Endless Space, Amplitude Studios' galactic 4X game, received a lot of praise when it was released it back in 2012, and Endless Space 2 is the upcoming sequel that the studio is now working on. We got the chance to visit their studios in Paris for a studio tour, a demo of the game as well as that all-important hands-on time.
In the demo that was shown to us we got to see the game being played with a variety of the new features on display. The faction being played was the Lumeris, announced at Gamescom, and within the short period of time that it was played there were many things to pique the interest.
Firstly, population was shown to be far more important in this game. The demo showed the senate and a breakdown of the population of the empire and all the beliefs they hold and Amplitude explained that these can either help or hinder your empire depending on your own beliefs. What's more, minor factions were also introduced, being smaller factions with limited interaction options, and both these and other major factions can be integrated into populations too, leading to situations where reactions and rebellions may occur if you're not too careful. Populations can even give you quests to make them happier.
Diplomacy was also demonstrated in the demo, more specifically the different types of governments and how you can use them to create new laws. One important thing that was highlighted is that diplomacy has a resource assigned to it so decisions can't be done too often nor can they be taken lightly, so for example you can't start war with an ally without it costing a lot.
Outposts were another feature Amplitude were keen to show us. Outposts, as explained to us, are the things players put on planets before they form colonies, taking a certain amount of time to turn into colonies. This is an effort to stop players conquering the galaxy too quickly, but the really interesting part is that multiple players can make outposts on one planet, creating a race to see who can fully colonise it first.
The last thing that was showcased before we were let loose on the game ourselves was the trailer and gameplay for the new faction, the Vodyani. These warriors focus on exterminating others to sustain themselves and there is an intense focus on their own heritage and their religious crusade. They are rather fragile, however, as losing even one soldier is a huge disaster for them. Unfortunately, Amplitude explained that these were difficult to balance and so were not available to play right now, although we didn't mind because the wonderful concept art was good enough for us.
After a tour of the rather immaculate studio we got time with the game to see these new features in action. The first thing we noticed upon playing was that the user interface is equally as accessible as the first, if not more so. Everything that is available to the player is very well explained and we thought the upgrades were much better for the player to grasp than in the first game. This will surely work in their favour in regards to recruiting new players or those who are untrained in the art of 4X games.
In the demo Amplitude explained to us that the asymmetrical gameplay has been taken further, with each faction having its own unique style of play, and we saw that clearly in the two factions we played as, the Sophons and the Lumeris. From everything to the upgrades and the ships available each faction has different priorities and different ways of playing the game and it is very difficult to bend them out of shape. Careful choosing of a faction is still very important then, and maybe even more so now.
Two new features that are also immediately noticeable are population and minor factions. The former is always a concern as notifications pop up regarding elections, displeasure and quests regarding population and their opinions and efficiency can soon deteriorate if you let your empire's people get unhappy. Minor factions also appeared in various forms, being both separate and integrated with the empire we were playing as, and when they're aggressive they can be a thorn in your side, but having them on board and assimilating them can be a huge asset.
One bizarre feature with the minor factions was that when they are aggressive you can use your influence (the same currency you make diplomatic decisions with) to praise them and lower their aggression and shape it into friendliness, and clicking this enough times gets them to a level where they can be assimilated. It seemed unnatural that in one turn you can pile on the praise enough to turn them from a sworn enemy to a best friend and ally.
A new feature that we quickly realised was not to be taken lightly was the ground battles. These are when there are no ships to battle with enemies and those on the planets themselves have to defend, and there are three options including encouraging a local resistance, defending the planet directly or surrendering. These were not easy to execute, but the fact they were taken into consideration at all shows a level of detail has been applied to the combat.
Speaking of which, the ship battles are incredibly impressive in Endless Space 2. The cinematic angle that people loved in the first game returns with a vengeance and the battle are a spectacle to witness. In terms of tactics, there is a screen allowing different manoeuvres as well as seeing what the enemy may try, accompanied by a useful indicator of how often they have used certain tactics in the past. Battles are still very tactical, then, even if you can't control the battle directly (you are the emperor, as Amplitude phrased it, not the general). Everything outside of battle from upgrades and production influence how well you will do when it comes to fighting.
Looking at the game's layout as a whole, it does feel a lot like Civilization, although that's not a bad thing, as Civilization is a kind of benchmark for 4X games after all. The way the notifications stack up near the 'end turn' button, the menus on the top right, the inability to conduct diplomacy at the beginning of a war - these are all things Civilisation is known for and that work very well, so they help make Endless Space 2 work. The thing is that Endless Space 2 shapes its identity in a million other ways, so the fact that some of its core may be borrowed isn't a concern.
A particularly distinguishing feature from other 4X games is that Endless Space 2 attempts to put quests and narrative into the game. What we saw worked quite well, with objectives needing to be met in certain quests to unlock rewards and events occurring in the world which led to different consequences. The narrative is given in detail and can be skipped for those who don't want it, but we didn't see enough of quests to make a solid judgement on them. The fact that they are trying to tell more stories is admirable though, especially since there is an overarching narrative arc through the whole game as well.
After many hours of playing Endless Space 2 we can say for sure that we enjoyed it a lot. There were a few bugs, but that's to be expected from an early build. The main thing is that the foundation of the game is solid, the ideas are all moving in the right track and all the qualms we had with it were very minor and incredibly adjustable. This looks set to captivate both Endless Space fans and those who are new to the series and willing to give it a chance as it launches into Early Access this month.
<i>For even more more on Amplitude Studios and Endless Space 2 - read our interview with the co-founders of the studio Mathieu Girard and Romain de Waubert.
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