4X

Endless Space 2 reeXamination #1

Since the release of Endless Space 2, Amplitude has graced its fans with multiple small FreeLCs spread out between their two major expansions. I’m going to kill two Cravers with one bomb by covering both the Vaulters and Supremacy expansions in this reexamination. For those of you who haven’t purchased the DLC yet don’t worry, I am going to parse out each individual expansion and its features. The post-launch support provided by Amplitude has generally been good. I wouldn’t say all the features are as in-depth as I would like to see, but everything that has been done feels polished and well thought out. Their vision for the game continues to push improvements and possibilities for their narrative-driven take on the space 4x genre. While I would say there have been too many space 4X games as of late, Amplitude continues to show that ES2 deserves to be considered as it rises above the noise.

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“It is fortunate to be favored…”

The Vaulters

ES2’s first expansion was a solid overall start and one of my favorite expansions that Amplitude has ever released. It isn’t my favorite from a gameplay perspective, but from a narrative standpoint, as it can be extremely fun to play in conjunction with your knowledge of the Vaulters race from Endless Legend. Bridging the two games through the continuation of the Vaulters story is a fantastic idea from a universe building perspective and it pays off as you play through their story. They were always such a fascinating race as they had been a starfarring civilizations that was essentially grounded in EL.

The Vaulters aren’t the first sci-fi race to experience this struggle, but Amplitude does a tremendous job bringing the narrative to life. Before the expansion released, I actually took a few evenings to go through and beat the main story missions for the Vaulters in Endless Legend. It was a fun refresher and was helpful since the Vaulters tale picks up relatively close to the story’s conclusion in EL. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who have not enjoyed this firsthand, but rest assured you will see your favorite characters such as Opbot! Now, if you never cared about the story in EL this may not matter to you. However, if you play Amplitude games you probably enjoy their infusion of lore and narrative into the 4X experience and you can rest assured that the continuation of the Vaulters story is as good as ever.

New Space Toys

The Vaulters may not have been in space that long since they were last grounded on Auriga, but they bring some fantastic tools to the stars with them that make them unique. You will notice from the first turn just how differently the Vaulters play when when you start with one ship in the remains of an Endless rejuvenation field rather than orbiting a planet. As shown in the introductory cinematic, the Vaulters’ ship (the Argosy) drifted through the rejuvenation field repairing the otherwise doomed vessel. The Argosy serves as your sole colonization vessel throughout the game and does an amazing job at it. Sure, it has a five turn cooldown once it colonizes a planet, but your settlements start as a full blown colony as opposed to an outpost! But wait, it gets better.

The colony will also experience a golden age that includes a flat bonus to approval, influence, manpower, and a 25% boost to FIDSI for up to 15 turns. However, if you want the bonus to last as long as possible, you’ll need to let the Argosy rest beyond the initial five turns. The cooldown doesn’t typically feel prohibitive and usually seems to be worth waiting the few extra turns. I never disliked the outpost-to-colony feature that other races deal with, but I always miss having an instant super colony whenever I eschew the Vaulters. But don’t worry, if you are playing against the Vaulters, they can’t endlessly grab every system as the Argosy also has a “soft” cooldown. The ship has to re-energize before it can colonize again without having to pay dozens of titanium and hyperium as well as a massive amount of dust that you won’t have early on.

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Why not skip the annoying 7 turns and 6 systems – just jump directly from point A to point B.

However, if I told you the super colonies were my favorite feature I would be lying. While they have a strong start, the Vaulters also bring a unique mid to late game advantage to the table: portals! Any system you control can build a portal improvement which creates a faster, more direct way to travel when compared to hyperlanes. For example, it would have taken seven turns to go from Circini to Corana in the screenshot below before having constructed a portal. However once each of these systems have finished a portal, military ships can cross the distance (plus some) in a single turn! Long cumbersome supply lines that require ten or twenty turns to get ships to the front line are a thing of the past! Just make a portal and cut that time down drastically. If you can’t already tell, it seems like Amplitude want you to regret playing anyone other than the Vaulters ever again (only kind of kidding).  

The minor race that accompanies that first Vaulter colony is another Auriga native: the Sisters of Mercy. You will always start with a single Sister in your Vaulter city population unit which is only somewhat helpful considering the small bonus to ground battles and approval that they grant. Both bonuses are nice but the Sisters are by no means the most powerful minor race you can bring into your empire. Overall, if you find the beginning part of any ES2 game slow or cumbersome, the Vaulters seem to rocket through the early expansion phase.

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The poor vaulters start off in ES2 just about as bad as ever, will they ever get a break?

Two slightly less impactful, but still interesting features are the ability to use strategic materials for system development and the ability to flag small and medium ships as privateers from the get go. The three tiers of strategic resources grant a flat FIDSI bonus, +3 per population bonus, or a +5% FIDSI , or 150% system wide improvement FIDSI boost. This doesn’t redefine the game but it does present you with constant “good” options as the RNG of finding certain desirable luxury resources can sometimes be infuriating. As for pirates, the ability to go about with designated “privateer fleets” can be fun for harassment but isn’t something I have ever really found myself doing a ton. Your mileage may vary depending on how you are playing a game or what your desired victory condition is. All in all, the Vaulters are a strong addition to ES2 and continue Amplitude’s tradition of adding a highly diverse series of races.

Thar Be Pirates

Amplitude always adds a new gameplay feature with every expansion. For the Vaulters we get to enjoy space pirates! While I think their addition creates some good early game speed bumps, they lose steam quickly as you advance into the mid game. Pirates typically seem to spawn near both the player and AI’s colonized systems so they can’t be easily ignored. Players have three diplomatic options used to determine what route their interactions with the pirates may take. You can support the pirates for ever increasing increments of dust which provides a bonus to health and defense. There is also the option to buy a pirate mark to select the victim of their next attack.

The system functions similar to how pirates operate in Sins of a Solar Empire minus the bidding. However, my problem with pirates is paying to strengthen them and then to buy a pirates mark doesn’t seem like the best use of dust. 3000 dust may buy you two small pirate ships with a whopping ten boost to health and defense. For reference, I could spend just a little more dust and have three small ships of my own that I can flag as privateers, use for defense, or strengthen an attack of my own. The third option allows you to spend influence to somewhat weaken the pending pirate wave. The Vaulters have the unique ability to form a non-aggression pact with Pirates which serves to remove their occasional annoying presence in one of your systems and goes along with the narrative idea that you can start turning fleets into privateers from the start. If you want pirates to be a real challenge you have to turn them up from their default setting since, at base level, they don’t present any real challenge.

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Who needs friends when you can bribe a pirate?

Overall, the Vaulters expansion provides players with an amazing race to play but is accompanied by what I feel is a more forgettable gameplay feature. I think this comes partially from the fact that the two EL expansions prior to Inferno added truly redefining features to the game and perhaps I have been a little spoiled as the two earlier EL expansions likewise had less groundbreaking features. I don’t mean to suggest that every expansion has to be on the level of Tempest, but when two things are priced exactly the same at release, I don’t think drawing the comparison is entirely unfair either. At the end of the day, I think Amplitude continues to price their expansions very fairly, but be warned that you won’t see gameplay changes on the level you will with their second expansion.

Supremacy – Warmongers Rejoice!

If the Vaulters expansion’s focus was on a new race with a bunch of fun new toys, Supremacy is a warmonger’s dream come true. You thought that Cravers were a great race to bring war upon the galaxy? Well they are now playing second fiddle to the Hissho. The Hissho were actually a playable race in the original Endless Space that were initially relegated to minor race status in ES2. They are now making a major appearance for the sequel. The closest parallel to the Hissho might be Imperial Japan in the years leading up to and including WWII. This ES2 faction is driven by honor and seek to subjugate as many worlds as they can. Considering their drive to conquer, it is fitting that a new larger class of ship called the Behemoth make its debut for all races as a major component of Supremacy.

Honorbound Warriors

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The Hissho are basically space samurai and I love it!

The Hissho are probably my favorite race so far because they excel at kicking in their neighbors’ faces unlike anyone else. The Hissho have a unique resource they must manage, called Keii. This is essentially their honor and is generated through successful engagements and conquering worlds. Once you generate Keii it adds to your overall pool of the resource maxing out at 100. The first thing you can utilize it for is to activate one of four unique boosts.

  • Homeland Defense – this generates and extra 20% manpower, adds a ton of damage to attackers, boosts defending troop health by 30% and it’s free! If you aren’t using this at all times you are doing something wrong
  • War Banners – boosts fleet speed and makes the fleet appear to have more health and military power than they actually do. I question how useful this would be in multiplayer but it seems to work as a good deterrent for the AI
  • Way of the Obsidian Eagle – My personal favorite. What isn’t there to like about a 20% production boost within a behemoths area of effect?
  • Order of the Red Blade – Or as they have dubbed it “Order of the Hissho” gives ships in the area a 20% boost to hull and shield absorption while also increasing damage 20%. This is the super steam roll button

Keep in mind that if these boosts are set on a behemoth or a fleet, everything within its influence range gets a somewhat weakened version of the buff for the entire 10 turns. Early in the game you have to be careful to not overuse the edicts or your Keii will get dangerously low (more on that in a second). By the mid game, though, you should be able to use your edicts as soon as they come off cooldown as long as you are involved in a war or two.

As fun as these edicts are to utilize, the greatest thing about Keii is that Keii equals happiness. During my first game, I didn’t quite make the connection and I was fighting 20% or less approval not realizing that using my edicts was putting my empire on the brink of rebellion. However, once I figured out that your Keii total is your happiness I realized how powerful it is. Want to colonize 50 systems? Not a problem because your happiness is your current Keii total with no modifiers. That is right, limitless expansion can finally be a thing! Now, you don’t have to colonize every system as that can get cumbersome, but the fact that you can eventually out produce anyone if left unchecked due to the simple fact that you have more systems than anyone else leaves that warmonger inside me ever so satisfied.

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The Hissho ships are some of the sleekest looking yet, they are both beautiful and deadly.

But Keii isn’t the only thing that make the Hissho play differently. With each election cycle you have access to one of three rotating observances. These allow you to sacrifice a population unit on a world in exchange for a 10 turn boost. The three separate observances increase dust output by 50%, increase manpower production equal to 50% of food output, or generate a simple five Keii. Keep in mind that the observance is locked in for the duration of the 20 turn election cycle, but they can be stacked and queued as much as you like. I appreciate that the effect is stackable since late game systems can sometimes just kind of sit there. Yes, it might take a little micromanagement, but if I have a system devoted to dust output, trading a couple population for 100% dust output can be a fabulous trade.

Two small final points on the Hissho. Their honor does not allow them to deal with pirate scum because why would you negotiate or pay scoundrels to fight in your place? So for the Hissho and pirates it’ll be constant war! In addition to not interacting with them, Hissho players get double the loot from taking out pirate lairs! The lore reasoning behind this situation makes sense but is a little interesting to me since pirates were the entire gameplay addition to the previous expansion and the Hissho are not able to interact with them outside of fighting them.

If a developer introduces something new for players it just seems a little odd to say, “choose to enjoy the full depth of the last feature we added or choose to ignore it and play the new race.” That being said, I understand how it fits from a narrative position and I’m not the biggest fan of pirates to begin with so I suppose players aren’t missing out on too much. Hissho also get one one last advantage over their opponents in that you can see the paths and destinations of empires fleets that you are at war with. So all in all, you can see how the entire Hissho race and all of their perks and bonuses really focus them towards a combat focused playstyle.

Bigger Means Better

Supremacy brings even bigger ships that everyone gets to enjoy to an already combat focused expansion. The Behemoths are giant relics left from the Endless that can be built and specialized to meet the needs of the various races. The Hissho begin the game with a generic behemoth which is a fun perk and allows new players to toy with these brand new ships right away.

While every basic behemoth looks the same, you can customize it with a variety of modules that will do everything from boost FIDSI output of the system it orbits to sending out mining probes to gathering resources from uncolonized systems. The fact that they start with 50k health and a lot of gun slots doesn’t hurt either. While they are nothing to laugh at early on, their true potential comes from the three ways you can specialize these monsters. Any behemoth can be transformed into an Obliterator, Juggernaut, or Citadel with sufficient research and resources.

The behemoths remind me of the Guardians expansion for EL in that you get a big unit to play with and they are the crux of the expansion. Even though the expansions for these two games are similar, I think behemoths affect gameplay and bring some tools to the table in ways that the Guardians never did. The three specializations are really where these ships shine and diversify the endgame.

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Behold, your new ultimate weapon!

The Obliterator is flashiest of the bunch in that it pulls a Star Killer base and destroys entire systems. Once the obliterator has fired on an unprotected system, each planet is cracked to its core and the entire system is left desolate and devoid of life. Obliterators take 20 turns to charge (unless you want to spend insane amounts of Orichalix and Quadrinix to speed up the process) and take multiple turns to reach their target. If the planet is not protected by any kind of shield everything will die.

If you were fortunate enough to foresee a possible attack and shield your system, the planets will not be destroyed completely but you still lose half your population, improvements, and ships in orbit. System shields cost 50 hyperium and titanium but can be built (or rushed by spending dust) without too much effort. I feel like they are balanced fairly in that you can protect the most important worlds (although that 50 hyperium/titanium loss hurts) yet still may be in danger of losing helpful secondary systems completely that you won’t be able to protect. Amplitude seems to have found the perfect balance towards giving players a super weapon that can be used to help turn the tide of battle while at the same time not letting it become a win condition once researched. And honestly, beyond anything else, it looks so cool if you are zoomed in on a system and watch the explosion and the planets are ripped apart.

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Betcha never thought you would make the Death Star look weak did ya?

Somewhat less flashy but equally useful is the second specialization, the Juggernaut. This is the Super Star Destroyer within ES2 as it is meant to lead fleets to wreak havoc across the stars. Not only do they bring seemingly limitless guns to the battle, they also bring the ultimate fleet wrecking ability: ion wave. Ion wave destroys all ships not in the juggernaut’s fleet. One ship or 100 – it doesn’t matter – they will all be dead. Blowing up planets is exciting, but I would argue that instantly deleting multiple end game stacks is the single most powerful tool in the game yet.

The final specialization, the Citadel, seeks to counter the offensive capabilities of the previous two behemoths. When you select a behemoth to specialize as a Citadel it automatically creates a permanent shield against the obliterators on the planet it is orbiting.  If you stack this with an obliterator shield it makes the system completely immune to the planet killers. The system will also enjoy un-siegeable manpower to protect the world, can be upgraded to do 2000 damage to each enemy ship for each round of combat, and provide various economic bonuses to the world.

The Citadel creates a fortress world that, if backed up by a fleet, can take unprecedented levels of punishment. It is nice to have such a strong defense and its ability to participate in combat is awesome. You just have to be really careful when placing the Citadel as borders and empires shift and it can quickly become a fortress in the heart of friendly territory offering greatly diminished benefits. Further, because it counts against your overall behemoth supply, I think it is the weakest of the three in the long term. If it were possible to “deconstruct” the Citadel and move it for a high cost it would be more viable as the game progresses. That being said, constructing the Citadel is not a mistake and its defense is unmatched by anything else – players just need to think before they place it.

Reworking Invasions

The other major update we got alongside Supremacy is an updated UI for planetary invasions. To be clear, the mechanics around invading planets and manpower haven’t changed, rather the interactive panel that pops up up with each round of an invasion now makes a lot more sense. The new system is much easier to digest since the various attack and defense options display the bonuses granted to the troops. The old system wasn’t terrible I suppose, but compared to how much information and how digestible almost every other system in the game was it definitely felt unpolished. It’s nice to be able to make what feels like a more educated decision when it comes to invasions and get a little more feedback about why ground combat is panning out one way or another from round to round.

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Not there just yet.

Unfortunately, I think ground combat is still quite lackluster and can be downright frustrating. Usually it seems ideal to bomb the planet’s military population to smithereens as a full on invasion can be a long drawn out process, especially depending on population bonuses. One feature (we did confirm it is not a bug) that is endlessly annoying is the fact that when invading, your opponent can almost limitlessly “conscript” its population. This is an issue because when you click invade, if the AI selects conscript (which they often will) they can generate a capable army from the planet’s inhabitants that go from being artists/farmers/bureaucrats one moment to a rough and tough fighting force. If you don’t kill every single insta-soldier that was just magically created, the AI can conscript the following turn, and the turn after, and the cycle of madness never ends. Actually that’s not right – typically the conscripted troops will keep popping up until they kill everyone in your fleet.

Because the AI can turn all their pops to conscripted soldiers, I typically have to try and pick the blitz option (more men on the ground that can shoot but more end up dying in the attack) to try to kill every last enemy combatant. There are techs you can research to expand the number of of troops on a landing mission and upgrades you can grab for troops to combat this problem, but the AI also has access to the same options. I don’t need (or expect) Amplitude to really invest a lot of time or resources into revamping ground invasions and with Supremacy they have improved the overall experience. But the process at this point feels prohibitivly annoying.

So is it worth it?

So there it is, the features, the mechanics, the essence of of what makes these two expansions tick. While I enjoyed them both, I would have to say Supremacy is the more appealing of the two and, if you had to pick, players should grab that one first. This doesn’t mean Vaulters is bad by any means; it just felt more like a race pack as opposed to a full expansion. I would recommend both expansion to fans of ES2 as both will add hours of enjoyment and expanded options.

I’m glad that Amplitude has supported their game so strong out of the gate. I know that, for some, expansions and DLC are viewed as a cash grab but Amplitude continues to prove that their post-release content is worth consideration. In an age when I seem to feel increasingly burned by bad expansions, or unfinished launch games I still find myself happy with the direction of ES2. These expansions will satisfy fans, but don’t change the formula or reinvent the base game in any major way for those who couldn’t get into ES2 previously. These expansions bring some interesting features to the table but the mileage may vary depending on the player. Both Vaulters and Supremacy show that Amplitude is devoted to ensuring that ES2 continues to improve step by step. While the expansions don’t quite move the game into the category of the all time greats quite yet, it’s making progress.

TL:DR; For fans of Amplitude’s storytelling and gameplay style there is a lot to like with both Vaulters and Supremacy. Both are solid expansions, although Vaulters brings a little less to the table. As a race the Vaulters are a ton of fun with some unique mechanics and what I find to be a compelling narrative. Unfortunately pirates feel a little flat. As for Supremacy, the Hissho provide a compelling choice for any playthrough. The new behemoths are flashy, useful, and pack one hell of a punch! These expansions don’t redefine the game but add upon the sturdy foundation Amplitude has already laid to create their next 4X. There is a lot to like here, and I would easily recommend both expansions although Supremacy stands noticeably taller.

You may like this game if:

  • You love Amplitude’s storytelling and narrative driven 4X
  • You want more toys and options to enhance your ES2 experience
  • You like a healthy (or perhaps unhealthy) amount of warfare in your 4X games
  • You want to follow the vaulters epic journey into its next chapters

You may NOT like this game if:

  • You are looking for an expansion to bring ES2 to the next level
  • You are looking for a large scale 4X game
  • Were not overly satisfied with the combat systems in ES2 so far
  • You want an interesting win condition that doesn’t involve killing your neighbors

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Kearon played for 40+ hours of Vaulters and Supremacy totaling over 115 hours on a 3.5 GHz Intel i5 with 16gb ddr4 RAM using Windows 10

11 replies »

  1. i’m done with ES2. after lots of hours (over 400) one thing realy stops me from playing it anymore: ground combat.

    to be more precise, the fact that a defenseless planet can survive round after round with just using the “conscript” option no matter how big your fleet is.
    i even made a thread in the bug-section at games2gether and it seems to be working as designed.

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  2. Playing Vaulters on Endless Legend was like dropping the difficulty down at least one level. It doesn’t come across as being accidentally broken, but more like they are deliberately overpowered (teleporting, science bonuses, resource bonuses, winter bonus, ..).

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s actually one of my favorite parts of the ES2 faction design – no matter what race I’m playing as, they feel OP. Vaulters, Unfallen, Riftborn, Hissho… They all have some power/ability that makes me feel like I’m going to crush the rest of the galaxy. Good times.

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  3. “One feature (we did confirm it is not a bug) that is endlessly annoying is the fact that when invading, your opponent can almost limitlessly “conscript” its population. This is an issue because when you click invade, if the AI selects conscript (which they often will) they can generate a capable army from the planet’s inhabitants that go from being artists/farmers/bureaucrats one moment to a rough and tough fighting force. If you don’t kill every single insta-soldier that was just magically created, the AI can conscript the following turn, and the turn after, and the cycle of madness never ends. Actually that’s not right – typically the conscripted troops will keep popping up until they kill everyone in your fleet.”

    This was annoying the first two games, but then you just realize that taking over a system takes as many turns as the population number (the better and bigger the system, the more turns), plus the initial several turns to siege-kill the initial defense army. Make sure your invasion force is some good 1-1.5K so you don’t run out of reserves. Do guerrilla tactics so you at least you don’t damage infrastructure. And that’s that. Good things take time ;)

    Liked by 1 person

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