Musical Monday: The Faction Themes of Endless Legend (composed by Flybyno)

I love Endless Legend‘s soundtrack, and I love its imaginative, distinct factions. This week, I thought I’d bring them together. Below, I highlight one theme from each of the three factions that I’ve played (there are eight factions total, each with two themes). Enjoy!

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Endless Legend & Age of Wonders 3: One Year On

The two expansions to Age of Wonders 3 have brought new races, a new character class, and (together with patches), assorted features and balance tweaks. They have also addressed my single biggest complaint with the game: the victory conditions (and their effect on pacing).

At launch, there was one way to win AoW3: destroy all opponents. This made the endgame a slog. Now, there are several other options:

  1. Beat down the AI players to the point where they surrender (added via patch). Per the developers, this is meant to happen after the “epic final battle… in situations where the AI is substantially outmatched and just lost a great number of its forces in a battle.” Based on the two AI players who surrendered after I crushed their multi-stack main armies, this works as promised!
  2. Territorial control, added in the first expansion. Similar to the Thrones mechanic in Dominions 4, this requires the player to take several “seals of power” defended by independent monsters, and hold them while progress towards victory ticks up. As the monsters periodically respawn, the seals have to be garrisoned – I suspect this is a risk/reward mechanic. Do you grab many seals, and risk spreading yourself too thin? Encouragingly, AI players do realise the importance of the seals; I lost my second game post-expansion when the AI flattened my armies and then captured the seals.
  3. A new, Wonder-style victory condition, added in the second expansion. I’m still getting a handle for this one; the developers describe it as “a great option for more defensive players”. Unlike the seals victory, aiming for this will provoke the AI players into declaring war, so it’s a defensive victory rather than a peaceful one.

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Musical Monday: “Pierre de Lune”/”Wizard Stones” (Endless Legend), composed by Flybyno

This year, I kick off with one of my favourite pieces of ambient music from Endless Legend, a game that has a lot of good ambient music. (Confusingly, the song goes by two different names.) Enjoy!

My Games of 2014

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Game of the Year Awards

Welcome back to another Game of the Year list. This year, I’ve tweaked the format again — many of the games I played in 2014 were released in previous years. Sometimes, I played the old game “as is”; sometimes, I played a new port or an expanded version of the old game. So I’ve broken this post down into two parts. First, I review the accomplishments of 2014. And second, I take a look back at the notable games I played, whether or not they were originally released that year.

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Endless Legend: a better toy than game

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Endless Legend

EDIT: This post contains my updated thoughts on Endless Legend, one year on.

Back when I wrote about Tearaway last January, I quoted Jesse Schell’s distinction between a toy (something that’s fun to play with) and a game (a problem-solving activity approached with a playful attitude). Using these definitions, I would argue Endless Legend is a good game and a better toy.

As a toy, Endless Legend is a fresh, colourful take on 4X strategy, enlivened by one of the most imaginative settings in the genre. I love its diverse factions, its aesthetic and music, its unique mechanics. I also appreciate that there’s an option to enlarge the font – Paradox and Matrix, take note! As a game, Endless Legend shines early on. The first 50 to 100 turns are an exciting competition, in which I race to expand, weigh different research priorities, or struggle to hold a distant region that produces essential raw materials for my army.

Eventually, Endless Legend runs into a familiar problem with the genre — a tedious late game. Individual city build queues, a staple of the 4X genre, don’t scale well to large empires. Late-game units are just early-game units with bigger numbers. And once one player stakes out a big enough lead, the rest of the game is all downhill. There is a “rubber band” happiness mechanic reminiscent of Civ V (larger empires are more restive than smaller ones); it doesn’t seem to be enough.

The runaway leader syndrome is exacerbated by a diplomatic AI that’s so capricious, it might as well not exist: I remember one AI player tearing up our brand-new trade agreements at the same time it was being devoured by another, larger opponent (which went on to win the game). In a different game, the AI players tried to team up on me when I pulled ahead — except that I was so far ahead that their declarations of war were utter suicide. After I absorbed them, I was even stronger than before.

With a few patches or perhaps an expansion, something to spice up the late game, I think Endless Legend could become a classic of the genre. As is, it’s one of the most original strategy games in some time, and still worth checking out for fans of the genre.

Now THIS is how you make a memorable faction: Endless Legend’s Vaulters

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Endless Legend

In several ways, Endless Legend feels like the game Civilization: Beyond Earth wanted to be. The two games share several design choices, such as non-linear tech trees and a unit system that consists of upgrading a few basic designs. The difference is that Beyond Earth felt bland and boring, whereas Endless Legend brims with personality.

My favourite example is the Vaulters – the only Endless Legend faction I’ve tried so far. The Vaulters are the descendants of ancient spacefarers, marooned after their starship crashed. As the game opens, quakes have driven the Vaulters out of their subterranean cities and to the surface, whence they compete with the other empires of the world.

The first thing I noticed about the Vaulters is that their basic unit is called the “Marine”. This, I absolutely love. It conveys their heritage with one word: it makes perfect sense that space-going marines would have been the protectors of the original Vaulter settlement, and I can imagine generation after generation of Vaulters brought up to think of their warriors as “marines”, long after the origins of the word faded into myth.

The marines’ appearance fits the backstory, too. Here’s some official art of the Vaulters — the marines are the crossbowmen in the foreground. Look at their bows:

Vaulters Official Art The marines’ crossbow stocks are made from — or perhaps patterned after — futuristic assault rifles. Either the Vaulters recycled their rifles once they stopped working, or else they deliberately crafted their crossbows to resemble ancient weapons of myth. Both explanations make sense given the backstory. How cool is that?

Incidentally, that hulking construct in the background is a titan – a higher-tier Vaulter melee unit, fashioned from an ancient robot. And I believe the woman brandishing an axe is the starting Vaulter hero — judging from their leader art and their heroes (all female), the Vaulters are a matriarchy.

Once in-game, the Vaulters have a great special ability: they can teleport armies between friendly cities. On the defence, this is as useful as it sounds. And the ability to instantly warp reinforcements into a newly captured city obviates the need for lengthy supply lines back to the homeland… and makes conquest that much easier. Again, how cool is that?

As a final note, the Vaulters are just one of eight factions in Endless Legend. Even leaving aside the more generic (such as omnicidal insectoids), that still leaves unique choices such as the Roving Clans, a merchant nation that can’t declare war, and the Broken Lords, a cursed nation that eats mystical energy instead of food. I suspect I may just have scratched the surface!

And that makes me glad. After the years I’ve spent whingeing about unimaginative video game settings, Endless Legend is a breath of fresh air. Other strategy designers, take note!

Endless Legend art taken from the official site.