For the past four days I have been enjoying Endless Space 2 on PC. As an avid player of turn-based civilisation simulators I was excited about the concept which seemed to begin where games like Sid Meier’s Civilization VI end; you set out to conquer space, colonise different planets and build an empire that expands across the stars. It follows many of the traditions of similar games, each turn your empire will increase the amount of resources and population whilst simultaneously working towards construction, political and scientific projects. Alongside this you send out spaceships designated as either patrol or filled with settlers to find new galaxies and planets to inhabit and colonise. Each new planet has its own technological requirements and can bring different resources. Yours is but one of several empires who compete for space and resources through either cooperation or war.
The game builds on 2012’s critically acclaimed Endless Space and continues in the same vein. The game allows you to control a variety of different races, each with their own benefits and pitfalls, from the race of clones, to the robots, to the militant humans. Each of these races behave differently meaning that whoever you play with you are given a different experience. This means that it is possible to utilise different systems of government and methods of colonisation and become an expert with a particular race; something which would be incredibly useful in multiplayer games. This particular facet of ES2 reminds me most of games like The Battle for Middle-earth whereby the choice of player controlled party matters and will dictate how you have to adapt and control your side to win the game. This is something that I have always felt is lacking from games like the Civilization series where although there are differences between the empires, once you get to a certain point technologically there is no strategic difference or benefits to playing as say the Americans or the Zulu.
Watch the Endless Space 2 launch trailer below:
Though the races themselves are suitably different in the players’ hands, when it comes to actual gameplay they behave essentially the same way as each other, in part due to a clunky AI system. This is a common problem in these kinds of games whereby it is incumbent upon the player to make all of the approaches with regard to trade deals and alliances whilst the AI leaders of opposing colonies seem only to be concerned with your colonisation activities. This flaw has been worked out in other titles but still seems to be present in ES2. This does detract from the overall authenticity of the game but does allow for the player to feel more powerful; it is your absolute choice who you want to work with and who you wish to go to war with.
One of the best features of the game is the in-depth political machinations you have to take part in to ensure that you retain the power to develop your empire as you see fit. You must retain a party political majority to be presented with the best options and you can maintain this through moral or immoral means. Unfortunately during my first play through of the game I lost control of my government due to an unprovoked clone attack. Admittedly my management of my party was not up to much before this but it was this war which pushed them over the edge! I had hoped to get a bounce a la Margaret Thatcher during the Falklands but instead my approval plummeted. This is a really interesting area of the game; it is not just what you do to expand your empire but how you lead. Be strong, be diplomatic but above all, be in charge. During the second play through I learned from this mistake and took a more dictatorial path, as a former history student I am well acquainted with the methods of dictators from the past. It was not long before Space Stalin was reaching out and tightening his grip across the galaxy.
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The visuals are stunning and give the game a truly immersive feel. It really does seem as though you are finding new worlds and playing an active part in the events that preceded the Star Wars franchise. When you land on a new planet you are presented with scenes reminiscent of a nature documentary showing the new world in all of its glory. This allied with the incredible musical score has created a quite brilliant universe.
However, ES2 is not without its flaws. I was fundamentally disappointed with the exploration system. I had hoped for a more open world sandbox feel whereby I could send out my colony ships, in any direction, toward any of the millions of stars visible in the game. In much the same way as you do in Earth based simulations, however, you are forced to trudge along pre-determined ‘star routes’ meaning that you really only have the choice of four directions in which to expand. This really inhibits the adventurous potential of the game and means that in addition to the turn-based format it feels more akin to a board game than a true civilisation simulation. This is not aided by the menu system which clogs up the screen and in the main feels too intrusive. The game screen is filled with menus and popup messages. In the beginning it feels more like a point and click game devoid of actual choice freedom, though, admittedly with lengthy gameplay you do get used to this and the feeling fades.
Overall, Endless Space 2 is a valiant attempt at an exciting concept. The quality of the game in terms of graphics, sound and variation in each game is staggering but the overall immersion factor of the game is let down by the formulaic nature of the gameplay. Though each play will differ it feels as though the level of detail required to appropriately run the empire via the intrusive menu system detracts from the excitement of spreading your wings across the universe. I would recommend Endless Space 2 to anyone who enjoys on-world civilisation games and has a passion for science fiction but if you are lacking in either of these then there are other games more suited to you on the market.
Endless Space 2 was reviewed using a digital code supplied by the publisher.
Developer: Amplitude Studios Publisher: SEGA Release Date: May 19, 2017 Reviewed On: PC/Steam