The 4X genre isn’t for everyone, but it’s one of my favourites. To be fair, though, I only really enjoy three of the four Xs: eXplore, eXpand and eXploit, preferring to avoid the eXterminate aspects. These games are usually so massive, though, that even with my pacifist tendencies I can get through a game without getting bored or running out of things to do. The same could be said of Endless Space 2 – you probably won’t get bored, but you might also be totally clueless for more of the experience than you’d like.
Normally, I would go into the various mechanics in the game at this point, but that would turn this review into a Wiki instead. This goes to the heart of what makes Endless Space 2 both intriguing and horribly daunting. There is simply so much going on, so much to figure out. Each of the hundreds of buttons has an attached tutorial, and if you don’t read the info (or assume you’ll understand it because you’ve played so many 4X games before), you will probably miss out on half of the strategy and gameplay available in Endless Space 2.
Just as an example, exploration happens within clusters of planetary systems with starting spacecraft moving along set travel lines. However, the exploratory crafts can launch probes. These can either be fired off into space to find other nodes, opening up greater travel or investigate anomalies on planets within the various space systems. Discovered anomalies can yield resources, including luxury goods, gold or even influence, and are also tied into the numerous quests that pop up over the course of gameplay. The decision of whether to fire off a probe or investigate an anomaly can be important and strategic, and utterly confounding if you haven’t even noticed the probe button.
Each aspect of the game seems to follow this theme. I normally love research in 4X games, enjoying pursuing a more culture and science approach over military. However, in order to get a new hull and create new kinds of ships, or colonise different types of planets, you will need to research the correct technology that might be hidden down a skill tree you didn’t even consider that you might need. In fact, I am still mostly befuddled by the optimum science progression in the game, despite my best attempts.
Colonization is rather interesting, though. Players will need to send a colonising/settler ship to the desired planet and create an outpost. Like in most 4X games, this outpost will grow over time, eventually becoming a colony. At this point, players can build upgrades and buildings, colonise the rest of the planets in the system and continue to expand their reach across the galaxy. I like that you can investigate anomalies in the system once you have a colony, and that colonisation within the planetary system doesn’t require more settler ships.
Normally in 4X games, you’ll want to build all the things in all the cities. Sure, you might specialise to an extent in one area over another, but all your cities/colonies will have the same selection of improvements. Not so in Endless Space 2. In fact, failure to optimise your growth according to the specific planets, biomes and features of a system is penalised, forcing players to be strategic in their approach to building and growth. Again, this is a very interesting take on the 4X gaming genre, but can be daunting when you first start playing the game and certainly takes a lot of getting used to.
Added to this, there are in-depth political systems (both domestic and inter-planetary) including laws, elections, diplomacy and interactions with smaller states. Then there are heroes who can be deployed on ships or stationed within your planetary systems. Not to mention the ability for players to build ships and fight with other civilizations. Oh, and the various civilizations are divided into factions that can offer boosts or penalties to production, science and militaristic pursuits.
So yes, the game is rather confusing and daunting at first. Players can opt for a variety of tutorial modes, at least, with settings for those who are complete beginners, those who have played 4X games before but not this one, and those who know what they’re doing. I’d highly recommend taking on board as much tutorial as you can handle – jumping into the deep end might be a workable approach in other games, but this one will just leave you feeling frustrated if you do so.
Thankfully, the music in Endless Space 2 is absolutely phenomenal. It has just the right balance of ambient sounds and melodic overtones to be both enjoyable and fade into the background. If you’re trying to figure something out and spend five to ten minutes reading through descriptions and tutorials, at least you will do so while grooving to an excellent soundtrack. Similarly, the visuals in Endless Space 2 are gorgeous, with planets beautifully displayed and a galaxy map that is a joy to traverse.
Once you figure out the various mechanics and features of the game, you will be rewarded with an experience that is deep and incredibly varied. There are numerous quests that pop up throughout the game. It is through these that players can find a deep story befitting a large-scale space game such as this one. Plus, players will be rewarded through these quests for their exploration, expansion, exploitation and extermination. It’s gratifying to master each of these objectives, edging ever closer to universal victory.
Last Updated: June 29, 2017