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.

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

5 thoughts on “Endless Legend: a better toy than game”

  1. I figure strategy game need time to mature nowaday… Wait a year or 2 and you get a game on sale and with all the patches and mods as well as guides for beginner.

    1. Hmm, that’s a pretty good point. Mind you, it’s not just strategy games – almost everything on the PC will become very cheap, very fast.

  2. Its annoying these grand strategy games do not scale well into late game. I wish they would allow units to transform into armies , and individual small areas into a few large regions to manage.

    Strategy is about the big important decisions,

    You would NOT ask a Minister of Finance of a vast empire to analyse whether one small town should build a new Church or School. Building a Church vs. a school is a very important strategic choice for the town and its mayor and citizens – but its NOT a strategic decision for wider empire.

    Strategy games should be about strategy.
    In the end-game of these games the strategy is already in place, and all you do is micro-management. This means the end-game is not a strategy game, but a micro-management game.

    1. Thanks for commenting – I agree that most strategy games do poorly at managing the transition from early to late game. There are a few exceptions – some titles have elegant mechanics that scale well throughout the game (arguably Eclipse on iOS) and others allow you to hand off to AI automation as your empire grows larger (Nobunaga’s Ambition). The upcoming Stellaris sounds as though it will use the latter – I’ll be very interested to see how well it works.

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