Endless Space: The Kotaku Review

There are plenty of games about flying a starfighter, or being a space merchant, or a humble lowly space marine who runs through space stations shooting everything that moves. There are plenty of games where you're an officer in some kind of army of the stars, clicking your way to victory as your tiny little minions give their tiny little lives for the cause.

Those kinds of games are fine, but sometimes you want more. You don't want to be the guy taking orders from the Emperor. You want to be the Emperor.

Endless Space lets you be the Emperor.

Managing the economy, industry, science and military of a sprawling galactic empire isn't — at least I'd guess it isn't — an easy thing to do. All those planets to monitor, all those unhappy workers, all those alien starships blowing stuff up across the fringes of known space, it's a lot to stay on top of.

For Endless Space, a game that follows so closely in the footsteps of classic 1993 title Master of Orion, staying on top of the nuts and bolts of galactic governance is never a problem. A surprisingly attractive and clean user interface (these kind of games are normally as stylish as a text book) makes it easy to navigate the necessary levels of menus and research screens, while smartly-designed pop-ups keep you informed about decisions that need to be made sooner rather than later.

ENDLESS SPACE

Developer: Amplitude Studios Platforms: PC Released: July 4

Type of game: Space Strategy What I played: Three singleplayer games, one as the United Empire, one as the Pilgrims and one as the Sowers. Briefly tested multiplayer (it works!), but didn't have time to complete a whole game.

Two Things I Loved

  • It's pretty. Every other game in the genre should take note that, yes, it helps when you look good.
  • There's a great understanding of prioritising player information and pop-ups.

Two Things I Hated

  • The game has a personality disorder. Namely, it doesn't have one.
  • Combat is basic and unfulfilling.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • "The perfect game for fans of spreadsheet clicking! 8.5/10!" — Luke Plunkett, Kotaku
  • "It's no Master of Orion, but you know what, it's close enough" — Luke Plunkett, Kotaku

What could easily have been the game's biggest stumbling block, then - keeping the player informed about the dozens of things that needed their attention every turn - is vaulted with ease. Considering that's the point where many games of this ilk begin to lose the player, that's quite the achievement.

The thing I enjoyed most about Endless Space, though, was its degree of customisation. Don't like the eight default races? Combine a bunch of attributes and make your own. Can't find a starship that does what you want? Roll up your sleeves and design one yourself. It really helps invest you in the empire you're creating, giving you the sense that you're building everything, not just the big stuff.

It's a shame, then, that while the universe hums along nicely under the hood, the rest of game can't convince you it's worth controlling at all, let alone saving.

The real joy of these kind of titles where you explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate (fans call them "4X" games) is in feeling like you're playing, well, a game. Against other people. They're at their best when a rival empire isn't simply a competing colour on the map, but a convincing opponent, one that communicates and reacts like a person (or, in Endless Space's case, an alien).

Unless you're in a multiplayer battle, Endless Space almost completely overlooks this part of the experience. Story and context are practically non-existent, while diplomacy — which should be rich with intrigue and personality — feels sterile and arbitrary. The computer's intelligence is also suspect, rarely giving the impression it's able to react to even the broadest and most successful of player strategies.

This empty feeling continues through to the game's combat. Sure, it looks gorgeous, as starships soar past planets exchanging broadsides, but aside from a basic card-game system of bonus powers (which are largely ineffective) you're not actually doing anything. The computer is just tricking you into thinking it hasn't already made a snap decision on who wins, basing it entirely on who brought the bigger guns. The inability to set even the most basic strategies turns what could have been one of the game's most exciting aspects into one of its most mundane.

Endless Space, then, isn't endless at all. It ends about halfway where a truly great game could have ended. It ships as a title complete with all the management tools and streamlined design you could hope for in a game with such scope, but you'll need to abandon hopes of finding much humanity — or any other form of conversational life — amongst the stars to get the most out of it.


Comments

    Pretty interface and menu system with "mundane, basic, unfulfilling" gameplay and "nonexistant, sterile, and arbitrary" story/context is a 'Yes, buy this game'?

    Is this IGN?

      i dont know about you mate but i like it it would be nice if i could actually get a multiplayer game in the empty lobby though

        I'm not making a value judgement on the game myself, i'm saying, with what Luke wrote, that hardly seems to me like a glowing review of the game. Saying it's pretty but hasn't got a story and has underwhelming gameplay would seem he's trying to ward people off...

        As for empty lobbies, welcome to indie gaming. :P

          Problem isn't so much the review but Luke's writing style. He seems to feel the need to place negatives into a review (even if he might not feel it needs one) and it can come across as strange the way its written.

      Finally someone else complaining about these reviews. If the writing is anything to go off, these games are either bad or average at best and yet Kotaku is still recommending us to play them.

      If you're going to break down review scores to just a "yes/no", then I think you should atleast be giving more thought to who is reading the reviews and whether or not you genuinely think they will want to play it. As far as I can tell, even the reviewer didn't think the game was that great.

    "Endless Space, then, isn’t endless at all. It ends about halfway where a truly great game could have ended."

    Indeed... I've been in since the Alpha and I still haven't managed to really grasp the full potential of this game.. even playing on "Newbie" I find myself defeated very easily by enemies that build, research and generally conquer faster than anything I've seen in any other game in this genre..

    I've tried playing many different ways but yet to come even close to winning....

    I really enjoyed this game. I had a 20 hour game on Normal difficulty, on a spiral galaxy, 8 players, and I conquered the lot of them. I do recommend this game if you liked, for example, Civilization V. The diplomacy is a bit thin compared to GalCiv2, but the combat felt great in my opinion. It was sufficiently abstracted and pretty that it felt right at home in an empire management game, I thought.

    Guys, the complaints in this review are a bit strange. This game doesn’t need a rich tapestry of background story to make it great. It is an incredibly slick, well-made RTS that will eat up hours like they were seconds. It is quite easily one of the best RTS games I’ve played in years. At no point in my playing have I sat back and thought ‘hmm, this would really be improved by a little space drama’.

    The density of the game comes through the complex combinations of victory conditions and tech tree routes, not story. I’ve got Starcraft 2 for that. Endless Space is about the pure joy of gathering, researching, expanding. The tools they’ve given you to do just that are so streamlined, simple and pretty, you sort of wonder how you’ll go back to those games that try to drown you in fiddly crap.

    Whatever mixed messages Luke was putting across, play this game. It is SO good, and like someone else said, the lobbies are empty. It's definitely worth the price of admission.

    As a Massive MOO 2 Fan. I would 100% reccommend this game.
    If you have not played MOO 2.... Play MOO 2 until you are bleeding from the ears.. THEN play this game.

    I love this game, and hope that the devs continue with the regular updates. Recommend it to anyone who loves a bit of strategy, and concur with Daniel about MoO2 as well. Been a long time since a good 4X

    Already a solid game, and think with further support (including mod support) it will develop into an even better game over time.

    To all of the nae sayers above Luke's review makes perfect sense to me. Is it a great game and should you buy it if you like this genre - Yes. Is it the best ever made -- time will tell but the point Luke was trying to make is that there is a lot more that could be done with the combat interface. I played MOO and MOO2 until my ears bled and am happy for this revival - well worth the 29.99 imo.
    I'm hoping for solid sales for the game; ES2 could be awesome.

    The 300 turn victory/defeat condition would be a nice thing to remove, but overall this is a truly worthy 4X game. GalCiv was probably the better of the ones available, but this thing innovates 4X UI. Best controls.

    People who complain about story/personality are forgetting the point behind a massively-customizable galaxy where your main objective is to dominate it. With so many different potential races, alliances, routes to victory and in-game 'events', the gameplay IS the story.

    It's like saying you play rugby for the story, or solitaire. You play it because the game is fun to play. The stories? Those you just concoct in your head based off the other races you encounter and how they react to you. Building an alliance only to discover that your faithful trading partners have been secretly dealing with a nearby, aggressive empire, and have turned on you? Paying back their rank betrayal by stepping up empire-wide ship production, abandoning all your horticultural research in favour of MOAR DAKKA constitutes a pivotal point in one game, that might not happen in another.

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