Scientists differ as to whether space goes on forever, but all agree that it’s almost incomprehensibly big. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s the setting for some of the biggest, most immersive strategy video games ever, or that Endless Space 2 might be the one to top them all.

The long-awaited sequel to 2012’s genre-redefining classic, makes each game an epic saga of interstellar exploration, colonization and conquest, where eight sci-fi cultures vie for supremacy in a universe of wonder.

Endless Space 2 is what you call a 4X game, in the spirit of pioneering PC games like Civilization or Master of Orion. In these games, you first ‘eXplore’ the game map, here a galaxy of solar systems, each with its own mix of habitable, inhospitable and downright hostile planets. Next you ‘eXpand’, colonising these systems and bringing them under your control. With that done, it’s time to ‘eXploit’ them, harvesting them for resources to grow your economy and develop your high-tech culture. This gives you the power you need to ‘eXterminate’, defending your territory from aggressive civilizations or scourging your foes from the galaxy.

That said, Endless Space 2 isn’t your average 4X game. It’s developed by Amplitude Studios, a Paris-based developer known for its strong artwork, great storytelling and rich background lore.

Endless Space 2 isn’t just about building your space Empire and crushing all your foes, but about eight distinct factions, each with their own personality and purpose. Throughout the game you’ll encounter interesting missions, not to mention heroes who can lead your starfleets to new worlds or into battle.

You could play as the Unfallen; sentient tree-like beings forced by alien aggression to spread their seed throughout the galaxy. Or how about the Riftborn; time-shifting entities from a parallel universe of logic, adrift in a galaxy of chaos and war? The Horatio would have clones of a megalomaniac genius remake the universe in their own image, while the United Empire want their pseudo-soviet superpower dominating every planet.

They’ll be up against the Vodyani – an interstellar religious society enhanced by ancient alien technology – not to mention the Lumeris; a powerful coalition of trading clans that blur the line between business and organised crime. The Sophons focus more on technological advancement, exploring the universe to find out how it ticks. And all live in deep fear of the Cravers – an Alien-esque race of insectoid monsters with an endless hunger for destruction.

Each of these factions has its own storyline, its own heroes, its own sleek or warlike starships and a different style of play. Where the Cravers are hyper-aggressive, with no time for diplomacy or trade, the Sophons take the opposite position, pushing discovery and progress over mindless warfare. All this builds into a universe of choice, where players can play the way they want to play. Amplitude makes it fantastically immersive, too, with slick cinematics and animated menus that can take you from the galactic overview to the details of an individual planet in a series of breath-taking zooms.

All that richness makes for some intimidating detail. But clear tutorials and tool tips make Endless Space 2 an easy game to get into. If only it were quite so easy to put aside. Magnificent and massive, Endless Space 2 isn’t just 2017’s most absorbing strategy game, but the one you’ll still be playing for months to come.