There are few genres so totally controlled by a single series quite like how Sid Meier's Civilization dominates the 4X genre. The popular series' latest entry, Civilization: Beyond Earth, has the attention of 4X fans worldwide, with its departure from the familiar and vaguely historic and going into the great unknown.
One, however, should not discount the efforts of smaller developers and their contributions to the genre. Late in September Amplitude Studios released Endless Legend, a 4X game set in the fantasy world of Auriga. Set in the same universe as last year's Endless Space, Endless Legend offers a more 'down to earth' application of the space faring prequel, and in the end gives plenty of depth to delve into.
Even more interestingly, these differences play heavily into each faction's play style, making each faction a very different playthrough. For example, the Cultists aren't actually a race of their own; instead, they taken over and convert other races and factions to their kind. The Roving Clans, on the other hand, cannot make grounded settlements of their own, nor can they declare war. Players have to learn to adapt to each of the different factions, and while the typical victory conditions persist (such as taking over all the factions, having a bunch of money, and so on), each faction also has its own unique victory condition, that is reached by following the faction's main questline.
Quests help to create some guidance in Endless Legend. Not quite sure what to do? The main questline is always there, waiting. Additionally, minor factions will ask for various things from you (whether it is resources or protection), and completing these tasks can get them to join your ever growing empire. When they do, you'll be able to create units from the minor faction, which can help in diversifying your army as you move forward. The quests aren't necessary to progress, and can be safely ignored if you don't want to mess with them, but their inclusion is nice for those that may feel a little lost while getting into Endless Legend's somewhat complex world.
Unfortunately, some of the game falls apart when you run into the other major factions. As you make contact with the other major races of Auriga, you can bribe and flatter them to come to your cause, or start a war to forcefully bring them to your empire. This is typical of most 4X games, but the AI doesn't really provide any engaging opposition to your conquests. If you declare war, the other factions involved will certainly fight back, but other than that they are overly docile. Say, for example, you take over one of their previously allied minor factions; more often than not you will get no counterattack from the obvious slight. If you accidentally provide a means in which another faction can attack and obliterate you, more often than not they won't take it. Once players learn of the AI deficiencies, it's easy to exploit this and easily move around through the map and achieve victory. Hopefully, though, this will be fixed up in upcoming patches.
But just because the major factions do not enjoy initiating anything doesn't mean there won't be combat. Random troops will roam the land, and eventually your scouts or your city will have to defend themselves. When this happens, the game will zoom in on the map, and your troops and the enemies will spread out amongst a small battlefield. From there, you have to plan your troops' movements and attacks, and the battle ensues over six rounds, until either the battle is over or the next full turn begins. Also, since the battlefield zooms in on the map itself, other than having a separated battlefield, allows you to use the actual lay of the land around you for a tactical advantage. While you probably won't know every small detail from just looking at a spot on the map, knowing what type of terrain you're fighting on can be the difference between victory and defeat.
Speaking of smooth, the graphics in Endless Legend are simply wonderful. The map is colorful and pretty, each of the factions have a wonderfully unique style, and the overall style meshes well with the game. The music is also quite good, fitting the moods well, whether you're exploring or fighting. Then again, these pretty graphics can lead to lesser or older PCs chugging a bit while moving troops, and while you can change the graphical settings around to help that, it doesn't feel like it will be enough for computers without a decent video card.
Endless Legend may have a few flaws that hold it back from being a truly great game of its genre, that doesn't stop it from being a worthwhile title to pick up. Endless Legend's lore is fascinating, and the rich and vibrant world of Auriga is ripe for the exploring... and conquering, if you wish. Like many other 4X games, this title provides the framework for many great playthroughs, provided you take the time to learn the various systems in place.
Versions tested: PC
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.