Voyage Into the Unknown
Setting out on a new voyage in Stellaris is a peaceful and hopeful event. Having an entire galaxy to explore and being able to decide what type of civilization you want to expand satisfies that ‘curious’ itch we all have. The notion that you could encounter any number of different alien species, at any given moment, and not know what their intents are is a powerful motivator to dive in deeper into this world.
As you explore outside of your initial area, gathering resources and stumbling across ancient civilizations or dead planets, you’ll start to create your own narrative of what happened and what is to come. You’ll eventually come across another species, the majority are friendly; some are not. From these encounters you’ll witness how these different societies. Each race value different things and interact with one another and yourself differently. All of this leads to potential alliances being formed or war being declared. Either way, it’s a journey.
Unlike most strategy games Stellaris isn’t turn based. Everything happens in real-time meaning players have to adapt then and there to obstacles in their way. This makes the majority of the game a micromanaging feat, aided by the glorious pause button.
Stellaris takes a lot of inspiration from Paradox’s previous works such as the Crusader Kings and Hearts of Iron series’. Stellaris, on the other hand, feels a lot simpler- and that’s a good thing. Too often do people want to try out these epic predecessors just to find they need a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and a canister of Valium to get their head around the mechanics. Stellaris, on the other hand, has streamlined a lot of the mechanics which is great for entrants to the genre.
While this simplification is great for new people it may not be as warranted to Paradox veterans. With the dumbing down of these mechanics Stellaris can’t embark on the crazy adventures of cloak and dagger which the studio is notorious for. Players are limited to the usual arrangements or alliances (federations for Stellaris), trade deals, defensive pacts, war and a couple of other equally black and white relationships.
Grow the Empire
Leaders will have to stretch their empire far and wide in order to attain the resources and knowledge to develop newer and deadlier technologies in order to achieve victory. Players can pursue a number of victory options; conquering independent empires, join a federation of a certain size or conquer a sizeable amount of the galaxy.
The victory conditions make a nice change from the vanilla cultural victory and scientific victory. On the flipside, however, it does mean Stellaris boils down to a game which can only be won through conquering. This is a result of boiling down the mechanics from previous Paradox titles.
Cracks in the Hull
A significant criticism for the game unfortunately is caused by this streamlining of the overall design. There’ll be times during a campaign when a player can’t do anything besides watch the timer click by due to a stalemate with an adversary. Sometimes these can last for years, really grinding the whole experience to a halt. In other Paradox games players would be able to subvert enemies and form temporary alliances. In Stellaris however, leaders will find they can’t progress until a peace treaty is agreed upon. This really puts a stint in the immersion and opens the player to realize just how pointless the diplomacy options really are.
Another notable conundrum for players, and an unusual turn for Paradox, is the lack of a visible tech tree. While the technologies available for research in Stellaris are plentiful and interesting, the result of this limitation creates a guessing game for the player. If your fleet needs better shields, or you want to be able to research better resource buildings, then boy have you got to cross your fingers. Often you’ll finish a project with an idea of what needs to be leveled next, to no avail. This can cause a significant rift in the power structures between empires.
The End is Nigh
As you continue to expand your empire and enter negotiations with other species the endgame is where Stellaris’ AI decides to take a nose dive. The endgame consists of one of a few different empires from another galaxy, or another dimension. This force invades the player’s galaxy, in hope of intergalactic genocide. This is a nice development which mixes up the gameplay causing further strife between the empires.
The issue arises with the more militaristic and xenophobic societies. These particular groups would rather keep waging war on other empire’s rather than focusing on the endgame invasion. A pretty bold, albeit, retarded move as the invaders seeks to wipe out the entire galaxy including the racists. This can be fun, for a bit, especially as an empire that has been particularly rough with you can pay the price in a big way. However, these intergalactic invaders are too powerful to take on with the majority of the galaxy on one side, let alone if they’re squabbling among themselves.
Aesthetically speaking the game looks wonderful. Zooming into the space battles does give a sense of epic proportions and the galactic backdrop creates a feeling of awe. All the best features of Stellaris are further improved upon through the game’s welcoming of mods, opening up a universe of possibilities. Among the mods are graphical and AI improvements, while those who would rather get their geek on will be treated to almost any major sci-fi movie being modded in somewhere.
Stellaris is a very enjoyable experience, filled with things to see and do it’s just a bit inconsistent with what it wants to allow players to do. The opening couple of hours present Stellaris as an inter-planetary political throw-down where any number of weird and curious things could occur. It’s let down, just a bit, by the mid-game and sometimes the end-game is merely a luck of a dice roll rather than any skill.