The lights are on
Endless Space has the capability of becoming a grand space adventure in the good old vein of classic space strategy simulations, and yet it falls just barely short due to an unresponsive AI system and some visually glaring graphics for ships and combat encounters. Aside from these shallow points within the game and a few mocking messups here and there, the game truly maintains an interesting experience as well as a broad and galaxy encompassing adventure. Although an Indie produced game and one that isn't as perfectly shiny as other space adventures such as Sins of a Solar Empire, Endless Space utilizes the classic turn based strategy mechanics of strategy games just as well or better than most others have to date.
Players are handed the reigns of a fledgling empire and a host of able-bodied ships and expected to explore the ever-growing randomly generated universe around them. Whether encountering enemies, indigenous lifeforms, or drilling for minerals and information- the game provides plenty of variety and enjoyability in most forms of busywork and adventures. Using a unique skill tree that offers both technological and imperial advances, players can further their upgrades and industrialize their empires or attacking warships at the same time- or use both to their advantage offensively and defensively. One of the best thing about the game is the way in which it barely takes your mind away with HUDs or other obtrusive and bulky interfaces such as many other strategy games may do. Instead, Endless Space offers a condensed but not watered down version of everything you'll ever need to know in the form of tips, hints, and notifications scattered about during combat or otherwise.
The UI makes for a wonderfully adaptive experience for both players and the computer facing off against you at times, as all types of encounters and simulations can occur- and most likely will at least once throughout this complex and massive game. Use it wisely and to your advantage, and it could be your best friend- ignore it, and you'll often find yourself starting over with minimal supplies or a shattered empire like something from Return of the Jedi... Another amazing factor of the game's overall impressive and dramatized approach to empire is the decisions you are faced with daily when tasked with expanding or protecting your empire's boundaries or resources and research. There are so many factors to constantly monitor that it truly feels like you are struggling to battle management and reign in your empire, as well as controlling other territories and keeping your enemies alert and afraid of your wrath at the same time... This is one of the coolest things about the skill trees, as they all intertwine in dependency and skill usage, all the while still allowing easily flowing ease of access and freedoms as well.
Although there are many things that Endless Space manages to do and accomplish well, and it is for the most part a beautiful game, there are some tedious and many boring decisions ahead of you after more than 35 or so turns for your empire... While your empire requires constant nurturing and attention, which is to be expected- allowing the terrible governing AI to make decisions for you may speed the process up and not make things boring, but the horrible decisions that they make could also do your empire in later on. This is probably the most hostile and annoying factor about the game, but one that is easily remedied if you have the time and patience to monitor every little decision and task here and there. Not only do your own AI leaders and governors make brash and horrendous decisions, but the opposing empires' leaders do as well- and much more frequently to boot. This especially makes space engagements very annoying, as on lower difficulties the idiotic leaders who squander their resources often make for little to no challenge at all, and are only a more difficult adversary on higher difficulties do to massive amounts of cheating and relocating of goods and extra weapons as well. This of course doesn't do anything for the already bland, dry, and unimpressive space battles and ship models which Endless Space tries to "boast" and fails even at that goal.
Managing your intergalactic space fleet via the strategic controls is no problem whatsoever, as the game nails its strategic aspects for the most part, but any combat maneuvers or other related attacking formations fail and are an extremely missed out upon area of the game. With all of the time player spend upgrading and researching their ships and weapons, it comes as an extreme disappointment that you won't even get to utilize them in battle other than to pick several terrible route or formation options for them to run during a skirmish. Combine this with the low resolution missiles and guns firing at each other in a completely calculated estimate and you've gotten about ninety percent of the fun of awesome space battles to disappear completely and not come back.
Endless Space's one saving grace is the addition of a drop-in and drop-out multiplayer AI included within the game. With both seamless integration and the opportunity for humans and better-implemented AI's to work together in combat and running of empires and resources, the other aggravating elements found within the singleplayer mode dim down a bit and aren't so much of a hassle, as cooperative space exploration is a rush. Even better, there are many speedy features included including simultaneous turn taking and opportunity making, easier difficulty with other players, less tedium throughout, and more. While combat still sucks for the most part, that is about the only real problem for this multiplayer setting, and manages to save what could have otherwise turned out to be a fiasco and disaster in space exploration...
Concept: Try and fail to create an empire and galaxy spanning quest that integrates both combat and exploration or research into an otherworldly mix.
Graphics: All of the rendered and setpiece moments look beautiful in a way only interstellar travel can make them, although the combat locations and ships used look terrible in comparison.
Sound: The minimalistic sounds and ambient score give it that techy space age vibe, but don't do anything for or against the game as a whole on the most part.
Playability: The interface works well and is easily unified with both gameplay and design, and doesn't act as a direct detriment to the game in any ways whatsoever. It may even be the best aspect of the game, in fact.
Entertainment: The singleplayer is an ill-fit for a promising game such as Endless Space, but the slightly better multiplayer remedies many of the problems found in the singleplayer campaign.
Overall Score: 7.0