Review by dragon0085
"If 'Endless Repetition' sounds like fun. Did others only play for an hour?"
Endless Space attempts to fill the space strategy game void left since the days of Master of Orion 2, while the game is audacious in some regards it ultimately falls far short of the bar it attempts to meet. I just want this hole in my heart from MOO2 filled, and there have been many challengers from the various Space Empires, to Galactic Civilizations, but never were ever good enough, and this game only makes me realize how far the genre has lost its way.
This review will be in the vein that you are a space strategy gamer, if you are not I would lower this score even further because you likely will not even finish a single game. All the glowing reviews must be from people that did not actually finish a game, because admittedly the first hour or so is awesome, then you realize the truth.
Well it sure started good
Upon starting the game I am greeted with some really nicely rendered ships cruising through space, I go into new game and customize my race immediately, and this is where, like most parts of this game, it seems great at first until you realize it is not that good at all.
All the typical options are here, like better farming, research penalties, with two notable things: NO governments or anything similar, and 'tech tree research'. The lack of government is loosely related to some sort of 'affinity' that depending on your picture you get exclusive access to some tech, and it changes very minute aspects of your race, however the game does not tell what exactly these are. So I make a race, extra science bonus, and a few of the 'tech tree' options, and a penalty to accuracy (after all I will just put a better computer on and easily make up for it right?) Alas, things in this game are never as good as first impressions.
The Rise of Empire
I am greeted by this really nicely rendered spiral galaxy I can zoom out as my single home world fades into the star ocean. I zoom back in and figure out how to start playing this glorious game. I start with a ship, and see some star lanes ala Space Empires style, send one down the way and check my system.
Hmm, one planet, ok, lets get building something. Farms, check, lets get some factories next, hmm a research building ok...uh wait, where did the farm and factory go? I click around a few more times and to my horror realize the planet is limited to ONE BUILDING. For the duration of the game I am limited to one of four options, farms, factories, money, research. Ok, well that is not so good, but lets move on.
Well, looks like my system is where some of the 'buildings' go. I see my planet's choice queued here, nothing I can build for now, so onto the most fun part, getting some crazy research going.
I sure spent a lot of points on some exotic researches, lets see what this is all about. The research is divided into four branches, military, industry/science, diplomacy, and colonization. Hmm, looks kind of cool, but where are my special researches I spent a lot of points on? Why is this one researched already, 'robots' hmm, that sounds a bit like something I picked. Then my first great disappointed of the game comes rocking my early enjoyment: the research techs you can spend extremely valuable points on are nothing more than unlocking the very first tier of the research! 'My god' I think, 'what a utter waste of points, something I can research in 1-2 turns, and further I don't even get exotic tech branches.'
Space Empires did this great, the tech branch you 'waste' points on are actually techs, totally different from the normal, anything from biologic weapons, to crystal armor, to see how much of a complete waste this game did with this is staggering wondering what exactly they were thinking.
Okay, a few cracks in the armor, but this still seems great! Lets get to a battle. I go down a lane and suddenly am confronted with a battle screen, trying to figure it out, the game auto defaults to auto, and suddenly my ships are dead. Ugh. I rebuilt a few and am ready when the screen pops up (you have about 10 seconds to decide) and click manual. The battle loads, I see my awesome ships warping in, and suddenly the battle is underway, my opponent picked a card, and I evidently did not give my ships orders. I realize I have to click and confronted with about 10 choices like +20% beam damage, or +20% heal, or -15% enemy defenses. However watching all those missiles and projectiles in fairly good detail is awesome, wow this game is great!
How wrong I was.
There are a lot of idiosyncrasiesthis game has are never directly addressed, and have large impacts. For example there is a difference between a 'star lane' and a 'warp lane' but you cannot cross the later until a random tech you pick up. Further, one of the most annoying things, is you CANNOT MOVE if you are neutral with an empire, you have to be at war, or allied. That means shipping a fleet down a lane, and suddenly meeting a new empire, you are locked into that zone FOREVER. Until you eventually make them like you enough, or you get tired of your fleet being trapped and just declare war to free your ships.
A problem is that this genre is ultimately a numbers game and this game does not play by the numbers. One example is a building that costs 3 money per turn, but gives me 2 money for every moon in a system (typical 1-2) so at best I would make 1 extra money, so I never bothered. For fun though I build one and my money jumps by 20+ for that system! What the heck is going on here? I build it in a different system with 2 moons and while not the boon of 20, it increases my overall money by 8. How can I play a strategy game where the stats they are telling me are wholly disconnected from reality? And no, this was not with a hero in the system.
Heroes, while a cool idea, are ultimately tacked on despite their extremely imbalanced power. The heroes level up, and you give them 'skills' it sound way, way cooler than in practice, which is actually just '+3 wit', meaning like +6% science and money output. The Hero's stat screen eventually reads like a novel, with easily over 20 different bonuses that have been accumulated, and it does not condense these. So by the end I had +20 food, +20% food, +6% food, +15% food, you get the idea. Heroes are so insane, a moderately good system with a hero in it is easily the equivalent to 10 times as many systems. Because they help everything, this colony will be making ships faster than anything, and researching faster than worlds and worlds devoted to research.
What is related to this, is how completely one sided food production is, and the fact you CANNOT TRANSPORT FOOD. There about 2 buildings to help production, there are over 5 for food. If one system is the food guys, and have a bountiful harvest, ready to share their wares with their factory and scientist brothers, well too bad you cant. Just let the crops rot in the field (sounds a bit like US agriculture practices) because despite space being endless, each colony has to be self supporting. More like you live in a feudal society than anything sort of federation.
Combat becomes extremely repetitive given how long it takes, and the unrealism eventually begins to grate. Essentially the ships charge each other to engage in broadside battles, and the best you can do is pick one of about 3 cards that are decent and hope your card does not get 'countered'. No missile frigates that stay on the out skirts and rain pain down, no heavily armored anti missile ship to charge and take the heat off everything else, heck you cant even split your ships. You fleet charges into death together.
Well, I just hit auto, and take my casualties I know I would not sustain if I merely watched the video and I park my fleet over the system and let the magic commence of invasion. And magic it is, because I cannot see anywhere how fast or how long this should take, and what, if anything, is being calculated. Somewhere back in the useless modules, I recall an invasion booster, but where is my invasion power, and perhaps equally importantly where is my opponents? Sometimes the little 'take over bar' fills up fast, other times takes 10+ turns. I appreciate the stream line of removing fleets upon fleets of transports, but in their quest for simplification ruined a key aspect of the genre. You cannot bombard a colony to extinction, you cannot unload the ordnance and soften the defenses at the cost of collateral damage, you cant mind control, you cant blow up the whole planet; you simply park and wait a random amount of turns before it becomes yours.
Space has an end: the bottom
The two most egregious offenders that really drop this game other than the repetitive nature of combat is research, and the natural offshoot of ship design.
Research is boring. That bears repeating for the crime it presents. Research is boring. There is never anything NEW. All anything ever is is an improvement over the prior. There are three weapons total in the game: guns, missiles, lasers. Considering there is an entire branch to these three, its pretty pathetic, want to know how exciting the next level up for your guns is? It will go from something like 10 damage and 10 shots to 12 damage and 12 shots. Yay. Or the even more exciting missile of 1 shot and 20 damage, to 1 shot and 25 damage.
Equally unfun is basically any other branch where you improve your planet's building from +1 money per population to +2 money if it happens to be a desert planet, otherwise its still +1. Further, while you CAN terraform, they make every planet good in its own way (what a fell good story) so there is no real point. Somehow living on a volcanic lava flow is not that much worse than a terran planet.
A huge problem to, is the automatic nature of combat, any strategies you might come up with cannot ever be executed, thus it does not matter a weapons range, as you are broadside battling anyway, lasers don't get weaker the further away, you never get fighters, having support ships or long range ships don't work or are utterly insensible.
This links into the problem of ship design. The mainstay of any great strategy game is making ships, anything from either your coldly practical frigates with nothing but mass missiles, or your awesome ship that takes years to build but can solo the whole galaxy. Ship design is very weak, you have 3 options, your three weapons, three defenses to said weapons, and support modules. The support modules arent many, + hp, +speed, + scouting, and colonization. Each ship is exactly the same, and because of how combat works you cannot have a ship focused on defense for everyone else, just like everything in this game, each has to be individually self sufficient, no working together. Oh, and perhaps a huge complaint THERE ARE NO COMPUTERS/ACCURACY. You are spraying your rounds just as bad at the end of the game as when you first take to the stars. How something that important is never included with no way outside of a racial trait is beyond me.
Further, there is a very strict 'command limit' in combat, meaning for most intents combat will be about 6 ships total, that is boring. Isnt space battles supposed to bring up images of millions of ships slugging it out in insane combat? Eventually you will have 20 or more of these 'fleets' guarding a system, so instead of one awesome battle of 100 ships on each side you have 20 pathetic charades of the same sets of ships battling over and over.
The only two decent ideas
Here is where one thing the game does that is a pretty unique idea, each star system (from 2 to 5 planets) acts a singular entity. To explain, a single planet has really only one option for a 'building' (I use that term loosely) and the system can build system wide buildings, something typical is like +1 research for each population. What this does is reduce by a single factor the amount of book keeping you have to do throughout the game. So 25 planets in other games are reduced to 5 things to be controlled. I actually think this idea of streamlining is pretty good. Even at the end of the game, with over 200 planets, because they were reduced to systems it was much more manageable.
It has its problems, namely a system lives or dies together, and no more super planets (which thematically makes sense as a homeworld normally should be rocking compared to just a mere colony). There are so imbalances, like stated the insane production of food that is utterly useless baring a very late game research, and that specialization really does nothing. Because for whatever reason despite the calculations you do, it is almost always better to just build everything as the bonus will far outweigh the stated cost. For example a building that cost 2, but adds 1 research per population, if you have 20, should add 20 right? Often you will not even lose the 2 money, and an increase of 40 or more research is typical.
The simplification of invasion is a nice goal, so for that they deserve credit, even if it is just a mess. To do away with transports helps speed a game along, but the lack of options (bombing, destroying, fast invasion, slow invasion etc) and the COMPLETE lack of any numbers anywhere of what is being compared to what ruins what was a decent idea.
Endless? More like two hours before it gets uninstalled.
It hurts that yet another attempt to make a space strategy game fails. It kind of reminds me of the X-COM clones. It is not that hard to take what works, add some new things and for the most part keep it the same and it will be successful, but alas no one does this. I like to see attempts like how this game simplifies both invasion, and compresses planets into systems. Neither are perfect by any means, but I would like to see this idea expanded in the future by other games. However, that is vastly outweighed by the fact research sucks, ship design is a joke, and combat is an uncontrollable repetitive mess.
This game is fun for about two hours, and one play through is more than enough to see everything this game has to offer, there are never meaningful choices and it simply devolves into hitting end turn and letting your 6 ship fleet auto battle just to hurry this travesty along.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 07/17/12
Game Release: Endless Space (US, 07/04/12)
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