When I raise an empire from the ground up I like to do it without interfering too much with the other factions in the game. I operate a ‘you respect me and I will respect you’ rule. That is of course until I decide to crush them in one swift offensive. Perhaps I’m not best suited to cover the latest expansion for Endless Legends then…
For the uninitiated, Endless Legends is a fantasy/sci-fi turn-based strategy game from Amplitude Studios. Much akin to the likes of Sid Meier’s Civilisation you build cities, research technology and war or trade with your neighbouring players. Endless Legends brings some great new tricks to the table though, primarily in its summer/winter calendar cycles. When winter hits you will see a decrease in food, gold and production. Vision will decrease and troop movement will slow right down. Playable factions contain diplomatic dragons, ardent mages and cultists. It’s a world full of warring factions, rewarding quests and useful technologies. The Shadows expansion now makes some sneaky additions to this vibrant world.
Thematically Endless Legends: Shadows works very well. The aim of the game is stealth, espionage and sabotage and it provides this in many ways. Front and foremost is a nice new addition to the factions list as the Forgotten make their appearance in the realm. We’ll get into the nitty gritty of them shortly. We also get treated to some new gameplay functions in the form of pillaging and infiltration. Both of these technology unlocks are available to all factions, although the Forgotten hero can infiltrate right off the bat.
The Forgotten exemplify the thematic nature of the expansion, providing us with a race whose main strength is their ability to infiltrate your cities and steal your technologies. Quite strong, you might think, and rightly so but the Forgotten come with a very unique weakness. Unlike the other factions in the game, the Forgotten are completely unable to produce science in any way whatsoever and therefore are unable to research new technologies the standard way. They do however have the option of buying research outright with dust (the game’s currency and equivalent of gold). This serves as both a strength and a weakness. When you’re rolling in the dust and need a technology quickly you are able to just buy it and gain the effects immediately. The obvious drawback is that you are prone to falling behind in research when you don’t have the gold to do this. Sometimes you can fall into a bad habit of forgetting the need to keep your technologies coming in at a nice flow and end up having irregular spikes in research.
Don’t have the cash to buy technologies? Your other option is to steal them from your opponents. This brings us to the new game feature of infiltration. The Forgotten heroes have the ability to infiltrate enemy cities that they have a vision of. Once infiltrated you will remain hidden and build up infiltration points. When hitting certain milestones you will be given a set of sabotage options to perform. These range from hindering the city’s production, reducing morale in their units, reducing vision around the city and other such annoyances. There are two standout options available though that make infiltration an incredibly strong choice. To seriously hinder your opponent you may reduce the population of the city. At early infiltration levels this is a simple reduction of one, but later levels will hit them harder. If you choose to spare your opponent’s frustration then you may choose to copy one of their researched technologies, gaining it as your own. This will cost you influence points, however (as do all infiltration actions) so it doesn’t come free.
Infiltration has the chance of being rather overpowered if played correctly. If you target weaker cities that don’t have much defence against espionage then you can plunder them for technology with next to zero chance of being caught. Or you could completely reduce their population so the city never has a chance to grow. Your opponent can build a defence against such attacks though in the form of city upgrades. They also have a two-edged sword defence of doing a city round-up to flush out the spies. Doing so will use up a percentage of the city’s population and will send any caught spies to the infirmary. This provides us with a rather sneaky tactic of making it known to your opponent that a spy is in their city, re-assign your spy back to the academy and then watch your enemy frantically reduce their own population trying to flush out a spy that’s long gone! Sneaky.
As said before the infiltration option can be used by all factions but for non-Forgotten it will have to be researched at later stages of the game. Forgotten have this ability from the start and it’s a very distinct and strong ability that helps define their identity in the game. The other gameplay addition we get treated to is the ability to pillage city improvements. Enemy resource extractors, mines, harvesters etc. can be pillaged by your troops which gives you an amount of the resource while putting their production on cooldown. The Forgotten will get a dust bonus from doing this and you should want to do this as frequently as possible so you don’t fall behind. The problem I found with pillaging was that with the AI they were able to pillage your resources with no real diplomatic recourse. You could of course decide to war with them or close borders but they always react negatively to that and as if you are the one in the wrong! Sometimes they make diplomatic gestures to praise you whilst simultaneously pillaging you.
So are the Forgotten a good faction to play as? Yes and no. They certainly provide a unique playing experience with their lack of science but apart from that a lot of their strengths are really just better versions of things other factions can use. Better pillaging, better infiltration etc. With the lack of science actually feeling more like a hindrance at times than it does strength, the Forgotten sometimes feel a little lacklustre compared to other factions. All your troops having stealth is a great strength however as you can manoeuvre your armies and scouts around the map unseen to loot ruins for much-needed dust. The troops in question excel at the initiative and can pack a punch so you’ll want to go on the offensive. My personal tactic in Endless Legends has always been to select the defensive setting and then automate the battle. I quickly found that this is not the best option for the Forgotten and had a lot more success with going on the offence.
If you want to win as the Forgotten then you really need to play to your strengths or you’ll find yourself lagging behind further than you would as other factions. With a well-planned out strategy and a clear outline for research gain, I can see them being quite strong. Without that though you will likely find yourself on the back foot. You need to be generating large amounts of dust and influence and be very careful about how you spend it. One major drawback is that in AI games you really have to rely on the computer players to get the right technologies for you to steal. On the flip side, they have quite an interesting and rewarding faction quest that should you complete you will find yourself with an abundance of heroes to send out on infiltration missions. You just need to hope that you haven’t lost by the time it gets to late game.
Is this an expansion you really need? Simply put you really just need to ask yourself whether these features appeal to you. Are you the type of player who revels in hiding in the shadows and screwing over your opponents in sneaky ways? If not then you can quite easily stay clear of the expansion and not miss out on any of the new features. It’s not like the expansions you get with Civilisation where they are big improvements to the game as a whole. Personally, I’m not a stealth and sabotage type of player, I like to keep to myself and build away. So despite being impressed with what the expansion brings to the table it’s really not my cup of tea.
Players who do like that sort of gameplay however should definitely pick this up as the infiltration, pillaging and sabotage will provide a whole new avenue of gameplay. Shadows are currently selling for around £10 which to me seems a little bit steep for what you get and would perhaps be better priced around £6 or £7. However, Amplitude Studios do employ a very commendable business practice in that if you are playing a multiplayer game then only the host requires the expansion in order for the others to utilise the content of it. My hat goes off to them for this as it’s a cracking feature that allowed my friends to try out the extra content with me.