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I started playing Endless Legend recently. I’m impressed I liked it much more than I’d thought I would.

Endless Legend is a 2014 turn-based 4X strategy game by Amplitude Studios, set in a fantasy world of Auriga. It is a part of the Endless Universe game series which also includes two space 4X strategy games (Endless Space and Endless Space 2) and two roguelikes (I think, never actually played them) – one upcoming and one released in 2015.

Despite not making a lot of waves, they are still generally considered to be solid games. My relations with Apmplitude up to this point were complicated however. I played and somewhat liked first Endless Space (although didn't put a lot of time into it – did two or three quick single player runs and one multiplayer free-for-all) and was ultimately bored by the second. I always felt these titles lacked something, not substance but probably ability to motivate me to finish them, perhaps? Production quality was through the roof: nice graphics, great soundtrack, slick UI, multiple diverse races and planet types, abundance of beautiful art and cinematics, a lot of dedication put into universe backgrounds. But I honestly lacked any desire to continue past initial phase, it just didn't click and I felt like I was effortlessly painting pretty boring map with asinine unresponsive AI. Endless Space in my opinion is the exact opposite of my favourite space strategy (Sword of the Stars) in that SotS had garbage tier graphics, UI and sounds even at the time of its release (2006) but it's so engrossing I just can't stop playing before smashing my opposition into dust with lasers and photon torpedoes.

Endless Legend passed besides me during its release and I didn't give it much attention, thinking it would leave similar impression. My confirmation bias was also strengthened by a discussion I've stumbled upon several years ago with people being highly critical of the game. I decided to finally give it a try after watching favourable review and thinking it looked nice (plus it was on sale).

I was soon blown away by the game and now think it's possibly up there together with Civilization IV in my list of best 4X I've ever played. Graphics are really engrossing despite models lacking in texture resolution: lightning, unit and environment designs and just right amount of cartoonish stylization make it look like a fairy tale with very distinct characters. There are just so many nice looking sights; I was often just sliding around the map in my playthroughs looking for terrain features or creatures I've never discovered before. What's even more impressing is soundtrack: it's just as great sounding as it's varied. I honestly think Endless Legend just has no competition in this genre when it comes to the music, period. Aside from a few misses (like Necrophages theme, seriously, WTF was that muted drum beating), all tracks are worth listening to and do great job in describing the world and its' inhabitants in different tonal shifts and instruments – just as much as gorgeous art which is hidden in different faction quests, region descriptions and technology icons. There are a lot of beautiful imagery, and I think many entrances from the game's gallery are sitting on somebody's desktop right now. UI is also pretty neat if a bit too utilitarian and "modern" for my tastes (although it's understandable since underneath all the fantasy elements this game is pretty heavy on sci-fi stuff – more of that later).

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I'd say the variety is what really sells Endless Legend to me: there is just so much hidden in there. Factions, world events, interactions, background texts – everything has a lot of thought put into it. Since Auriga, a world where the game takes place, is just another planet from Endless Space, developers decided to give different races their own unique looks and ideologies, making some of them pretty distinct from majority of "safe" fantasy stereotypes in some way. More typical factions like dwarves, orcs and centaurs are relegated to the position of neutral peoples players can cooperate with either by completing different quests, bribing or forcefully including them into your growing empire. Each assimilated minor race gives different benefits, and there are a lot of them which is just the icing on the cake.

For example, Vaulters are descendants of human colonists whose ship crashed into the planet many years ago – their style blends together medieval and futuristic themes, resulting in castles fitted with teleportation devices and space marines wielding crossbows instead of rifles. Morgawr are Amplitude's darker take on merfolk – they are results of highly developed race's genetic experiments and share single consciousness together with powerful psychic ability: their gameplay mechanics are based around using oceanic beasts to control sea passages and building slave armies out of neutral villages. Broken Lords are your typical shiny honourable knights, but with a twist: they are actually magical dust essences trapped in armour; because of this, they have no need for food and base their economy around the dust which they use to heal and increase towns' population. Cultists of the Eternal End are an army of psychotic mechanical fanatics wishing to conquer the stars with their religion: they can't have more than one city but are able to take control over the world by converting minor factions and guiding them to wage war on infidels.

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Auriga itself is really not just the territory to capture or wage war on but yet another player: the planet is actually dying, and with each passing year winters become harsher and longer, crippling players' economy and making population starve. But winters are not only negative since they also bring Auriga's pearls into the world which your armies can collect and use to craft unique equipment, construct buildings or learn blessings which can help you to either predict or ease winter's effects. Aside from weather (which is especially crucial at sea), there are much more different challenges in forms of mighty wondering armies, competitive do-it-first missions and emerging wild tamable beasts so it's not uncommon to fight the environment just as hard as you fight enemy players.

I could go on, but my point is that in-game mechanics and factions are so refreshing I've already put more than 70 hours into Endless Legend and will likely put more in the nearest future. This is legit the first 4X game where I'm very interested in playing almost entirety of the faction roster and trying out different gameplay styles. There are several cons (very uneven faction storylines in terms of difficulty, balance issues, combat system is an improvement over Endless Space but is still somewhat mediocre) but for me pros definitely have much more weight. The game is obviously not for everyone and as far as I'm aware it has very mixed reputation, but I personally enjoy it more than probably any other 4X in the past ten years.

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