Looks can be deceiving.
At a quick glance, Endless Legend appears to be just another run of the mill 4X game with a fantasy aesthetic. However, it really only takes a few turns with the game before you realize that Amplitude Studios really set out to make something special here. Old ideas are given a fresh coat of paint and enough polish to keep you coming back, and there’s enough ingenuity here to keep you on your toes. It’s definitely not a perfect game, but it’s a fantastic experience offered by a company determined to leave their mark on the genre.
The game mechanics in Endless Legend are going to be familiar to anyone who’s played this genre before, but it’s what the developers do with them that makes it special. Build cities, explore the map, make promises to your rivals, break them because you decide their grass is actually just a hair greener, etc. It’s pretty par for the course at its very core, but then again, that’s a statement akin to saying all racing games are the same at their core. After all, you’re just driving a car.
In practice, Endless Legend has introduced mechanics that should undoubtedly become part of the new standard. Different factions actually play completely differently here. Not in the sense that Korea has better scientific bonuses or that the English are better prepared for naval battle, but in the sense that you have to completely plan around your faction’s strengths and weaknesses.
Cultists can only build one massive city. The Roving Clans can build freely, but often choose to simply pick up their cities to move to a better destination. The Ardent Mages are powerful sorcerers, but often have to earn their magic via self-mutilation, costing you valuable HP in battle. The Broken Lords don’t require any food to maintain their civilization, but unless they eat dust (the currency in Endless Legend), they’ll starve anyways. No two factions will give you the same feel for the world around you, and if you’re not able to adapt to them, then you don’t stand a chance of survival.
Diplomacy has been given a drastic overhaul, and I’m honestly kind of shocked we’ve never seen anything like this before. You’ll need influence points to do just about anything with another nation, or you could save them to pay for your own Empire plans which act as long-term buffs capable of propelling your faction into the lead. You’ll have to choose if you want to focus on yourself as a noninterventionist, or spend those valuable points to play your part in an inter-race House of Cards.
When I say you have to pay for everything, I mean just that. Declaring war requires a sizeable investment of points, meaning you can’t just show up ready to demolish a city. However, you could lower the cost of war by threatening them in advance, which in turn gives them an idea that you may be up to no good. Asking for alliances or treaties requires the same investment of points, so not even friendship is free in Endless Legend.
And, of course, you’re not free of faction influence here, either. The Roving Clans are merchants at heart and don’t really have a history of going to war, so if you want to claim some cities in their name, you’ll have to convince your opponents to make the first move. The Drakken can force peace on anyone, buying yourself some time to breathe in the heat of battle.
Playing the role of city states, minor factions dot the world’s landscape. By interacting with them, you can take on quests leading to bonuses, riches, and even eventually pacification of the faction themselves. Then, once they’ve been brought under the umbrella of your faction, you’ll start receiving gifts of units, allowing you to quickly build up an army.
These quests are a welcome breath of fresh air to a genre that can grow a bit stale at times, and can have a tendency to change the way you’re playing. Being told that you have to hunt down an army while you’re trying to map out an area quickly adds a bit of pressure to what can otherwise be a dull point of the game. These aren’t perfect, and I wish there was a bit more variety in them, but they do a great job of keeping you on your toes.
Combat is one of the game’s few weak spots in my eyes. While you can automate combat leaving it closer to how Civilization fans have grown accustomed to, you can also enter into a Heroes of Might and Magic-esque battle where individual units take their turns, leaving you to command from above. This does have the very novel idea of allowing nearby units to join the battle after a few turns, but it feels a bit barren at times. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the design, but it feels like there was more room for improvement on the formulas laid out. Don’t be surprised if you end up skipping through combat just to get back to the parts of the game that are a bit more entertaining.
Units themselves can be upgraded in traditional RPG ways, by finding or buying new and more powerful weapons and armor. It’s a great change from the usual upgrade-whatever-building-made-the-units approach, and it’s something I hope we see more of.
Endless Legend’s major flaw is simply how dense the game is, and how ill prepared you are for it. There is a tutorial you can play through, but it simply doesn’t introduce enough of the game to be useful. It shows you the basics, but you won’t really have a feel for the title until you get a few games under your belt.
Endless Legend also suffers from information overload quite often. The map itself is incredibly detailed and a joy to look at, but it leads to things getting a bit lost in everything. You can zoom out all the way to get a more monotone interface that allows you to highlight useful items, but it is simply ugly as sin comparatively. On top of that, information pop ups will often interrupt you without offering any real insight on what’s happening. While it’s great to know that I need to build something in my city, it’d be helpful if I was told exactly which city the game means.
The last major failing I have here is that the UI scaling for 4k monitors leaves a bit to be desired. The game looks absolutely brilliant at the higher resolutions, but text boxes remain fairly tiny, forcing you to lean in to stay up to date. While this most certainly isn’t a problem all gamers will have, or even most if we’re going by some of Steam’s latest stats, it’s something that people who do have 4k monitors will definitely want to be aware of.
Endless Legend is a joy of a game that should be considered required playing for fans of the 4X genre. While it does have some flaws, there are so many new ideas in play here that it would be an absolute shame if other games didn’t start ripping them off. This is a fantastic showing by a smaller studio, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for the future.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was given to us for review purposes.
While Endless Legend still doesn’t have the polish or prestige of Civilization, if this is any indication, Amplitude Studios may be gunning to become the crowned king of 4X.