Some games are like candy—they’re fun, addictive and simple, but ultimately only provide superficial joy. On the other hand, there are games like steak—refined and substantive, but not something you want to play all the time. Endless Space 2 is something of a paradox within this metaphor: being addictive, but also deep and refined, Endless Space 2 is candy-steak.
If I’ve made this game sound simple, I sincerely apologize. Endless Space 2 is complex, layered and, just like every other game in the genre, at least a tad convoluted. That’s more the fault of the people who came up with the Grand Strategy genre without considering how one would go about explaining such a game. Within this genre, though, I can’t name a single other game I’d want to play more than Endless Space 2.
FIDSI Fi Fo Fum
Unless you’re a 4X aficionado, Endless Space 2 can only be defined in the most unspecific terms. You play one of eight different factions (you can also create your own), each of which have their own specific set of unique benefits, on your quest to explore a vast galaxy and claim victory over other empires in one of six ways.
Explaining Endless Space 2 in any further detail requires several explanations at each step and at least three sub-explanations for each of those explanations. Perhaps you’d ask how exactly you can win, to which I’ll tell you about the six different victory conditions ranging from Science, Economy, Conquest, Wonder, Score and Supremacy. Then I would start by explaining the Science victory, which requires you to research technology that unlocks new improvements which provide boosts to your FIDSI, and with that one victory condition, I’ve now introduced four new terms (research, technology, improvements and FIDSI) that all require further explanation, and FIDSI requires five more explanations because it stands for Food, Industry, Dust, Science and Influence, all new terms to those unfamiliar with the Endless series. And trust me, this can go on forever.
That being said, Endless Space 2 has an incredibly detailed tutorial that will take you painstakingly through every detail you could possibly have questions about, transforming you from complete noob into 4X-pert in no time. After you get over the steep learning curve, you’ll be absolutely enthralled by everything Endless Space 2 has to offer.
Liberty And Air
Perhaps the best aspect to discuss in more detail in this limited capacity is picking a faction, as this can drastically change each and every game you decide to play. Right off the bat, there are eight of them, each with their own lore and, perhaps more importantly, their own abilities. They’re each good at something different and gain different resources in different ways.
Because of this, not only do you know more about the faction as which you play, but Endless Space 2 feels like a different game each time you play it. In other games, such as Stellaris, you essentially do the same thing each time. In Endless Space 2, you are able to do all the same things each time, but you may build up a huge bustling economy with one faction while barely scraping by the next time you play with a different faction, as your efforts are better spent elsewhere.
Amplitude Studios has created impressive variety. Combine that with Endless Space 2’s addictive nature, and I don’t know how I’m ever going to stop playing, since now I’ll have to play and win with each different race, of course.
Space War And Peace
In any 4X grand strategy game that purports to let you play it how you choose and pursue your own path to victory (i.e. every grand strategy game), the question of war and combat always comes up. Can you avoid it entirely? Will military-focused strategies automatically win out over non-violent strategies? These are good questions to ask, as the wrong answer will create a scenario where all that variation in race is for naught, because the race that is better at killing everyone else will be the victor.
Endless Space 2 mostly avoids any such problem. Its diplomacy system prevents complete domination with one or even two wars, allowing either the winning or losing side to force a truce once the war has gone on long enough. This truce is temporary of course, but it sucks up a lot of resources for the winning side and gives time to prepare again by the losing side.
More than that, Endless Space 2 has a limit to the amount of systems one empire can conquer without suffering serious internal consequences, such as unhappiness and rebellion. So, they may be able to take territory away from you, but they won’t be able to gain it. While it is still difficult to avoid combat entirely, it’s just as difficult to rely solely on it.
Not So Endless Legend-ary
That being said, the issue with battles in space has nothing to do with one’s reliance on it or reluctance to participate in it. It’s more to do with the lack of intricacy. Having played a considerable amount of Endless Space 2 thus far, the combat is either disappointingly simple or it’s too incredibly complex. You can outfit your ships with different sorts of weapons, sure, but battles always seem to come down to who has the bigger army and are executed with a simple attack command and resolve just as unceremoniously.
And this isn’t the case in Amplitude Studios’ more grounded (literally) Endless Legend. A 4X game with many of the same mechanics seems to have left out several combat aspects. While I seem to recall you could skip the intricate parts of Endless Legend’s combat, you could also enter and control the battlefield in a separate screen, allowing you to move and reposition different units, taking advantage of terrain to funnel or isolate your targets and choosing your attack. It introduced another layer of strategy beyond simply building a bigger army.
I understand that Endless Space 2 is limited by that second word in its name: space. You can’t “take advantage of terrain” where there is no terrain. While I understand this, I do miss the more hands-on option that Endless Legend provided. Admittedly, I’m unfamiliar with how individual battles took place in the original Endless Space, but even if they got better, it’s still not quite at the desired level.
Despite a bit of a misstep regarding space battles, I have very little to complain about when it comes to Endless Space 2. Any bugs or other technical frustrations I had in the Early Access have disappeared with the full release, which also includes a whole new Faction that I can’t wait to play.
And I must again praise Endless Space 2’s depth, that seems… well… endless. I’ve put more than 40 hours into Endless Space 2, and, while I still feel like there are things I don’t understand and I’m not always sure if I’m doing the right thing, I also don’t want to stop playing. Endless Space 2 is addictive, rewarding and substantive, and it stands tall in the 4X genre even among the greats of Stellaris and Civilization.