PAX Prime Day 3 Recap – Better Late than Never Edition
Endless Legend Dev Interview and Demo
Ah the Indie Megabooth, bastion of the future greats of a gaming industry no longer dominated by hefty publisher fees and overbearing corporate suits. So of course I was a bit surprised to see one of the rising stars of outside the box thinking and 4x empire builders to be situated in a small segment at the back of this section. Amplitude Studios is far too large of a company to warrant a seat here, or so I thought.
A member of the Endless Space team going by the moniker of Kaboomer was happy to take me on a half hour test drive of the game, and though his skill at designing 4x titles was clearly superior to his English, after a bit of back and forth we managed to work out a decent dialogue on just what makes this game, and Amplitude Studio itself, special. For starters, it turns out they aren’t nearly as large as I imagined! They have roughly twenty people working on game development, with around thirty-five total employees making the cogs run together. And while that makes sense for why they were in the Indie Megabooth, the question of how their second 4x empire builder is going to stand up to the upcoming juggernaut that is Civlization: Beyond Earth immediately came to mind.
An odd twist is that both companies are pushing outside their personal charted territories with this year’s launch.While Civilization is reaching to the stars, Amplitude’s previous title was in fact a well-received space empire builder known as Endless Space. As highly regarded as it may be, many of its players that have tried Endless Legend seem to remark on its fantasy edition as a far reaching ambitious title building on the successes of Endless Space with a To Infinity and Beyond mentality. Let’s look into the gameplay to make sense of this.
Building a World – And Rebuilding
For starters I must have kept Kaboomer on the world customization screen longer than anyone else that received a demo walkthrough. The number of customization options for setting up the perfect gameplay session easily matches their larger competitors. One particularly cool option to adjust the map’s “difficulty” setting set it apart by offering a quick way to make resources scarce and combat planning more challenging with a quick flip of a menu rather than having to individually adjust five or so settings to get this desired result. The actual world is everything a fantasy-genre 4x could hope for, with plenty of mystical lore rich resource tiles waiting to dazzle and reward explorers hoping to claim the best early spots for city development.
Every 4x title I’ve touched seems to have a slightly different take on cultural boundaries and city limits of resource harvesting, and Endless Legend added to that growing list without fail. Most notable when first founding a city is the sheer size of your cultural influence. Even though you may not be able to harvest tile resources from the entire city sphere right off the bat, the cultural limits expands a good 8 or 9 tiles in every direction. Strategically this seems to indicate they are looking to block offensive city construction to hamper the development of your rivals. On the micro-level this adds a layer of cost-benefit analysis of which tiles inside that sphere you want to gain access to first by constructing a borough (Ardent Mages) or whatever your nation’s equivalent is to expand your workable tiles in the cultural field.
Minor Factions Playing a Major Part
I lucked out in the demonstration that our Ardent Mage capital was located directly next to a minor civilization known as the Sisters of Mercy. While in an actual game this wouldn’t be ideal as their cultural expansions would clash and block you from accessing potentially useful tiles in your capital, at least I got to see how some of the questing systems work in the game.
Rather than full on bull rushing a minor faction, you can act on their behalf similar to the way befriending city states in Civilization V worked. The key difference is here your goal is to fully assimilate the states rather than gaining a temporary foothold on influencing them, with the goal of gaining their unit units and cultural bonuses permanently. I’m presuming their city comes with this influence.
Currently there’s a total of 15 minor factions in the game each offering their own bonuses, offering a decent dose of replayability when you factor in the likelihood of different minor factions appearing near your starting point in each game for you to assimilate, and the impacts plus synergies each faction can potentially offer to the incredibly diverse line-up of major factions available. And considering these factions can be gained through conquest or Dust purchases, don’t expect to catch ‘em all on a single game.
Victory Through Lore?
An interesting extension on this concept of questing is your faction’s primary quest. As you’d expect from a fantasy title, each faction is inherently quite different from each other both in appearance and overall goals. As such quests have been included for them to strive to achieve, adding a bit of guided roleplay into the game akin to what those that played the popular Fall from Heaven II mod for Civilization IV may remember.
But again replayability is vital to the survival of 4x games and Amplitude seems to realize this. As such they have mixed up these quest lines to be a little different each session. Of course you can always choose to ignore the quests entirely and aim for the more generic victory conditions like diplomacy and domination, but it’s certainly a fun option for gamers looking to really live the experience.
Although I saw very little of it in the demo, as one would expect in the early stages of most 4x titles, the combat in Endless Legend seems to draw inspiration from quite a number of titles and merge it into one general formula. Stack of dooms are present but clearly not done in the lazy way of games of the past.
Instead when two stacks meet, the units spread out across the battlefield of the actual world map rather than a localized instanced zone. Here hexagonal combat occurs complete with terrain offering movement buffs/debuffs and defensive bonuses along with units packing special abilities to keep things interesting. Surrounding opponents to flank from the sides and moral factors also play into influencing battle outcomes. And of course, hero units are on the table complete with equipment and skills to reward combat experience. Go hog wild with them in fact as Endless Legend takes the softcore approach of making hero units immortal, with the punishment of a trip back to the hero academy to heal should they lose a battle.
Limitations and Luxury
One of the major downsides to fantasy-based 4x games can be the imbalance of expansionist strategies versus all other tactics. While one is busy playing their role in the world and chasing quests, someone usually can make your efforts entirely moot by building a ton of cities and then overwhelming you with superior resources. Endless Legend takes the Civ approach to addressing this strategy by turning approval rating against your food and industrial productions if you build an empire bigger than your britches can hold.
The counter to this is trade to acquire as many of the 15 luxury resources as you can to remove these limitations. Again this heralds back to the well-designed world builder that will keep one starting civilization from claiming too many of the resources without some serious exploration and a bit of monopolization and trading efforts.
This was perhaps the piece of the puzzle I was most intrigued by and didn’t get a chance to witness first hand. But from what I have since read on the public forums, Amplitude is not making the mistake of ignoring the presence of their fantasy faction leaders like similar titles have done. Rest assured war declarations will be dramatic, and you will feel the heir of backstabbery waiting to strike in each meeting with your major faction rivals. Like you should!
Thankfully Amplitude has announced a full launch on September 18th. That’s only a week away! So soon all mysterious will be revealed. Fingers crossed this small studio can deliver on such a momentous project.
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