Endless Legend – Early Access Preview
Hoo boy. Where to start with a game as grand in scope and sweep as Endless Legend? A game that thrusts you into a world that, at first glance, appears like many other 4X games of its type and yet has stupendous – almost dizzying – levels of depth that it could consume your waking (and quite possibly sleeping) thoughts utterly. Sound good? Let’s dive in.
What is 4X?
Basics first, 4X – if the term is new to you – refers to the 4 core areas of this game type. In it you will; explore, expand, exterminate and exploit. The most familiar reference point for most people would be the Civilization games. Turn based, you start out with a small settlement and then use a combination of trading and other more pointed forms of expansionism to grow your empire at the expense of other races trying to become the leading power.
Amplitude Studios have already enjoyed considerable success with the excellent Endless Space, where you pitted your wits against a variety of other space-faring races in a struggle for galactic domination. This time around, your feet are rather more solidly on Terra-firma, but the environment you get to explore is no less rich and wonder-filled.
Job one in your list (once you’ve had a fiddle with the audio/video options – what’s the point of having a glorious PC if you’re not going to do that?) is to choose a faction from the roster available. Amplitude currently intend to top out at 16 factions, but currently there are about half that many. Most of the factions are based on broadly familiar fantasy tropes – the Wind Walkers with their nature affinity are this world’s Elves for example. Some of the races are very interesting and not your usual knight/dwarf/undead etc. fodder.
Each faction has its own distinct and customisable armies, for which a great deal of time has been spent developing some extremely attractive art assets. The different units are characterful, which makes them more interesting to play with . The game is a little slow to get started (a problem faced by all 4X games) but the high quality units and varied landscape gives you something to chew on until your kingdom develops. Rather than just looking pretty though, the terrain actually has different levels, which seems pretty obvious but actually makes it stand apart from many other 4X games. It offers something a bit different from ‘blocks you can go on and blocks you can’t’. Another element of note here is to wait for and then bask in the glory that is the switch to winter on the play-map. When winter hits, gameplay effects aside, the world becomes a veritable winter-wonderland, albeit a harsh one that could see your populace starve. Apparently, frozen potatoes aren’t the thing for the modern Aurigan.
Once you’re into the game, you establish a base city to grow your empire from. You’ll need to choose a site that offers you a breadth of resources that suit your particular faction’s needs; the undead don’t need to worry about producing food to eat! Once your city is set up, you’ll be sending out scouting parties to find more resource deposits and to see what gifts or dangers the surrounding land may contain.
The world is populated by minor factions in addition to the major races, although some of these might end up being more significant as the game continues to be developed. The usual course of action is to put these people to the sword – and once pacified – rebuild their town under your own control. Greater influence means more assets and resources which can be spent on military and cultural development. Endless Legend gives you the freedom to pursue your conquest as you see fit but also hands out many quests for you to undertake that suggest routes you might take. The quests also help to build up the lore of the game which is truly impressive in its scope. In many games, lore is so much filler but in Endless Legend it’s well-written enough to be truly immersive.
No Time For Losers
You can buy in and raise your own champions to lead your armies and they can be equipped with a variety of weapons and armour as well as other more esoteric items dependent on their class. These heroes need to be nurtured and developed as a powerful leader can absolutely turn the tide for you in battle. Again, these RPG-lite elements allow you to become more invested in the faction and its great leaders.
The battles themselves are somewhat reminiscent of Heroes of Might and Magic, instead of simply autoresolving (although this is an option, and a useful one early on as you learn the mechanics), you can actually visit a small scale battlefield and direct your troops in some turn-based battles. This level of micromanagement obviously affords the player some fine control and the ability to sacrifice particular units at the expense of others – something that helps with overall planning of resources and build queuing. Interestingly, you only take direct control of your troops every other turn, so you set a target for your particular units and then you have to leave the fine control to one side for the following round. This adds an additional element of chaos and randomisation to proceedings without pulling control from you completely.
What’s New Pussycat?
Endless Legend is still very much a work in progress, although at times with its depth and attention to detail it can fool you into thinking otherwise. The most recent updates have developed the road network and given the player the opportunity to take to the sea in search of new lands to claim.
The diplomacy system certainly looks as though it will end up being robust, although it isn’t yet fully implemented. The nuanced approaches you can take to trade and negotiation mirrors the care and attention that the rest of the game shows. At present however the AI don’t seem to respond appropriately (or indeed at all) to your diplomatic posturing. Once the system does work however it will be yet another indication of quality for the title.
Finally, the multiplayer element is being rolled out, currently locked at 6 players but the developers plan to move this to 8. You will be able to set a turn cap and timer on these games to ensure you don’t need to send a clone of yourself into work for the next week after you start a game. Once players are familiar with how the game works this could be a fantastic battleground. Some people are extremely good at this already!
My only reservation about Endless Legend currently is that it can be mind-bogglingly complex for the uninitiated gamer. Unfortunately, the game does not, at present, have a tutorial. If you haven’t played a 4X before, I’d say that Endless Legend is borderline impossible to approach until the tutorial is in place. Slowly, we are seeing some tutorial videos popping up on the web for how to get started with the various factions although I can’t vouch for the quality or accuracy of any of them – particularly as the game is prone to change whilst it’s still in Early Access.
When it finally gets released, I am sure that Endless Legend will be a giant in its field. Whether it can take on Civilization has the poster-child for 4X, I am not sure. Certainly however, fans of the genre will find an awful lot to love about Amplitude Studios’ soon-to-be legendary title.