The first thought I had when I saw Endless Legend was ‘fuck yeah.’ I’ve been looking for a new fantasy 4X since forever. Stardock gave it a shot with Fallen Enchantress but that title, despite its ambition, never really reached any true greatness. (Read: it looked good on paper but was utterly boring and extremely unbalanced.) The fact Endless Legend is made by Amplitude Studios only made me more excited; these guys really listen to their community and I’ve been heavily involved with Endless Space before. So let’s take a look at this Early Access title and see what happens.
Upon first loading the game, I was pleasantly surprised. The polish is great, and the available factions are all sufficiently different in game mechanics and bonuses to add some serious replay-ability. Great start. As an added bonus, they’re not your usual generic factions – Amplitude actually made some effort to do things different. I picked the Vaulters and into the game I went.
The atmosphere in the game is fantastic. From the lore, to the text, the music, everything. There’s a really great feeling in the game which instantly made me want to love it. Looking around a little, the map looks absolutely superb. I’m really digging the art style here; it’s full of colour and when you zoom out, the map changes to a hand drawn version. This has of course been done in other games, but the way things are presented here is great.
The way cities are build, expanded and resources are grabbed is done really well too. You can sort of see it as a cross between Civ V and Warlock. Cities initially range 1 hex from the center, but you can build additional districts in any of your hexes, which then add the 3 tiles next to that hex to your city. The map is divided in ‘zones,’ and you can build a city anywhere within these zones but only one city is allowed per individual zone. Once built, the city can then interact with some of the hexes within that zone (strategic resources, minor faction villages, etc.) regardless of how far away they are. It’s a nifty way of managing things and it gives players control over the map in a really specific manner.
The technology tree is interesting and the items in it, so far, are excellent. I love the variety, the art and the way the tech tree is done. It’s similar to Endless Space, except split in various eras and works incredibly well for this genre. Awesome stuff.
The interface is a bit cluttered, and I’d even say hard to use. I’m a seasoned veteran when it comes to 4X games and I didn’t find this UI particularly clear. Things aren’t quite in the right place and if I have to be honest, I thought the UI was a major let down compared to the rest of the game. Obviously this is an early access title, so let’s hope that Amplitude is still working on this.
I also noticed that occasionally it can be pretty difficult to figure out what something is or why you need it. A good example would be when you equip your heroes or design units. Some items add a trait to your unit, but there is no way to tell what that trait actually does. Hovering your mouse cursor over the trait does exactly nothing in the current build. I assume this will be changed as it isn’t very intuitive.
Another thing worth noting is that the balance is still a little off. Using the initial unlockable resources as an example (titanium and glasteel), instead of both offering a slightly different tactical opportunity, one is outright better than the other. They unlock at the same time and both focus on slightly different stats and this could have been used to better effect. Unfortunately glasteel offers so many more advantages that using titanium is kind of pointless unless you’re seriously lacking in glasteel.
The really bad
I hate to say this, but the combat was really, really bad. Manual combat involves giving your units ‘targets’ (i.e. which units they should attack) and beyond that you’re pretty much a spectator. Most of the time, ranged units behave in really stupid ways (e.g. moving closer to a strong melee unit and subsequently getting killed) and for me this is way too hands off for a turn-based 4X title. In a game like this the attraction is to build up really good armies and then play manual battles with them. The whole draw of games like Age of Wonders, Heroes of Might and Magic, Disciples, etc. is to play those battles and carefully ensure your precious experienced units don’t die.
On that note, the heroes were a bit dull as well. Moving around the map involved clearing neutral villages (which is great) and exploring ruins/temples (which was extremely dull). In AoW, when you explore ruins you usually get a combat encounter, which when defeated give you a lovely reward. Those range from artefacts to spells and in Endless Legend this unfortunately isn’t the case. You get a bit of fluff, which I like, but the rewards are all incredibly boring. Essentially, exploring is similar to Civ V huts – nothing exciting. This makes heroes much less fun to use.
Long story short – the game is dull in its current form. It has great potential as most mechanics are solid and the atmosphere and design is definitely there, but as it stands the combat lets the game down and there simply isn’t enough to do with your heroes. In other similar games you can easily explore the map and never really want to go home as you are driven to grab just one more artefact, node or other strategic element. In Endless Legend, I never had this feeling and my heroes spent a great deal of time doing very little. I found myself in the ‘next turn mode’ very rapidly, which really is a shame for a game made with this much quality.
So my message to Amplitude: rethink the combat system and ensure there’s plenty of stuff to do for heroes. Create more interesting encounters and loot and ensure people feel really attached to each and every hero. As it stands, the game looks and feels great but unfortunately lacks the major factors which make games in this genre so attractive.