In a remote galaxy, far from the familiar tendrils of the Milky Way, lies the planet of Auriga. Many thousands of years ago, a race of creatures called the Endless colonized their entire galaxy, relying on a substance known as Dust to help them create whatever they could imagine. From food to interstellar ships, Dust was used to control and create. Then the Endless turned on one another, ripping their own galaxy apart in a massive cataclysm. Dust was scattered across the remains of their empire, throughout the ruins of their now barren worlds. On Auriga, some creatures survived. After centuries of barely eking out an existence, life began to flourish and discover Dust once more. As the ruler of one of the eight races that survived in the wake of the Endless’ desertion of Auriga, players must guide their faction to supremacy by any means necessary.
Endless Legend is a tactical, grid-based 4X game developed by Amplitude Studios. Coined by Alan Emrich in a 1994 preview of the original Master of Orion for Computer Gaming World, 4X is a shorthand term for explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. As has become typical of this type of strategy game, players of Endless Legend choose a faction and proceed to explore the secrets of their particular randomly generated map, expand into neutral territories, fight monsters and other factions, and use diplomacy to further their own goals.
There are currently eight races to choose from, each with their own goals, motivations, and unique attributes. For example, the Wild Walkers are a race of elven creatures that try to live in harmony with nature, but are always tempted by the brutal aspects of the wild. They receive bonuses for building their cities in forested areas. Contrast that with the Broken Lords, former humans who had their bodies ripped from them and now exist as spirits wrapped in armor. Though The Broken Lords champion honor and virtue, they survive only by draining the Dust from the world and creatures around themselves. The choice of faction matters more than just the passive bonuses. Each faction has a unique quest that will reward players with new technology, resources, and lore. It lends the experience a bit more of a narrative than comparable 4X strategy titles.
The first part of each game will consist of exploring and expanding. The world of Auriga is littered with ruins and temples begging to be explored by intrepid heroes. A ruin could contain resources, a rare weapon, unfriendly creatures, or an entire side quest. As players search out more ruins and follow their initial main quest goal, they would be wise to expand their influence by building cities in the neutral territories that they move through. Each territory may have only one city built in it at any given time, so building a new city locks down the entire territory’s resources for the player’s empire. Expansions mean more resources, more units, more everything. They’re handy to have. Expanding is important early on because Endless Legend’s AI factions are all too happy to rapidly expand.
Even after several ages, Auriga continues to feel the effects of the cataclysm. As turns progress, seasonal changes will come into play. Summer is a wonderful time for most of the empires. They can find plentiful amounts of food and Dust and their armies can move freely across the land. In the bottom left of the screen a tentative forecast counts down the turns until the next seasonal shift. When the season shifts into winter, all units are slowed to a crawl while food and Dust production are dramatically reduced. Players will need to turn these seasonal changes to their advantage if they hope to claim victory.
Endless Legend drops the ball when it comes to combat. Battles take place on a hexagonal grid that allows players to position their units prior to allowing the engagement to commence. Once the fighting begins, players can issue tactical orders for their units to follow after every round of combat. Unfortunately, that is the extent of player involvement. What follows is a minute or two of both armies being controlled by the computer. It is boring, it takes a long time, and it is often infuriating to watch your army make baffling decisions. Luckily, there is a way to automate these battles so they end instantly and players aren’t forced to spend several minutes watching the larger battles that can occur in the late-game. The combat either needs to be simplified and completely automated or made more complex with hands-on commands, not this strange, wishy-washy middle ground which Endless Legend seems to have adopted. All of this is a shame because there are a lot of neat elements surrounding the actual fighting that I thought were great. As a game progresses, new units will be researched or gained through alliances with minor factions. These units can be equipped with weapons and armor made with exotic resources to make them more effective or entirely new units can be created by equipping the same base unit with different equipment. As battles are won or as units receive special training from heroes, they’ll gain experience and become stronger.
As a strange counter-point to the lackluster battles, the aspect of Endless Legend that I found most appealing was the diplomacy. Usually one of the most awkward and irritating portions of the 4X experience is being forced to interact with the AI or humans via in-game diplomatic options. Endless Legend boils these exchanges down into easily understood terms and ties them to Influence Points. When communicating with other empires everything from complimenting the size of their armies to declaring war costs Influence Points. However, Influence Points can also be used to make your armies stronger, improve the disposition of the general populace, decrease building times on units, and much more. This caused me to reconsider many of the more rash diplomatic decisions I would have made. Personally, I think it is brilliant. Beyond that, it is easier to gauge how interested the AI nations are in accepting deals through the inclusion of a reaction meter above the offer. This helps to eliminate wasting Influence Points by offering trades that will be rejected out of hand.
Endless Legend is absolutely gorgeous. The outskirts of the map look like a lightly origami-ed canvas. As units explore, terrain seem to melt out of the creases of the unknown. Even zoomed in close, the unit and creature models look great. The cities look like something dreamed up by the Game of Thrones intro CGI artists. The musical score serves to heighten the sense of wonder and beauty. You really do get the sense that Auriga has a long, rich history full of magical beasts and wondrous treasures.
Endless Legend is a fantastic game with a few minor blemishes that can be overlooked. If you are a strategy addict, Endless Legend will certainly keep you entertained for a very long time. The biggest issue will be adapting to the combat system, especially for players who aren’t all that keen on 4X titles in the first place. If you can overcome that hurdle, there is a lot to enjoy about Endless Legend. The artistic direction is unique and a real delight for the eyes, while exploring the fantasy world of Auriga and completing quests while balancing a diplomatic tightrope is engaging and entertaining. Strategy fans, Endless Legend belongs in your library beside the likes of Civilization, Total War, and Galactic Civilizations.
Endless Legend is currently available for PC.