Just as the last squad of Vaulter Marines of the Iron Phalanx regiment fell before the mighty Cultist horde, a hulking Titan appeared on the horizon. The bulk of the Vaulter reinforcements reached the front lines one turn too late, but the enemy can still be stopped before doing any real damage. As the two forces draw closer, the Cultists spot dozens of marines and vine-vipers getting ready for the onslaught, as well as numerous Titans. The cultist’ victory doesn’t seem all that certain anymore. This is just one of the many epic situations I found myself in while playing Endless Legend as a leader of the Vaulters. I properly discovered the wonders of 4X only a couple of years back and am a big fan of Civilization and its likes ever since, so you can only imagine how I felt starting up my first game of Endless Legend 1.0.

If you’re new to the genre, rest assured that this game will prepare you for virtually any challenge you may find along the way with a well-rounded and… a tad bit boring introductory mission. As much as I appreciate the devs going out of their way to explain each and every function of the game, the tutorial is a real trudge and progresses slowly. Now, genre newbies will probably find it extremely helpful, but the more experienced 4X players may want to skip it altogether and figure things out on the fly. And since the basics don’t really differ much from any other “grounded” 4X title, it shouldn’t take long before you start kicking butts and taking control over Auriga.

Auriga is a planet that feels both suitably familiar and alien at the same time, compared to what we usually see in the genre. Teeming with life but on the brink of destruction, numerous sentinent and semi-sentinent creatures call this planet home. What’s really nice to see is that these aren’t examples of your usual fantasy tropes. My favourite minor faction would have to be the race of multi-headed snakes with pretty advanced social skills. They also birth live younglings instead of laying eggs, live in what are practically ventilated volcanoes and usually have at least one “flower” head through which they receive solar energy. They’re also ferocious fighters and a great supplement to any army, if you can get them to side with you. The major factions, on the other hand, are the ones you can lead to dominion over Auriga yourself. The sentinent creatures of higher cognitive abilities, these races are cleverly built and interestingly layered, only rarely succumbing to the clichés Endless Legend avoids so masterfully. The Vaulters are your basic human civilization and are the most familiar to start with – which is why I chose them as my go-to faction before mastering the basics. But the other races are far more specialized and fascinating. Take the Drakken, for example. Being huge, draconic and bulky in appearance, one would expect these lizard-men to be focused on building vast armies and dominating the battlefields with ease. However, the Drakken are ancient and wise, thus favouring political nuances when it comes to dealing with other civilizations and players, while employing mercenaries to protect their settlements. Then there are the Broken Lords. These creatures require no other resource to survive other than Dust – this game’s equivalent of gold. Trapped in their semi-living bodies, they suck on the souls of the living due to an ancient “curse”. A truly tragic race, especially when you see how their society rests on the pillars of chivalry and diligence, while they have to steal others’ lifeforce to stay amongst the living. Either way, these are just three of the eight available factions, where each plays differently than the others do. Now, some of them aren’t all that good at dealing with certain threats. The Drakken may respond badly to a highly aggressive faction that spawns numerous units, off the top of my head, and this is where some of the balancing inconsistencies come up. The issue isn’t all that serious, but may cause a failure here or there.

The gameplay consists of region/city management and development, as well as interaction with other factions. The first part is pretty simple and won’t require much other than the player knowing what he/she’s doing. Researching important tech, branching out your cities – stuff like that. Interesting thing though, there are no worker units per se, but your city can be upgraded every once in a while with a new district, which expands its growth and economical capabilities, as well as its resource production. All depending on how you built the bugger, of course. The other part -the interaction is much more engaging. If you plan on aggressively communicating with your neighbours, investing into military equipment and context-important resources is a must. While each faction has only a handful of units available, you can always upgrade their equipment and create personalized armies, legions and such. Hero units can be employed as well, and these come with their own skill trees, more item slots and can join either a city as a specialist or a unit as a leader. Naturally, one can also put their assimilated minor factions to work if push comes to shove, but this will depend on which races were available in the region you set down your first city’s foundations. The combat itself is more complex than the average player would expect from a Civ-like 4X game. Once two sides meet in the field, the units represented by a single 3D model on the world map spread out, allowing the player(s) to set their behaviour and provide some generalized orders about what to attack and how. Of course, the entire process can also be skipped by using the auto-solve option, but where’s the fun in that? The diplomacy is also a very viable option, and is presented with a sleek interface that clearly and distinctively shows your exact relations with the faction whose leader you’re talking to at the given moment. It’s very good to see that neither option is less feasible than the other, as well as the fact that the hybridization between these two approaches is possible, should the need arise. Multiplayer is embroiled into the fabric of the game, and there’s little to no difference (other than a more unpredictable enemy) between playing against an AI or a human opponent. This is good, because it’s all very streamlined and involving. Requiring only minimal effort before the actual gameplay starts flowing naturally.

Endless Legend is a very pretty game, even at medium settings. While you can be looking at the usual hexagons and straight lines which make the game world seem like a high-quality tabletop map, you can also select a more realistic approach, which replaces clinical cuts with jagged edges and nicer transitions between tiles. There’s a plethora of options for the players to fiddle with, easily tailoring the game to their own preferences. On the maximum graphical settings, you’ll be watching a special effect-fest, with depth of field, advanced post processing effects and similar bells and whistles all providing sufficient eye-candy for just about every player out there. Auriga is a very beautiful place, disregarding the impending apocalypse, and you might find yourself just looking at the serene environments instead of bossing around an entire empire. Soundtrack is no slouch either, with epic overtones that suit the game’s themes perfectly. I’ve also experienced two random crashes while playing, but autosave prevented loss of important gameplay data. What little bugs there are, should be fixed in a week or two anyway.

Finally, Endless Legend is a great 4X title. One that I’ve seen grow from a messy but promising Early Access project. With all the amazing units, races and gameplay mechanics, it’s not hard to find the game more than able to carry us over until the next Civilization title comes out. And even after that, its unique setting and great gameplay mechanics will make sure the game has all the attention it needs to thrive. A must for every fan of 4X games.