Stellaris: a Review

Stellaris is a grand strategy/4x game developed by Paradox Interactive. It was released on May 9, 2016 for Windows, OS X and Linux. It is set in space where players manage a spacefaring empire, exploring the universe and getting in contact with other alien empires. You can decide whether to go for a diplomatic approach, trade and ally with them, or to go for a more aggressive approach and attempt to conquer the universe.

Paradox Interactive has really been on the up these past years. While best known for grand strategy games like Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis, the company has recently extended their publishing arms into stuff like Pillars of Eternity and recently acquired the rights to Vampire: the Masquerade. Excited to see what the studio brings in the future.

The Good

I really love the customization offered by the game. While there are some prebuilt factions, the game is best played by making your own custom faction. You can customize your species, your architecture, your species traits and government type. You could play as a short lived, fast breeding, warmongering xenophobic faction or a long lived, nomadic, peaceful collectiveness faction, one focused on spiritualism or materialism. There’s really a lot of combinations to try out.

planet_01_2

An Avian alien faction, one of many alien types available.

The tutorial section of the game is amazing, especially compared to previous Paradox games. Each aspect of the game is slowly introduced to the player in a series of optional quests. New players can learn from playing it, while more experienced players can safely ignore it and do their own thing.

The Bad

empires_01_2

Galaxy map showing your neighboring empires.

As with most games in this genre, the AI leaves a lot to be desired. Diplomacy in particularly needs a lot of work, especially the Federations. Once you have four allies, you can vote to form a federation where the leader is rotated from the members of the federation. Each leader gets 25 years, which is a lengthy time. The federation leader also controls all the important aspects of the federation, like declaring wars, though you can vote whether you want to the war to happen, you can’t declare the war yourself.

There’s a “horde” that appears at the later stages of the game, like the Golden Horde in Crusader Kings 2. While it creates an interesting event (and I really like the similarities to the Reapers of Mass Effect), the threat requires quick action to overcome, or for a strong alliance to overpower it. Cue the horde spawning next to a group of empires who won’t do anything and let them go wild.

Others

The game is called a 4X and grand strategy game. I don’t know exactly where each genre ends, as they’re really similar. 4X is short of explore, expand, exploit and exterminate. This is your Civilizations, Endless Legends, etc. Grand strategy games are usually macro managing a kingdom/empire’s army and resources, often on a zoom out map where your armies are usually in squads or battalions instead of individual units. This is your Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron, etc. If I’m honest, I think the aspects of grand strategy is minimal, if at all present compared to the 4X aspects.

battle_01_1_2

Two fleets of spaceships ready to clash.

Paradox is known for updating their games frequently and their DLCs are pretty grand affairs too. A new DLC for the 2012 Crusader Kings 2 was released this year, so I definitely expect something similar happening to Stellaris. Looking forward to that.

Stellaris is also modable. One of the best Crusader Kings 2 mod was the Game of Thrones mod, where you could play the different houses and attempt to win the Iron Throne. I’m hoping for something of a similar caliber. Something like a Mass Effect universe, or a Star Wars would be awesome.

Verdict

A great 4x space game with a few flaws that can and probably will be better after a few patches.

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