Very few gamers would deny that as the strategy genre has grown in diversity it’s also grown in complexity. There are many subgenres that are designed to be welcoming to newcomers and less experienced gamers, but there’s also the 4X videogames. Existing as an outward facing facet, 4X videogames are designed specifically for the core strategy gaming audience; presenting depth and challenge ahead of all else. Iceberg Interactive has developed a reputation for being a key distributor of such titles, and Endless Space is another uncompromising addition to their catalogue.
Endless Space provides some very unique matches, a series of gameplay mechanics which result in incredible variation in the results of player actions and enemy assaults. However, getting the most out of the videogame requires a great deal of determination. Endless Space offers a tutorial system, but it remains staunch and unapproachable to anyone who doesn’t already have a working knowledge of the turn-based 4X subgenre. It’s more a series of direct commands and tooltips than an invitation to play in a sandpit and learn the basics before progressing. Players must learn the basic commands, not absorb them through simple exercises.
For those who persevere – and this is what the only half dozen hours of Endless Space will demand from most players: perseverance through many trial-and-error failures – will find an intriguing and deep strategy videogame experience underneath. Endless Space features a series of faction each dramatically different from the last, and each providing an utterly unique experience (and as such, another learning curve). Even the merest suggestion that Endless Space doesn’t provide value for money would be an utter falsehood. With no direct campaign presentation the player is free to establish their own goals, but before doing so must establish the properties of their match. Each fight needs to be customised before jumping in, from the number of players involved (either online or artificial) to the size of the playing field (in terms of numeric value of planets and the layout for them to be arranged in).
Each of the different factions has a preordained alignment along an axis of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ which significantly affects diplomacy. As the player can no only choose which faction to play as but also which faction(s) to play against, the decisions made here can greatly affect the difficulty of the opening chapter as alliances are formed and weaknesses in enemy fleets are discovered. As the videogame is so dramatically freeform it’s up to the player to decide their path for success; this isn’t simply a Civilization Revolution guiding path for four possible victory conditions, there is no direction offered to players. The only victory available is one where you dominate the universe.
However, every path your travel down will ultimately lead to another asset. For example, deciding to colonise a new world will demand you first travel along a technology skilltree, but doing so will offer your greater resources to help with later expansions. What’s more, completing these skilltrees will unlock technologies that allow you to expand your exploration activities or the capabilities of your armadas. It’s a strange network of advancements that result in a natural progression no matter where you choose to start.
Engaging in combat is unfortunately not as open-ended as the strategic element of Endless Space. Players can choose to automate the combat or take direct control of their fleets, but in truth it’s typically a simple case of the bigger numbers winning. Rarely is there the opportunity to develop your skills by taking on an adversary stronger than yourself; it’s simply too reliant on prescribed statistics to take player actions into account.
For those with the powers of observation required to micromanage a vast empire, Endless Space provides the level of detail 4X purists will demand. It’s a compelling, enduring experience for even the most ardent strategy videogame player, and one which is well worth the investment. However, for those gamers who are looking for an entry point to the subgenre, Endless Space is not it. A roadblock for budding strategists but a defining title for the experienced, Endless Space is a niche product by definition, but that comparatively small audience will welcome it with open arms.