I am wracking my brain trying to think of something interesting to say about playing Endless Space, and I've got nothing. I enjoy it. There's a lot of fiddling about in menus, deciding whether or not to build things based on the careful comparisons of different types of production. Yet it's streamlined enough that a 4X veteran such as myself can direct the empire's operations practically on autopilot. I played on novice mode to reacquaint myself with the tech tree and snag a really stupid achievement (win the game without building a single weapon-bearing ship, which led to my most productive star system being sieged by pirates for about a hundred years).
It all adds up to exactly the same experience I've had with every other 4X game I've ever played. Oh, there are nuances. I could talk about the way the basic unit of production is the star system, which contrasts with the way many other space 4X games focus on individual planets, but well, I basically just said all of it. It's a mechanic that makes settling slightly more interesting, because the potential of an individual system is a very complex thing to judge, but it also tends to make construction less satisfying, because it's rare to get a system that's worth specializing. Different planets have different production bonuses, but most systems are mixed, so they all wind up being somewhat average.
Compelling stuff, no?
But the thing is, I don't really need it to be that compelling. The minute differences between Endless Space and a dozen other similar games really do interest me. I like that it is mostly the same as other things I enjoy, while having just enough of a difference that it doesn't feel like I'm reliving the same game over and over again.
The metacritic score for this game is 77, and if I'm being honest, that feels like a fair assessment to me. It's a good game, but not an immortal one. Civilization V is better. Hell, Colonization (intensely uncomfortable political issues aside) is better. Endless Legend, the follow-up by the same company, is improved in almost every respect.
But I like it. Playing eight hours was no problem at all. Playing the other hundred-plus hours was almost uniformly comfortable and engaging. If it hasn't set my imagination on fire, maybe that's all right. Maybe there's a place for "exactly what you expect, delivered with competence and polish."