by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
I feel fortunate having discovered the original Endless Space when it was first released. It heralded the dawn of a new golden age for the 4X genre and I was there from the very beginning. It has been 4 years and Amplitude Studios has since released Endless Legend and Dungeon of the Endless. Working on their first sequel, the studio realized that they - to put it in their own words - “had gained a new level as a developer” and that it was time to think bigger. In July, the studio announced that they would be part of Sega, joining iconic strategy game developers such as Creative Assembly and Relic Entertainment. Talking to Mathieu Girard and Romain de Waubert de Genlis, both founders were excited to work with Sega and confident that they would be able to continue making the games they want to make.
For Endless Space 2, one of the studio’s goals was to visualize the Endless universe much more than they did in their previous games. The lore will be deepened, the races will be given more of a face and players will be far more involved in what happens in the galaxy than before. We were shown a very atmospheric introduction video of the newly announced Lumeris faction. Originating from an aquatic planet, this race’s fishlike appearance makes them feel more than a little shady, which is further strengthened by the “Famiglia” type dealings between the foremost families that make up the political powerbase. They excel in trade, deal making and creating thriving economies. Their bargaining skills are so good, they would make you smile selling your own mother into slavery - or worse - the planet out from under your feet. And I’m not joking either: the Lumeris’ unique and very real skill in the game is that they are planet brokers. You do get to keep your mother of course. Oh, and they cannot be blockaded!
Romain described the reason behind many of the decisions made during development “You are an emperor of a powerful spacefaring race, not an accountant of the galaxy”. The game will make you feel that, and not just with some fancy vids. A great example of this is the increased focus on your population, which Romain called “either the source or solution to many of your problems”. Keep them happy and they will build, grow and fight for you. Oppress and they will complain and eventually riot. The good thing is that they will let you know when they feel that things are going South. They will do so not only via happiness stats but also through mini-quests. When a planet becomes too crowded, for instance, they will ask you to relocate some of the population elsewhere. If you do they will reward you for your efforts.
Amplitude has done a lot of work on the interface. If you have played Endless Space, you will probably remember its menus and interface as refreshingly clean and well-structured but bordering on boring. The cleanliness is still there but everything now feels a bit more cared for and human-centric. In the original game a lot of additional information could be brought up through tooltips. This worked well, but the developers have found something even better: pressing the spacebar on any screen or galaxy zoom level reveals an overlay with all kinds of relevant information. There is an overlay for trade routes on the galaxy map and one for population on a system level to name a few.
Of course there are many improvements in gameplay as well. I especially liked how there are some choices to make for ground combat. You are still not actually doing any fighting yourself but you do get to pick between surrendering to keep your population and buildings intact, initiating a full-fledged ground battle or invoking the local resistance in the hopes that they can hang onto your planet for a couple of turns while you call in reinforcements. It will come at the cost of population size and probably a few destroyed buildings, but you may get there in time. Lose the planet and there is a very good chance your population will be unhappy and ask you to pry it out of the cold dead hands of the enemy again. Space combat has been given a similar upgrade. As before, you don’t control the battle but you do set up the board. At the start of the battle you tell your fleet to fight defensively, offensively or take a more balanced approach. The battle plays out automagically and the outcome depends on the strategy chosen by both sides and the designs of the ships.
In Early Access soon
Endless Space 2 looked agonizingly good and improves upon its older sibling in almost every meaningful way. A thirty minute Gamescom appointment is rarely enough to get to see the full scope of a game, but boy do I want to see more. The best 4X games are those that succeed in surprising you, those that offer up little packets of gameplay-joy that you find along the way and that fill you with a sense of wonder and anticipation for what you will find next. Thirty minutes were enough to leave the meeting with the idea that I will be spending weeks figuring out all of Endless Space 2’s secrets and intricacies. Fortunately, the game will go into Early Access any day now, so keep an eye on the game’s Steam page.