I’d like to begin by saying that I have no idea what the X’s stand for in a 4X strategy game; I’d like to begin by saying that, but sadly, it would be a lie. And I also wish the reason I knew what each X signified was because I say or write the words, “expand, explore, exploit and exterminate” so frequently that the shortened version will save me an X-orbitant amount of time; but that, sadly, is also not the case.
No, the reason I am so familiar with the 4X’s is that I just keep playing these games. Inevitably, the latest Civilizations, Age of Wonders, or Tropico comes out and draws me right back in, with its little moving goal post of growing an empire, turn by turn. Thankfully, despite being a huge time-sink, most of these games have some sort of objective or flimsy campaign, where at the end of it I can pretend to have “completed” my adventure, so that I can move on to my next assignment. Except now there’s this new game in Steam Early Access which is calling itself Endless Legend.
The “Endless” moniker on a game has thus far been a good omen for me – back when I did a preview for Endless Dungeon I really got hooked by the randomly generated maps, heroes and loot. Not only did the game have a great presentation and unique take on the tower defense genre, its “endlessness” came in easily digestible bytes. Endless Legend, on the other hand, still might fall victim to the same things I’ve disliked about other 4X games recently released, which is to say that they really are kind of endless.
What’s great about Endless Legend is that at this point, even though there are only four factions (which I presume will be the final total), those factions include elves, spirit-inhabited armored beings, technophile vault dwellers, and a zombie hive-mind race. Each sounds equally compelling and rife for back story and exposition – who wouldn’t want to effectively take over a 4X world as what essentially amounts to either the Brotherhood of Steel or zombie Zerg?
And when you actually load up the map and see the beautiful hexes further populated with multi-headed hydras, demons and dwarf minor factions, the world draws you in even more. Adding even further depth to that is the 3D world, where hexes have various topographical heights and the way from point A to B isn’t always a straight line with varying movement costs. To get to some plateaus you’ll actually have to go around things, which feels sadly new for the genre.
When combat occurs, you’ll even use this same overland map to deploy units and fend off enemies, so it’s no wonder Games2Gether has put so much effort into making it look pretty. Of course, this being an early alpha build, there are still a few downsides, chief amongst them being that the “under construction” tutorial is sorely needed. If you have experience with 4X games, you should be able to pick up this one and flourish pretty easily, but even after hours of play there are still a few mechanics I can’t understand – it’s cool that you can advance your empire through different technology tiers (or “ages”) but it isn’t clear whether it’s time or collective research that makes that ticker advance, allowing you to build stronger units and work with more exotic materials.
No matter how great a game looks though, what really compels a player to stick with it is some sort of emotional or intellectual engagement with the world and its denizens. Granted, if you have a shoddy framework underneath, no amount of storytelling is going to pull you in to a world that you just don’t want to visit. So Endless Legend at least has the presentation and background nailed well enough to make me want to get sucked in. Whether or not they string together some words and scenarios in the coming months has yet to be seen. But I can definitely tell you at this point that if they do script some kind of story or give me concrete objectives, I’ll be familiarizing myself with all four of its X’s for some time to come. (Thank goodness they don’t call these “triple X” games, or else that last part would have sounded really dirty. And pathetic.)
A code for Endless Legend was provided to Pixel Related for preview.