Apologies to Endless Space 2. There’s a lot to love about Amplitude’s latest turn-based strategy game, a reboot-of-sorts of the original Endless Space and a follow-on to 2014’s surprise hit Endless Legend.
But all I want to talk about is menus. And maybe the writing too. But mostly the menus.
Lost in space
Okay, fine. We’ll start with the writing, if only because it’s a more traditional place from which to launch. Those who played Endless Legend will be familiar with its “Questing” system, which provided each of the game’s factions its own storyline—within the confines of a traditional 4X game.
It wasn’t the first to do so, but the quality of Endless Legend’s writing was generally a cut above that found in other 4X games—Age of Wonders, for instance. Because of the limited mechanics of a 4X game most quests still generally consisted of “Go here and find/kill this,” but paragraphs of backstory and faction in-fighting gave the world a heft not found in many other genre flagships. Especially not the ones created from scratch. (Total War: Warhammer has a ton of story, for instance, but it’s drawing on years of pre-written lore.)
Endless Space 2 folds this same quest system, and the same attention to detail, into its tales of outer space. It’s an immediate improvement over the game’s predecessor, which often committed the cardinal space-game sin of feeling empty and boring. Lots to explore, but no compelling reason to do so.
Here, factions like the Mafia-esque traders of the Lumeris or the locust-like Cravers become not just a bag of statistics but an empire.
The Lumeris have bonuses to trade skills, sure. They can pay to instantly colonize other planets, sure. But those are pure mechanics. It's much more interesting to focus on their shady aura, the hints at backroom dealings and illicit goods smuggling, the way the various factions within the Lumeris vie for your favor, to picture the cigar smoke wreathed around your head and the ash falling onto your gaudy clothing.
That’s a faction with some depth. That’s a faction you play because it’s a character, not merely a skin over some math problems.
And that’s Amplitude’s strength, at least as far as Endless Legend and now Endless Space 2—making you care about another random 4X setting. Civilization has it easy. They lift from history. They rely on our preconceived notions of Queen Victoria or Teddy Roosevelt to draw us towards one faction or another.
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