Endless Legend - Preview
Following on from the success of their first 4X game, Endless Space, Amplitude Studios have decided to stick with the lore created for that game. Their next two games focus on the planet Auriga, which has become central to the story as a planet devastated during the civil war of the ancient race known as the Endless. The first of these two games to be released onto Steam’s early access was a rogue-like game known as Dungeon of the Endless. More recently we saw the early access release of Endless Legend, their second 4X.
There are two popular ways to create a 4X game: either conquering a single world, a city at a time - or conquering the galaxy, a planet at a time. Endless Space was the latter of these whilst Endless Legend is the former - with a fantasy tilt. Endless Space was referred to by many as ‘Civilization in space’ so it stands to reason that if the game was moved back to a planetary scale, it would become just another Civilization clone. Indeed, as with many hex based 4X games, a quick glance at the screenshots is likely to reinforce that impression. This, however, is not the case. There are plenty of mechanics that have been adapted from Endless Space into this game, as well as entirely new features that makes this a fairly unique entry into a genre that’s seen quite a resurgence over the past few years.
The first, and most obvious change, is that the world is divided into regions and you can only build one city per region. There are typically neutral forces in these regions you need to sway to your way of thinking through either conflict, bribes or completing quests for them. Your cities will then, in a manner traditional for the genre, collect resources from the hexes surrounding the city. The icons for these will be immediately familiar to Endless Space veterans: food, industry, dust (currency) and science - with a new resource, influence, being added into the mix. City growth is unusual in that a cities radius doesn’t increase automatically with population. Rather, you construct a city improvement which allows you to add extra hexes to be ‘exploited’ for resource collection - allowing you irregular city shapes. You can also build extractors for special resources anywhere within your cities region, rather than having to ensure that resource is within your city boundaries.
With Endless Space, the developers took a minimalist approach to combat and this sequel is no different. The games take a big-picture approach to war with you dictating the overall strategy and trusting your battlefield commanders to carry out the actual fight with little input from you. Your job is to make sure your empire has the infrastructure and resources to create the military forces you want, and then to ensure those forces are in the right place at the right time. Your forces are grouped together in armies occupying one hex and when a fight begins, your units spread out across a stylised version of the strategic map with the detail stripped back, apart from elevation features. This is a nice blend between games which have you fight on the strategy map and those that zoom in for separate tactical fights. After selecting a unit's basic stance (whether it will hold back or close on the enemy), an automated turn-based fight will begin with the computer moving and attacking with your units and the enemies in turn. Every few goes you are given the opportunity to override the computer in a limited fashion by changing stance, moving units or selecting a specific target to attack. Think of match day on Football Manager; it’s mostly up to your team at this point and your best opportunities to influence the outcome have already been and gone.
Endless Legend has a similar unit cap per army limit as Endless Space but counters it with a new reinforcement feature. As a battle progresses, other armies and units in the same region will join the fight every few turns - providing you can survive until they arrive. Your units themselves gain experience from fights which improve their attributes, as does the equipment they hold. This brings us to another unusual feature of this game - equipping non-hero units. Most games of this type have dozens of different units but all they tend to really boil down to are melee offense, defense and ranged units of varying strengths. Endless Legend acknowledges this by only giving you these basic unit types and then providing you with a spin-off of the ship builder from Endless Space to create your own variants of these prototype units. You can create as many templates as you wish, using any equipment you have researched and for which you have the resources. The better equipped they are, the more powerful they’ll be but also, more expensive.
As noted in the review of Endless Space, the research tree was not very helpful. You were presented with a screen of many icons that present no useful information until you hover over them. All you could really do is learn over multiple play-throughs roughly where the useful upgrades for your playstyle lie. Endless Legends does things a little bit different, rather than a tree, it is era-based in a way reminiscent of Age of Empires. You have access to selected technologies which you can research in any order, and once you have researched a certain number, the next era opens up with new technologies. Unfortunately, these are once again represented only by icons leaving you having to hover over each one to see what they do. It does however make things less overwhelming as you are faced with a smaller number at a time to consider rather than the whole tree. The lack of prerequisites, because of the era system, also means that you are never left behind in picking up essential technology - such as the wormhole technology in Endless Space!
The game features a new resource beyond those featured in Endless Space - influence. There are two main uses for this: diplomacy and setting up an empire plan. As well as the traditional trading for resources and technology with other players, you can also use your influence to sway negotiations. The empire plan, which you develop every twenty turns, allows you to use your influence to gain substantial benefits if your play during the subsequent turns does indeed align with your plan.
One final thing of note is a quest system which gives direction to your play in the early game and may prove invaluable to those new to the sandbox type play of a 4X. It’s not unusual these days for games to have a tutorial to teach you the mechanics, but these quests nicely encourage basic early game strategy to those who may otherwise be lost after the tutorial. They direct you to do things such as build more cities, construct a decent sized army and construct essential city improvements.
Several years ago, turn-based strategy, as a genre, looked dead in the water. It’s seen something of a resurgence over the past few years to the point where people may be asking if they need yet another one. Endless Legend is not a clone of any other game. It has influences from the staples of the genre, but also plenty of features from its prequel Endless Space, as well as some entirely new features. This is a unique entry in the genre, all wrapped up in the slick UI that Endless Space was famous for. It is well worth any turn-based fans keeping an eye out for - even if they thought they were getting burnt out on the genre.