My Favorite things in 2014 - Final day

Saving the best for last, this entry is all about my game of the year.

I had high hopes for a certain strategy game that was to arrive in 2014. It had a great lineage, was inspired by one of my favorite games of all time, and was being made by a great studio, who know the genre inside out. Alas Beyond Earth ended up with too little of Alpha Centuari in it, and felt too much like a civilization expansion.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but it wasn't what I hoped. It was neither new or exciting.

Good thing then that I was blindsided by a brilliant addition to the genre that I had not really heard of prior to asking around for a new 4x type game.

Endless Legend is easily my game of the year.  I put the most hours into it, and enjoyed multiple playthroughs. It was the one game that captured my imagination and had me pondering strategies whenever I wasn't actually playing.

From a design perspective the interesting part of the game is that it innovates in small, almost unnoticeable ways, for the genre. That innovation isn't brash, or in your face, it's in every little design decision under the hood. The sum of all its parts elevate it beyond its peers. You almost can't quite put your finger on why it's so compelling, but you know it is.

For fans of the genre it's a godsend.

The game itself is part Civilization, part Heroes of Might and Magic. The overview is civ inspired, while the battles, complete with hero units, owes more to HoMM.

The art style, which feels like it was inspired by the intro from Game of Thrones, looks great, and helps with the feeling that you are playing something crafted with a love for the genre.

The true genius lies with the games factions. Each one truly plays out in interesting ways. This is not just the odd bonus or special unit of civ, this is total diversity. Each race looks, plays, and operates differently, often in very unique ways.  There are factions restricted to one city, who rely on indoctrinating others, there is a nomadic tribe who have a mobile culture, there are magic users, monsters, or steampunk knights. You truly do get a unique experience with each that genuinely encourage replay.

The game mechanics also make interesting choices at every turn. There are quests that allow you to influence other tribes. Resources that can be consumed to provide short term buffs rather than simply being a trade currency. There are two distinct seasons in the game, which actually impact campaigns. Just as in history, beware going far afield in harsh winters! The games heroes and units can be upgraded (essentially so in the later game) and money and resources have to be balanced as there is a tempting market system that always provides the option of a short term 'fix' (that is usually bad for the long term budget!)

The tech tree isn't a tree, rather it's a set of grouped 'tiers' of knowledge, which you can learn in any order you like. It allows you to choose whether to advance slowly, but in all areas, or to speed to some later tiers earlier in the game, but with clear holes in your capabilities. (Holes the enemy AI will often exploit at harder difficulties)

The world itself is also interesting. The lore and background of each of the factions adds enough new spice into the traditional fantasy flavors that it feels like a unique setting. 

Where the game falls is that much of this is hidden from the user at the start. Never has a game so badly needed a comprehensive manual. Never. Seriously, so many awesome elements are so buried in the depth of the game you almost stumble upon them by accident. Upgrading your city tiles was the worst culprit there. You can see early on it needs to be done to unlock some other stuff, but finding out how was incredibly obtuse. (You had to build other city tiles on a certain number of sides for the central hex to upgrade)

The learning curve is steeper than it needed to be due to that, but maybe that was also part of the charm. It certainly helped me want to go back for more.

I would not want that to put you off though, because it's a fantastic strategy game. Probably one of the best in years.

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