Romain de Waubert de Genlis, Amplitude co-founder and Creative Lead on Endless Space 2, prefaces the live demo he’s about to show me with the studio’s philosophy of community collaboration and transparency. “It’s simple to say ‘I will listen to my community.’ Everyone wants to say that. But what matters is that you can prove it.” Amplitude’s Games2Gether platform has supported the creation of all the Endless games to date, and Endless Space 2 is no exception.
The recently revealed Unfallen faction are the result of a community design contest, feature design documents have been available for discussion on the Games2Gether forum, and Romain tells me that the final Endless Space 2 tech tree owes a lot to community feedback. “We based the design of the tech tree on Endless Legend, and actually our players hated it,” he says. “Not only did they hate it, I have to admit it was not very good looking … That was painful because we’d spent a lot of time on it and it was a whole game mechanic. Basically we shut it down and threw more or less everything away.”
The new tech tree is displayed as a quartered circle, with each quadrant dedicated to clusters of improvements around ‘Economy and Trade,’ ‘Space and Exploration,’ ‘Empire Development,’ and ‘Military’. You can see the entire tech tree within the opening minutes of the video below. Our demonstration ran into a few external technical issues (the joys of using Skype), so I had to cut out a few unusable segments. Unfortunately, the Endless Space 2 game audio did not come through at all either. What follows is a half hour overview of what Romain showed me, and the majority of the discussions.
Amplitude have incorporated ideas from the first Endless Space and Endless Legend into this sequel, but an addition unique to Endless Space 2 is the politically motivated population. “When we’ve played 4X games, too often we see population just represented as a bunch of numbers,” Romain says, “For us population should be key. Making them work together, evolving them, knowing when you’ll have to sacrifice some of them in wars, and knowing that long wars will take a big toll.”
“Population will have feelings, they’ll react to their surroundings, and they’ll do that through politics.” The political feelings of your empire’s population are reflected in the Senate. Factions will represent various interests (Industrial, Ecological, Military, and so on), and heroes can be appointed to lead factions and give them more influence. In the early Riftborn game Romain was demonstrating at this point, their Industrial faction was dominant enough to push for a law which would provide the next established colony with a bonus to overall population happiness.
Populations evolve over time and Senatorial elections are held every twenty turns, so the political body of your Endless Space 2 empire can alter quite rapidly. Events (such as a nearby invasion, or player decisions to push towards commerce) can sway public opinion one way or the other. External quests will force the player to take sides, and different population types (minor factions you have absorbed, for example) will react according to their own beliefs.
Subterfuge and manipulation are options too. “Sometimes you may have to trick your population to elect a new party to power,” Romain tells me, “You’ll even be able to cheat some of the elections sometimes.” If your empire is an autocracy it’ll be in your power to choose the ruling party, but this won’t necessarily please your populace.
Endless Space 2 will also be adopting the asymmetrical faction approach pioneered in Endless Legend. The Riftborn, one of four new factions in the game (the other four are returning favourites from the original), can control time. “It’s pretty interesting in play to be able to freeze, fast-forward, or even go backwards where if you didn’t like the result of a battle you can reset it,” Romain says. They can also temporarily freeze production and fleet progress in systems, providing plenty of tactical opportunities for messing with your opponents.
“The spirit of all our previous factions is still the same,” he adds, when I ask how the returning factions have been adapted for the sequel. “The new stuff that we do with the Cravers is slavery. They enslave people to use as cheap labour and food.” Pretty unpleasant stuff, but the Cravers now have some rivals in the race to be most immoral faction. The Vodyani are characterised as space vampires, draining life from other beings in part from necessity and in part because they just enjoy doing so. They have some nuance to their destructive tendencies however; protecting plants and nature is important to them.
Speaking of plants, towards the end of the demo session I got a brief look at the Unfallen. “We always said we’d never have plants in space or monsters in space,” Romain says, “But I think our community was craving that.” The Unfallen are a little of both, massive tree-like beings who tend towards diplomacy and pacifism. They spread from their home planet on a branch-like structure of vines, and can awaken ancient Guardians to serve as planetary protectors. Vine-ways allow for faster travel of friendly ships, while slowing down foes. “It can make a very coherent, very defensive world, which is good for a peaceful people,” says Romain.
Even factions inclined towards peace are likely to find themselves in a battle or two. For Amplitude, though, a ‘pure’ pacifist play-through should be just as engaging as a run at the head of a militaristic faction. “The battles are a wonderful part of that story, but it’s not the only part. People should be able to play as a pacifist, more or less never fight, and it should be great and fun,” Romain tells me.
As in the first Endless Space (and to an extent in Endless Legend), the important decisions towards winning a space battle in Endless Space 2 are really made ahead of time. The amount and type of ships you bring to engagement, where that engagement takes place, utilisation of specialist faction powers (like Riftborn time manipulation) to tip the scales your way; these are the actions that will secure victory. Once the cinematic-style battles kick off, you no longer have control over how they play out. You’re the faction Emperor, not its General.
On the suggestion of the community, Amplitude have added a tactical dimension to the pre-battle preparation screen. Here, you can select an overall strategy for your fleet to employ, and divide your ships across three flotillas. Strategies like ‘Power to Shields’ (+55% shield power, but -10% weapon damage) can be combined with basic instructions to your fleet flotillas (the one demonstrated to me employed a pincer maneuver) to give your forces an additional boost. Research, quests, and other strategic decisions will provide you with more battle options over the course of a game.
Ground invasions will be possible in Endless Space 2 as well, for which Romain says “your population and the crew on your ships will be very important”. Manpower can drop very quickly if you get drawn into a lengthy war. To that end, when on the wrong end of an invasion it’s possible to tell your planet to surrender. Rather than fight to the bitter end, it can be better to preserve your population (albeit now under another faction’s rule) and re-take the planet, and population, later. Conversely, it may be worth the sacrifice in order to slow the enemy down and buy time for reinforcing fleets.
As the interview time winds up, I ask Romain about the different victory conditions in Endless Space 2. There will be two ways to triumph through warfare (ruling the home system of every other faction, or owning 60-70% of the galaxy), routes to dominance through trade and scientific research, and the option to undertake massive ‘Wonder’ building projects to (presumably) control the universe through architectural awe. In short, says Romain, “Builders, scientists, warmongers; everyone should be able to find their own way of winning.”
Many more details are included in the embedded interview video, so have a look at that if you want the full scope of the demonstration.
Endless Space 2 is currently in the final days of Steam Early Access and will be released on 19 May.