At a glance...

Previewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Release Date
Richard Pilot PC/Mac Iceberg Interactive Amplitude Studios Now (Steam Early Access)

Endless Legend preview

There will always be a place in my heart for turn-based strategy games. As my Steam account can testify, I have invested literally hundreds of hours into these games, the most prominent being Civilisation V and its expansions. It's a fantastic strategy game with a great balance between expanding your expire and managing the relationships with the other inhabitants of the world. It's also notable for me as I have not found a game since that has matched it. Recently however, someone, knowing I was a fan of the genre, brought Endless Legend to my attention, and after spending a few days playing it, it is threatening to take the top spot away from Civ V.

Endless Legend is a turn-based 4X game currently available under Steam's Early Access programme and, as such, some of the game's features are not fully implemented. Unfortunately for those not familiar with this genre, the biggest current omission is any guidance during play which means a lack of tutorials. With that caveat out of the way, let's begin talking about what’s on offer.

The world of Endless Legend is one of fantasy. There are a eight factions in the game (although only four of these are present in the current version) and all have a detailed and fantastical background to them like the Necrophages, an infectious hive mind race, and the Broken Lords, beings of pure energy that possess suits of armour. These factions all inhabit the planet of Auriga, a dying world that you need to conquer. At the start of the game You choose a faction and find themselves in a procedurally generated land. The land itself is incredibly detailed, the game is already looking gorgeous, and there will be plenty for you to explore.

You start off with an army and these comprise the heart of the game's mechanics. They are formed by a number of individual units and, optionally, a hero unit. Through these you can engage in most of the core actions of the game like creating cities (assuming you have a unit in the army that can create them), interacting with other factions, and of course doing battle. The word 'army' is key here because while you can form one with a single unit, you'd be ill-advised to do so. There's strength in numbers in Endless Legend and you'll certainly need as much help as you can.

It has the look of a table-top game

It has the look of a table-top game

You'll use your armies for exploration and city creation, but the meat of Endless Legend is your interaction with the other factions that inhabit the land. You'll have the large factions (i.e players) to contend with, although in this early access version you're limited to AI opponents and even then they're more likely to fight than talk (advanced AI diplomacy is an upcoming feature). The game offers an automated option for fighting which will perform some educated dice rolls under the covers, or you can opt to take charge yourself. The former is only really recommended if you have the upper hand and the latter is actually quite fun. Rather than ripping you away from the world, battles take place upon it. The game cordons off a portion of the map which is then reskinned for purpose and there you'll do battle, trapped in this isolated section of land until one army emerges the victor. This is where the strength of multiple units in an army becomes clear as each piece will appear on a separate hex in the battle. You can then issue order to these units individually, where to move to and which enemy to attack, and then watch as they carry out your orders

In addition to fighting (and ultimately conquering the other factions), you also have to contend with minor factions that roam the land. These are miniature tribes who have their own armies and a single hex to call home. What's interesting about these factions is that you don't need to kill them in order to pacify them. Interacting with them will provide you with quests which, upon completion, will see them come over to your side in addition to providing other bonuses such as extra weapons or control of a territory. It is a cool system and provides an interesting and varied approach to taking over the lands. This also feeds into an overall quest system for your faction which incentivises you for expanding your empire throughout the game. It's not quite a tutorial, but at times it is enough for help your decide where to focus your resources.

Winter is coming! Or has already come, in this case.

Winter is coming! Or has already come, in this case.

Leaving units now, let's move onto city building, which is, after all, a major component of this genre. You'll first need to decide on a spot of land to build your city, analysing the resources that each tile produces to determine the optimum position. Resources in this case being food, dust (currency), industry (production) and science. Spot determined, creating your city is as easy as a press of a button, with the selected tile becoming the hub of your city and the neighbouring tiles are brought into the fold. You'll get very little choice in what to build initially as the list of choices are determined by what areas you have decided to research. As your race's knowledge grows, you'll being able to make all the improvements you'd expect, like production increases and unit creation. There's also the ability to expand into neighbouring tiles as an action; there's no automated city growth here.

There's a large research system, too. It's based on individual nodes rather than being a connected tree. These nodes are collected together in tiers and completing a set number of nodes in one tier will unlock the next. This is actually very liberating as there are more than twice the number of research options per tier than required, and you are free to chose any one to research at a given time. The research cost for each next option is the same regardless of what you decide to go for, although this amount does increases steadily as you grow more knowledgable.

An enemy city. You can guess what happens next.

An enemy city. You can guess what happens next.

It's interesting to note that none of these systems go out of their way to help you, unlike Civilization V which holds you by the hand until you've made every decision you need to; Endless Legend is content to let you do your own thing, even putting research on hold and letting your cities idle if you choose. It's unclear whether this is an intentional decision or a feature that will come in time hand in hand with the tutorial system and other in-game help systems. Whilst it's nice to see the game not force its systems down your throat, those who like to micromanage or simply want to see efficiency may need to zoom around the world and menus a little more than they'd like. That said, the ability to queue both research and construction in your cities allows you plan in bursts and think about the future of your empire, unlike other similar games that make you concentrate on the now.

Endless Legend originally enticed me in by looking like a fantasy-based Civ, an idea that instantly appealed to me, but it was clear after playing even briefly that the similarities are only skin deep. It does features a lot of the core systems that made me fall in love with the genre but it employes them in new and interesting ways. There's plenty of other options that I didn't even begin to scratch the surface of, such as the customised weapons that you can assign to units that you create, or how varied your heroes can become (beyond the expectation of slighter higher numbers). There's also a season system that switches between summer and winter, each of which brings its own mechanics and visuals to the game.

The game focuses a lot more on the armies that roam the world rather than the cities that are built on top of it, which requires new or different playstyles to those that you're used to. One of Endless Legend’s biggest shortfalls right now is it lacks the help systems and tutorials that would introduce you to the game, which forces players familiar with the genre to fill in the gaps to varying degrees of success. That said, despite those elements not being in place (as well as adding other core features like difficulty and automation), Endless Legend is still something that you should check out.

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