When I was a fledgling gamer I only owned a handful of games, but there were a couple that I played over and over again without ever growing tired of. While most of those games were JRPGs, there were a few outliers, and the one I've played through more times than I can count is Masters of Orion 2. So, when I heard about Endless Space, my thoughts immediately went back to my old standby strategy game, but can Endless Space earn a similar place in my heart?
Before we start let's remember that this is an alpha build and therefore any complaints I have may or may not be present in the final build. Endless Space plays a lot like Civilization in space. It's a turn based strategy game where victory can be obtained not only through military might but also through scientific or cultural objectives. Every planet you colonize produces different amounts of money, industry, science, and food for each population unit living there. You don't specialize population units into specific tasks, but once you colonize the different planets in a given solar system you can move the population around if you want to focus on one type of production or another. Each planet can also be specialized to boost the production of one of the four resources.
Keeping up with tech advancements using science resources is a huge part of Endless Space. When you first start out you can only colonize certain, more easily inhabitable planet types, like Terran and Jungle planets, but most of the planets are outside of your reach. One of the four branches of research you can engage in focuses on bettering your ability to spread your civilization and includes the ability to colonize all the other planet types, like Dessert, Arctic, and even Gas Planets. These different planet types come with their own limitations. For example, you can't farm on a gas giant without some heavy investment, but being able to colonize as many planet types as possible makes each solar system more useful as you can maximize its potential. Researching to improve your empire's capabilities and then spreading your influence are the most enjoyable parts of the game.
Combat leaves a bit to be desired, though, as it all ends up being too automatic for my tastes. Each battle is divided into five different phases: arrival, long distance, medium distance, melee, and conclusion. Arrival gives you a brief moment to choose the actions you take during the next three phases. You can only assign one action for your entire fleet for each phase and these will be more or less effective depending on the action your opponent chooses. Every action has a potential counter. Once the combat phases start the two fleets will fling projectiles at each other without any need for input until one of them dies off completely or you reach the conclusion phase and it's a draw. The issue is that the actual combat is dull to watch, a matter that's made all the worse thanks to a camera which you have no control over (so you may end up spending a lot of time just staring at the side of your ship instead of watching the actual battle unfold). After a while I just used the auto battle function for any fight that wasn't essential, just to speed things along.
The alpha build comes with five of the eight promised factions, and there's some pretty good variety between them. I particularly like the story of the Horatio, a civilisation that consists of clones of the same extremely rich and arrogant person trying to make the universe a more beautiful place. There is currently no online multiplayer, but that will be added later on. So if you like the sound of Civilization-esque turn based strategy game set in space, and don't mind a basic battle system, then give Endless Space a look on Steam and if you pre-order you can get access to the alpha build to tide you over until the full release.