|Release Date||May 18, 2017|
Review code provided
Endless Space 2 is a science-fiction, 4X strategy game that puts players in control of the leader of a civilisation. Players must guide their civilisations development – exploring the stars, uncovering the secrets of an ancient race, develop new technologies and manage encounters with the other alien races that populate the galaxy.
Endless Space 2 treads a path that will be quite familiar to fans of the 4X strategy genre. The game leans heavily into the explore, expand, exploit and exterminate pillars that traditionally make up these types of games. Galactic exploration will yield new planets that must be colonised, resources that will need to be exploited and new alien races to be exterminated (or lived with in peace).
And while there are plenty of ways in which Endless Space 2 differentiates itself from its genre stablemates (which I’ll get to in a moment), it’s the way in which the game leverages these four pillars that makes this a success. This is an endlessly addictive experience that will see its players fall into the familiar “just one more turn” trap quite easily. There’s always something new and worthwhile just beyond the “end turn” button – a new technology, a new star system, a new battle to be fought.
The traditional elements that make up a 4X strategy game are all present. You’ll begin each game of Endless Space 2 with a single planet to call your own. From there you’ll need to explore the galaxy, looking for the resources and suitable planets needed to help expand outwards amongst the stars, in a familiar but addictive gameplay loop that could cost you a few early nights.
Exploration will usually be undertaken by specialised ships. You’ll move them between star systems via the lanes that connect them, uncovering new planets as you go. To fully explore a star system, however, will require time. Planets generally come with anomalies that need to be probed to find out what they do and what benefits you can gain from them, making exploration a more thorough affair than zipping through the galaxy uncovering the map as quickly as possible.
Colonising planets that aren’t your home type requires research, as does being able to take advantage of the resources and anomalies you’ll find there. Endless Space 2 features an expansive tech tree that will keep you busy for hours as you attempt to unlock everything you need to fully manipulate the resources that you’ll find. The amount of research available can be intimidating at first, but quickly becomes second nature once you’ve got a handle on it.
Combat, one of the weaker elements of the first game, sees some change. It’s still focused around cinematic camera angles that look cool until the novelty wears off. Instead of rounds that see combatants attempt to gain advantages using cards, players now select strategies before the fighting begins. These strategies give fleets bonuses and organise ships into up to three lanes, with different strategies varying the range of the ships in said lanes.
It’s an interesting system in theory, building on the ship design mechanic to force players to create ships that are effective at different ranges. It quickly becomes automatic, however. All you’ll need is three different ship types to be effective at the three different ranges to maximise your combat strength. While battles featuring huge numbers of ships can be fun to watch Battlestar Galactica style, combat is something you’ll probably auto-resolve most of the time.
Diplomacy and interaction with other factions is a far more immersive way to approach the game. While a bit too basic, with limited options for interaction, you’re able to exert diplomatic pressure on other civilisations. This gives you more options for trade, extortion or even enforced truces and remuneration during war. Pressure is represented by a bar in the diplomatic screen and, when coupled with the various relationship statuses, takes a lot of the guess work out of diplomatic relations and trading.
It’s some of the differences between this and other strategy games that make Endless Space 2 a good time. Picking one of the eight available factions gives you bonuses to whatever their strengths are, as well as special abilities such as the Unfallen’s ability to extend tendrils through the galaxy for free movement of people. So far, so standard. Endless Space 2’s biggest strength is that these perks aren’t set in stone and can change and shift throughout the course of a campaign.
The biggest way this can happen is through quests. Endless Space 2 features RPG-like quest lines for the different races, which see rich narratives play out on the backdrop of strategic gameplay. These main quests are multi-part epics that can fundamentally alter the path of your faction depending on choices you make, offering replayability and a higher level of engagement with the game. Side quests can also do the same, although to a much smaller extent.
Endless Space 2 also offers a fairly deep political system. You’ll start out with a political party aligned to your factions strengths, but every action you take can weaken or embolden someone. Everything from choices made during quests, what tech you research or what you choose to build will boost a specific political party, which can have huge ramifications on laws you can pass, bonuses you can pursue or even how you must approach the game.
It’s a very clever system that forces you to be consistently mindful of what you’re doing. During one game as the science loving Sophons I was besieged by three factions, forcing me to focus on building and researching military tech and giving the Militarist party a huge majority in elections. The peaceful explorers I had started out with slowly became a more militaristically driven society as I attempted to survive a brutal war on three fronts.
All of Endless Space 2’s systems and mechanics play into one another in fantastic ways, creating a game that is more than the sum of its already well designed parts. This is housed inside an incredibly clean anf intuitive UI. Endless Space 2 has a huge amount of information you’ll need, but the user interface and tooltip pop-ups make it painless to navigate. It also helps that the game is beautiful to look at.
Endless Space 2 is a great strategy game. It builds off the strengths of the 4X genre and what went right the last time, adding enough of its own flavour to gameplay to make it stand out and create an addictive, thoughtful science-fiction adventure. While combat and diplomacy leave something to be desired, this is an effective civilisation building experience.
The addition of deep political machinations and the RPG-like questing system forces you to be constantly engaged with what you’re doing, offering you varied paths through campaigns rather than setting you on autopilot. Coupled with a UI that makes the otherwise intimidating amount of information easy to manage and use, Endless Space 2 is a worthy addition to the 4X pantheon.
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