“What do you know about a game called Endless Space 2?”

I turn around, an Amplitude Studios cap on my head, sipping tea from an Amplitude Studios coffee mug. With the other hand I quickly minimize my Steam client showing an embarrassingly large number of hours spent in-game.

“A bit.” I respond coolly, trying not to give up the ruse.

“Did you know it released today on Steam?”

I quickly close Chrome, wondering if his eyesight is exceptional or if he’s just reading my mind. “It came to my attention, yes.”

“What would you think about taking a look at the early access version and writing down some of your thoughts?”

Air hisses through my teeth—there, he said it: Early Access. The word that strikes fear into the heart of many a PC gamer.

That’s really the rub isn’t it? After nearly 4-5 years of miss-use by game developers, Early Access is a term that’s come to be feared. Nothing will make you dislike your most sought-after game than playing it in its Alpha stage. Early Access is something I try and sidestep like it’s my day job.

However, Amplitude Studios has a solid track record for doing Early Access right. They might not make the headlines alongside games like Minecraft or Kerbal Space Program, but they have done their part in pioneering Early Access as a cooperative platform between their fans and the games they create. So much so they have pretty much embraced the concept, re-branding most of their Studio’s website in their “Games2Gether” platform.

I agree to take a look. I was an Early Access supporter of Endless Legend, the fantasy follow-up to Amplitude Studio’s Endless Space and it was a positive experience from start to finish.

At this point I have to provide a disclaimer: I fancy myself a bit of an Amplitude Studios fan boy. I love the 4X genre as a whole, but I credit Endless Space with being one of the most recent 4X games that felt like it was trying to do something different than clone the Sid Meier’s Civilization series. By the time they released Endless Legend it felt like they were starting to find their stride. Ideas were refined, factions were becoming more asymmetric, and more was just happening around you as you played the game. There’s a lot of competition these days though.

Paradox Interactive’s Stellaris, Stardock’s Galactic Civilizations III, and NGD Studio’s Masters of Orion: Conquer the Stars are just a few games that have either dropped this year or are still actively releasing content. To top it off the much lauded and hyped Sid Meier’s Civilization 6 drops in just a few days’ time. The 4X genre is a busy place—and for the first time in a long time (forever?) you could even argue the “Space 4X” genre is getting a bit crowded.

Holding the rank of Baron in the niche of Nerdom that is the expanding Space 4X genre, I’ve either played or watched streams on just about all of these games. I have a firm grasp on what makes each of the games unique and what they can offer that their competitors cannot.

If you don’t make it any further than this sentence let me give you the TLDR; Endless Space 2 is on point. Even in Early Access it’s something special—and if Space 4X is something at all that interests you, it’s going to deserve your time and money.

We typically think of an “Alpha” release as being “Content complete, features forthcoming.” Alpha testing happens near the end of the development process when the product is nearly fully-usable. Amplitude’s Endless Space 2 is Alpha Stage but more akin to what we’d expect from some Beta releases.

The existing content isn’t indicative of what we’re going to get though. There is still plenty of other factions not yet added to the game and content currently “locked out” for this stage of Early Release. What’s in the early release is good though. Seriously. Galactic Civilizations III early release was a hot mess of half-realized content, incomplete features and serial crashing compared to Endless Space 2.

Had you sat me down in front of a PC and stripped away all former knowledge of release dates and allowed me to load up Endless Space 2—I might not have been able to tell you this game was in Early Release. A bit short on content, sure– but I might have otherwise not suspected this game was Alpha stage. It has near-parity with the features of the original Endless Space packed alongside some political gameplay the original was lacking. It’s clear there’s strong inspiration from the political system mechanic used in Endless Legend at work here, and that’s a good thing.

Currently there are 4 races to play: The Sophons and Cravers (returning races from Endless Space 1), along with the Lumeris and Vodyani. The Sophons are a science-loving faction with a more standard gameplay element most 4X gamers will be accustomed to already. Sophons excel in speedy research and a good mix of peace-loving and war-capable gameplay. Cravers fill the role of reckless military abandon—they must continue to move and consume as they strip worlds bare less they consume themselves. There is no politicking with Cravers as they have nothing to discuss. What is a peace treaty so someone who doesn’t understand the concept?

The Lumeris revolve around trade, deals, and economic growth. Lumeris don’t build colony ships quite like most factions but buy-out planets wholesale. Outposts they establish on planets can then be sold to other empires to generate profits. They play like you would expect Star Trek’s Ferengi to be played when ported over into the universe of Endless Space. They share a similar spot with the “Roving Clans” from Endless Legend, though not close enough to really be the same.

Vodyani are perhaps the most asymmetric of all the factions yet announced. Instead of settling or colonizing a planet the Vodyani live in giant Arks, migrating whenever they want from one star system to another. In doing so their tech and playstyle is all about draining other factions to develop themselves. Improvements and construction follow the Ark as you move it between systems. Imagine a fervently religious and aggressive race of Quarians from Mass Effect and you start to scratch the surface of what the Vodyani are all about.

Suffice to say how you go about playing each faction is totally different from how you would play another. They all share much of the same tech tree (with some faction-specific techs sprinkled in) but you’re unlikely or completely unable to play the Vodyani as you would the Sophons, for example. There are playstyles and strategies intrinsic to each faction. You could do a peace-loving play-through of the Vodyani, but it’s a bit at odds with their abduct-you-baby’s-momma playstyle (and other factions don’t really tolerate that, let me tell you.)

Endless Space 2 inherits the same quest/story system present in Endless Legend. Unfortunately the story or quest lines in my play through of Early Access all roughly equated to the same thing but skinned differently depending on the faction you were playing. Hopefully we’ll see some expansion of this before general release. Paradox’s Stellaris is the gold standard of dynamic stories in the genre, and Amplitude Studios could take a lesson from that team when looking to expand future content. The expansions for Endless Legend saw robust use and expansion of in-game quests and story line, so we can only hope for more of the same to follow with Endless Space 2.

Ship customization is still around, and it’s not changed drastically from the original Endless Space. It’s a surprisingly enjoyable mini-game on its own. The game is technically playable without too much ship customization, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you aren’t customizing a few different ship classes for your liking. Thankfully this is a intuitive exercise with a drag-drop interface to swap out starship modules. Star ship customization really is par for the course for any space-based 4X title, but Endless Space 2 does a good job of giving you just enough complexity you feel happy with the end result. Oftentimes titles cram in too much needless complexity which otherwise scares you off from the whole endeavor (Galactic Civilizations 3, I’m looking at you.)

If you’re still reading this then you must have pieced-together that I’m a pretty big fan of Endless Space 2. I’m actually a little annoyed that I have to spend precious time while my toddler is sleeping not playing the game. Ten plus hours have reinvigorated my anticipation of a full release. I’ve begun re-exploring content for Amplitude’s previous title Endless Legend in the meantime because I don’t want to spoil the fun (and polish) that I know the full release of Endless Space 2 will bring.

If you’re trigger shy on Early Release like me, this one is a safe buy. If you’re a Space 4X fan then you really owe it to yourself to try this game in early or full release.

If you want to talk more about Endless Space feel free to comment or reach out on my Twitter @wookieelozenges. If you want to know more about the details or shared universe behind Endless Space 2 or the Endless Universe, I’d encourage you to visit the Endless Space 2 Official Wiki. I’m looking forward to revisiting Endless Space 2 for a full review when the Early Access period concludes.