Published on June 19th, 2013 | by Tony Odett0
Ex Post Facto: Endless Space
Twenty years ago, a review was the definitive word on a game. All versions were final: what you put in your console or booted up on your PC at launch was exactly what you played years from that day. Times have changed. DLC and patching have changed this forever. Games that are unplayable at launch grow and change in significant ways, upgrading systems, correcting bugs, and adding new features. In that sort of a development environment, a game review, especially one at release, is little more a snapshot of a game, and not a final reckoning of any sort. With that in mind, the Critically Sane Strategist would like to introduce Ex Post Facto: a look at games that have received significant post release patching to analyze their current state.
Endless Space released in July 2012. It was, at the time, what amounted to a run-of-the-mill 4X game. Sure, there were universes to explore, techs to research, and opposing empires to conquer. But the game was also plagued by weak AI, a lack of races and color in the universe, and point-by-point maps that felt anything but endless. Thankfully, release was only the beginning of this game, as Amplitude Studios has released no less than four free DLC packs and numerous patches, dramatically altering the reality of the game and begging players to give Endless Space a second look.
Free DLC can range from insultingly insignificant to dramatically game changing. Thankfully, Endless Space’s content is much more the latter. The core game lacked a significant number of diverse races. Now, a bunch of quite interesting ones have emerged, the Borg-like Automotons being a personal favorite. These also significantly expanded the production tree, adding more protein to a game which had dire need of it.
The DLC and patches also included a number of fixes and tweaks. The AI, a passive, easily-defeated beast, is beefed up here. The different races are giving different behavior characteristics, causing you to rejoice when a peace-loving civilization appears on your border, and despair when conquerors like the Cravers appear there. Diplomacy has been greatly fleshed out, as bordering foes will negotiate peace treaties, trade agreements, and alliances. Still, a human player is much more effective that an AI player, and the game seems to only bridge the skill gap at the higher levels by cheating (making the AI produce faster, giving the AI advantage in battles, etc.). While the changes are nice, I still much prefer the AI in Galactic Civilization II, which combated you by playing well, instead of vexing you with beefed up statistics.
Oddly, despite the large number of patches, there are still a number of crash bugs in Endless Space. The game will crash to desktop every time a fleet with an order (to intercept any invaders, or to conquer a planet) is told to move to a new system. The game also doesn’t agree very well with my Raptr client, which I was forced to exit during play. The crashes aren’t game-breaking, and the game thankfully autosaves after every turn (you’ll not lose anything more than a couple of minutes of effort to a crash here).
I think the most interesting gameplay innovation, despite all I’ve discussed earlier, is the addition of pirates. Pirates fly in with incredible frequency from uncolonized star systems, disrupting your trade routes, attacking your rear areas, and generally making a mess of places that were previously safe in Endless Space. It’s the sort of addition that was necessary, as the point-by-point nature of the universe of the game makes it too easy to wall off your empire from harm. Now you must take care to garrison your rear areas from the nuisance threat. They’re not going to conquer worlds or toss you completely into confusion, but it’s nice to have a bothersome gnat to keep you on your toes.
The real question is, with all of these changes, is Endless Space worth returning to (or a good purchase if you skipped it the first time around)? The core gameplay is unchanged- the constraining point-by-point map feels strange in a supposedly Endless game. The rebuilt AI is more challenging, and that combined with the random events (I once had my first 20 turns of progress completely wiped out, along with all those in the rest of the universe, by a galactic plague) make for an interesting 4X experience. The game is also on the verge of receiving its first paid DLC, a sign that Amplitude Studios is nowhere close to ending their relationship with the game. For 4X fans, now would be a great time to jump into Endless Space.