Can you believe that the first game by Amplitude Studios launched in 2012?
You’d think that with their strong position on the PC market with such titles as Endless Space, Endless Legend and the smaller, yet totally enjoyable Dungeon of the Endless, the French studio has been around forever. Yet it was founded in 2011 and for six years it has been steadily building its position among the PC crowd, leading to a buyout by Sega in 2016. With this act Amplitude joined other superb PC studios owned by the publisher, Creative Assembly and Relic. Nice crowd to be in, isn’t it?
A Proper Introduction
And now we can play Endless Space 2, backed up by all the marketing might of Sega, a game that used its Early Access period well to hone all the features and develop its components.
The first installment, Endless Space, was primarily distinguished by its weirdness and a very different approach to the presentation of races. The problem with the game, however, was that in the end everything boiled down to war, whether you were leading a race bent on scientific research or focused on dominance.
You can’t have enough of 4X games set in space, though, so Endless Space tickled the right crowd and Amplitude could go full-weird with Endless Legend, a turn-based weird-fantasy strategy game that bent and broke the rules of the genre. Now Amplitude is giving us the same treatment with the sequel and it is simply put, glorious it is.
Tell me a Story
The first thing that makes Endless Space 2 stand out from the crowd is its narrative. The otherwise excellent Stellaris by Paradox tried to do this and succeeded for the most part, but the mid-game has suffered substantially narration-wise. Endless Space 2 does not repeat the same mistake.
You start out with one planet and dreams of conquest (or other dreams, if you belong to another race with completely different ambitions). You quickly receive quests that take you along a proper path to building a space faring empire. These not only ease you into the game’s system, but work as narratives on their own thanks to superb writing. There’s humor, irony, wit and an abundance of style that makes you want to read a space opera by the game’s writers. But you don’t have, because you are creating that space opera.
Consider one of the first missions of the United Empire, your basic, human “For the Emperor” faction hell-bent on controlling everything and everyone, because if you control them, they can’t control you. Information is provided that there are some rebellious scums trying to scam the Empire from precious resources, a dissident element that does not like the reality of the nation’s society. Now you can choose a path and depending on your choices you can make an example of them or dispose of them silently, not to provide your enemies with reasons for disobedience. Your choices have consequences, though, and not just in the form of pop-up text messages, because…
Weird Political Fiction
Your faction consists of minor parts, each with their own agenda and attitude towards development. The aforementioned United Empire for example like the Industrialists’ faction, because nothing fuels a proper war like a well-developed economy. If, however, in the course of your quests, choices and scientific development other factions rise in the political structure, the expansion of your main faction will look a bit different, with different agendas and politics. And this is just one major faction of the game!
You have to remember that during your space adventures in cultural dominance you will meet other races and minor factions, which, if under your rule, will have an impact on the way you can do things. The interacting systems of trade, migration, war and economy, and to a smaller degree the narration, make every decision important on a small scale, but when you add all of them up…
Another aspect of the game that makes it so great is the audio and video. Make no mistake, you can’t really do anything super new with the SF 4X genre, but Amplitude just knows what it is doing. The United Empire, even though the most standard of all the major factions, is still presented just beautifully. And the soundtrack is just tremendous, immerses you in the universe of different star faring races, space battles and a weird galaxy full of wonders. There are strange artifacts to uncover, totally alien races to subdue or befriend and a complex system to master.
Being a part of the 4X crowd has its downsides, though, so prepare to be stunned by all those intricate systems at the beginning and using tooltips incessantly to remind yourself what needs to be done next or what was done poorly. I know that stat screens and complex, interacting systems won’t put off the more hardcore PC crowd, but you need to keep this in your mind. This game takes time to master and once you do it, it will suck all your free hours into oblivion.
It seems that every next game by Amplitude is just better. The studio is more experienced now, but that does not mean that they are planning on resting on their laurels and spitting out sequel after slight different sequel. When you compare Endless Space 1 and 2 you can that those 5 years between their launches have made a huge difference, only emboldening the devs to try harder and weirder. I can’t wait for their next project and the waiting will be filled with space colonization tales and histories of conflict in the wonderfully realized universe of Endless Space 2.