Endless Space is a new game to the 4X strategy scene, featuring non-linear gameplay and a demanding level of difficulty that pushes you to learn from past mistakes and strive to overcome the hurdles of galactic domination. This might not sound like everyone's cup of tea, but you'd be surprised how quickly Endless Space can trigger addictive tendencies. There is little in the way of story or variety in the presentation, but on all other counts, Endless Space is an excellent sci-fi strategy game that you can potentially replay for years to come.
When you begin a match, the first order of business is to define the size and density of the galaxy you wish to vie for. In addition to the dozen or so settings available for customizing the map, randomly generated star systems ensure that no two sessions play alike. Likewise, factions and allegiances are highly customizable, should you choose to veer from the predefined selections. There are just over 75 attributes that can be applied to a custom faction, and your choices impact your ability to interact with outsiders and exploit the universe around you.
Once you've committed to a galaxy and faction, you're treated to an intro cutscene in the form of a motion comic. The character and environment art are a treat, but their time in the spotlight is short and very much to the point. There's enough backstory to justify the sci-fi setting and your chosen faction, but little else. Before you know it, you're in command of two spacecraft on your home planet with the forces of enemy empires looming on the horizon.
To even stand a chance of emerging victorious, it's imperative that you hit the ground running. Thankfully, Endless Space's intuitive UI holds your hand as you stumble down the unbeaten path of galactic domination. Tutorials appear when you initiate menus for the first time, and there are always reminders when anything of consequence happens during the course of a turn. You're not forced to dig through menus time and again; instead, you click on notifications to easily access research, production, and expansion tools in an instant. This may not sound impressive, but for a genre that requires a ton of micromanagement and has historically lived deep within complicated menu trees, the UI's ability to communicate in an organized and logical fashion should not be taken for granted.
On the flip side of the coin lies the incredibly complex tech tree. There are four research branches to explore encompassing 138 unique technologies. The nonlinear design ensures you exhaust numerous matches finding your way within the sea of possibilities. Quite often, what worked during your last match might not be as useful in the next, so it's important to diversify your knowledge of the entire tech tree.
One barrier that stands in your way is the elaborate language used to identify and define various technologies. Words like "epigenetics" aren't common and are bound to leave a few people scratching their heads. You do get a clear understanding of the bonuses rewarded once you've acquired a particular tech, but quite often they are only vaguely defined in the initial description. Without proper experimentation, it's easy to waste time and energy on lackluster technology simply because the description is unclear. Lose your footing due to the nonlinear progression or complicated terminology, and kiss your progress goodbye.