I’ve been playing a lot of Endless Legend lately and I really want to share my updated thoughts on the game, as it stands now, after everything is said and done.
When I wrote my Endless Legend review for eXplorminate, I spoke very highly of it, giving it eXplorminate’s first-ever “eXemplary” rating. I was truly awed by Amplitude Studios’ ability to go from a good (but mostly meh) Endless Space 1 to the, in my humble opinion, outstanding Endless Legend.
It wasn’t without its faults, though. There were some rough edges with pacing, with the end game, and with its AI. So did the 7+ DLC/expansions help the game overcome its these weaknesses?
What I Like:
The Lore: This part of Endless Legend is so incredibly good that I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that immediately. There are few games, few game universes, more fleshed out than Amplitude’s Endless Universe and it shows through in nearly every aspect of Endless Legend.
From the Vaulters and their advanced technology and matriarchal society, to the Necrophage and their unique leader and society, to the strange nanobot population that is money and magic in the same breath, to worlds littered with remnants of a once-great civilization, the Endless Universe is absurdly detailed and interesting. Hell, they hired Jeff Spock specifically to make a deep and interesting universe before they knew exactly what games they’d be making. That’s a dedication to lore and story building that few developers ever have.
And it works incredibly well in the Endless Games and make the games better. Full stop.
The Asymmetry: A few 4X games have really tried asymmetric races, like Ascendancy, Sword of the Stars, and a few others, but none of them quite hit the level that Endless Legend hits. The Broken Lords don’t eat food, rather consume dust and use it to “grow” new people. The Drakken can see everyone on the map from the first turn and can force players in to diplomatic agreements. The Allayi shapeshift during the Winter period and become more aggressive and capable. The Morgawr are masters of the sea and the majority of a game played as them ends up being sea-based. The brand-new Kapaku are masters of volcanic terrain and their volcanoformer mechanic is unique to just about any and every 4X game in existence.
I could go down the entire list of factions in Legend and you’d see each of them have a unique focus and gameplay ability. It makes for increased replayability, as each faction not only plays the game very differently, but they each feature a separate and detailed quest line that encourages the player to try factions that they may not originally be drawn to. Legend’s 13 and counting factions will keep you occupied for a good long while.
The Strategic Map: I think Endless Legend’s strategic map is without peer. It is absurdly detailed, incredibly pretty, and usually well generated. From rivers that form waterfalls, to rock ledges, to ice-capped mountains, to beautiful deserts, Legend’s map has it all and it all seams together very well.
It also does an incredible job of making Auriga feel like an alien planet, with its strange resources and unique flora and fauna. It even affects gameplay, as the map displays – very well, I might add – where resources are and does so in a way that makes them immediately recognizable.
What’s even more interesting about the map is how resources continue to be revealed as the game progresses, setting up a very different look to how an early-game map looks vs. how a late-game map looks. Veteran players can immediately recognize the phase a game is in based on the resources that are available on the map and it really adds a sense of progression in a way few other 4X games do.
The Combat: I’m well aware of how divisive Endless Legend’s combat is, but I don’t quite understand why. As someone that appreciates the balance between having input in a combat’s outcome and the desire to have combat not be overwhelmingly time-consuming (as is the case with some strictly-tactical combat systems), I think Endless Legend gets it mostly right.
The great part is that you can also adjust how often you’re giving commands and how often you make choices in combat, too. As an advanced option in pre-game setup, you can select between giving commands every one, two, or three turns, which is enough variety to give the player as much – or as little – control of the units in combat as they wish. There’s a roll of the dice waiting every three turns, but it sure does speed up combat.
The animations and unit design are all fantastic, too, so it just further adds to the combat’s appeal. I can understand how some players want *more* control over their units, allowing them to face certain ways, maybe even moving them individually on their own, a la Age of Wonders 3, but combat works for me.
That being said, if there was an option for fully tactical combat like Age of Wonders 3, I’d likely elect to have it in most of my games, despite the added time it’d take to complete combat. What’s here works for me, though, and doesn’t detract from the overall pacing of the game.
The Quests: Both the faction quests and the quests you’ll stumble upon through exploration are well written, engaging, and offer enough incentive for you to dedicate time to. Not many 4X games have quests like these (save Fallen Enchantress and a couple others), and none of them offer quest lines that are as well-written and engaging as these are.
That’s why the lore is so critical to this game, as it allows for aspects of the game like the quests to be so much more meaningful. Most of them, especially the faction quests, flesh out the world and factions behind Auriga so well that you really start to develop a kinship with its people and their history.
The Minor Factions: Not only do the minor factions add even more flavor and visual variety to Auriga, but they also do some very interesting things in regards to combat and army balance. Optimally, you’ll find and assimilate a minor faction that offers units that will better balance your army AND give you the bonuses to FIDSI or otherwise that will best benefit your growing empire.
Each of the minor factions has their own distinct visual representation, so their units are immediately recognizable, and each of them has their own combat roles and prowess. It’s a unique system and it allows for flexibility in army loadouts that few other games do.
The eXpansion Model: I genuinely love the way Amplitude expands their games. In particular, the way they’ve expanded upon the excellent foundation that was established with the base game with expansions like Shifters, Tempest and even the most recent NGD-developed expansion, Inferno. Hell, those three alone offer some of the best gameplay I’ve seen in any 4X game.
The way that Amplitude introduces new factions that take full advantage of the new gameplay mechanics that they introduce creates a real motivation to pick the game up, even if it’s only to play as the new faction and take them for a spin to utilize their unique strengths that relate to those new mechanics.
However, it’s also fun to take the original and previously-released factions and see how well the new mechanics work with their established strategies. Making the Cultists a sea-faring, ocean-gobbling faction is fun, as is utilizing the new Winter mechanics with the Wild Walkers and their excellent mobility, thus picking up those pearls faster than most.
It’s an expansion strategy that has worked very well for Endless Legend and I hope to see another one or two cooked up, now that NGD Studios has established a great working relationship with Amplitude.
The Soundtrack: It’s the single best 4X-game soundtrack of all time. It’s melodic, moody, engaging, and, well, just about perfect. There’s much else to say about it.
Flybyno is a genius and Endless Legend wouldn’t quite be the gem that it is without his amazing music. Full stop.
What I don’t Like
The AI: While it has certainly improved over the course of the game’s life, the AI is always the focal point when it comes to criticism of Endless Legend. Put simply, it’s just not very good or engaging. On all but the highest difficulties – even for relative noobs – the AI never really threatens a competent player. A veteran player, one who understands even just the basic systems and can play efficiently, can trounce most levels of the AI without too much of a fight.
Granted, I understand completely that developing an AI for 4X games is difficult, but Legend’s AI is sub-par and makes for some frustrating moments. It never seems to understand when to take advantage of the player’s weaknesses and never really consolidates its strengths and/or forces to mount any sort of true threat.
At higher difficulties, the AI is given enough bonuses to overcome these shortcomings, but it feels cheap. Let’s hope that Amplitude continues to iterate and improve its AI capabilities so that the inevitable Endless Legend 2 is better off.
The Pacing: Endless Legend plays a bit too slowly sometimes. While I always feel like I have a goal or task to accomplish, the process of doing so feels like it takes a bit too long. This is partially due to the low amount of units present in most games and also due to the speed at which units travel and explore.
With fewer units (and a high dust penalty for having more), it’s harder to get large maps explored in a respectable amount of time, and with the majority of armies having slow movement speeds, it simply feels a bit claustrophobic with how little of the map you can explore in a moderate amount of time.
It’s because of those issues that I believe that the pacing is the single biggest issue aside from the AI that plagues Endless Legend. Neither of those issues would be terribly difficult to overcome with the future sequel.
The Diplomacy: While I think that Endless Legend’s diplomacy is a significant step beyond their first outing, Endless Space, it still feels a bit too formulaic. Sure, the new “influence” resource is a step in the right direction, but there are very few aspects to the diplomacy in Endless Legend that feels engaging enough to really enjoy it.
That being said, I do appreciate the attempts at flavor text and the attempt at setting the mood for each faction through that text, but the same lines do get repeated a bit too often to feel organic.
It’s harder to see now, too, since Endless Space 2’s diplomacy is a bigger step in the right direction, with situational demands and conversations that would have really helped Legend’s diplomatic game and blandness.
It’s not a HUGE knock on the game as much as the AI might be, but it’s still something I see room for improvement in and hope that Amplitude continues to work on this aspect of their 4X games.
At the end of the day, there are a lot of good reasons that Endless Legend sits firmly atop my “4X Games Leaderboard”. The asymmetric races, the deep lore, the detailed and interesting map, and so many more little details and gameplay loops leave me with that “just one more turn” feeling more than any other 4X game in my whole life. I have nearly 300 hours with it and I STILL go back to it every few weeks.
That’s saying a lot, because I don’t have 300 hours worth of time for nearly ANYTHING, so having devoted that much time to Endless Legend despite all of the other responsibilities I have and the other games I want to play is proof that I’m addicted.
The inevitable Endless Legend 2 will easily be my most anticipated game of all time when it’s eventually (hopefully) announced. No other game has been such an incredible journey for me, for many reasons, and I can’t wait to find time for another go at it. Even after 300 hours of playtime…
How do you guys feel about Endless Legend? Am I crazy for rating it so high? What games do you think are better? I’m truly interested in hearing your thoughts!