The title ‘Endless Space’ is a misnomer which ever way you look at it; space in this game is most definitely finite, but it actually refers to the name of an ancient race of aliens who left loads of tech lying about, as ancient spacefaring races do. They’re not endless either though, because they’re all dead.
The game’s a 4x space thing of which we’ve seen before in the likes of Sins of a Solar Empire, AI Wars, Space Empires, and so on. The genius of this one, which for me makes it stand out, is its accessibility. The UI is great, giving you every option you need only a click or two away for the most part. Ship design takes a little getting the hang of, but it’s actually very simple once you sit and look at it. The tech trees let you zoom in to see details of what each tech unlocks. The AI is pretty passive but builds at a hefty speed, so even when I’ve lost a game I never feel (or more accurately know) I’m doing too badly until someone else wins. Makes a nice change from getting gang-invaded by huge fleets like I do in every other game.
Which brings me to the contentious point. Curious as to why I had niggling memories of this getting lukewarm reviews I dug out a PCG from around November. They praised most of the things I liked, but slated the combat system. It’s odd, I’ll give them that. Your fleets are limited by command points, and they’re pretty stingy. No vast armadas here, maybe half a dozen ships per fleet. You fight by picking ‘cards’ (or orders as I prefer to think of them, since videogames have no requirement for bits of card) for each of the three phases of the engagement; long, medium and melee range. Each weapon type works optimally at a certain range, most cards will benefit a certain range or weapon more than others, but crucially, each card will also counter a certain other card type. This makes the engagement a perpetual circle of rock-paper-scissors and trying to second guess and double bluff your opponent. Do you use weapon overclock to increase your kinetic damage at melee range? He’ll expect that so he might counter with defensive shields which will negate your bonus and give him extra defence. So do you use sabotage instead, which will give you the edge by reducing his defences, but knowing that if he goes for weapon overclock like you were originally going to he’ll do a lot of damage? You make your choices and take your chances.The problem PCG had was that the control you have in-battle is limited to switching cards out before the phase starts. Other than that you’re just watching it unfold in pretty streams of lasers and missiles. Personally I like that, because I hate micromanaging combat and I’m shit at it. Others may hate it though.
The best summary I can make is that it is to space 4x what Civ V was to the Civ series. It’s smooth and user friendly, without losing complexity, but some will feel like it’s dumbed down.