I don’t know who else keeps playing grand space simulators, but you’re in good company. We’ve seen a resurgence of the genre in recent years, especially with properties like Masters of Orion returning to the stage, but we’ve gotten to the point where established newcomers are now starting to build proper sequels and studios are getting a hang of the genre. Endless Space 2, a follow-up of the 2012 original, is a prime example.
Like its predecessor, players will be spending their time managing and expanding an empire in a turn-based fashion, through menial tasks like taxes and policy changes or more delicate means like warfare or research and development (through a tech tree that looks more like a giant wheel). Just don’t get too excited about the combat system, as it’s rudimentary at best. Your job is to basically choose a strategy by way of a “Battlecard,” and see how it plays out. In essence, you’re going to want to ensure that you have the advantage before the engagement even begins by way of producing counter-picked units and increasing your armada. It’s a strategy in and of itself, but doesn’t soften the blow of missing out on a more detailed hands-on war mechanic.
To many players, the idea of juggling all of that might seem like a lot. Given that most 4X games are relatively complex, it’s obvious that Endless Space 2 is going to take some getting used to. Micromanaging empires isn’t something you’ll pick up within minutes, or even a concept you’ll grasp after playing the meagre tutorial. No, you’ll have to work for it if you’re a newcomer, but Amplitude doesn’t lay it on so thick that it feels insurmountable. This series is more like a stepping-stone to other hardcore genre fare, and it’s mostly because of how much emphasis was put on the visual style over all else.
Let’s talk about the bad first, which isn’t all that bad. Endless Space 2‘s AI leaves a lot to be desired. Once you really get a handle of what’s going on, you’re going to be well versed in countering most of the base decisions your AI opponents make. Granted, this ensures that you’re not fighting Watson-esque genius machines that destroy your chances of victory at every turn, but there really needs to be an option for something resembling a big picture challenge at some point.
Yet, it’s impressive to see up close how polished Endless Space 2 is compared to the first—and I initially rolled my eyes at the “beautiful” setting in the options menu. The soundtrack is memorable, the UI is well done, the voicework is professional, the fluff is well written and occasionally warranted some chuckles, and nearly every facet of the game is burned into my memory days after a session—even the loading screens. Whereas some studios would have rested on their laurels, the team did a good job in terms of making Endless Space feel like its own world. It’s really easy to get entranced by the ambient music and forget that it’s been several hours since your “quick” session ended. Even something as rote as scanning planets looks like it was given the proper amount of attention from the design team.
That’s going to be enough for some. Having to break out excel spreadsheets and micro your way to a win is something I enjoy when it’s done right, but it isn’t the only rigid formula one needs to follow. Sometimes I just want to spend my time immersed inside a new universe, something the early Mass Effect games had down to a science. To that end, it’s really all about priorities and perspective with Endless Space 2. Don’t come in expecting anything groundbreaking or new in the genre and you’ll be just fine.
Endless Space 2 is one of the strongest 4X games in recent memory, even if it’s not the deepest. Amplitude made a concerted effort to improve upon the foundation of the original while adding in some interesting lore building elements. It’s impressive that there’s been no regression in the quest to craft the sequel.