Endless Space 2 Review – A New Challenger Arises

Endless Space 2
Amplitude Studios/Sega

Six hours into my first game of Endless Space 2, I’d managed to carve out a pretty expansive region of the galaxy for my burgeoning civilization of tree people. The Unfallen as they are referred to, were a pacifistic race of ancient tree-like beings whom have just recently taken to the stars. They’ve made the massive jump into the great inky abyss because “The Others” (what The Unfallen call aliens) are fighting amongst themselves and these various conflicts are now threatening The Unfallen’s homeworld.

My civilization’s first alien contact was with a race of other dimensional beings known as the Riftborn, whom had likewise become threatened because our reality had recently begun seeping into theirs. At first they were haughty and dismissive of my puny (at the time) little fledgling empire. But as soon as I began taking star systems close to their borders faster than they could, their attitude quickly changed to one of acquiescence and humility. Shortly thereafter they eventually became my ally.

The way in which The Unfallen colonized and assimilated worlds is highly unique. Once one of my Seed Vessels would reach a system it planted beacons within them. From there, my homeworld (which was pretty much a living ball of trees) would send out deep space, spectral tree tendrils which would envelope the entirety of said star system, and claim it as an extension of the homeworld. The only drawback was that I could only take over star systems that were connected to my previously procured star systems via space lanes. If anything broke up this pattern, such as the borders of other empires, my connection to these systems could become broken.

My explorer vessels had been busy zipping around the galaxy in an effort to chart as much of it as possible. In my travels I’d come across all seven of the other races. Most of them were pleasant enough encounters, but a couple of them saw my unarmed explorers destroyed without any form of provocation whatsoever. One race stood out as particularly hostile—the Vodyani.

The Vodyani were a race of disembodied entities who were required to tie their life essences, if that’s what you could call them, to containment suits. They were ardent religious zealots who viewed other species as objects to be manipulated…or destroyed outright. Typically, they’d dispatch an invasion force to an occupied system, deploy some of its life-draining modules, and suck the life force out of every living thing in it—like true space vampires.

I’d just constructed my first proper fleet of battleships when I suddenly received an alert from one of my star systems on the fringes of my interstellar domain. The Vodyani had deployed some of their parasitic starships above one of my planets and were draining it of its life. This wasn’t going to end well for them…

As you can probably tell, Amplitude Studios’ new space strategy 4X title, Endless Space 2, has some real diversity going for it. The sequel to its 2012 indie hit forebear, Endless Space, ES 2 went all out in differentiating all eight of its highly diverse races even more this time around. You have the great United Empire, who are humans with a serious case of greed and avarice; the Sophons, galactic eggheads; the Lumeris, who were basically a futuristic version of the mafia; the Horatio, and vast empire of clones; the Cravers, who want to feast on just about everything; as well as the aforementioned Riftborn, Vodyani, and my personal favorite, The Unfallen.

Each race operates differently and has its own way of doing things. For instance, the Vodyani are never required to send settler vessels to star systems in order to colonize planets. They merely need to transport one of their gigantic “Ark ships” into a system, and it will automatically begin to parasitically drain all of the planets within it.  I really, really enjoy this facet of ES 2, as it not only allows ample opportunities for emergent storytelling, but also provides plenty of asymmetrical gameplay between the disparate factions.

Game mechanics-wise, ES 2 more or less plays out just like most science fiction 4X tiles—you send out explorer vessels in order to check out the regions around your homeworld; gain resources as you colonize star systems; build up a naval fleet; and then attempt to wipe out your competition. However, ES 2 allows you to also conquer your foes through means other than just combat. Indeed, there are an entire array of ways that you can win the game, which was a refreshing surprise from what I normally expect to see with your typical 4X title, generally speaking. There is a new political system to play around with, and other new mechanics in place that allow you to better manage your various different populations. The diplomacy features have also been overhauled and streamlined, but are no less complex or intricate.

As you may have also gleaned by reading about my first game, ES 2 can have a very slow-burning build-up. It takes quite a while to colonize star systems, and much of your early game time will pretty much be occupied with exploring the space around your homeworld, developing technological applications, and developing the infrastructures of your various colonized worlds. Since the ability to construct starships built for combat is so far along down each race’s tech tree, it usually takes quite a bit of time before you even have to think about combat. But when conflict does arise, ES 2 really shows itself off.

The first ES game’s much-lauded cinematic combat system is back. Except that in this sequel, it is more clearly presented as well as easier to manage. For instance, you can now observe how each space battle plays out from a more tactical, overhead viewpoint. But why would you? Once you make your strategic decisions and start a battle, the cinematic rendering of each skirmish is a joy to behold. Not only are the ships and their various weapons and combat effects displayed with even more detail this time around, but the stellar backdrops are truly breathtaking. ES 2 is definitely a looker, make no doubt about it.

In all, I’d consider Endless Space 2 to be a brilliant follow-up to the original title. It does come with a pretty hefty learning curve, but there are handy, well-explained tutorials on hand to ease coming to grips with all of its formidable features and components. With a recently overhauled Galactic Civilizations 3, and burgeoning Stellaris, we’ve seemingly entered a new golden age for the space strategy 4X genre. Having said that, I’m confident that Endless Space 2 will nevertheless rise to the occasion.

SCORE: 84%

Endless Space 2 offers some amazing graphics that match its science fiction theme. However, you have to have a pretty fast gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:

 

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