The 4X Experience
When I mention the cost of a game, the first (and obvious) thing that pops into your head is probably money. How much does the game cost? Is the game worth it? Is it on sale? Is it Steam Summer Sale time?!?! Among mass media entertainment formats, games are some of the most expensive. However, monetary cost isn’t the only cost in a game. Another major one, and also important for some people, is time.
How long is this game? How fast can I beat it? Does it require me to devote all of my life to it? Everybody is looking for something different when it comes to this. Some look for quick pick-up-and-play games, ones that you can play for minutes at a time and not be giving up much when you put it down. Others want something deeper or more involved. Once you hit the RPG players, anything less than a promised 30-50 hour playtime is lacking.
Then there’s the games at the extreme end of the scale. Open-ended RPGs like The Elder Scrolls. MMORPGs like Final Fantasy XIV (probably the reason you visit our site!). Also included is what we’re here for today, the 4X genre.
Typically referring to “Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate,” games in the 4X genre are usually massive simulation-style strategy games. Probably the most well-known game of this style is the Civilization series. The player raises an empire from the ground up, controlling every aspect of it, from first groundbreaking to diplomatic relations to war and everything in between. The sheer scope of these games usually demands an extreme investment of time, especially with how addicting they can be to many players.
Today we’ll be looking at the latest release from Iceberg Interactive. Endless Legend released via Steam for Windows and Mac on September 18th, 2014.
Compose Your Legend
4X games typically do not have a major focus on story, and the same holds true for Endless Legend, although it tries harder than games like Civilization. The game takes place on the world of Auriga, home to a number of different factions and creatures. Each faction in the game has its own backstory, presented through a simple cutscene before the game begins.
One faction, the Wild Walkers, is looking to break away from others of their kind who are allowing themselves to be controlled by savage spirits. Another, the Cultists, are expanding to find other creatures to indoctrinate into their cult. Every other faction has its own story as well. While not particularly deep, it provides enough of a reason for each faction to create and expand an empire.
The Conquest of Auriga
Of course, the real meat of any 4X game is in the strategic gameplay. Endless Legend has you building up a brand new empire from scratch to eventually dominate the world in one of various ways. Each faction lends itself to specific playstyles (one has the ability to move its cities at will, another can only build one city and can only expand by taking over others), although the general function of the game remains the same between them.
First, a quick glance at the typical things. Each square on the map provides one a few different resources: food, Dust (this game’s version of money), engineering, and science. Controlling a tile with your city allows your empire to begin gathering these resources each turn. Wherever a city is founded, that tile also allows you to gather a fifth resource: influence. Food allows your city’s population to grow, Dust lets you buy things and pay for upkeep, engineering speeds up building, science speeds up research. You’re able to research different abilities to provide new troops, buildings, and functions to your empire. You can erect different buildings to provide various boosts and functions. Of course, you can build armies as well.
Now, for the things Endless Legend does differently. First off, your research ability is what allows your empire to progress to different “eras”. Once you have researched a set number of abilities, your empire automatically progresses, giving you access to a new set of research. Every ability costs the same amount of science, and increases in cost after every ability finished. This keeps researching relatively streamlined. Once you move to a new era, though, all of the previous era’s abilities are stacked into the new ones and still available to research, causing things to become a bit cluttered.
Endless Legend features a number of non-empire groups called Minor Factions spread across the map. These AI groups are typically hostile by default, and you have a number of ways to make them loyal to your empire: attack them, bribe them, or parlay with them. When you parlay, they give you a series of quests for you to complete in order to make them loyal. Once they are loyal (and their city is rebuilt, if you attack them), you have the option to assimilate them into your empire at the cost of influence. Assimilated empires provide various buffs for your empire and troops, and allow you to add them to your armies as well. The assimilation aspect allows you to customize your armies far beyond what your empire’s default troops offer.
Speaking of armies, battles in Endless Legend play out in a turn-based grid strategy style. Once a battle begins, part of the map is closed off and you take control of your troops, taking turns giving them commands to defeat the opposing army. While an interesting way to play out battles, control of your armies is somewhat annoying. You are only really able to give them general orders, rather than specific ones. You may command an injured troop to move away, but unless you remember to set their battle style to defensive rather than aggressive, they’ll be more than willing to ignore orders and charge right into battle.
There is also the ability to, rather uniquely, outfit your specific troops. You can research various kinds of weapons and armor, and use some engineering resources to create equipment for each variety of soldier you can make. This style of customization is quite interesting, even if it slightly adds to the complexity of the game.
There’s way too much more to this game than I can mention. One final note on the gameplay, though: even with all the options and abilities available to you, Endless Legend is very slow in the early game. There’s really not much you can do until you gather enough resources and grow your population, leaving the first 20 or so turns to mostly exploring with your first army and clicking “End Turn”. I was put off this game many times by the slow start.
The Land of Conquest
To put it simply, Endless Legend is a beautiful game. Every little tile has an incredible amount of detail on it, especially your city tiles when they begin growing and expanding. Each empire’s city has its own style as well, making it easy to differentiate between them. The sheer number of different designs for every kind of troop is impressive as well, with each empire and Minor Faction having their own styles of troops. The pre-game cutscenes are also beautiful to look at. While they have little-to-no animation, the art style and detail they have is gorgeous.
The worst thing you can do, though, is turn on the mode that lets you see which resources are available on which tile. Each tile already has an amazing amount of detail, so overlaying that with resource info makes things very cluttered and busy looking. Of course, you’re not expected to keep this mode on permanently, but its a bit of an eyesore when it’s turned on.
Call to Arms
Either I have a terrible memory, or I’ve been on a spree of playing games with forgettable soundtracks. I guess it’s kind of understandable here. 4X games typically command hours-long play sessions, so having relaxing background music would definitely help hold your attention and keep you from wearing out. However, I consider the soundtrack to be one of the more important parts of the game, so the lack of a memorable one is quite disappointing.
There is some voice acting, mostly in the pre-game cutscenes. I tried out three or four factions, each with a different cutscene and voice-over, and all of them were quite well done. Unfortunately, I really don’t have much more to say on this front.
Before I get to the final score, I want to be straight out honest: I did not personally enjoy this game. The slow start, combined with the lack of story and forgettable soundtrack made this a chore for me to play. However, I’m not much of a 4X player.
Looking at the game objectively, though, this is a solid 4X game. Everything that a player of the genre would want is here, and it plays with some interesting mechanics that I have not run across in my (limited) experience with this style of gaming. Each faction has a very distinct playstyle, but it doesn’t force you to follow it if you do not wish to. The game has quite a lot of customization options, so you can run your empire and build your armies to fit your playstyle. The game does stumble a bit with its battle sequences and slow start, but I would recommend Endless Legend to anyone that is a fan of the genre, or even newcomers who are looking to try it out.
~ Final Score: 7/10 ~
Review copy provided by Iceburg Interactive for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.