Of course, it’s possible to conquer the galaxy without launching a single ion torpedo, and the game’s true excitement comes from finding new ways to optimize your empire. Different types of planets make for unique advantages, provided you’ve unlocked the technology to exploit them. We found an addictive and satisfying strategy in aggressively expanding our empire by building up our population with surplus food. Pumping out the ships to ferry our people, our colonies soon dotted the galaxy. And having maintained friendly relations with our interstellar neighbors, we soon opened our borders for a bustling xenotourism business.
Still, Endless Space is a game you’ll only like if you’re really into strategy games, and its woefully dry tutorial isn’t going to produce any converts. First-time players are treated to long-winded, text-only explanations of the game’s every facet. Simply walking the player through a few turns would’ve been much more effective, and far less painful. While the game features some nice voice-over introducing each species, not making the player read so much “how-to” should have been a higher priority, especially since the species backstories are ultimately just window dressing, due to the lack of a campaign.
Still, audio is definitely a strong suit for Endless Space. Getting back to the planetarium aesthetic we discussed, the soundtrack would go perfectly with an electric light show. It’s synthy and soothing, but upbeat enough to keep you alert. The writing is equally charming. Sci-fi fans will spot the occasional Kurt Vonnegut or Dr. Who reference, and the game expresses its difficulty settings with a wit that will make any history buff smile – describing Easy mode, the game says “If this was Wellington, we’d all be speaking French.”
As a turn-based space sim, Endless Space is essentially preaching to the choir. Its pacing, minimal story and lack of ground-level interaction isn’t going to bring any new gamers to the fold (lightning-fingered StarCraft fans, stay far away). Luckily, the game gets big charm out of its aesthetics and what little writing it does have, and the core gameplay is balanced and nuanced. If you still have Alpha Centaurai on your hard drive, or keep yourself up at night with “just one more turn” in Civilization V, prepare to lose some sleep with this pretty space sim.