Endless Space Preview

by on 2nd May 2012

Amplitude Studios gave us the opportunity to test drive their upcoming game, Endless Space, a 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) game that draws extensively from a personal favorite of mine, Master of Orion 2, while adding some bits of Civilization to the mix, and improving to the formula with their personal touch.

Please note that the game we were able to test was an alpha, this means it’s an early version with many bugs and incomplete features; that said, I was personally impressed with the level of polish the current alpha has, everything ran smoothly and I encountered few bugs, none of which was too serious.

You are in command of an empire, and your objective is galactic domination by warfare, trade, and diplomacy. The game is played in turns, placing Endless Space in the same family as Master of Orion, Galactic Civilizations and Sword of the Stars, rather than a relative of Sins of a Solar Empire.

Each turn you get to make decisions regarding your empire’s military operations, research efforts, planetary production, trade between star systems, diplomacy with strange alien species, etc. These decisions will either lead you to a satisfying victory, or an utter defeat worthy of mockery.

The game felt fresh, yet intensively familiar; Amplitude seems to have successfully expanded upon the good ideas of past games, while avoiding the past mistakes of their shameful sequels. I could get a grip on almost everything by simply flipping each interface screen; generous usage of tooltips and good navigation between the UI made learning the game easy. In case this is not enough, an in-game tutorial (if enabled) guides you through each screen the first time you open it, the explanations are short and useful; this is a game which clearly wants you to play it, and will do its best to help you have a good time. The interface is clean and highly polished, it’s packed with information yet it doesn’t throw it all in your face, the information you need is generally well presented and does not overwhelm you.

The galaxy map is where you’ll spend the majority of the game; looking at your empire unfolding upon an unsuspecting galaxy.

Each node in the graph represents a star system, this is more akin to Master of Orion and less like Sword of the Stars, with systems interconnected by lanes by which you may travel; this is comfortably similar to games like Ascendancy or the Humans in Sword of the Stars. Special travel lanes like wormholes exist, requiring special research to traverse.

Each system can contain a number of planets/moons/asteroid fields which you will colonize to expand your empire; certain bodies require specific technologies to colonize, for example Arctic class planets require the Compact Fusion Reactors technology.

From the galaxy map you command your fleets, moving them across your empire and into enemy territories, unleashing them upon enemies and pirates alike!

From here, you can also zoom in on a star system, to view details of the bodies composing it, the screen also indicates the population of your planets, current planetary exploitations, system production, resources, approval rating, etc.

Planetary exploitation is a semi-permanent change in the planet, shifting its purpose towards either labor, Dust gathering, science, or food; this is essentially a specialization of the planet.

I had one colony serving as a Colonial Industry Base, making it produce more labor points, while the other two colonies served as Colonial Exchanges, working towards trade and increasing Dust. There can be only one exploitation per planet at any given time, a planet cannot be a Colonial Exchange and an Industry Base at the same time.

It’s actually a nice balance between micro and macro management, in a 4X game your empire is bound to become large enough that handling all colonies/cities tends to become a hassle unless implemented properly and so far it seems Amplitude is on the right track, particularly since if you want to deal less with micromanagement of a large empire then you can always select a specific AI to take care of each system. The AI will focus on what you want it to, pretty neat, reminds me of System Governors in Master of Orion 3, minus the suckiness!

You can also get a glimpe of your whole empire in the Empire section. From here you can see what system is building what, labor/food/Dust/science production, ships stationed, etc.

Dust is basically currency, but with a bonus: Dust also provides amazing powers to those who are able to use it, think Spice from Dune; certain Heroes are able to use wondrous powers when sufficient Dust is available.

Research is pretty much like you expect it to be, you have a nice big tree of available research topics, each node indicating new technologies, system improvements or combat abilities among others that will become available, there is a nice variety and it looks lovely!

There are four available research brances: Exploration and Expansion, Diplomacy and Trading, Galactic Warfare, and Applied Sciences; balancing research between the four is essential for victory.

Diplomacy is functional, but nothing I haven't seen before. I was expecting more, as the game is pretty polished, but diplomacy felt a bit too bland for my taste. It’s essentially what we’ve seen in Civilization, minus the amusing character animations; but let’s not forget this is an alpha so I really hope this shines as much as the rest of the game in the final version.

From this screen you will offer peace treaties, form trade agreements, and declare war.

Ships are managed in fleets. From the moment you build a ship you start paying upkeep, but you are unable to use the ship until you assign it to a fleet; nothing prevents you from having one-ship fleets all around your empire, but each fleet also pays upkeep so you must think before assigning ships to fleets. While unassigned, your ships sit in star system hangars and are pretty useless.

As research progresses, you will have better technologies to refit your ships. You do this in the Fleet Management section. From here you can check on all your active fleets; disband them, merge them if they are on the same system, and you can make new ship designs or improve them. Say you have some nice, new, Plasma Torpedoes, and you want your existing “Ravager” Destroyer design to have them, instead of the old Unstable Torpedoes (not a name that inspires confidence). So you just select your “Ravager” design, click on Change, remove all your old torpedoes and add the new ones, and done, your design will be automatically called Ravager 2. From there you can select any “Ravager” class Destroyer that is in any planetary system you control, and you can refit it by paying in Dust; completely painless.

Heroes are special units that become available over time and are offered to you in the Academy section. Each Hero comes with special abilities which will aid you in your conquest. Combat abilities can be employed directly during space assaults, or administrative skills which will help your colonies blossom from hideous pimples in your shiny empire to glorious bastions of light (or darkness!).

Each Hero will be assigned by you to a space fleet or a planetary system, from there it will use its skills to, for example, increase Dust production of the system, or provide bonuses while attempting to short circuit enemy weaponry during combat. Over time, the Hero will level up and you will get to select more skills or improve upon existing ones.

Needless to say, the presence of a high level Hero may change the tide of battle!

Combat is interesting. It is certainly not what I’ve grown accustomed to, but that’s not to say it was bad - quite the contrary, I enjoyed it a lot! Space battles can be fought either in manual or in auto mode; in auto mode combat is resolved automatically by the AI and you are just presented with the battle outcome, manual mode is where things get fun.

Combat is resolved in four stages: Prologue, Long Range, Medium Range and Melee. All you can do in combat is decide which action you want your whole fleet to take on each of the three last phases. You can either fire kinetic barrages in all stages, or you can focus on ship repair so your ships will last until Melee, or you may try to disable enemy ship sensors, making them misfire. The idea is to decide your actions based on the composition of your fleet. Are your ships better equipped for long range combat than short range? Then you can select an attack action for the Long Range phase, and ship repair in the latter phases. As mentioned, the presence of Heroes may provide more actions, and some of them may have a Dust cost.

You have brief moments to decide your Long Range phase action before the Prologue phase ends (no pause), you can change actions right up to the point when the phase starts.

While you make your decisions, the battle unfolds cinematically, your ships firing or evading, the enemy cannons failing because of your sabotage actions, shields flashing when hit, it’s very entertaining to watch! But I do hope for more camera angles and ship movements in the final version.
This is where graphics really shine, and Endless Space has some pretty ship models and animations, but surely there will be more to talk about in the final version.

It certainly has a lot of potential, but I’m sure there is still a lot to be seen in the final version, and it is one 4X fans may want to keep an eye out for.
Some smaller things like planetary invasion or spying feel amiss, I cannot help but wish they will be included, we’ll just have to wait and see, but overall I had a good time with this one, can’t wait for release!

 

Add Comment Comments

silencer_pl\
7 May 2012 - 10:35am
silencer_pl

Pete, on 07 May 2012 - 10:24 AM, said:

I went with Emperor edition because to me it was still quite cheap with the 20% discount but I understand not everyone wants to part with more money for the same game (it is a bit nuts if you're never going to use your votes).
.

Gift me :P
Pete\
7 May 2012 - 10:24am
Pete
They literally just give you votes to spend on the remaining development.

I went with Emperor edition because to me it was still quite cheap with the 20% discount but I understand not everyone wants to part with more money for the same game (it is a bit nuts if you're never going to use your votes).

I think Emperor edition gives you access to a unique hero character too - one of the Endless species who the game is named after, which is also why I love the title of the game; not only is space endless, but you're playing in Endless space.

I think the small galaxy size I've picked for my first game is a bit too small though - I've already bumped into 2 other races, one with a rubbish firefight (scout ships do so little damage at the start that it was a draw, but very pretty :)).
Space Voyager\
7 May 2012 - 10:01am
Space Voyager
I have a q, too! As far as I went through the listed features of versions, I saw no gameplay reason to get the upped versions, just "honorary" ones. These mean very little to me, so I was thinking about getting the normal version. Have I missed something or would that be correct?
silencer_pl\
7 May 2012 - 9:52am
silencer_pl
By the way what version are you running ? On Stem there is Admiral and Emperor Edition. What are those G2G?
Pete\
7 May 2012 - 8:22am
Pete
Sure thing. The interface is so smooth I might record bits of it with FRAPS, but no promises. That said, I think the interface is smooth because I'm comparing it to MoO2, so I'm sure other games in the genre have looked nice since then too Posted Image

Az - your article has had over a thousand views in 3 days. That's a new record and I think testament to how interested people are in this game Posted Image
silencer_pl\
7 May 2012 - 6:40am
silencer_pl
Pete - will you share a screenie or two during your playthrough sesion? I might buy it later, since I will be killing Diablo in a week - so I don't want to buy any other game during this time :P
FullAuto\
6 May 2012 - 8:08pm
FullAuto
Simazing.
Pete\
6 May 2012 - 7:38pm
Pete
That's what put me off SotS to be honest, it's more detailed and I don't have the attention span for it. And the interface - I know, it's not all about looking pretty but it put me off as well Posted Image

I'd completely forgotten about Birth of the Federation - I had fun with that one but it just wasn't as replayable as MoO.

EDIT: Okay, I just bought Endless Space. Downloading now Posted Image

EDIT2: Downloaded and going through the tutorial screens. I've not even done anything yet but this game is gorgeous and the interface is simple but amazing (simply amazing).
Space Voyager\
6 May 2012 - 7:09pm
Space Voyager
Oh come on, you're acting as though SotS never came to be. It surpasses Ascendancy and MoOs by far, but it does demand an extended attention to grasp in its fullest.
SGCSG1\
6 May 2012 - 6:21pm
SGCSG1
I've been waiting for a good 4X space game since 'Ascendancy'.   I had hopes for 'Birth of the Federation' but that never really got finished.

I hope ES is setup to run on multiple cpu's.  These 4x games always slow down to nothing towards the end of the game.

This is the most promising one I've seen in a long, long time.  I was tempted to pre-order but 'summer' is a little too vague.
Pete\
6 May 2012 - 6:09pm
Pete
I've read more about this on other sites and I'm having to restrain myself from buying it as I can see my free time going out of the window but I'm on the verge of giving in and buying my first new game since Portal2 ;)

A common mistake I'm seeing people make when commenting on articles about the game is "those are nice cutscenes, but what do the battles really look like?" when they are, in fact, the battles.

For a mere £20 I might just get the fancy edition to show support more than anything. I'm not even sure I'd use my votes on the design but for £20 and so many comparisons to Master of Orion the game is right up my alley.

(Hang on, I also bought Revenge of the Titans, so this would be my first full-price game purchase, and even at this price it's a bargain).
Azrael Strife\
3 May 2012 - 4:37pm
Azrael Strife
Indeed, a problem we often find in 4X game is how time consuming and boring the micromanagement of large battles, not to mention colony management when you're empire is too big, this game is so far striking a good balance between micro and macro.
Pete\
3 May 2012 - 4:12pm
Pete
This looks really nice and about as complicated as I want to go with a 4x game.

The cinematic space battles certainly do sound appealing :)
Space Voyager\
3 May 2012 - 6:45am
Space Voyager
Thank you, AS! Great preview! The hands-off space battles approach reads just ideal for a grand strategy, I don't want to lead the ships by hand, make each roll over and such. Fleet actions are as far as an admiral handles it and this is the most I'm comfortable with.

 

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Endless Space Box
Developer: Amplitude Studios
Publisher: Amplitude Studios
Status:In Production

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