by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
What does that button do?
Research is split up into four branches: 'Warfare', 'Applied Sciences', 'Exploration and Expansion' and 'Diplomacy and Trading'. In most cases, technologies fit snugly in their assigned categories but some are thoroughly confusing. As an example, warship hulls are part of the Exploration and Expansion branch. Similarly, the engine tech 'Integrated Engines' seems a little lost in the Applied Sciences category while most of its peers can be found in Exploration and Expansion. Fortunately the tech tree is laid out very clearly and a nifty little search tool helps you find what you need swiftly. The game gives you a gentle nudge early on to remind you to invest time researching military technology. Pirates roam the space lanes and pop up for as long as there are uninhabited systems left nearby. If left unchecked, they gain rapidly in strength and numbers, making research in the area of weapon systems, armor and hulls a priority. Besides directing your research, that same nudge also serves to give you some much needed experience in combat, as well as a fleet to fend off any neighbors that get feisty a little too early.
Strategy veterans will undoubtedly be familiar with the vaguely sickening feeling just prior to your first battle in a new game that says "I have no idea what to do, my fleet is going to die". Rest easy, you don’t need to worry about that first battle in Endless Space: combat sessions play out without much intervention from your side, all you need to do is pick three cards that buff your ships during the three main phases. That’s it. That said, you do need to put some thought into what card to play. Cards are divided into different categories that cancel each other out 'rock-paper-scissor' style. Choosing the right card can have a major impact on how the battle will play out and studying the enemy’s fleet beforehand pays dividend. Facing a fleet heavily equipped with missiles? Pull the 'Weapon Disruption' card that gives you -25% damage reduction bonus on those. Your ship is sporting kinetic weapons but they’re heavily shielded against kinetic rounds? Boost the efficiency with the 'Weapon Overlock' card and you might punch through regardless. There is a lot of variation here, enough to keep you entertained for quite some time.
Keeping your fleet equipped with cutting edge technology is a question of both research and cash. While hull types are standard across all races, outfitting them with weapons and defensive measures is entirely up to you. It is tough to build a ship that can withstand kinetic, beam and missile attacks efficiently, especially since many AI ships focus on a single weapon type. Often, the best choice is to mix and match to suit the situation. Huge wads of cash will let you reconfigure your ships in a single turn but beware that they can do so too: before you know it, your specialized missile defenders are blasted out of the sky by beam-specialists.
I need a hero!
Another way to increase the survivability of your ships is by hiring a Hero and assigning them a fleet to command. Heroes gain experience points that can be used on new skills. As a commander, most skills are directly related to combat, like defensive points or a decrease in accuracy for enemy fleets. Others are more subtle and can involve new battle cards, a Dust drain for besieged systems or additional movement points for the assigned fleet. As an administrator, hero skills improve production, trade, the happiness of the population within the system and more. The number of heroes that you can hire is limited by the available slots in your Academy and new arrivals are sparse at best, but both these aspects can be improved upon through research.
Great depth, fantastic looking combat, gameplay that will keep you busy for months.
Races could be more unique.