When I was first asked to write about Endless Space 2 I was rather excited due to the two hundred plus hours I spent playing its first incarnation. The second game is a major upgrade and expansion of the original game which is a 4x based strategy game. The game breaks down into several core areas and has multiple win objectives. I should state at this point that I did read the beautifully written 58-page manual before playing the game and would highly recommend this to any new player to the genre as there is a lot of complexity to the here but hey, you’re managing a galactic empire!
Graphically there are several zooms and tabs to the main interface, the zoom moves from an all-out map of the known galaxy down to the planets within a star system, each level of detail has certain amounts of information attached which I’ll go into later. Fleet movement and system selection can be managed from this galactic view. Each system is governed by a tech tree to upgrade the system, government where laws can be laid down, the marketplace where commodities are bought and sold, ships and hero characters (again more on them later) and this is only a few of the colossal amount of options available to the player.
The game operates with several possible victory modes, denying the player the opportunity to rampage through the galaxy on a quest for death fuelled megalomania. There are subtler victory conditions available and to even go to war in this game has a political impact on your empire as does building ships of war or researching weapons technology.
There are six win conditions: Supremacy, where all other races can be killed. Score, by refining your society in one of the key elements of the game, science, economy or military. Wonder, by constructing several “Obelisks of All Space-time”. Economy, where enough dust can be earned to literally buy up the galaxy. Science, by completing the technology tree in all four sections. Conquest, control all the galaxy (no killing required here, diplomacy is the key to success). Politic and planetary happiness can and does make or break a game of Endless Space 2 and it is a fine balancing act which cannot go ignored as it will bring your empire to its knees as output tumbles when the people are not happy. Fun and frustration come in equal measures as it takes time to learn the ropes of diplomacy and planetary happiness.
There are several races to play each with their own characteristics leading towards one or multiple of the victory options of the game. The maps in Endless Space are not quite accurately named, however, it’s possible (and easy) to blow 40-50 hours on a single game session if you go large enough.
There comes a point where ships need to be built in order further the game. Early on there are only basic ships available, with research/science used to unlock the technology tree. The technology tree breaks down into four areas of development: empire development, science & exploration economy and trade & military. Thus, unlocks new plants for colonisation, new weapons, new planet upgrades etc. Each new upgrade has a cost in materials and number of turns. Every class of ship is customisable with regard to weapons, defences and utility modules. The larger ships naturally accommodate more weaponry and defensive capability.
As your empire expands through colonisation or conquest, the populous reacts often leading certain play styles towards certain races. I personally like the Sophos, who lean towards science, however, are a good race overall.
Each and every planet has an upgrade tree which impacts its population and hence resource cost or generation. There’s an equilibrium to maintain, which is where a lot of the complexity of the game resides there’s a need to get the balance and development right in order to increase the size of your empire. As you develop your planet the sphere of influence expands around each plant and its value rises.
Expanding into new solar systems will initially colonise one planet, which over time and assuming the prerequisite technologies have developed, multiple planets in each solar system can be expanded. Hero characters in Endless Space 2 exist in two forms: as the governor of a planet or the commander of a fleet. You can customise their abilities over the course of the game as they earn level upgrades. Heroes will also be aligned to a political faction.
The political element of the game defines your present play strategy and must be balanced in order to maintain a healthy empire. There are many side tasks which are unlocked by the minor races and performing these tasks builds rapport and unlocks extra such as a resource bump of some kind. You may encounter pirates (alongside the other players), who cause general mayhem but are a great way of building up XP on your fleet early in the game. There are also minor races who you can build a relationship with over time and share resources with.
War is a certainty at points, even for the most diplomatic of players, as resources are scarce and opponents will invade planets on the borders of your empire if you don’t protect them. Land based assault has a 3D view of the action; however there is no real-time interaction, all strategies are set up front. The space-based action also has a 3D camera mode which allows the action to be viewed from any angle; although I found the more I played Endless Space 2 the more I skipped the various battles due to their time-consuming nature.
All in all, I loved Endless Space 2. The races are unique and make the gameplay varied along with the various maps and graphical improvements over the last version. This latest iteration is a great update to the Daddy of space based 4x strategy games. If I were scoring Endless Space 2 based on my opinion I would not hesitate on giving this a 10, however, we have a framework at Glacier Gaming to prevent fanboy gushing and over exuberant scoring!
With that said and my personal opinions aside, this is the best game available in the genre at the moment. Even a person who is not a fan of the genre could have an entertaining time playing, although there is a learning curve to the game and it’s steep one even for the seasoned player.