I don't think I could have been more surprised by—or more addicted to—last year's Endless Space. Pulling myself away from it long enough to write up a proper review proved challenging. This review has proven difficult to write too, but sadly, for all the wrong reasons. After a series of small, free updates, Endless Space finally has its first true expansion in Disharmony, but despite some genuinely good ideas, it hurts the core game as much as it helps it. Maybe even worse.
The very first thing that I noticed as I booted up the game with anticipation is that something was off performance-wise. Even simple menu transitions didn't seem as smooth. Once I was in-game, I headed straight back to the gorgeous planetary view screen I had once gazed at longingly for hours and as I feared, scrolling from planet to planet caused the frame-rate to buck like a rodeo bull—and on my Crysis 3-ready rig. After running the original on max settings with better results on an inferior machine, this was disappointing to say the least.
Of course, while performance can impact the overall enjoyment, it doesn't impact gameplay where turn-based strategy is concerned. I was truly impressed with Endless Space's interface, and the concept behind its combat engine. Most of what was good about the original is still here. That said, a few quizzical changes have been made, and much of what's been added represents more of a step sideways than forward.
The most glaring example of this is the new streamlined ship-building interface, which now only allows you to apply the most advanced versions of any given module to a ship, even if said ship might be lacking sufficient capacity to make said module worthwhile. I just cannot fathom why this simplification would be forced upon the player rather than be left optional. It's a crippling blow to what was one of Endless Space's best elements.
Combat has received the most attention in Disharmony, and this is where the expansion's best additions lie. Different weapon systems can now be set to fire at ranges besides their native ones, giving you more ways to engage with any given fleet of ships. Beams, ballistics, and missile-based weapons will still function best at their optimal ranges, but being able to fire them at the phase of battle you desire puts more control in your hands, as does the added ability to set fleet formations and specify priority targets. Endless Space's battles have always played out deliberately, with a focus on large-scale decision-making, and these particular choices always felt like they were missing. Their inclusion makes combat feel more complete, and furthers the sensation of being an intelligent admiral making the key tactical calls.
Some other martial additions include fighters, bombers, and even planetary invasion and bombardment options. On paper, these are welcome additions, covering a few of the minor blind spots in what felt like a mostly complete 4X title. And though they don't do any harm, each of these features feels a bit thin. The planetary-assault decisions are extremely binary, so you'll rarely wonder whether, or how, to go ahead with world domination. Bombers and fighters make so much sense to have, I can't believe I didn't notice their absence until now, but ultimately their impact is nominal. You only need them because your opponents now have them, but they do make battles look more epic in scale than they did before, so… there's that.
The final addition, for which the expansion is named, is a new playable faction known as The Harmony. Their most distinguishing attribute is their race-wide hatred for Dust, the fictional monetary unit in the Endless Space universe. In step with this bit of lore, The Harmony cannot make any use of Dust, nor can they produce it. So rather than having a tax slider to balance productivity with the satisfaction of your people, you instead have a slider that distributes your efforts between science and industry, with no satisfaction to consider. It's a bold change of mechanics, and it does make you play The Harmony in an entirely different way, but mostly by limiting what you can do rather than expanding it. No Dust means no speeding of production, no purchasing of hero units, and no means for economic victory. It's an interesting curveball, but not necessarily one that feels fun.
I want to love Endless Space: Disharmony as wildly as I did the original, but in its current state I simply cannot. The performance issues, and borked ship-building alone are reason enough for me to forego this expansion, and the other additions, though inoffensive, don't come near to making me second guess that notion.