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Endless Legend Early Access Preview
When Amplitude Studios released Endless Space in the middle of 2012, I found it to be an impressive space-based turn-based strategy game with an innovative interface and intuitive iconography. What I didn’t realize is that Endless Space was only the beginning; Amplitude has since gone on to expand their interesting universe into other genres with Dungeon of the Endless, followed by Endless Legend, currently on Steam Early Access. I played several hours of Amplitude’s version of Civilization and came away feeling more impressed than ever that not only do they understand the finer points of turn-based strategy, but that the UI and model for Endless Space translate so perfectly into a Civ-like hex grid of conquest.
Watch our own Cassidee Moser interview Amplitude’s Benoit Faguet at PAX East!
Endless Legend takes place on Auriga, one of the planets in the Endless universe, and serves as both a sequel to Dungeon of the Endless and prequel to Endless Space. The prisoners from Dungeon emerge to colonize the dying planet, and attempt to reach the stars. Eight unique civilizations have been thrown together on this ancient world, though only four are currently playable – the Vaulters, Wildwalkers, Broken Lords and Necrophage.
The Vaulters and Wildwalkers are the more normal human-like factions with a few specific bonuses; Vaulters (returning from Endless Space, or rather, this is their genesis) gain better research and strategic resources while Wildwalkers are more attuned to nature with forestry and food bonuses. Broken Lords shake things up by forgoing the need for food altogether (they’re basically animated suits of armor) letting Dust, the obvious Dune-inspired currency, fuel their empire. Finally the Necrophage seem similar to Endless Space’s insectoid Cravers, a hive-mind evil faction that remains at eternal war with everyone else.
Gameplay is a unique combination of classic 4x Civilization with Endless Space’s gorgeous interface. A randomly generated map is created with sadly only a handful of parameters currently available such as temperature and overall topography. After your chosen faction and number of opponents are selected, you’re dropped onto the hex grid world of Auriga with a hero, a handful of units and a settler. Building your first city should make Civ fans feel right at home, and Endless Space fans will recognize the helpful FIDSI output of each tile and improvement (Food, Industry, Dust, Science, Influence). Each one is analogous to Civ – Industry = Production, Dust = Gold, etc.
Influence is new and helps shape several new concepts in Endless Legend. Most importantly you can spend Influence to set a new Empire Plan. The plan, like the research tech tree, is laid out in quadrants of economy, expansion, military and science, and you can spend points to push your empire into different sections, gaining bonuses like stronger units or increased research speed. Plans last several turns and are a fun method to change up your focus as needs for increased military production or quick expansion arise.
Another major use for influence is found in the various neutral sites that dot the world. Auriga is host to many different creatures, though I was disappointed to find most of them are based on typical fantasy creatures like hydras, daemons, ogres and centaurs. These sites can be conquered and then pacified with a nearby city, essentially absorbing them into your faction. Influence can then be spent to make them an official minority in your empire, allowing you to create those specific units to compliment your own. It’s a neat system, though it takes until the Third Era before you can assimilate a second minor faction.
Thankfully you don’t have to start back in the stone age, as this is a sci-fi world. You do start with medieval-ish technology in the First Era, and then open up the next grouping of technologies and upgrades after researching enough from the previous Era. Techs range from allowing more units per stack to new improvements and buildings for cities. Other than unlocking new Eras, there didn’t seem to be any pre-requsites for researching in your current (or previous) Eras, allowing you to pick and choose as you see fit.
If you’ve gotten used to Civilization V’s one unit per hex system, prepare to take a step back to Civ IV’s Stack ‘O Doom days. Endless Legend operates with army stacks (that is, multiple units on a single hex space), but it cuts a nice compromise with a limited number of units per stack (beginning with 1 hero and up to 4 units). When initiating combat, the view stays on the same strategic board but the units fan out to various hexes. Here you can change who’s targeting whom and set basic behaviors of Offensive, Defensive, or Hold Your Ground. Any units within the same region that are allied with either side can join in as reinforcements, creating some epic confrontations.
Like Endless Space, you never directly control your units’ actions, making many fights a somewhat frustrating exercise in watching your units take needless risks and bump up against poor pathfinding. Because of this style of combat it makes the AI that much more challenging, but I admit I found myself simply hitting Auto Combat more often than not. I also found the cinematic combat in Endless Space to be my least favorite part, and I’ll be interested to see if Amplitude can provide more options (like Endless Space’s card system) to make the manual combat a bit more interesting.
Warlock 2 took the Civ template and inserted the winning RPG formula of quests, heroes and loot, and Amplitude does the same here. Heroes are recruited (in a spiffy stock market full of price flows, sales and exclusive deals) and like Endless Space can either be attached to cities or armies where they provide various bonuses from their own skill tree. On the battlefield heroes are much stronger than most units and can be equipped with multiple slots of weapons, armor and accessories, which can be found in the wild or crafted with the appropriate buildings and resources.
Quests come in two distinct flavors; Faction quests tell a nice story and give some cool background information on your faction, and typically help guide you throughout the game in expanding your territory, conquering minor factions and researching new technologies. Side Quests are randomly stumbled upon when looting ruins and usually involve an immediate task with a turn limit, such as eradicating all hostile forces from a certain region. I loved these additions in Warlock and definitely enjoy seeing those further RPG layers of strategy, experience and loot here.
Even at a relatively early state, Endless Legend plays great. Fans of 4x turn-based strategy games should become intimately familiar with Amplitude’s efforts (especially if they’ve made the crime of missing Endless Space) as Legend is a wonderful example of iterating on previously successful gameplay concepts while layering in a lot of fun new mechanics like regions and long-lasting seasons, all wrapped up in a striking, simplistic but effective art style that makes Auriga look at times like a watercolor painting. Many functions are currently missing (including multiplayer) but will be added later, and you can view a quick bullet point list of current and later features on the Early Access store page.
Given the surprising plethora of awesome turn-based strategy games currently available and on the horizon, I wouldn’t fault you for waiting to jump into this Early Access version. Make sure to keep Endless Legend on your radar, however, as it really looks like something special.