I return from the abyss! To commemorate, I wanted to return to a genre that I have a great deal of love for. While I tend to call it the Civilization genre, I’m pretty sure that the actual commonly accepted term for it is the ‘Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate’ (4X) genre. Personally, I think I’ll just keep calling it ‘Civlike’, because we call a bunch of things ‘Roguelike’ that don’t have anything to do with Rogue, and I like consistency in my genre naming.
I actually was going to review a Civilization game for this, Beyond Earth, but it didn’t really pass the threshold of what I’m willing to write about. See, I don’t know if I’ve ever publicly stated it, but my general requirement for whether or not I write about something is if I think it’s interesting enough for me to want to tell someone about it. Beyond Earth is, more or less, a reskinned Civilization V, and while it’s good, it’s not substantially different. So I guess that’s a one-sentence review of Civ V, and I suddenly found myself needing a Civlike to write about.
Enter Endless Legend. The game wasn’t on very many people’s radar for some reason, and I hadn’t even considered playing it until I picked it up on sale on one Steam sale or another. And I figured I’d give it a shot, as it seemed like it had a passing resemblance to what Beyond Earth was trying to be. And, well, yeah. It’s definitely interesting enough to write about. Especially because even now, not many people seem to have heard of it.
Yeah, okay, I’ll bite. What is it?: Well, on a very high level, it takes on the same premise as Civilization V. You play as one of several spacefaring civilizations that have crash-landed on a resource-rich planet and must carve out your section of it for the continued survival of your way of life. Unlike Civ V, the available civilizations do not all come from the same home planet. Endless Legend is, after all, a continuation of an existing series that shares the same central theme spread across multiple genres.
Oh, I think I’ve heard of it? Is it related to Endless Space?: Absolutely. And Endless Dungeon as well. The first one is a space-based empire simulator in the same vein as Sins of a Solar Empire, and the second is a Roguelike in the same vein as, well, every other roguelike out there. Endless Legend is the third game, chronologically, though it doesn’t really matter as the games are only connected in theme and not in plot or even in gameplay style.
Okay, cool. What does it play like?: It plays like, well…. like Civilization 4.5. It takes the same kind of base as Civ IV and expands on it, while incorporating some of the same ideas present in both Civ V and Beyond Earth. It retains a lot of complexity and doesn’t streamline as many things as the later Civ games do, but after an initial learning curve, it really doesn’t go out of its way to be incredibly obtuse. And, actually, it does a whole lot of things that people have been wishing that the Civilization series would do for years.
Like what?: Like making diplomacy seem not quite so random. The basic diplomacy exchange interface is very similar, letting you initiate trade relationships, alliances, declarations of war, or even simple things like compliments, insults, and petty threats.
In addition to that, there is a ‘diplomatic relationships’ screen that lets you see what the results of your diplomacy are in a simple and straightforward manner. Each other leader is arranged along a series of circles that lets you know what their feelings are toward you, from ‘open war’ to a binding alliance. All in all, while the underlying calculations might be really similar to what Civilization does, the presentation makes it easier to know what effect you’re having on the people around you.
Combat, as well, is a bit more involved as well. While you can create an army with stacks of units in a manner that Civ V prevents you from doing, strategizing combat isn’t just a manner of creating one gigantic ‘stack of doom’ and marching it toward whatever you want to kill.
When you encounter an enemy unit, you are put into a simple sort of turn-based combat screen that is very reminiscent of a Heroes of Might and Magic game. If you are close to a city or other units, they can be brought in after the first turn as reinforcement units, spawning from reinforcement points along the battlefield. It’s a small change, and combat still isn’t amazingly complicated, but it’s a nice melding of Civ and Might and Magic combat styles that just works.
Finally, the way ‘barbarian’ units are handled is much, much different than how it is in every single Civ game. One of the major criticisms I’ve always had is that ‘barbarians’ (or, in Beyond Earth, native alien species) are just AI-controlled cannon fodder that exist solely to harass and annoy the competing civilizations. City-states in Civ V were a nice addition, but they were a substantially different sort of mechanic than the standard ‘barbarian’ unit, and keeping them as two distinct separate things didn’t ever make much sense to me.
In Endless Legend, they aren’t different things. Each region contains an already established set of villages of a species native to the planet you’ve crash-landed on. You can choose to interact in a constructive manner, a destructive manner, or just not interact at all. You can negotiate and accept quests from them like you could with city-states in Civ V, or you can pacify them and add them to your empire. If you do assimilate a village, either by pleasing them or pacifying them, you can add their unique unit type into your army. It’s really a nice level of interaction that adds to the experience of colonizing a new planet in a constructive manner and not simply marching in and taking over.
Cool! I’m interested! How does city management work?: A lot like in Civ IV, but with some changes. The planet is split into ‘regions’, and you can only have one city per region. When you expand a city, you physically place the expansion within the region, as opposed to just letting your city border spread out and automatically develop. Within that, you can micromanage a city as much as you’d like by allocating your citizens to work on food production, science production, building production, wealth, or cultural growth. Micromanaging is in fact heavily encouraged, because you will find out early on that you absolutely need to plan on having a surplus of all of your resources on hand for the winter.
Wait, winter?: Yep. Every several turns, you find yourself on the dark side of the planet’s rotational path and this halves all your production, visibility, and unit range. This unilaterally affects every single civilization on the map, so you can bet that everyone else has to plan for the long winter as well. The lengths of the seasons are semi-randomized, too, to make it so that you don’t know exactly how long your lean times are going to last.
Wow.: Yeah. It’s a great mechanic and really makes you have to plan your strategies for everything, including exploration, development, and war.
Anything else you want to mention?: Yeah. Unit management is a little more RPG-focused than I was expecting. Instead of having a plethora of different, more modernized unit types, you keep the same general kinds of units and just re-equip them with better weapons and armor. You can also customize other aspects of the units, such as accessories or even what kinds of weapons they are carrying, from melee weapons to ranged, from mundane to magical. Hero units are handled the same way as well, and each hero can be developed either as a combat hero, a support hero, or installed as a city governor who gives bonuses to city defense and development.
So who would you recommend this game to?: Anyone disappointed with Civilization: Beyond Earth. Also, anyone who loves both Civ IV and Civ V, and wants a game that is a basic mix of the two while also incorporating new ideas into the mix. I’d also recommend it to fans of any fiction series that blends fantasy and sci-fi elements, such as Dragonriders of Pern, or any series that involves space colonization, political intrigue, and resource management, such as Dune (which is a possible influence for Endless Legend to begin with).
And anyone you wouldn’t recommend it to?: Anyone looking for anything with the fast pace of, say, Starcraft. Or, conversely, anyone expecting the level of complexity present in Total War or Crusader Kings. This is definitely a game that is modeled after Civilization, and it wears its inspiration firmly on its sleeve even as it surpasses that same inspiration in a lot of cases.
Anything else?: There’s a lot of DLC for the game, and while none of it is, strictly speaking, necessary, a lot of it adds the option to alter the game in substantial ways, such as letting you play as a race so dependent on espionage that there is no other way for them to expand their influence. All in all, it’s a really, really interesting take on the genre, and I think that it’s the game that Civilization: Beyond Earth always should have been.