Even great games can get better, and Endless Legend is no exception. While the game received fantastic reviews from gaming sites around the web – including us here at eXplorminate – it still had room for improvement. For some it was the AI, for others it was more factions, and still others wanted espionage. For me, the biggest remaining issue with EL was the winter mechanic.
Why? Imagine the longest, most drawn-out, soul-killing task you’ve had to endure in your life. That’s what winter felt like to me in EL. After spending hours preparing my master strategy, winter would hit – now any plan would be significantly impeded if not outright impossible. This would beg the question, do I hit next turn for ten minutes or save the game and go do just about anything else? Mow the lawn, dust the furniture, or get through winter? It’s a tough call between mowing and dusting. Yes, I am being a little facetious. Thankfully, the Shifters expansion makes sure this is no longer the case.
Shifters brings the total number of full eXpansions for Endless Legend to three. The first eXpansion, Guardians, added legendary deeds, competitive quests, improved AI, and, of course, the massive guardian units. The second eXpansion, Shadows, added the Forgotten faction coupled with espionage and a major A.I. update. While its predecessors added factions and new mechanics, I would contend that Shifters is the most revolutionary. In addition to giving us an exciting new faction, Amplitude didn’t just get rid of an annoying gameplay feature, they added layers of strategy that are both fun and rewarding for players. They took what was the least enjoyable part of the game and made it one of the strongest systems.
New Pre-Game Setup and Winter Options
Like many gamers, I felt that winter (pre-Shifters) was mainly an annoyance. Winter slowed units down, decreased production, hampered food collection, and for what? What was the advantage of making the game more frustrating? The winter mechanics weren’t something you could easily manipulate or adapt to either – they were static and unchanging. Thankfully, every complaint I just listed has been addressed by implementing new systems that work in and around the change of seasons.
Shifters comes with advanced winter options in the game setup screen. This is something that EL fans have been asking for since Early Access. Players can now adjust both the length and severity of winter (up or down if you want a different kind of challenge). Hurray, rejoice for the Gods of Auriga have heard our prayer!
Pearls of Auriga
The first major change is the addition of pearls which introduces a new strategic layer to the game. Pearls appear randomly all over the world during each winter. As an added bonus, any pearls that go uncollected will grow in value with each consecutive cold season. Pearls can show up on land or sea and can be picked up simply by moving a unit onto the tile they occupy. Don’t worry, your hero won’t need to open hundreds of clams searching for pearls, but you will need to constantly scout and eXplore if you want to find them consistently.
The need to re-eXplore new territory and traverse the map each winter to search for new pearls doesn’t come across as a chore like the regenerating ruins (a late game tech that can create busy work for the completionist player). Instead, it extends the whole eXploration phase. This is appreciated since far too often in 4X games the world is mostly static once the fog of war is removed. With this addition, winter means it’s time to once again strike out and find pearls so you can augment your empire and feed your new pearl addiction. Each new stash you locate contains a random number of pearls which, again, is oddly exciting. I don’t enjoy a lot of random variables in games, that’s why I play 4X, but with pearls it doesn’t seem like a fight against a random number generator. but rather a chance to find the mother lode!
The Altar of Auriga
So you have a bunch of pearls, now what? Easy, figure out which of their many uses to eXploit first.
The Altar of Auriga has three tiers of unlockable ”techs” that become available with each of the first three winters. These techs can be purchased with pearls from your hoard. Once the fee is paid to the Altar, players can construct these buildings or expansion districts in any city, given they have enough pearls. You will quickly find yourself searching for just a few more pearls to get that next unlock or to construct that one new building because what the Altar of Auriga offers some incredible options!
Take for example the “luxury intensifier” which is an expansion district: gain 10 dust per turn and double the resource you are collecting at this one node for the rest of the game! The sister building is the “strategic intensifier” which grants science and, once again, doubles the resources gained each turn. These two new tile improvements have made me completely rethink my city placement. Now, I want my city near the anomaly but also want to ensure I double my strategic or luxury resource generation each turn. While you can only have one intensifier per city, you had better believe I’m going to spam as many of these as I can afford.
Another example is the “Winter Borough” (a building this time) which essentially shields your cities from winter. This city development adds +2 food, dust, and industry to each city tile during the cold season. Not only does this counteract the negative effects of winter, it’ll often make cities a little more effective, overall. The development is a must-have for any city you want to keep relatively efficient.
If you are looking for a more situational boost, the “Ice Works” adds +10 industry to river tiles during winter. The Ice Works allows players to choose certain cities that can insulate themselves against winter (see what I did there?) and in some cases will actually increase overall production.
Besides buildings, players can unlock weapons, armor and other equipable items made from pearls that can negate penalties such as decreased winter movement. While heroes can obviously give an army winter immunity, having the ability to equip individual units with gear that gives the same benefit could prove decisive in a prolonged war. Having access to pearl armor in the early game is a great boost and changes the way I approach my research. As a result, I don’t have to prioritize titanium and glassteel armor as much. Additionally, with the right building, pearls can be converted to stockpiles of other resources.
If this wasn’t already enough to spend your pearls on, Shifters provides players with yet another option – choosing the effects of winter. Players can spend pearls on prayers, increasing the chance that certain winter effects will occur. You won’t be able to choose from every possible winter effect but having the ability to control the upcoming winter penalties can be useful in a number of situations.
Fighting some pesky Broken Lords? Why not spend some pearls to tilt the upcoming winter debuff towards decreased dust generation? How about if you’re fighting a numerically larger force? Spend pearls and pray to increase the chance that there will be no reinforcements allowed during combat for the upcoming winter. The debuffs associated with winter are randomly generated with each change of the season, but still give players more control over the most dreaded period of the game. While I haven’t used prayers to further undercut an enemy all that often, I have taken the opportunity to choose a different debuff that wouldn’t be quite as detrimental for my empire.
With all of these new options, pearls will be your new best friends. No matter what you typically do in an EL game, you’ll constantly be on the lookout for more of these little gems. The fact that players are forced to make tough but rewarding decisions works very well in this case. Because of your limited pearls, you can’t build everything you might like and inevitably some cities will have to be “taller” than others.
The new kids on the block, called the Allayi, aren’t all that new. These pre-Endless denizens view themselves as the only “true” Aurigans and, more importantly, the protectors of the planet who will save the world from the influence of the Endless. They speak of fighting for “her” and vow to bring death to all interlopers who get in their way. Their motivation is both unique and intriguing – a scattered faction focused on saving mother Auriga? I can get behind this!
The Allayi bring a unique playstyle to the game. They are a fast-moving force that can use the winter to their advantage. Of all their features, I think their coolest one is the ability to literally “shift” with the seasons. During summer, the Allayi appear light and receive defensive, health regeneration, and upkeep cost bonuses. Come winter, they take on a darker hue and receive a bonus to their attack while gaining increased vision and movement. These changes are fun to work with, allowing Allayi players to go on the offensive during the one part of the game where everyone else stays home. Winter does not scare the Allayi, it just makes them that much more fearsome!
While the shifting mechanics in and of themselves are a fun change of pace, the Allayi do feel like an old and established faction in the way that they play. The Allayi start the game able to travel by boat and have many skills that augment their ability to travel around faster than anyone else. For example, it isn’t at all uncommon to see a hero-led Allayi army moving about the map ignoring terrain and getting a speed boost. To make things even more exciting, pearls can be used to force shift the units during any season. Want a defensive force in the winter? Shift them into their summer form. Need to attack during the summer? Put on your winter gear. How about a mixed corps of summer and winter forms? That can be done, too.
The Allayi pride in their special position reflects itself in the gameplay, as well. They suffer from extra eXpansion disapproval, and it takes a lot more food to grow an Allayi city. Aesthetically, this can be explained by their affinity with the planet. They don’t want to pollute and drain too many resources – nice, right? As an offset to not having the most expansive empire, they are great at growing “tall”! This forces them to be very picky when settling their cities. As a result, the Allayi often have a very slow start, and city placement can become so crucial, that even a small mistake will stifle your eXpansion long into the midgame.
For the Allayi, the standard district is replaced by the Garth of the Allayi which conveniently only requires one population instead of the regular two. These special districts don’t just grant access to more tiles for the city, they also add +2 resources for the level one version of the expansion and +4 if a player can get the eXpansion to level two! While the Garth of the Allayi can be powerful, subsequent districts do cost precious pearls and the costs only increase as a city grows. As someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy playing the Cultists, I feel that the Allayi provide a good middle ground between being limited to one city and being forced to put a city everywhere. Players can still eXpand to some degree, and the few cities they might have will certainly excel at just about everything.
A fully developed Allayi city may outperform other factions, but it won’t come cheap. It is these attributes that make an Allayi empire unique while still balancing the benefit with the overall cost. Fewer cities means less specialization overall as each precious metropolis has to be a jack of all trades – no more production cities or some only based on boosting science. This does provide a different challenge, but I feel as if it directly ties into the Allayi’s background since they are few in number.
Some of you may be asking how the Allayi gain enough strategic or luxury resources to keep up with other factions. The answer lies in the Skyfin unit. The Skyfin is a flying powerhouse that starts with well over 300 health! However, this rather tanky unit does come with a pretty dear pearl cost and can’t be grouped with other units. While this may seem like a massive letdown, get this unit into battle supporting another Allayi army and you’ll see some hefty boosts to your other units!
Players will be more focused, however, on scattering these flyers all over the map to take advantage of their passive ability to “aspirate.” Park a Skyfin over a strategic or luxury resource and they will generate one of that resource per turn until you move them off of it – as if you’d built a mine there. As long as they are in neutral territory, minor factions will not interrupt your resource extraction or eXploration since they view the Skyfin as a holy entity and thus avoid attacking them. The Skyfin’s ability to fly, paired with their fantastic mobility, allows them to get just about anywhere, ensuring that the Allayi don’t suffer any major disadvantage when it comes to gathering special resources or quickly eXploring the map.
The Allayi also get two other unique units: the Seekers and the Monks. Each unit continues the overall Allayi trend of varying abilities depending on the season.
Seekers are a fast-moving cavalry unit with the ability to decrease a target’s attack by 10% per movement point traveled in summer and defense by 10% per movement point traveled during the winter. Oh and did I forget to mention these effects last three turns? Charging in with a seeker ensures that your target will be seriously impaired for essentially half the engagement.
The monks, on the other hand, are slightly tougher, fly, and get progressively greater defense in the summer and attack in the winter per counter attack! This makes them a perfect tank to soak up damage from other infantry and ranged units.
Finally we have the hero units. In the warm season, Allayi heroes have a buff that heals adjacent units for 15% of their damage, while in winter the hero will deal a portion of that damage to adjacent enemy units. These passive bonuses are further enhanced with new skills unique to the Allayi. The first tier allows a hero’s army to move without any terrain penalties. Not quite as useful, the second ability reduces the cost of bribing minor factions. The third tier splits with one ability allowing for an increase in pearl collection coupled with bonus experience for each pearl cluster. Or, if the hero plans on staying in a city, you can take a talent that reduces the pearl cost of buildings in a city by up to 40% when fully maxed out.
The final two abilities are more combat oriented: the first allows armies to retreat with a significantly reduced health penalty. The second ability is Killer Instinct, which adds a percentage of attack to the hero based on the health missing from the current target.
This collection of new skills and abilities provides additional gameplay options for both inexperienced and veteran players alike. I would by lying if I said I felt like I had a firm enough grasp on each unit and their ever-shifting abilities to the point that I was using them to their full potential all of the time. That being said, it is an enjoyable puzzle to work out in combat across seasons and rewards players that fully understand the potential of the Allayi.
All in all, the Allayi play differently enough to make them stand out from other factions, and they have some unique tricks when it comes to the ever-shifting seasons. They don’t provide anything as different as, say, the Ardent Mages with their spells, but they do add nicely to the already diverse choices players are given in Endless Legend. The Allayi don’t quite take the title of “favorite faction” for me personally, but perhaps they may move up given a few more games with them. This isn’t to say that they feel lacking in any way. I am sure for many people the Allayi are their new go to faction.
State of the Game
I was one of those people that could not catch the appeal of Endless Legend when it first came out. That said, I feel that with the changes made in Shifters the game is about as satisfying as anything I’ve seen. I’d compare it to Age of Wonders III in its current state – a favorite of mine. EL may not be everything to everyone, but for the systems it has in place, it’s hard to say how it could get any better. That being said, I am curious to see how naval combat might mix things up. I know some folks are really pulling for sea combat which could be fun if implemented correctly, but that would be the cherry on top of the cherry on top.
I, on the other hand would rather see Amplitude make another pass at heroes. They could be refined further by eliminating duplicate heroes and creating a more dynamic hero system overall. I mean should a roving clans hero really be ensuring my necrophages have excellent trade output? Such additions aren’t mandatory by any means, but when a game is this good, you can always hope for more expansive content. I would not mind more expansions for Endless Legend, but if Amplitude decides they are done I will still be playing this game for years to come.
Endless Legend does so much right. The factions – both the major and the minor – are unique. The world feels alive and just about perfect; the well-written quest systems, the combat, city management, and the research work together to truly create a masterpiece. Sure, I would still like to see further development in the AI department. Diplomacy could use another major pass. Espionage needs a little more attention. But the fact that Shifters fixed my one last major complaint with the game leaves me satisfied. Perfection may be hard to come by, but Amplitude gets ever so close with the latest eXpansion.
TL;DR: Endless Legend was already a great game and Shifters adds new layers that will keep the game fresh and enjoyable for a long time to come. The new Allayi faction’s ability to shift both in appearance and abilities from season to season adds a fresh take with unique strategic considerations. But the real treat comes with the complete overhaul of winter mechanics including the ability to influence winter effects and a whole new resource (pearls) that fuel new buildings and improvements, adding a whole new level of strategy to the game overall.
You might like this game if:
- You hated winter in its rather static state prior to the expansion
- You are looking for a new faction to learn
- You want fabulous new levels of strategy to add to what already exists
You might NOT like this game if:
- You are looking for significant changes to existing mechanics outside of winter
- You do not want yet another new resource to chase
- You’re not a fan of what Endless Legend has to offer
Kearon played for 45+ hours of Shifters totaling over 90 hours on a 3.5 GHz Intel i5 with 16gb ddr4 RAM using Windows 10