My typical pattern with a 4X game, such as Civilization, Master of Orion 3, Galactic Civilizations, and so on is to play intensely for a couple days, realize how it devours my time and mind, and quit. The games are clearly fun, but after a couple plays at standard difficulty, there's nothing more for me to discover. I can make myself incrementally better, improving my efficiency notch by notch until I can beat AIs on higher difficulty settings, but that doesn't appeal to me. It's honing a skill that I'm never going to use anywhere else. I've already seen what there is to see, and replaying with another culture with different bonuses isn't different enough and hasn't been since I replayed Master of Orion 2 as the Psilons about a hundred times when I was fourteen.
Endless Legend isn't proof against that, but it does the best job of getting around the obstacle that I've ever seen. First, each playable faction breaks fundamental game rules in distinct ways, making them play very differently. Broken Lords don't need food, instead purchasing/creating new population with Dust (the game's magic-source-cum-currency). Roving Clans can move their cities on the backs of giant beetles, and can ban others from the marketplace. Cultists don't found new cities, instead making one giant city and converting minor villages to their cause. And so on.
On top of the unique mechanical advantage, each faction has a unique series of quests. The quest system is an addition to the game that I haven't seen before: accomplish a goal and get a reward. You can pick up minor quests from exploring the abandoned ruins scattered around the world, or by parleying with minor faction villages to turn them to your side. There are only so many minor quests, and they lost their luster when they started repeating after just a single full game.
But the faction-based quests are different. They tell a larger story of your faction's ascension to dominance over the world and grant access to faction-unique technology. And I love story. I want the story. Which is why my third playthrough left me miffed, when I realized that the next step in the quest chain was impossible to finish before the game reached its turn limit and awarded me victory by default. It really took the spark away to know I couldn't finish the tale. If I keep playing Endless Legend, it will be to see what the rest of the factions do and read their stories.
Combat is the one place I found Endless Legend to fall short. The game makes a big deal of using its exploration map as a local map for tactical combat, distributing your stacked units on the battlefield for combat. You place them in a deployment phase, then have six rounds to tell your units roughly what to do: either go here or target this unit. Then you release them, and they do something that vaguely resembles what you asked.
Often, one unit moved to attack and took a spot that another unit needed, making it so the second unit couldn't attack this round. Or an enemy went before your unit and provoked its counterattack, taking away its turn so now it can't do anything. Combat is also slow. In the end, I just selected automatic combat resolution every time, letting the game tell me who won quickly.
The game also falls short in stability. It had a habit of crashing on me. Sometimes I'd play through most of a game with only one or two crashes, but other times it would crash every other turn. (Granted, those are pretty long turns, but still.) It often happened when the season changed, and it would affect the course of the game, pushing back the season change by a turn because of the way the game recorded such things during the crash. It is good about autosaving every turn. If it weren't, I'd never have had the patience to replay an hour or more of game, and this review would've been very different.
All in all, I've had a very good time with Endless Legend. It's a fun game, and it's a pretty game, and it's inspired me to explore more 4Xs in search of what else I want in the genre. It found a way to keep me coming back past the initial rush of learning the rules, and that makes it far more valuable than most of its counterparts. I also have a lot of respect for Amplitude Studios and their ambitious cross-game Endless-series, at least tangentially sharing setting between this and their other games, Endless Space (a space 4X that I also enjoyed) and Dungeon of the Endless (which I'll likely play in the future).
Endless Legend is available from Steam for $34.99.