Early Access reviews offer our preliminary verdicts on in-development games. We may follow up this unscored review with a final, scored review in the future.
Hexagons have never looked this good. Endless Legend paints a watercolor fantasy across its 4X strategy grid, and the pieces that fill those hexagons—distinct warring factions, indigenous races, fire trees and magical orbs and mysterious ruins—build a rich and deeply complex game world. Complexity is typically expected from 4X strategy games, but playing them before they're complete is not. And Endless Legend is definitely not complete.
I started playing Endless Legend after a beta update added multiplayer support, two factions (six of the final eight are now playable) and other improvements. It felt like the right time to jump in, and I was pleased by the stability of the private multiplayer a couple hours into the campaign. It was easy for my friend, who hosted our multiplayer match, to load a save file and get us back into a campaign. We didn't hit any desync or lag issues in our game. Instead, we ran into a different snag: we barely knew what to do.
Both of us played Endless Space , Amplitude Studios' last 4X game. Endless Legend carries over identical UI elements and mechanics: resources like food, dust (money), science (tech tree research), and industry (construction). I recognized the resources, but at the start had little indication where I should found my starting city, how to expand, or what to do as I slowly collected resources. It's not that I wanted the game to hold my hand through everything—there was no way for me to acquire the information I needed. Legend doesn't have a single line of tutorial text in place yet, and without tutorials the tooltips are often frustratingly vague.
Endless Legend looks like a scaled-back Civilization 5 , but it layers narrative atop its sandbox with RPG-esque sidequests and faction quests. Those quests did help guide me through the early turns, though again, vague tooltips sometimes made the quest conditions confusing. The sidequests are randomized, but I'm concerned that each faction's primary quest, which doesn't seem to vary game-to-game, will make repeated playthroughs with the same faction feel more same-y, less sandbox-y.
Amplitude also added equipment for its hero characters, who can lead armies into combat or govern cities to boost resource production. Buying and equipping gear can have a huge effect on a hero's efficacy in combat, but there are so many items (and so many underexplained symbols pertaining to combat) that I didn't know what to buy. I ended up ignoring the system until late in the game, when I was flush with resources.
The quest system and Endless Legend's beautiful world map make exploration fun, but the other Xs—expansion, exploitation, and extermination—left me bored for the first 10 hours of the game. I felt like I was doing everything wrong, early game, because it took so long to do anything . Every construction project took multiple turns. Troops plodded across the map. Resources came in at a trickle.
I eventually got the hang of expansion, remembering from Endless Space that I could allocate my population to specific tasks to speed up food production or research or construction. Expansion and troop movement got better, too, but mistakes early game can saddle you with damaging low approval ratings that slow production. My population was constantly angry at me for conquering new regions and growing my empire. And I didn't know there was a "right" way to expand cities: surrounding the central hub with districts, which levels them up and makes the population happy. I naturally snaked my cities outwards towards the most valuable resources, permanently damaging my approval ratings by having sprawling, low-level cities.(opens in new tab)
After a couple hundred turns, I was able to sweep two AI enemies off the map with three armies. I was allied with the final AI player, but my domination didn't trigger a military victory. Endless Legend's final two research trees aren't in place yet, so I couldn't win through science. I also couldn't find any sign of economic or political victories. I'm sure those will all be present in the final game. But in early access, my campaign ended with a shrug.
I love Endless Legend's gorgeous art direction and RPG elements, but the complete lack of tutorials, sometimes-vague tooltips and shallow combat are all problems for a complex 4X game. I'd recommend waiting for the final release unless you love providing beta feedback on game balance.
OK. When Amplitude releases the final version of Endless Legend, I expect tutorials and a completed endgame will solve most of the issues I experienced. If combat remains unchanged, it will be the weakest of the four Xs.
Version reviewed: July 3, 2014 beta update
Reviewed on: 3.5 GHz Intel Core i7 X990, AMD R9 290X, 8GB RAM
Recommended: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 @ 2.50Ghz, 4GB RAM, nVidia Geforce 460 1GB or ATI Radeon HD 6850 1GB
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Developer: Amplitude Studios
Multiplayer: 4 player online