A lot of reviewers have characterized Endless Space as a slick, modern space strategy that lacks the complexity and personality of classics such as Master of Orion 2.
I agree with that assessment overall but it’s worthwhile to delve a bit into the specifics.
First, anyone would agree the challenge and complexity of modern “remakes” like XCOM and Endless Space is reduced. In XCOM it takes the form of pre-defined bases, pre-specced troopers, with extremely limited weapon choices.
In Endless Space, however, the whole nature of combat has changed, and I don’t mean turn-based tactics vs real-time. In Master of Orion 2 (MOO2), you were able to deploy your ships and adjust even the angles of approach. You were able to select which weapons to fire at which target. Thus when designing your ships, their speeds, shields, even the distribution of weapons made a great deal of difference in combat.
Endless Space combat is simplistic to the extreme. Your ships automatically do everything, you are in the role of a fleet commander choosing “tactics” such as +20% laser damage. One the worst drawbacks is the inability to choose targets which means that a lot of damage is wasted when your Dreadnought shoots all his guns at a scout (1 full broadside), while the enemy Dreadnought is pounding at him.
Let’s explore the 4X’s and do a side by side comparison.
Exploration in MOO2 is limited to the range of your drives. As such, you are required to leapfrog your way, building colonies at strategic systems in order to extend your range.
Also, exploration is very dangerous. Finding the perfect system often means losing the scout to a space dragon; finding Orion means facing the Guardian.
By comparison, Endless Space has exploration on easy mode. Exploring your starting constellation doesn’t require anything. The only critical research is the warp tech and it comes very early and cheaply. At fast speed, it comes before turn 15.
Starting your first colony ship on turn 1, MOO2 asks you to wait for 23 turns. In Endless Space (ES), the colony ship takes the same amount of production as a scout and it takes 2-3 turns to produce one.
However, ES has ways to limit your expansion that are often erratic and frustrating. When you settle a planet, your other planets (often just homeworld) become unhappy about your expansion policies, which reduces their output. It becomes necessary to manage unhappiness on a few isolated systems, which cannot be done through taxes but requires special research and construction. If you are a MOO2 veteran coming to ES, you’ll build a ton of colonies and then find out you have done irreparable damage to your happiness.
Again, ES interface shines when it comes to managing planets. The systems look very beautiful and since you are building improvements for the whole system, it is easy to queue construction.
Streamlining – check.
Complexity, however, again takes a toll. There’s food vs industry vs science but you’re never really wondering what to build next. Frankly, I worry more about happiness and the cost of improvements than optimizing my production. Speaking of streamlining gone too far, there’s just ONE factory, everything else is either % increase or per capita increase in production. Same with science – one “lab”.
I’ve covered combat briefly above and in more detail here (combat at max difficulty). Let’s do a bullet list of all the ways that ES combat is gimped compared to MOO2
- You don’t have control over your ships; you cannot select a ship and move it closer, while the others sit back; you cannot move away; speed is pointless;
- You cannot select a target for your ship and you cannot select which weapons to use; fleets with few ships are at a distinct disadvantage;
- If it wasn’t for the fact that big ships can stack a ton of armor and defense, which skews the balance towards invulnerable ships
- The AI builds mixed fleets of junk designs and compensates it with tons of them – at max difficulty, there could be 40 fleets on a homeworld, no problem.
- There is no challenge in the form of “monsters” like amoeba or Guardian; there isn’t an award either (no Orion);
- There are no Antarans breathing down your neck with ever more powerful ships
- There are no races like Silicoids who will take a third of the galaxy, eating stones for breakfast
The worst offender is the weapons design. It’s so bad, it deserves at least a paragraph.
There are three types of weapons in ES: kinetic, lasers, and missiles. Each of them excels at certain ranges (kinetic up close, missiles from afar). However, you don’t have control on movement, so your missile boats will happily close distance and get obliterated at close range. So it doesn’t really matter which one you chose, other than laser feels more versatile.
The bigger problem is that weapons in Endless Space follow a linear progression, starting at 10 (power) and ending at around 210. There are no variations and no tricks. There are no special weapons like black hole generators. Also, there’s no point in doing enough research, so you can fit a blackhole generator on a … medium hull. No, you put the latest weapons you have researched. Period.
Last, let’s talk about hulls. In Endless space you basically have just three: destroyer at 100 space, battleship/cruiser at 200, and dreadnought at 400. Once you research the next hull, you rarely look back (unless you’re building suicide destroyers). Also, there are no differences in the designs you do. In destroyers, you select one type of defense, in battleships, you try to cover all, and in dreadnoughts you over-compensate with tons of defense. That’s about it.
In MOO2, you have six types of hulls and you are using almost every type. Space progression is 25, 60, 120, 250, 500, 1200. That’s 48 times difference between a scout and a Doom star as opposed to 4. Endgame your fleets have a lot of big ships but defeating the Guardian, for example, requires a very specialized fleet of destroyers (medium hull) armed with very special missiles. The battle is highly positional as well as challenging (hint: you also suicide most of them do destroy the Guardian’s shield).
Oh, did I mention there are no special modules such as Warp Dissipator, Subspace Teleporter, Quantum Detonator, or Phasing Cloak.
Invasions are another aspect where ES has dumbed things down way too much. When you invade a system, you see a ring that fills gradually. That’s it. No ground assaults, no Bulrathi madman killing 10 psilons. The worst part about invasions is the lack of bombardment and colony destruction. There is no way to destroy a colony and considering the quality of the systems and the penalty to happiness, I’d rather get rid of at least 50%. Maybe I should trade them to another AI.
In conclusion, I want to sound fancy, so here it is: “In the brave new world of classic games remade, the gameplay is targeted at betas, not at alphas.” Being old (I’ve played the originals in the 90s), I want to feel like an alpha again.