A sophomore slump refers to a second effort that fails to meet the expectations set by the first. Amplitude’s first effort was very solid. Endless Space came out of nowhere for a lot of people. Headed up by some ex-Ubisoft developers, they released ES in 2012 to a decent critical response. While it was a very solid effort, there were plenty of criticisms to be had, too. It wasn’t particularly ‘alive’, as it felt void of personality, it had a polarizing combat system, the diplomacy was barebones, and it had a few other issues that held it back. Their expansion, Disharmony, managed to strengthen its combat a bit, but fell short of significantly improving the base game much to the disappointment of their increasing fan base
In comes their sophomore 4X effort, Endless Legend. Amplitude set out to make a fantasy 4X game that would continue the lore developed in their Endless Space game by creating a back story to one of its DLC-introduced planets, Auriga and helping to set the tone for the events of their first game. It was dropped in to Steam Early Access in April of this year as a mid-alpha product. It was surprisingly stable, but less stable than their EA release of Endless Space, which made sense as ES was released in a mid- to late-beta stage.
It had promise, but it was still pretty rough. The AI was non-existent, the battles were unbalanced, the diplomacy was empty, and there were many, many glitches and bugs. All of that is usually the case with Early Access titles and this was not any different. The first couple patches added some content and then there was a long pause before ships, roads and a whole slew of other content was added. Still, the game felt like it would be in Early Access for a long while longer.
Then at Gamescom in early August, Amplitude announced that it planned to release Endless Legend by the end of the summer. There was a bit of a backlash from the fans. The game they were playing still had balance issues, was missing 2 factions and 2 entire technology eras and much, much more. How could it possibly be ready to release in less than two months? It seemed almost certain that they were rushing it out to beat some AAA titles and in the process, would fall in to the clichéd sophomoric slump.
So now I’ll have to come up with an alliteration that means quite the opposite of that term, as Amplitude’s second effort not only meets the expectations set by their first effort, it exceeds them in just about every way. The lessons learned are apparent at every turn and the end result is a game that others will be judged by in the fantasy 4X scene. Perhaps even the new gold standard.
eXplore: Endless Legend’s landscape is a beautiful, alien world full of ancient ruins to explore, different resource features to find, numerous minor factions to meet, and eight different factions to contact, exploit and destroy. The ruins provide rewards and riches and sometimes give you quests to complete, like eliminating enemies from a specified region or making haste to another ruin under a time limit, or other menial tasks. All of these are fun and exciting reasons to get out and explore your surroundings. There could be more variety in the quests provided and I’d like to see a few more biomes eventually, but all in all, this has been done well and with polish.
eXpand: The map is separated in to different regions, with each region only supporting one city. This has a limiting effect on expansion, but provides an excellent alternative to a 4X pet-peeve of mine, city spam. Each region tends to have one or two (sometimes three) minor faction villages that can be pacified through force, diplomacy (completing a quest for them), or money. Once pacified, a minor faction can be assimilated in to your fold, thus giving you the bonus associated with that faction and allowing you to build their faction-specific unit. It’s a really cool system.
Building colonists halts food production in the city producing it, which halts population growth too, so there is a decision made to either allow your city to continue growing in size or making an effort to expand. It’s all well balanced and makes for some meaningful strategy decisions. Ensuring proper city placement on good tiles, i.e. with good FIDSI bonuses (Food, Industry, Dust, Science and Influence), is important at first, but quickly becomes less so as the technologies you research allow for buildings that make the tile bonuses negligible. I’d like to see that change, but I’m not sure how you can balance that with poor starting placement in the early game. All in all, it is well implemented and enjoyable.
eXploit: As I just mentioned, exploitation consists of accumulating as much Food, Industry, Dust, Science, and Influence as you can. The map is littered with unique anomalies that provide bonuses to certain FIDSI numbers and that is important for your first city or two. However, city placement and those bonus tiles quickly become a non-issue in the mid-game, as the buildings you can produce nullify most poor city placement and effectively reduce the reasons to find ‘a good spot’. That’s not to say that the need to consider your options is completely gone at that point, however poor placement either through a bad choice or crappy terrain becomes much less of a hindrance. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what type of player you are. There’s also a marketplace where you can buy and sell all the different resources, heroes, units, and the like. It’s a nice addition, but currently doesn’t *need* to be used. It will definitely need to be made a more important part of the gameplay if Amplitude intends for us to use it often.
Diplomacy now takes place in the form of different actions performed by using influence. You can give warnings, provide compliments, set up trade routes, trade Dust for research, trade maps, and a whole slew of other options and each of them cost a certain amount of influence points. Amplitude listened to previous criticisms of Endless Space (and even early Endless Legend!) and provided a plethora of new diplomatic terms and took steps to provide a deeper personality through animated diplomats and flavor text. The results are interactions that feel more immersive and alive and really help build the world that is Auriga.
eXterminate: Each of the eight factions are given three specific and unique units of which to do battle with. Each faction has their own strengths and weaknesses and they all play out very differently as a result. As mentioned before, each faction can assimilate minor factions (up to three in the end-game) and incorporate their unique units in their armies. All of the units can be upgraded through a slick upgrade menu and you can mix and match new and old equipment to balance cost vs. combat proficiency.
However, the real meat and potatoes of this element is the combat. Once it’s initiated, combat occurs on the very same terrain that is shown on the world map. The map features all drop to a hand-drawn-map look but the tile elevations all remain and all of it plays a part in damage and defense throughout the combat. Orders can be given in 1-, 2-, or 3-turn increments, depending on your desire to control the way things play out. I prefer the default 2-turn order plan as it lends to some control, but also creates fun in my inability to truly see two steps ahead, so creating a plan that works for two turns is challenging. The combat mechanics recently received an overhaul and I’m glad they did, as they’re easier to understand now and end up being more enjoyable. It’s easily a better combat system than most 4X games and I’d love to see other AAA games, like Civilization and Galactic Civilizations, adopt a combat model like this.
eXperience: Endless Legend manages to prove any doubters of Amplitude’s ability to construct a competent, balanced and fun 4X wrong. Endless Space was by no means perfect, but it was a solid attempt at reviving the space 4X genre while bringing some new ideas to the table. Not all of them were for the better. However, Endless Legend’s new ideas and bold plans have brought the whole genre forward in positive and exciting ways. The use of influence for diplomatic negotiation (and declaration of war, namely), the quick and exciting combat sequences, the region system and wildly varied and unique factions are all well implemented and very entertaining. The Drakken are strong and expensive units that excel at diplomacy, the Cultists are a one-city faction that subjugates all the minor factions in its path, whereas the Vaulters are research focused and center their faction around a chosen strategic resource. Each of the eight factions have gameplay that is extremely varied and that adds a significant amount of replay value to the game.
Reviewer’s edit: I left out the AI review on accident. The AI was easily the weakest part of the game until the last week or so, when the developers overhauled the AI’s behaviors and it finally started to play the game well. Now I can say that the AI might even be a little too tough, as I’ve even had some issues playing with them on the Normal difficulty. I personally lost a game in less than 40 turns on Endless difficulty, as the AI Necrophages were a couple regions over and killed my main army in a neutral zone, then proceeded to declare war and wipe me out. It may need some tweaking, but I don’t believe that many players will be complaining of an AI that is *too hard*. However, they are more aggressive than your average AI groupings.
Edit 2: Having spent a dozen more hours with the final version’s AI, I can easily tell you that this is the Achille’s heel of an otherwise very good game. Had the same amount of time and love been invested in making the AI a competent player as was invested in the lore and game’s universe, this game would stand tall among its contemporaries, instead the AI poses almost no challenge to an experienced player, which seriously inhibits replayability. I stand by my score, but this game misses greatness as a result of its unquestionably weak AI. – End edit
As a vanilla release, Endless Legend sets new standards for what a fantasy 4X should be. It’s not only better than Fallen Enchantress, it’s possibly on par with the classic Master of Magic in terms of novelty, innovation and entertainment. I don’t know of a single other 4X that provides as much distinct variety in its factions and no other game in the genre fleshes their lore out as well in game. We’ll be singing praises of this one for some time, even if it’s not perfect. Speaking of not perfect, it does have some lingering glitches and bugs. I haven’t had a CTD in some time, but I’m seeing a few reports of them on the forums. None of them really take away from the experience, though, especially if you have even just a minor tolerance for that sort of thing. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them, as it is a bit more unstable than Endless Space was at launch.
TL;DR: Amplitude has created a sophomoric sensation, perhaps creating the best vanilla 4X game in a decade. It’s not perfect. It has some weird bugs and some of its mechanics could be more fleshed out. However, it’s a game that deserves to be in every 4X game fan’s library. Period.
You might like this game if:
- You want combat to be deeper than the Civilization series, but don’t necessarily need full control of your units.
- You like the idea of unique and distinct factions that play differently from each other.
- You like a good user interface.
- You want a 4X game that breaks the mold and offers a unique experience.
You might NOT like this game if:
- You want deep tactical combat with full control over your units.
- You want a game with an entertaining end game. Endless Legend definitely suffers from the end game “blahs” after a few games.
- You’re not willing to give a game with a lot of new ideas a chance. It is not a familiar game.
- You need an AI opponent to truly threaten you. While the AI has progressively become better, it’s still in need of a lot of help.
Devildog played nearly 70 hours of the Early Access build and the pre-release VIP build in single player on an Intel Core i7-3770K 3.5 GHz with 8 GB of DDR5 RAM and a GTX 770 on Windows 8.1 64-Bit