first to do it right?
No matter in what direction you point your research, you are always working towards becoming more productive or simply to become stronger. Many technologies require new buildings being built on your planets , others to redesign your ship and a few are applied the instant they become available. Endless Space requires you to remain vigilant about putting new technologies in practice but also makes it easy to keep track of the things that are important.
Alerts pop up almost every turn with information about finished buildings or ships, completed research and hostile actions against your fleet. The production overview screen is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It allows you to not only see what is being built in a particular system, but also to change production straight from the overview. And when you do zoom in on a system to seek more detail, you can flip between systems with the same handy arrows that allow you to switch between planets in a system, only now they are used to browse systems instead.