It has happened again. It is well past my normal bedtime but the Lumeris are close to winning an economic victory after pretty much staying to themselves the whole game. I want to push into their territory, but the Vodyani have taken a disliking to me, even though the Cravers declared war on me first. Apparently a war on multiple fronts is just the kind of thing they want me to have to suffer through. My playthrough as the Sophons grinds to a halt, my superior technology keeps my planets happy, but my weaponry is pretty basic and I am being torn to shreds by large Vodyani fleets. I go to bed, defeated yet again. That is two games in a row…
I don’t lose heart though. Endless Legend taught me a long time ago that until I find the sweet spot and learn the dance a bit better, this is going to happen to me. I start up game three, taking the things I learnt from my two failures. Firstly, I was expanding incorrectly. Secondly, I was missing important tech in the military tree and this time, I would destroy my enemies.
There is a lot of reading involved in any Endless game, tooltips and icons giving you various streams of information to help you make decisions for your galaxy-spanning empire.
Endless Space 2, for those who haven’t heard of it, is a 4X game. This grand strategy game pits you against a rather odd assortment of alien races as you try to establish your place in the galaxy. Like Endless Legend the game is full of quests and references to the mysterious Endless race that came before, but are missing now. In their wake is Dust, the commodity of trade in the galaxy. With near magical powers, curative properties and use for advanced technologies, Dust has become an intrinsic part of society for all races.
Technology is power
The first thing I noticed in Endless Space 2 was the improved tech tree. The tech tree is split into four quadrants. Each quadrant handles a specific section of your massive empire: Military improvements make up one quadrant, while economy and trade fill up another. Empire improvements and development make up the third while the fourth is related to science and research. Each quadrant is further split into layers, like an onion. Instead of forcing every technology to require the previous technology down the tree to be researched, Endless Space 2 unlocks the next “layer” of the quadrant once you research a set number in the previous layer of that quadrant. This means you can often skip technologies that you don’t find appealing or have no use for yet, getting to the technologies you really want.
The downside of having a tech tree that lets you do whatever you want is you can go a whole game missing important technologies. There is a lot of reading involved in any Endless game, tooltips and icons giving you various streams of information to help you make decisions for your galaxy-spanning empire. It can be daunting but I found by my third game I was taking names and crushing enemies. My first two games, for example, I never worked out how to set up trading in my empire, which means I had less dust and luxury resources than I could have had. Also my fleet size was much smaller than what other empires had, meaning that even with superior weaponry, I was losing lots of ships in battles against horrible odds. Now at least I know what to look out for in the tech tree, so that I don’t miss these key technologies again.
Running an entire empire that spans multiple star systems means you have a lot to concentrate on. Where in Endless Legend you controlled your units in combat in a turn-based battlefield, Endless Space opts for some serious eye candy while your fleets follow a set tactic and formations assigned before the battle. Once you lock in who goes where (based on tactical strategies you can research or unlock), all you can do is watch your fleets fight. At times I wish I could control a ship or two, but when you get entrenched in a decade long war with your enemy on multiple fronts, you will be happy to set your tactics and skip watching the fight, carrying on with your plans for defending your empire or crushing the enemy.
Learning what weapons to take into battle, having a good mix of ranges and ship types will help you live to fight another day. At one point I had ships that dwarfed the health and damage of the opponents, but the fights would end in draws without damage. It turns out that my ships only had weapons that fired at long range and the enemy was using a tactic that kept them within medium range for the entire sortie. My powerhouse battlecruiser was just trundling along, absorbing attacks from the enemy without shooting off a single missile. So I quickly made a new unit, a small cruiser with short and medium range weapons to join my heavy, changed battle tactics and enemies started going up in flames again.
Finding new homes
Running a galaxy-spanning empire sounds like a lot of work, but Endless Space 2 has a very clever way around this. Instead of managing a city and building the same improvements for hundreds of cities, the game zooms you out a bit. Actually, quite a lot. Now you manage a star system, rather than just a planet or per city. Tell the colonists what to build and watch them get to it. Worried about over expanding and your people becoming unhappy light years away from home? Your expansion only counts per star system that you have, meaning that if you find a system with several worlds (and you have the technology to build colonies on all of them) you will have a strong location to get big resource gains per turn, especially if you specialise each planet to make the most of its natural resources.
Combining all of these actions: finding the best research to do next; checking for new planets to colonise and trade routes to defend; upgrading your fleet with new weapons and armour; completing quests for improvements and faction specific technologies and more becomes the bread and butter of each turn. If you have too many systems, you can tell your governor to focus on one of the resources and build enhancements related to that resource, but sometimes they will get a bit confused, so make sure to check in on your automated systems.
My armies have literally eaten a path across the galaxy, leaving planets stripped of food, resources and non-Craver population.
In the late stages of the game there is still a lot of exploration happening, something I felt some 4X games lose in the end-game. Some of the anomalies on planets can’t be identified until your research is in the final layers of the science quadrant and there are planets that don’t sit outside of the star cluster, possibly rich in resources or critical to the faction quest of an enemy race. Finding those and colonising them could change the course of how close another faction is to victory. You can even ship some of your population over to speed things up on the new colonies.
So here I am again. It is well past my normal bedtime. But this time my army of Cravers, cyborg insectoids that were bred and moulded by the Endless for combat and eventually left on a prison planet to die, have risen up from their ashes. They have literally eaten a path across the galaxy, leaving planets stripped of food, resources and non-Craver population. Now armed with ships with weapons so mighty they can destroy planets, my fleets home in on the capital worlds of my remaining enemies. As I destroy their base of power they offer me 16,000 Dust, enough Dust to outright purchase the biggest ship in my fleet. I reject the offer and destroy their worlds, thousands of shattered pieces of planet hurtling around their home star. And I smile before starting a new game.