I am a person who does not, in fact, have unlimited time to play every strategy game release—it’s a genre I’ve always had an interest in but generally avoided because many, if not all, of these games are major time vacuums. Therefore, I tend to be incredibly selective with my choosing. For a large part of my gaming history, Sid Meier’s Civilization has been my go to series. That tradition is no more. Amplitude’s Endless Space series is now my defacto choice. With Endless Space 2 being my first entry, I’ve found a lot to love.
If you’ve played 4X strategy games before, you’ll slide right into that mindset and be well on your way to enjoying your time. Endless Space 2 manages to feel incredibly familiar and homey, yet also manages to breathe new life into what has become a somewhat tired genre, with little change year to year. I played a single game of Civ VI before just forgetting about it entirely—it just felt like too much of the same, and somehow played worse than V. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t played the first, but Endless Space 2 feels like a new beast; with a sleek, stylish interface, breathtaking presentation, a wonderfully ambient electronic score, and beautiful visual design.
Endless Space 2 benefits massively from its high-quality presentation, which, from what I’ve played of other strategy games, there can be a massive dearth of. Every galaxy is introduced planet to planet, taking care to show on-screen stats and resources for each one. Or when colonizing a new biome type, a gorgeously animated scene demonstrating its fauna and flora is shown. On the flip-side, its UI is almost too sleek at times, to the point where it can be hard to find select bits of useful information, or easy to forget what certain emblems mean entirely. Backing the (generally) world-class presentation, however, is an excellently utilized electronica soundtrack. Its ambient orchestral and choral tracks add some much appreciated gravitas to almost every action you can make, and each faction’s personalized themes are simply magnificent.
With me being a sucker for anything science fiction, Endless Space 2’s bricolage of references, nods and winks at the tropes and history of the genre is endlessly delightful. Its titular Endless being the omnipotent proto-race who vanished from the universe long ago leaving technology and dust in their wake, oh, and also the terrifying xenomorph-like race known as the Cravers whose sole purpose is to expand, enslave, consume, and wipe out the inhabitants of every star system in reach.
Incredibly unique factions, like the Cravers, makeup Endless Space 2’s wonderfully diverse roster of playable groups. From the militaristic, prudish Vodyani, a previously flesh and blood biological race who have transitioned into being cyborg fanatics who worship the Endless and their technology above all else. There’s the peaceful tree folk who just want to hang out and spread their vines to the far reaches of space, or the whimsical Sophons, whose intro video is by far my favorite. Having such a diverse roster with wildly different playstyles is a welcome addition to typical 4X game structure. The Vodyani use life essence instead of food to proliferate their species—to accomplish this you have to send leech ships to enemy systems and liquefy or incinerate or whatever it is the population and capture their essence. I tried this on my first game because it sounded rad. I did not however, think long enough to realize that this may, in fact, upset some of the other groups,. Lo and behold, they rallied together rather quickly to send me back to the Stone Age.
My second, and by far my most successful, game was with the United Empire, a rather Russian human-based faction whose play-style fit much better into my green as grass experience with the game. I quickly amassed a trade empire worth nearly 50,000 dust per turn, and was sent solar surfing to an economic victory just ahead of Doria, the damn fish mafioso who has put me out in my following two games with little issue. Her AI seems remarkably well equipped to sprint to economic win conditions in record time.
AI is often an issue in strategy games, moreso as of late as well. I found the AI in Civ VI ridiculously idiotic, whose main strategy was to make random, seemingly counter productive decisions for their faction. Endless Space 2 does a pretty good job of making AI adhere to their faction’s traits and policies, with the occasional random war declaration aside, I’m pretty happy with its functionality. There have only been two or so occasions of seemingly impossible leaps in logic or completely unfair technological bounds—leading to the peaceful trees sending fleets of ships they couldn’t have possibly had the research to make so early in the game at me. At least Doria declaring war on me somewhat made sense as far as her character and faction goes, but the trees? C’mon man, that was way out of character.
Even outside of that encounter, Endless Space 2’s combat is right in line with its boring, tired cohorts. Stellaris at least provided combat that is fun to watch unfold, and while Endless Space 2 tries to liven the scene up with a cinematic viewing mode, I ended up just opting out of as soon as I could. That just left the battles to be simulated off screen, and while the addition of tactical strategies is a good start, it’s just not enough to make it interesting.
But it doesn’t really matter? Easily my favorite part of Endless Space 2 is its dedication to having in depth, enticing, and well thought out economic and government policy systems. Assembling the aforementioned trade empire in my second game was a surprisingly engaging and exciting process. It took time, creativity and careful deliberation with other nations to connect every route together and make sure everyone was on board with the trade agreement. I was watching the megabucks flow in like Leo in Wolf of Wall Street, and by the end of the game was kicking beach side like Milton in Office Space. But you know, in actual space.
I was manically laughing every time I cinched a core star system or made a huge leap in trade fleet size. I had turned every trade route into a highway that ran purely on dust, baby. I was playing the trade market for a fool, dropping huge caches of valuable resources when prices were high, and buying out products when they were cheap and plentiful, AND THEN RESELLING THEM WHEN THE PRICE WENT UP. HA HAHA HA. It was honestly some of most ludicrous power tripping I’ve ever experience in video games. King of the universe they called me! Probably.
Every 20 turns when the election came up, I was pouring influence into the faction whose laws best suited my goals. There was so much going on but it all felt manageable and a blast to balance into a successful empire. And don’t worry about a boring, lifeless end game where you’re just watching numbers grow and deflate as time passes. The games interesting RPG-like quest system will keep you busy, with faction specific story lines, random encounters with fledgling nations or competitive quests—there’s always something to do, with worthwhile rewards like new tech or a deposit of useful resources.
Like some reports you’ve no doubt seen, there are some weird bugs and performance issues. While nothing game breaking, I did have to reload once to get a turn to pass, and in the late game it seems to chug under its own weight no matter what the situation. Even in my galaxy where peace was flourishing and there were no massive fights to be decided, the game seems to struggle to keep up, even on my more than capable machine running 16GB ram, an i7 4790k and running the game from my SSD, it still got bogged down in the mid to late game range, for seemingly no reason.
End to end, Endless Space 2 has been the most fun I’ve had playing a 4X game in years, it’s “best in genre” production quality, carefully crafted races, soundtrack and visual design are sure to attract any number of longtime 4X fans— and might just be enough to suck in some of those on the fence about strategy games. With a brilliantly diverse roster that not only inspires gameplay variation, but begs to be experimented with and perfected, and the best government and economic systems I’ve ever had the joy to play with, Endless Space 2 sets a new bar for excellence among its 4X peers— albeit just slightly held back by boring and lacklustre combat, minor performance hitches, and some typical 4X AI jank.