Having not been a huge fan of 4X strategy games, I was reluctant to try Endless Space, the debut PC title from Amplitude Studios. Slogging through a chess match, managing resources, doing the research and then indulging in turn-based, limited movement combat just didn't hold a lot of appeal. Don't get me wrong, I like some civilization-style games, like … well … Civilization, Age of Empires and Tropico. But every once in a while, a game comes along that changes one's opinion about the genre it represents. Endless Space is just such a game.
Graphically pleasing, this debut title from Amplitude Studios brings a wonderful, easy-to-navigate and downright helpful user interface to the genre. No more noses buried in a manual trying to find out how to accomplish something. The folks at Amplitude seem to get that many gamers dispense with manuals in favor of simply diving in and playing. And it's little wonder. While Amplitude may be a new company, the dev team is comprised of seasoned veterans, featuring designers from such titles as Battlefield, Rayman, Ghost Recon, Call of Juarez, and Heroes of Might & Magic.
So, yes, Endless Space is a space-based strategy game. It is downloadable (Steam has it, and you can get it on amazon.com) and comes in two flavors: the Admiral and Emperor editions. The latter is the special edition that has a few extras, like the Emperor Guard extra skin pack.
Don't know what a 4X game is? Simply put, it is a turn-based strategy game based on four "X's" — eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. You are given a small empire, you build it up by colonizing, building resources (or simply ravishing other areas for what you need), researching technologies, building up your military and then attacking other areas.
There are a couple of ways to expand your empire. You can either conquer and take what you need, or you can go down the path of the peaceful nation and use diplomatic means to acquire empire-building materials. Players can also take on the computer at a more relaxed pace (recommended to start) or hook up online against others for a more robust challenge.
Leaping into the game is easy. Pick one of the eight races, start a new campaign against the computer, and the game will walk through the basic elements. Any previous experience with a strategy, civ-building game or 4X game means foregoing the tutorial and getting down to business. It's a lot like chess, only with different ways to win (which the player decides in advance).
Endless Space has some of the same basic elements that so many others in the genre sport. Where it stands out is in the learning curve and how the game uses the interface to help players through what would otherwise be a confusing and deep playground. The combat elements could have been a bit deeper and actually come across as being a bit light after working up to the point in research where there is an armada capable of cruising space looking for trouble.
Graphically, the game is solid, and the musical score that plays behind the game is decent as well.
Is Endless Space enough to change anti-strategy gaming fans opinions about 4X strategy games? Maybe not, but it is a great introduction to the genre. Plus it is the kind of game that encourages thought, rather than plowing ahead and killing everything that is in the way. The game plays well and is likely the first in a vast universe of potential for Amplitude Studios.