What is it about 4X games (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate) that compels us to continue to play them long after the night has drawn in and in some cases hear the dawn chorus the following morning? Why does this specific genre command so much attention and what can be done to make it even more entertaining than it already clearly is?
It is these two questions that Amplitude Studios have attempted to answer with their much celebrated games of Endless Space and Endless Legend. After playing Endless Space 2
and chatting to Jeff Spock, the Narrative Director from Amplitude Studios, I think they are getting ever closer to answering these two fundamental questions, or at the very least a hint of how they can.
Endless Space 2
is a space-bound 4X title that uses the fundamental turn-based structure that is traditional for this genre and places it at the forefront of the game's interface. Everything is designed out from the fact that the player has a limited amount of actions per turn depending on resources available and units that are under the player's control.
The build of Endless Space 2
I played had me controlling the Cravers. These are a machine/biological hybrid who are hellbent on destroying everything they come into contact with. Essentially they're a race who were constructed to destroy and are thus seeking to do that very thing to all sentient beings they encounter.
With the Cravers not really into representative democracy and preferring a totalitarian method of rule, the hive mind set about exploring, expanding and exterminating as they regard the 'eXploit' part as a byproduct of destroying things. Planets were discovered, resources gathered and ships sent to eradicate a newly discovered target... I mean 'race', known as the Sophons.
It is at this point I should point out how combat works in Endless Space 2
and how it marks it out as different from many other space-bound 4X games. For rather than have grandiose tactical battles as an option, the player is only allowed to submit to a particular formation that is then followed as best the computer can via a series of sub-routines. Combat then plays out with a cutscene that represents the ensuing engagement. This is typically pre-determined based on the attributes of the ships in the fleets involved in the battle and there is nothing the player can do to change the outcome.
One of the most striking aspects of Endless Space 2
is the very clean style of user interface and the way it which it represents space. Additionally, each race has its own style of ships, with the Sophons preferring sleek curves and exquisitely designed hulls compared to the Cravers, who simply found whatever was lying around and slung it into space.
After playing Endless Space 2
I spoke to Jeff Spock of Amplitude Studios about what is different from the original Endless Space
and its sequel. The key point he raised here was resources. When Endless Space
was released Amplitude Studios was around 17 people strong. Now it is over twice that size and has more money and resources to throw at projects, including Endless Space 2
This has given the team the chance to focus on what was missing in the previous title in that it was a largely empty universe. Yes, beings inhabited it, but little was known about the lore of the universe and the races place in it. Endless Space 2
has addressed this by adding much more detail and lore to each race, thus allowing the player to gain a greater understanding of their drivers and why they feel the need to be the dominant race in the galaxy.
Another aspect of Endless Space
that wasn't as developed as Amplitude Studios would like is the political side of civilisation development and management. In Endless Space 2
players will need to keep a very close eye on the political machinations of their ever burgeoning empire as they flit across the void. Otherwise they may find their home systems cease to be the core from which they build as descent and rebellion grows within populaces, especially those conquered by force earlier in a play session.
Jeff spoke of how ground combat on planets will also be an enhanced component of Endless Space 2
, but at the time of writing it is in an embryonic state that is not fit for public viewing. Jeff did promise that it would be given the attention it deserves and will match the hands-off model of combat found in space-bound battles.
The subject of space combat was addressed during the discussion and Jeff explained why Endless Space 2
does not allow for detailed tactical combat. The main reason for this is that Endless Space 2
is not that type of game. Its primary focus is civilisation management on an interstellar scale and for players to be get bogged down in hours and hours of tactical combat goes against the core design principle of Endless Space 2
Finally, Jeff and I spoke about the possibility of created custom races. While it is possible to modify the attributes of a pre-defined race, the idea of a brand new one with its own biological make-up and ship designs is some ways off. It may be possible to do this via modding tools, Jeff explained, but it wasn't something Amplitude Studios is pursuing aggressively with Endless Space 2
Endless Space 2
available in early access on Windows PC now.