Sometimes, a game attempts to imitate the ideas of others and ends up feeling trite and uninteresting. Other times, a game treads familiar territory yet feels new and exciting. Endless Legend is definitely the latter. An inviting and friendly front-end unfolds into some of the deepest strategy gameplay on the PC today.
Endless Legend is the second 4X game by Amplitude Studios. It’s set in the same universe as Endless Space, but has more fantasy mixed in with the science fiction. Chronologically, it is set far before the time of Space, but after their roguelike/rpg/tower defense game Dungeon of the Endless. You may already be able to tell: Amplitude Studios has created an entire universe of their own, and they are in love with it.
I find myself of the same mind. In the process of writing this review, I pulled up the Endless Space wiki and read lore for hours. The attention to detail and care put into their world-building is apparent in every aspect of Endless Legend. Every race, unit, building, and upgrade has a full backstory and flavor text, and it’s all expertly crafted.
Ok, so now that I’ve spent a while fawning over the story that covers this game like a delicious gravy, let me get to the meat. Endless Legend is a 4X strategy game that plays out in simultaneous turns. You control an empire that starts small, and (hopefully) eventually rule the world. You do this by eXpanding across the world, eXploring uncharted territory, eXploiting resources, and eXterminating anyone who gets in your way (4 X’s, get it?).
Gameplay will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played Civilization or Age of Wonders. You manage cities, maintain resources, research new technologies, all while moving troops around a map, and so on. Similarly to Age of Wonders, you can also employ hero units. Heroes can be used to govern a city or lead an army, and both options are crucial for victory. As your units explore ruins and win battles, they will level up. Hero units also get a skill point per level. They can spend these on skills that allow you to specialize your hero as either a better Governor of cities or Commander of armies. Unfortunately, the skill trees are rather small, and the bonuses don’t feel very rewarding.
One of my favorite aspects of unit management is the equipment. I’m a sucker for games that allow me to make my troops look unique, and Endless Legend delivers. As you collect resources, you craft weapons, armor, and accessories that can be equipped to each and every unit in your army. Want your infantry to be able to fight centaurs? Equip them with spears. Archers bringing you down? Give them bigger shields. It allows you to create an army to suit your needs.
This leads me to one of the most unique aspects of the game: Combat. Whenever two armies clash, a tactical battle occurs on the hex grid of the world map itself. The first time it happened, I actually let out a giggle at how cleverly it’s implemented.
After battle has started, you arrange your units in pre-determined starting areas. Combat is simple: for 6 rounds, you give each unit one command, either where to move or who to attack. If you target an enemy, they will move as close as they can to deal damage. If you target a space, they will move to that space and then attack whoever they can. If you target an ally, they will cast an available buff on that ally. It’s simple, and doesn’t bog down the game with completely separate battle systems ala Total War. You can also auto-resolve battle, but I found you generally end up with more casualties that way.
Unlike Civilization, where each team has one unique technology, building, and unit, each of the eight major factions (nine if you pickup the Founders pack) play completely different.
One of the factions, the Cultists, are limited to a single city. Instead of expanding to multiple cities, they subjugate the minor factions around the world to do their bidding. The Roving Clans faction can move their cities at will; The tradeoff is that they can never declare war. The Drakkens can force other factions to be their ally, and this can lead to some pretty interesting events: I stole a rival factions town, and then instantly forced them to ally with me. The grudge remained, but because they couldn’t break our partnership for at least 10 turns, I ended up keeping the city for good.