Picture two generals meeting face to face on the hexy grid of a turnbased 4X game. Imagine their armies deploying in carefully designed formations into the surrounding hexes, turning a big chunk of the map into a hexy battlefield. Now imagine the units running out of their hexes and clashing in a real-time scrap that other passing players can see and dive into.
Endless Legend's developers, Amplitude, have some interesting ideas about how turn-based strategy games could work. They stopped just short of showing me the unfinished real-time element of their combat system – rearranging the laws of space-time takes some effort – but they did show me plenty more of their new fantasy empire-building sim. It's set on a planet called Auriga, the site of an ancient civil war among the people of a technically advanced but longtoppled civilisation known as the Endless. Fantastic factions war for control of Auriga, struggling to dominate through culture, trade and conquest.
Some, like the Roving Clans, are a little unconventional. This nomadic culture's only purpose is to facilitate trade between other factions. If they get wiped out, there is no trade. Amplitude anticipate they'll become a pawn for warrior and diplomacy factions to fight over, but they'll also form an intelligence network. They oversee and take a cut from every transaction, which gives them a unique overview of the marketplace.
Even Endless Legend's elves have some edge. Yes, they're tree-huggers who get bonuses for building near forested tiles on the game's randomly generated maps, but they're also addicted to drugs. They load up and go berserk during battles, but can lose their minds if they partake too often.
Those who have dabbled with Amplitude's last game, Endless Space, will be familiar with their penchant for creating diverse and interesting factions, and their skill with user interfaces. Endless Legend's elegant model-village look is borrowed from the opening credits of the Game of Thrones TV series. It's designed to clearly show differences in terrain elevation, which affects line of sight and grants bonuses to units on the high ground. Endless Legend's huge cities will grow even huger over time, and can expand far enough to block choke-points.
Amplitude's game also presents its own solution to the classic turn-based strategy problem: those long periods of slow, stable growth when you have to click 'Next Turn' until tedium dissolves your will to go on. Endless Legend will periodically dish out randomised quests to keep players awake, which can flip the status quo in an instant. The world could be struck by a zombie blight, or factions might be challenged to race to be the first to meet a randomly selected leader. Some quests will even tie into the Endless, and there's a victory condition that allows your race to discover an ancient spaceship, leave the planet and become an embryonic version of one of Endless Space's galactic factions.
Which is where the Dungeon of the Endless roguelike comes in. Is the spaceship that you can discover in Endless Legend the one that crash-lands in Dungeon of the Endless? We'll get to unravel Amplitude's master plan next year.