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Endless Space 2 (PC) artwork

Endless Space 2 (PC) review

"There are More Things in Heaven and Earth Than are Dreamt"

When you were a child and stared across the night sky, what was it that allured you for hours in silence? Perhaps it was the first time you encountered the reality of the unknown, mysteries that remain ever elusive to the naked eye. Perhaps it was recognizing something that could never be human, something entirely alien to your way of life. Perhaps you may have wondered what those streaks of lights meant--a shooting star, an interstellar traveler--and it began to churn questions that created a story. Perhaps you even amusingly asked yourself if some other entity who looked up at the same sky was looking down at you, asking the same questions and wondering what kind of life you had. Although these questions were never said, space was like a canvas of storytelling where each wandering star led your thoughts toward another forgotten tale stretched out before you.

Endless Space 2, from the moment you load it up and hear the soundtrack, puts you back into that childhood-like trance of the untold wonders of space. Stories told mostly by your prior actions and your discoveries, ES2ís greatest allure is how often you never seem to reach the end of any one tale; some home world crisis is thwarted, a new civilization relationship is founded, some newfound research or a new entity changes the intergalactic politics, or there is a resounding feeling of prosperity after the end of a decade long war. Even when youíve explored some distant corner of the galaxy, the next one tempts you to chart it to sate your need even when the night is over. There are very few games that embody what is often a forgotten sci-fi genre, the Space Opera, and Asimov would be proud with how well ES2 captures that spellbinding allure of intergalactic storytelling one turn at a time.

In Space, You Arenít Always in Control; the Reactions Determine Your Course

When it comes to 4X games, my lacking experience has been due to their time commitments, their campaign omissions, and their level of complexity, yet the Endless games are perhaps an outlier--and I imagine many who are curious would find Endless Space 2 a great entry point. As someone new to the Endless series, it was remarkably surprising how intuitive most--keyword--aspects were to learn. Previously mentioned issues can still be found; however, ES2 does a far greater job keeping newcomers invested than other titles that afford more freedom to the player. This distinction is important because if you expect Civilization V and/or Stellaris, emphasizing their role-playing, then the more structured and limited factions may disappoint you if that is what you want in a 4X game. Although there are far fewer factions, ES2 is by no means a scripted experience nor is it devoid of meaningful choices. In fact, consequences are perhaps ES2ís greatest innovation.

At the core of Endless games are the FIDSI resources (Food, Industry, Dust--Space Gold--Science, and Influence). These are the foundation by which all choices are made, and not simply to produce buildings or units. In other 4X games, consumption only affects production, prosperity, and availability of strategic resources (armies, infrastructure, rare items to sell/barter). All too often resources feel detached from whatever societies you establish, which makes future games feel more predictable due to min-maxing goals (ex. Unity & Traditions in Stellaris). ES2 shakes things up by applying the productionís influence on the gameís political systems and on the factions themselves, which can affect the societyís growth and its relationship with other factions. This one aspect adds far more depth as going to war is not merely an expenditure, but you could become reliant on that military-industrial complex. In addition, certain factions produce/consume resources at different rates such as the Sophon who can tap into other societiesí research already learned.

Every one of the eight default factions, whom all can be altered by the FIDSI system and the ďnarrativeĒ questlines, offer unique playstyles and obstacles. Rarely do factions share anything in common, further cementing how alien each species is to encounter but also to understand. These aspects never feel entirely restrictive on what decisions you can make, but the factions do feel tailored to encourage using their benefits. Most of these changes are gameplay focused, yet there is also a superb amount of lore surrounding these races to warrant player interest. Although this description may sound derogatory, Endless Space 2 feels like youíre playing an interactive wiki where the more you venture into the universe the more you feel enlightened by it. In short, what ES2 lacks in variety it makes up for in individualism, which in turn enriches not only the amazingly rich and inspiring lore itself but the gameplay experience when everything comes together.

When You Wish Upon a StarÖ It Will Eventually Crash on Someoneís Lawn

Letís be clear about one truth about Endless Space 2, itís not a flawless game and certainly it is not the perfect 4X game, but damn if it isnít close. As previously mentioned, the lacking amount of freedom may bother those accustomed to it, but if you attempt to make custom races they will most likely be unbalanced--itís an option, but one not advised. Now when it comes to the major barriers of getting into ES2 it will most likely be the overwhelming amount of information, the important details left obscured when not made explicitly clear, and the more lackluster features about the gameplay.

When it comes to making 4Xs accessible, especially to anyone new, there is more importance on getting the UI right without scaring players with an exorbitant amount of feedback. In this goal, ES2 somewhat fails as the in-game tutorial hides UI options such as hijacking vessels necessary for one of the tutorial quests if you have it enabled, and yet it will feel required as the minimalistic design can make things difficult to parse out on your own. The game also forgets to explain combining vessels, disbanding them for separate fleets, nor inform you how well they operate for ground wars or for space battles. Considering how exceptional is the rest of the tutorial, these oversights are forgivable. Itís the latter of core issues that will decide whether or not you are interested in giving a game a chance.

Combat is divided into two layers, ground warfare and space battles; unfortunately, both options arenít as compelling as it sounds because the mechanics are essentially watching stat sheets crunch numbers with visual effects. Ground warfare suffers the most as you can only infiltrate, blitz and use a preemptive bombing strategy--in reality, these options mean a longer round with damage reduction and weaker attacks; a faster round to deal more damage but risk casualties; and a heavy attack that damages populations/buildings. These battles last across three turns before they end in a stalemate, a retreat, or victory/defeat. The only slight depth is how much you balance your armies with infantry, ground vehicles and air units as well as stat upgrades. Space combat is slightly better as you can choose different strategies from a far, middle, near range and itís determined in one battle. Neither system is engaging to experience as you will just look at the power-meters to make your decisions, and after the initial spectacle subsides youíll probably skip watching most encounters. If combat is the make-or-break deal for you, then ES2 will probably disappoint you.

There are More Things in Heaven and Earth Than are Dreamt

Sometimes the realities we dream arenít as grand as they happen to be, but that doesnít mean we cannot enjoy what wonders they inspire. If the universe is not enough, the exceptional community it fosters and the free and affordablle new additions that tends to be more unique than other companies--seriously, an OST that adds a musical alien race?--makes the journey worth coming back.


Brian's avatar
Community review by Brian (May 18, 2020)

Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.

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