4X

Endless Space 2 Review

Back in 2012, Amplitude Studios almost single-handedly resurrected the Space 4X genre from a cryogenic sleep with Endless Space. While it was not a perfect game by any means, its revolutionary mechanics and fantastic storylines made it an instant hit with turn-based strategy fans. To date, ES has sold well over a million copies on Steam alone. To say it was anything other than a smash hit would be a gross mischaracterization.

ES2-01-Menu.png

Endless Space ushered in a new era of 4X development. Since its release, there have been over 40 games launched in our genre, nearly two dozen of which are Space 4X games; which brings us to Endless Space 2. Unlike the sparsely-populated environment in which its predecessor launched, ES2 is jumping into a mosh pit of competition. We’ve seen high concept grand-strategy style 4X games like Stellaris and Stellar Monarch. We’ve been hit with combat-focused games like Polaris Sector and Stars in Shadow. We’ve gotten Master of Orion successors like StarDrive 2 and Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars. And we’ve had solid entries in the RTS 4X genre like Dawn of Andromeda and Distant Worlds: Universe. Not to mention Stardock delivered its third installment of the Galactic Civilizations series.

In short, outer space has become very crowded and Endless Space 2 is going to be judged against a vastly different set of titles than the original Endless game was. There is little doubt that Endless Space 2 is a more robust game than Endless Space 1, but how does it compare to the rest of the market? That’s what this review will explore.

ES2-02-Probe

This probe shall go down in the annals of history! Wait, that didn’t sound right.

eXplore

Exploration is one of the aspects of 4X games that many agree is the best. However, it can also be the most mundane as just clearing away fog of war isn’t good enough for modern 4X audiences anymore. Amplitude recognized this, so they added several clever mechanics to the most banal aspects of our beloved genre.

Systems are organized into constellations in ES2, which means there will be a cluster of stars close together that are connected by starlanes. Eventually, you can research free movement and wormhole technologies, allowing you to explore beyond your starting constellation. But initially, unless you start a game with a lot of other empires, you’re going to have your constellation mostly to yourself. Players start with a single exploration ship and a colony ship. This gives you the ability to start discovering your constellation quickly by sending your ships off in different directions.

ES2-03-Galaxy

There are several different galaxy types in ES2. This is a 4-arm spiral.

DISCOVERIES: The exploration ship is special, though: it’s equipped with probes. Typically, a new player will notice a flashing hexagonal symbol on a newly discovered planet – indicating the presence of an anomaly. Clicking on it launches a probe and triggers some kind of reward: strategic or luxury resource deposits, alien life forms, unique ship modules, or the start of a quest chain. This is analogous to goodie huts in a terrestrial 4X game. Cool but not revolutionary.

However, once players get to know the game better they realize that they can also launch those same probes in random directions across space. As the probes hurtle through the vast vacuum of the galaxy, they’ll uncover all sorts of things like new systems, black holes, nebulae, and who knows what else. These provide new avenues of exploration and potential resources for your planets once your area of influence extends far enough to envelope your new discoveries. It can also be a handy way to scout your rivals! This is pretty cool and gives you something to do with your scout ship once your (often small) constellation is fully explored.

The one problem with this system of exploration is that you spend a lot of time micromanaging your scout ship(s). You have to tell it to launch the probes and in what directions. After a while, the coolness wears off, and the nifty becomes a bit of a chore. This is exacerbated because as your technology advances you’ll be able to detect new anomalies, which will require continued oversight of your exploration ships. This is a double edged sword. On one hand – it makes exploration a part of the gameplay mid and even late-game – on the other it’s a bit of a nuisance when you have bigger more exciting issues to deal with (like other factions!).

ES2-04-Doom

DOOM!?! Already? Aw man, I was just getting started….

Another area I’d like to see Amplitude improve in ES2 is the galaxy generation. Sometimes the game will make each planet in a constellation have the same luxury resource or strategic resource. Also, I’ve had some constellations that weren’t very interesting or strategically challenging at all. Once I got one that was just a straight line. That shouldn’t happen.

FACTIONS. Another important avenue of exploration in a 4X game is getting to know the different factions – and that is especially true for ES2. One of the strengths of Amplitude’s designs is how different and engaging the factions are in their games. ES2 is no exception and launches with eight unique factions: the Riftborn, Horatio, United Empire, Vodyani, Lumeris, Cravers, Sophons, and Unfallen.

ES2-05-Riftborn

These are what you get when low poly art design gets turned back into high poly models.

Each of these factions are introduced with a brief animated trailer when you play them. I could nitpick a few of the videos, but why? They’re all really well done, and these cinematics are precisely one of the things I think the 4X genre needs more of. So, bravo to Amplitude for investing in bringing the fantastic lore and creativity of their world to life! I’ve linked my personal favorite trailer just you could see what I mean.

POPULATION MANAGEMENT: In ES2, Amplitude made a big departure from their previous games by allowing players to have “multi-faction” empires. In Endless Legend, when a player conquered an enemy city, the population and buildings would all be converted to the player’s faction. It kept things simple, but ruined some of the verisimilitude of the game. It begs the question, “Do I commit genocide every time I conquer a city or trade for one in diplomacy?” It breaks the immersion.

In ES2, you are still limited to your own faction’s buildings/system improvements, but you absorb the native population into your empire for conquered planets and minor factions. This means that the assimilated populations’ needs become your needs; their political beliefs become your problem to deal with. In some ways, this is great. The idea of managing a diverse, multi-species empire with their varied demands and ideologies sounds intriguing!

However, this also ends up homogenizing the primary factions to some extent. As an example, the Riftborn are a race that doesn’t need food to survive. However, you still have Riftborn heroes that give food bonuses and Riftborn system improvements that increase food production because you might absorb a major or minor faction that does need food to survive. The result is that players may have to deal with a game mechanic they were hoping to avoid. For some, this will be no problem, but for others, it tarnishes the faction differentiation.

ES2-06-TechPie

Fans wouldn’t believe how much internal debate we’ve had on this: tech pie, pizza, or tree?

TECH TREE: The tech tree and the sense of progress and advancement it creates is central to the core gameplay loop of most 4X games. That is certainly the case with ES2. The tech tree (which looks more like a pie) is an interesting hybrid between Amplitude’s prior games. The tree resembles Endless Space 1’s “Tech Web” as it is divided into four different research fields with more advanced techs further out from the center. However, rather than having direct lines connecting technologies, tiers of tech are unlocked within each field using a system similar to Endless Legend but more visually organized than the tech menu in that game. As you research a certain number of technologies within a field, the next tier within that field will be unlocked.

The system is an effective blend of approaches, allowing you a reasonable amount of freedom to advance within a research field. On the other hand, because the costs of technology escalate s as you advance up the tiers, it can be challenging to jump too far into any one category. Furthermore, the need to unlock research across fields to take advantage of certain strategic resources or unlock core gameplay systems (like Diplomacy, the Marketplace, or Trade Networks) limits the utility of investing exclusively in one field.

While there are faction-specific tweaks to the technology tree (which is nice!), the number of unlocks required, coupled with many “essential” technologies, leads to a similar pattern of progress through the tech tree from game to game. The result is that the tech tree doesn’t feel like a core driver of your strategy.

eXpand

COLONIZATION: As I already mentioned, expansion begins almost immediately in ES2. You start with a colony ship, which I think is great. You’ll find a suitable world soon enough, and BOOM, your empire is already expanding. It does take a while, in my experience, to get to a point where you can safely build a second colony ship. This is partly because of obstacles such as pirates, a weak early economy, and locked technology, but it’s also due to the fact that there are usually very few habitable planets in your constellation. You may have to research a targeted technology before you can inhabit a third system. I feel like this was done for pacing reasons, but the result is sometimes a slow early game if you’re unlucky enough to have a lot of volcanic or barren planets in your constellation.

ES2-07-Empire

Now THAT is what a space empire looks like!

Once you settle in a new system, the colony is treated as an “outpost” for a number of turns (often 20 or more). Depending on your faction, you can spend resources to boost the speed at which the outpost converts to a full-fledged colony. Unlike ES1, star systems can only be controlled by a single empire; however, multiple races can have an outpost in the same system. This can create a tense race between factions to accelerate their colony creation. Some of the options for boosting your outpost are even contingent on foreign outposts being present – allowing you to intercept their food shipments for example! It’s a nice piece of design work which adds some drama to this aspect of the game.

Expansion can also occur among planets within an already colonized system. However, instead of building a colony ship for each additional planet, you can just “build” a colony from the system construction queue. This is nice and much less tedious than making ship after ship. Speaking of which – the build queues and development projects are all system-wide (as it was with Endless Space 1), which is a nice way to reduce micro-management compared to handling each planet individually.

MINOR FACTIONS: Players can also expand their empire by absorbing systems controlled by minor factions. Basically, you can spend influence to praise or bribe the faction – and over time your relationship with them will improve. At a certain point they will ask for assistance, which, if you accept, will trigger a quest event. As with Endless Legend, when the quest is complete you’ll absorb the faction. Alternatively, if you build your relationship up enough they will outright join you.  Or you can just invade them. All in all, this may be too easy. It doesn’t really take much to get the minor factions to join you. All you have to do is have the right tech, compliment them a bunch of times, and then pay some paltry amount of resources or do a facile quest.

Also you’re not limited in the number of minor factions you can absorb like you are in Endless Legend. In a way, I like that there isn’t an arbitrary limit. But then again, it can tarnish the experience a bit. If every minor faction you meet is going to eventually love you no matter what, there’s no real tension in your diplomatic dealings. It just feels repetitive.

ES2-08-MinorFaction

I’m playing the Vodyani and draining these guys, so do I want them to join?

What no doubt makes the experience worse is that the minor factions in ES2 just aren’t all that interesting. They give you a small bonus to one thing or another, but that’s it. In Endless Legend by comparison, when you assimilated a minor, you got a bonus AND a whole new unique unit. There’s nothing like that in ES2. It would have been awesome if each minor faction gave you access to a unique ship module (or better yet a whole unique ship design!) or came with a free tech or let you spend a strategic resource to rush-build improvements in their systems – something like that! Instead it’s just +5 to Industry or +1 to Food. Not too exciting.

INFLUENCE: Beyond colonization and questing for minors, you can also absorb systems controlled by other factions using influence (the purple star resource). Influence is produced in your systems through various system development projects and/or population traits, with the area of influence growing based on the cumulative total influence produced in your empire. If your area of influence engulfs a foreign system you are at peace with, you can spend Influence to “peacefully” buy them off and annex them into your empire. This will usually piss off whoever just lost the system, but it’s an interesting mechanic that gives you another avenue to conquer without violence.

The AI is pretty good about using the influence assimilation to its advantage as well. I’ve had to go take back my worlds by force many times after a sneaky AI bought one of my systems through this method. One concern however is that the area of influence can grow very quickly. It’s an issue because influence also affects the  boundaries of your territory. This can mean, for example, that if enemy influence engulfs one of your systems, you may no longer be able to wage war with third parties and traveling to you own systems can count as “trespassing.” It’s all a little strange, and if you don’t watch out it can throw a major wrench into your game.

eXploit

One of the best parts of Endless Legend was its exploitation mechanics. The anomalies, luxury resources, and strategic resources were so much fun to explore and utilize. I really felt that securing these items and using them at just the right time provided a lot of fun strategic moments. Endless Space 2 keeps the facade of EL’s exploit mechanics, but I’m not sure it’s as successful in implementing them.

ES2-09-Planets

So many resources to exploit, so little time to do it.

First, let’s look at anomalies. In ES2, you can find things like black holes and nebulae that will provide your systems with a bonus if you can get your area of influence to cover them. Black holes usually give a bonus to science; nebulae give a bonus to dust. That’s cool, but not very exciting. I don’t think any of these non-system locations give bonuses to happiness, food, influence, strategic resources, or luxury resources. It’s too bad because the “Wow!” factor of finding one quickly wears off. It becomes more like, “Oh cool, it’s about time one of those showed up.”

STRATEGIC RESOURCES: These have not changed all that much from ES1 or EL. As you climb the ladder from common resources to rare resources, your weapons and armor for ships keep getting better. The Riftborn faction can use strategic resources to speed up colonization, which is definitely cool, but other than that, it seems like strategic resources are just a pacing mechanic. You don’t even have to build a collector that can be attacked like in EL. As long as you have a colony on the planet, you gain a unit of the strategic resource each turn.

That said, i’ve found that when I’m in a decent sized war, it’s possible to run out of strategic resources. Fortunately, ES2 features a robust galactic market system (provided you research the right technology), so if a player is short on a resource, they can to go to the market and buy it there. I appreciate that because the game is forcing me to engage with its multiple mechanical systems and protracted conflicts are difficult to sustain. To me, that’s good game design

ES2-10-Market

I better buy up all the good stuff before somebody else does!

LUXURY RESOURCES: The luxury resources seem like a miss to me. In EL, you could spend luxury resources to give yourself a boost. For instance, you could spend the Wine resource to get +30 Approval for 10 turns in each of your cities. That was really cool and useful if you were about to engage in a long war or rapid expansion. The game gave you a choice to make each turn on whether you wanted to spend your resources or save them for later. I loved it. ES2 is different.

ES2 has you spend luxury resources to upgrade your systems through unique development projects that you can assemble and use across your entire empire. There are three upgrade tiers, the first requiring one luxury resource, the second two resources, and so on. For instance, Superspuds (yes that’s a thing) gives you a 10% reduction to cost of buying out construction items and Bluecap Mold (also a thing) gives you +4 Science per Population. You only get to make this decision once at each tier, so choose wisely!

My problem with this system is that it limits your strategic choices. I like how you can customize your empire toward dust production, science, influence, or whatever using the upgrade mechanics. That’s really cool. However, I miss the turn-by-turn decision making from EL. In ES2, you can use Luxury resources to boost a specific species’ growth rate (through a very buried UI screen), but you can be stuck accumulating TONS of luxury items to no end  if you don’t have the right species to spend them on. You can always trade them or sell them in the market – but that feels a bit anti-climactic. For me, this system feels like a step backwards in game design.

TRADE: ES2 ships with a fairly robust trade system. Once unlocked with the requisite technology, you can create a trade company headquarters and corresponding subsidiary. Once built, a trade route is established running between the systems containing the HQ and its subsidiary, and provide a flow of dust and luxury resources. What’s more, you can upgrade a trade company’s fleets to specialize in either dust or luxury resource trade (and the companies themselves can level up allowing for more subsidiaries).

The system is more involved than many 4X games, and worse, the process for setting up trade routes doesn’t provide any information to the player to help them determine where routes would be more or less beneficial. Similarly, when upgrading a trade company, you don’t have any information telling you how beneficial it is to improve or not. I like the trade system in concept, but it needs more refinement before it becomes a fully engaging part of the game.

INTERNAL POLITICS: One of the major new features introduced in ES2 is an internal political faction mechanic. Every empire has different factions or political “parties” vying for power. Their names are unimaginative but informative. You have groups like the Industrialists, Pacifists, Ecologists, and so on. After a certain number of turns, each party campaigns for votes and periodically one (or more) is elected as the dominant party.

ES2-11-Voting

In the early game, elections can be pretty lopsided.

When a party comes to power, it automatically enacts a base law for its constituents. Laws give your empire significant bonuses and abilities, usually to something on the FIDSI chart (Food, Industry, Dust, Science, and Influence, i.e. the game’s basic currencies). You can enact additional laws by spending influence, but the range of laws you can choose from is determined by the dominant political parties and how established they are. I played a lot of games as the Sophons, and when the Scientist party held sway, I had a law that would let me research techs one tier ahead of where the game was supposed to be. I loved that! But when that party lost power, suddenly my whole research queue would get rearranged. That did add some excitement to the political process, which I appreciated.

Depending on your overall government types (there are four options, including Federation, Republic, Democracy, and Dictatorship) players can influence elections by spending dust, influence or other resources. It is hard to tell to what extent the player can really change the result, as the game doesn’t present this information well. I find, though, that if it’s important to me that a particular party wins, it’s just best to spend as much as I can to influence the outcome.

ES2-12-Parties

C’mon militarists! I can’t afford my ship upkeep anymore!

The good part about the political factions is they mainly seem designed to help you do what you are already doing. For instance, when you’re researching and expanding in the early game, the ecologists or the scientists will often win elections. When you’re building up your resources and getting ready for a fight, the industrialists often come to power. When you’re at war or building up a massive fleet of ships, the militarists tend to win elections. In my opinion, that is how it should be. The player should occasionally have to contend with a powerful faction that is antithetical to his or her current goals, but for the most part, the politics should be there to support the player’s strategic choices rather than hinder them.

Overall, I feel the political system in ES 2 is pretty well designed. For one thing, it brings a lot of tension to the game. I’m wondering if my favorite laws will suddenly get tossed in the trash each time there’s an election. The lack of transparency makes the system unpredictable which adds a bit of chaos to the game that many other 4X titles lack. That chaos creates a sense of enjoyable anxiety that deepens my experience.

eXterminate

The combat systems in past Amplitude games have always received a mixed reaction from the community. Some love them, others are indifferent, and there are those (like me) who hate them. Endless Space 1 and Endless Legend both have a lot of problems, in this reviewer’s opinion, when it comes to giving the players enough challenge and enough control to feel sufficiently engaged. However, I feel Endless Space 2 takes a big step in the right direction.

ES2-13-CombatPlan

Rumor has it that John Madden joined Amplitude’s combat design team.

SPACE COMBAT: When combat begins, players choose a Battle Tactics “card” that dictates what type of strategy their ships will follow during the fight. Depending on the size of the fleet, your ships can be placed in up to three different flotillas. Each Battle Tactics card lists a different engagement range (long, medium, or short range) for each flotilla.The object is to choose a card that best matches the makeup of your fleet based on their effective weapon range. The tactics cards also provide a fleet-wide effect, which adds a further consideration.

This new system is a massive improvement over ES1. In ES1, the cards were rather simple and tied to three rounds of combat. Each card represented a main tactic and usually had a hard-counter to it. If either the player or AI made a poor choice picking a tactic, the corresponding tactic (card) could be very punishing – but the overall system felt random and arbitrary.

ES2-14-Ships

Outnumbered? No problem. My ships are bigger.

This setup provides the potential for more engaging combat while still allowing for a pre-battle planning and hands-off approach to combat. Flotillas can park out of broadside range and rain missiles and torpedoes at the enemy, while others will swoop in and engage in close combat with guns blazing. Speaking of flotillas, you can have mixed ship roles within each. The more advanced the tactic, the more interesting the engagement possibilities.

My personal favorite strategy is to make a fleet composed of a few very large, slow ships with long-range weapons and a bunch of smaller, fast ships with higher-damage, short range weapons. The lumbering ships soften up the enemy while the smaller ships swoop in and finish them off. It usually plays out that the short-range ships make quick work of the enemy vessels in their line and can come over and support the large ships from the flank. That’s not the only viable strategy, of course. ES2’s combat system provides enough choice to keep space battles interesting and rewarding without being bogged down in minutes of ship facing and hour-long, turn-based tactical combat.

ES2-15-OverviewCam

The “Overview” camera can help you improve your strategy.

Finally, we need to discuss the combat viewer. It allows you to watch the battle in a cinematic mode or turn on a “scan” view that provides an overview along with an information display of the action. The combat looks great, but the camera angles in the cinematic viewer are lousy and keep you from really enjoying the gorgeous fights or understanding the big picture of how everything is unfolding. Fortunately, the scan overview mode, coupled with a workable free camera mode, lets you get a better understanding of the action. However, this is an aspect of the game that could use more refinement as time goes on.

GROUND COMBAT: Ground combat is another matter. The visuals for invasion are fair to middling. When battles get really large, it’s hard to tell individual units from each other, and the hyper-frenetic pace of ground combat makes it frustrating to watch. In the end, I just auto-resolve without watching most battles. That said, it is nice to see the inclusion of a ground combat system and it has some interesting underlying mechanics.

When an invasion starts, players can chose a tactic (infiltration, blitz, or bombardment) that affects how quickly – but also how risky – the invasion will be. Using infiltration will provide your forces with additional health, but draw out the engagement length. Blitzing will result in more casualties, but can bring the invasion to close more quickly. It’s a decent set of tradeoffs that provides an enjoyable but not time consuming strategic choice.

ES2-16-GroundCom

These blobs mean nothing to me. What is going on here?

One thing ground combat is missing for me is the option to just bomb a planet into oblivion. I can’t just fire my ships’ weapons or drop mass drivers on planets until the population is entirely wiped out. I’m stuck dealing with whatever is leftover after my ground units mop up the resistance. In some cases that’s just fine; in others, I’d like the option of total annihilation even if that meant I’d change a forest world into a barren planet or something. I feel such an option would be well-balanced since it would tie up your ships for a long period of time.

Another problem is accessing information related to ground combat. I included the image above because it was one of my first games. If you notice, I only have infantry instead of a nice balance between soldiers, armor, and air support. The reason for that is I couldn’t find the UI for adjusting the makeup of my invasion forces. It’s hidden on the same UI as your fleets. If you examine the menu on the left hand side of the image below, you will see the “Manage” button buried under the Empire Manpower information.

ES2-17-Manpower

Tip: on the left are the buttons to choose new tactics cards and invasion troop types.

I appreciate Amplitude’s attempt to make ground combat more stimulating and tactical. It’s a big improvement over ES 1, and it’s done as well or better than any other recent space 4X game that features invasion mechanics. There are just a few tweaks in the visuals and access to information I’d like to see. Otherwise, great systems overall.

eXperience

When Endless Legend came out, it was a revelation in fantasy 4X. There was no game on the market like it in visuals, faction differentiation, and lore. It set a very high bar for future fantasy games to follow, and to date, every fantasy 4X that has come after it (with the notable exception of Thea: The Awakening) has been a disappointment in comparison.

So does ES 2 similarly innovate on the Space 4X genre? The short answer is, no – ES2 does not usher in a major innovation in the genre. However, it does demonstrate a significant refinement and iteration of the space 4X formula. In this regard, it is mostly a success, but of course it isn’t perfect.

ES2-18-Vodyani

The Vodyani are the most unique faction, but you’ll still see plenty that’s familiar.

ES2 is a far more conventional game when compared to some of its peers (like Galactic Civilizations III, and Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars) than EL was compared to its peers back in 2014 (Warlock 2 and Age of Wonders 3). Other recent games, like Stellaris, are pushing the innovation envelope even more. Resource management, colonization, internal politics, diplomacy, and empire development are not particularly unique or innovative across the board outside of a few exceptions (like the Vodyani faction using mobile Ark ships to colonize whole systems all at once). ES2 just iterates on its predecessor and the modern Space 4X sub-genre. It’s not bad at all, but it is a little disappointing. I was expecting more than just a better MoO:CtS.

One of my problems is that the factions, despite their wonderfully unique lore and mechanics, simply do not feel different enough from each other when it comes down to gameplay. It’s not that there aren’t differences; it’s just that the differences – for the most part – aren’t as fundamental to the gameplay as they are in EL. For example, each faction has a lot of the same system improvements. In a terrestrial game like EL, that’s fine since all factions are on the same planet and presumably limited by that planet’s ecology. For radically different space-faring species with unique biologies and origins?

ES2-19-Amoeba

From here you can see how all the subj… *ahem* minor factions affect your empire.

Factions in ES2 are not under those same constraints. I would have prefered that each faction had its own set of improvements with unique names and unique art – even if all the bonuses and effects stayed the same. My immersion is broken when I have to deal with many of the same early buildings, tactics, and techs whether I’m playing the Sophons, Riftborn, or Cravers, all of whom are radically different species. Compare them to differences among the Broken Lords, Allayi, and Cultists from EL, and you can see that ES2 did not go far enough.

ES2-21-Victories

Progress toward the various victory conditions are tracked in the Empire Summary menu.

AI CHALLENGE: Amplitude’s prior games received a fair dose of criticism regarding the state of the AI at launch – although over time the AI was improved. For ES2, the AI is serviceable. It’s good at expanding its empire, building up fleets, and pestering you in diplomacy (particularly when trespassing into their space). I often find myself getting into territorial disputes during the expansion phase, with my outposts competing against AI outposts for the right to claim a star system. And overall in terms of victory, the AI seems to do a good job building up its economy, as it’s often in the lead on achieving an economic victory (at least on hard difficulty and above!).

However, there are a few places where there AI really struggles. The AI couldn’t design its way out of a cardboard box, as it struggles in creating good ships in a timely manner. Once you learn the nuances of combat, you’ll find it’s pretty easy to out-gun and out-fox the AI in combat by designing ships that perfectly counter the its designs. I suppose this is where ES2 will shine in multiplayer. Human opponents will be far more unpredictable. Overall, I think the AI in ES2 is the strongest Amplitude has managed at launch – but of course there is always room for improvement.

UI: ES2 seems to struggle consistently when it comes to conveying information to the player. While the UI is very attractive, there is a lot to keep track of in this game – but most of it isn’t presented very effectively. For instance, it takes a resource called “Manpower” to supply all your ships and invasion battalions with soldiers and pilots. Manpower is now tracked on the main UI, which is a big improvement from Early Access. The details, however, are put off to the side on the fleet menu, and while some drilldown values are provided, it doesn’t tell the player how your manpower is allocated and in what order or when supplies are short.

Similarly, ascertaining the relative popularity of each political party is difficult. There’s a small graph that shows how popular the parties have been in the past, but it’s not easy to notice or decipher for new players. Every few turns I’ll get a popup about it, but finding out how my decisions are actively influencing the next election is a total mystery to me – despite a screen whose function is, from what I can tell, to provide exactly this information.

ES2-22-Politics

Thanks for the vague message!

One novel element of the UI is the contextual “scan” views that provide supplemental information in an almost infochart-like manner. This is a neat idea but the scan views are non-interactive, meaning they are cumbersome to use when it comes to informing in-game decisions. For example, the Trade Scan provides a visual breakdown of my current trade routes, but doesn’t provide any information to help me plan new trade routes, which is what I would want to use such an overlay for in the first place.

On a positive note, the overall visuals and ambiance are terrific. The artwork is beautiful and Fly By No did an impeccable job with the music. The game is totally immersive the moment you fire it up. Amplitude isn’t nearly as big as Firaxis and Wargaming, but their product looks every bit as good if not better than Civilization VI and Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars. Nearly every screen has something on it that’s taken my breath away. It is so easy to become immersed in the universe and lore of ES 2 because the visuals and writing are so good. It’s like you’re playing a game in an art museum.

When it comes to bugs and crashes, there aren’t huge problems. There are, however, a few things that I find annoying. I never tried multiplayer, but my understanding is that there are some desync issues Amplitude is still working on. As I mentioned in the Exploration section, constellations will still sometimes be generated with only one luxury resource (space potatoes seems to be the chronic offender here). Also, I’ll occasionally get bizarre constellation shapes. Those are very minor problems that will certainly be ironed out.

ES2-23-Constellation

I think this constellation would be hard to manage since it so stretched out.

I only had the game crash once in all the hours I played it (on turn 312), and the optimization is pretty good at launch. Amplitude is well known for making their gorgeous games run well even on middling computers. I wouldn’t anticipate anyone having trouble except on maybe the lowest end rigs.

So the most important question is, “How’s the experience?” I wouldn’t be surprised if at this point, the reader felt that ES2 was only of middling quality after all the problems I’ve pointed out. However, I have to say that of all the Space 4X games I’ve played in the last three years, I have absolutely enjoyed my time with ES2 the most. The problems I’ve mentioned are minor and easily overlooked. The game is fun, period.

ES2-24-2DArt

The 2D art is just stunning at times.

I just hold Amplitude to a higher standard because I’ve seen the kind of high quality work they are capable of producing. I know they will continue to improve ES2 as well they should. The fans deserve it.

There is plenty more I could talk about. I haven’t touched on quests, heroes, population growth, customization, and so much more. Those will have to wait for our Audible eXtension podcast. ES2 is an incredibly deep game, and this review has probably gone on longer than it should have. If you’ve read all the way to this point, I applaud you! I’ll close by saying ES2 is a fantastic, engrossing, well-made game that is worth every dollar Amplitude asks for it. I can’t wait to play it more.

ES2-25-FinalArt

I find this game to be just gorgeous to watch.

TL;DR: Endless Space 2 is not a perfect game, but it does reflect a significant and positive iteration over Endless Space 1. Despite the Space 4X market being absolutely flooded with titles right now, ES2 stands out as a very capable and visually stunning title. Fans of Amplitude will find a lot to like in ES2. Unfortunately, they’ll also find a few flaws, as well. Information can be hard to find, factions aren’t as differentiated as they could be, and diplomacy and AI really hasn’t evolved. Still, ES2 is loads of fun and will provide many hours of replayability. The problems it has are minor and only mildly detract from an overall great experience.

Might Like This Game If:

  • You’re a fan of Amplitude games in general
  • You love Space 4X games
  • You want games with high quality graphics
  • You’re looking for something a little different but not TOO different

You Might Not Like This Game If:

  • You’re tired of the glut in Space 4X
  • You want a game with granular, tactical combat
  • You’re a person who struggles with 4X games that have a steeper learning curve
  • You feel that diplomacy is among the most important mechanics in a 4X

 

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Review Policy

Troy has played 42+ hours of Endless Space 2 on his Windows 10 Dell Inspiron 7000 Series 7537 BTX 17” laptop with Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-4500U CPU @ 1.80 GHz, 16GB Ram, 64-bit Operating system, x64 processor, and 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M graphics card.

Disclosure: Troy received a complimentary copy of Endless Space 2 from Amplitude for the purposes of review.

26 replies »

  1. Geez Troy – it must have taken you almost as long to write this very exhaustive review as the play time you put into it – excellent job!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a lot of help. Oliver, Micah, Joshua, and Nate all pitched with ideas, suggestions, and edits. It was a team effort and my fellow staff members deserve a lot of the credit as well. We’ve spent hours and hours getting this ready for you guys because all of you make this community so awesome.

      Thank you so much for reading!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. IMPORTANT NOTE!

    Endless Space 2 leaves early access tomorrow (Friday). The early access version that is currently available is NOT the final release version of the game. The release version, which was used for purposes of writing this review, contains substantial improvements and refinements over the current Early Access version.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Personally, I think the rating misses the mark and some of these issues have been addressed in the Gold version. Have you guys spent time with the newest version?

    I also think that if you’ve decided to no longer award eXplempary to new games, then it should say so on the ratings page.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Rob, we did the Gold version. I don’t think this game is exemplary. It’s not nearly as much as a leap forward in 4X design as Endless Legend was and the UI is imrpoved from early access bit still does not convey enough information to the user about ES2’s numerous and highly detailed systems.

      You’re welcome to disagree with the rating. That’s no biggie, but I personally can’t see it as exemplary right now. Still, its a great game and people should go buy it if they have the means.

      Liked by 2 people

    • You are correct – we’re no longer issuing eXemplary ratings to games right at release (and thanks for the reminder update the review policy).

      Troy and I have both been playing the press (Gold) version of the game since we got access to it. I’ve sunk about 15 hours in just with that version over the past week and about 25 or so with the closed beta versions.

      ES2 exceeded my expectations based on the state of the Early Access version (which is the only version open to the public right now). That said, the EA version had a LOT of work still to do. Personally, I didn’t think they could get the game as refined as they have, so it’s been an impressive set of improvements in a short month time span.

      Nevertheless, I still have my issues and concerns with the game.

      – Combat is easily exploitable and the AI is idiotic when it comes to ship design and fleet management.
      – Tactics cards still aren’t well balanced, and I use the same “Power to Shields” one 99.9 % of the time.
      – Tech cost increases and escalation could use more fine tuning to make progressing up the tech tree in a focused manner feasible – as it is from game to game tech progression feels too scripted.
      – Victory conditions still don’t feel very well balanced against each other in terms of pacing and gameplay interest.
      – Diplomacy, and in particularly tech trade deals, are open to exploitation.

      And then there are a lot of questions about the overall transparency in many of the game’s systems. Planning trade routes is a shot in the dark. The political system is a bit of a black box and I’m left wondering if this is something I’m supposed to be actively trying to plan or something I just have to suck up and react to. Either way – it could use more refinement and clarity for the player.

      But I will say this – I’ve played far more of ES2 than any of Amplitude’s prior games, and right now it’s certainly got my attention more than any other space 4X on the market. It’s a competent game that brings in some fresh ideas to what could’ve been a rather typical 4X experience. It needs a little more refinement to overall balance and pacing. Given Amplitude’s track record – the game should get the attention it deserves, and I’ll be a happy(er) camper.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Great review, Troy

    There’s a lot about this title that looks appealing. Obviously it looks great, and some of the systems seem interesting. Particularly the trade and internal politics system, which I feel like is a weak spot in the 4X genre across the board.

    That said…the combat. I shelved ES1 after 21 hours (half of which was likely me leaving the game on while sleeping) because of the combat. I don’t know why but it just has no appeal to me.

    That said, this review has put the game from a “heck no” to a “maybe” category, so I’d say job well done.

    GS

    Like

    • Thanks for reading! Whether or not you like ES2 combat will hinge on how much control you want. If you want to just focus on big picture strategy then you’ll really like it. If you want to control ships move by move, you’ll probably hate ES2 combat. Personally, I think this game hits the perfect balance between something like GalCiv3 and Stars in Shadow.

      Like

  5. Thanks for the review.

    Just a bit confused about something: Has Troy, Nate, Rob or _anyone_ here been playing a version that includes fighters and bombers? I can’t believe they wouldn’t be included in the release.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Im trying to get this all straight.
    Review was based on a semi final , review version of the game.

    Then the “gold”patch launches as a day one patch that added new mechanics and fixed significant imbalances or bugs?

    Sounds like it would have been prudent to give out the “gold” patch to reviewers based on the embargo.

    Like

    • I have no idea. I guess the gold patch was the same as the release version? Which fixed a few more things over what the review / press version had? But maybe the release version was also patched again after the gold version? The gold version, which was different from the closed beta version. And all together something else from what the last Early Access version was. So potentially, there were up to five different versions of the game existing over the past 24 hours. oh … and maybe also a VIP version. So that’s maybe six. I give up…

      Play the game ;)

      Liked by 1 person

    • As far as I can tell, the differences between the Press build and the launch build are minor. From what I’ve seen in about 4 hours of playing today is that they’ve done some rebalancing and bug fixes. On the topic of rebalancing, I would not recommend playing the game with Resources set on High in game setup. It makes the game too easy. I’m swimming in luxuries.

      Like

      • Missing text however, was not fixed. I’m still finding lots of “%ContentGoesHere” stuff, even in the upfront faction select screen. This kind of stuff doesn’t ruin the game or anything, but it’s annoying in what’s supposed to be a polished product.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Never played ES1, but in my opinion, EL was the single greatest 4X game I have ever played – I even adore the combat. This leaves me in a quandry, because I know that the game won’t live up to my expectations, but I still want to play it.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’ve got 12+ hrs in since release, mostly on 1.01, and I’ve already had severe turn lag on medium size maps during mid-game and a few crashes. My pc is well beyond “recommended specs”. Mechanically the game seems fine, though my first victory (on normal difficulty), was a rather anti-climatic economy win thanks to an alliance with the Unfallen playing as UE. Trying Hard difficulty now, though it’s quite a pain with the slowdowns. Hopefully they will have the performance fixed soon.

    Like

  9. Great review guys! I love listening to your podcasts as well. I think I’ll let this game develop a bit and buy it after the summer. Now civ6 is finally playable I have some hours to sink into that first.

    Liked by 2 people

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