Unending Galaxy Review: Universally Ambitious

Unending Galaxy is a sandbox space sim that touches a bunch of different genres, developed by Anarkis Gaming. In it, you play a humble ship owner who can become a miner, trader, pirate, space-businessman, or even a warmongering dictator of your own sprawling empire. It's a relentlessly ambitious combination of elements, but do they work well together? That's the question I'm setting out to answer in my Unending Galaxy review.

Unending Galaxy is hard to pigenhole into a single genre. It's probably closest to the X series, and that's no accident. Anarkis Gaming has published several mods for X series games. If you're not familiar with the X series, it's a 3D space sim that lets you play the role of a trader or space pirate.

Like X, Unending Galaxy starts you out as a lowly trader. You can take missions to supply stations with raw materials, or you can go mine materials yourself and sell them for a profit. As your bank account balance grows, you can use your cash to purchase larger, more capable ships. Like the X games, you can command a fleet of ships if you so desire. Although you can only directly control one ship at a time, you can assign vessels AI and let them work independently, so that your excess cargo transports can make their own deals to enrich your personal finances.

Unlike X, Unending Galaxy is focused on a 2D top-down perspective. This allows Unending Galaxy to mix several genres together. In addition to being a top-down space sim with trading/mining/combat elements, it's also got some RTS flavor mixed in. At any point, you can pop out of the ship you're controlling and go into a more tactical combat mode. You can highlight a group of ships, and assign them to hotkeys. You can give them orders to move to a new sector, defend a target, or attack enemies.

The RTS elements don't stop there, though. The universe is a hotly contested place to live, and war is inevitable. In addition to taking control of sectors to build manufacturing stations, you can build your own shipyards and crank out your own ships to wage war.

The goal of the game is somewhat flexible, similar to the Civilization series. You can play to capture all the rival faction capitols, or until you control a percentage of the galaxy. There are various starting scenarios and world generation options to choose between.

Additionally, Unending Galaxy is built to be modified and extended by players after release, so if the modding community steps up, the sky's the limit.

This combination of 4X, space sim, and RTS elements is terribly, terribly ambitious. It's just the sort of thing that I would consider extremely risky for a small indie studio to propose. Yet, this isn't some farfetched Kickstarter pitch - Unending Galaxy is released. It exists. And it works! I've been playing for hours and I have really enjoyed all the unique aspects of it.

Unending Galaxy has a few issues, though. One big one is the lack of documentation or a good tutorial. There is a tutorial, but I feel like it didn't do a great job of explaining the complexities of the game. Tutorial objectives are sometimes confusing. The game's manual is in a wiki, and the wiki is still very unfinished and populated with outdated information from the game's beta.

The UI is often good, but just as often it's a few too many clicks/keys to get where you need to be. Remapping the function keys saved me some UI pain, but other aspects are rolled together when I'd rather them be in distinct property pages. If you switch to piloting a ship that is docked, it can be tricky to get it to undock. Sometimes the RTS elements can be tricky to work with - there's no "double click to select ships of the same type" or anything like that.

I wish I could speed up the game from time to time. There's a game speed setting in the initial options, but what I'd really like is the ability to control game speed on the fly.

If you care about graphics, Unending Galaxy's presentation is a bit bare. The sector map is really simplistic and could use a bit more detail. Ships in Unending Galaxy only have a few distinct graphics to show their rotation, which can make turning ships look a bit jerky. I personally don't really care what my strategy games look like, though, since it tends to fade into the background as the hours spent with the game tick on.

There's also a few bugs in the game, although they're usually pretty minor. I tried hotkeying several builder ships together, but when I hit the hotkey I only select one of several. Sometimes the profit calculations in the trading interface seem really off.