Stellaris has fallen slightly short of expectations but is overall really good:
Stellaris has been highly anticipated and I’ve been really looking forward to it for a long time. When reviewing a game, it’s difficult if something doesn’t live up to your expectations. Paradox is an excellent studio that has made game after game which have always been excellent. Stellaris is very much in the style of a Paradox game, made clear by the form of the game, the UI and the general gameplay. However, Stellaris is walking in the footsteps of what, so far, I think is the best 4x game to come out, Distant Worlds: Universe. Distant Worlds had a depth and complexity that no other space game has managed to match. There was countless numbers of resources to trade, a working civilian and government economy, and a detailed universe that captured the imagination of its players. It took a great deal of effort to learn how to play, and automation was a must until you became an expert. Unfortunately, although Stellaris improves on certain aspects seen in Distant Worlds, I don’t think it has lived up to the great bar of expectation. Stellaris lacks the complexity seen in Distant Universe. Instead of a variety of resources needed to build and grow your empire, there is just minerals and power. This simplifies things in a similar way to EUIV having just money, but unlike EUIV’s style fitting the historical strategy game, this doesn’t suit a 4x space strategy game.
I don’t usually give a number rating for games but just in case someone were to read the first paragraph and nothing else, I’d give it 8/10 – Stellaris is good and really fun but not excellent.
The inability to just scroll out to view the galaxy is a down point of Stellaris (I would have liked ’empty space’). You have to click “Galaxy Map” to zoom out. At the moment the graphics are glitchy. So your ships don’t fly smoothly but jerk along. This first presented itself as a problem in the stream on Twitch in the weeks running up to release. So either Paradox has not been bothered to fix it or they were rushing to meet the release date. There is no research tree which means you can’t strategically choose what research path you will take. The basic material required for running your empire are minerals and power. This simplifies a concept which could be much more complex and interesting. In EUIV, there were resources that your empire could trade to make a great deal of extra money on top of tax. There aren’t even credits in Stellaris but ‘power credits’ instead. This is a huge aspect of the game which Paradox has missed out.
Following on from that, you can only build mining stations in your faction owned territory. In the developers’ video, Aiming for the Stars, Paradox said they’d researched greatly into space fantasy and knew what people would expect. They set the expectation high. Now, lets think of space fantasy: you have an empire; there’s an unclaimed solar system; “hmmmm, no one owns it – I guess I won’t build there”. That doesn’t sound right to me – yet we are unable to build anywhere that’s not under our factions influence. Clearly this is a way of limiting faction’s expansion. There wouldn’t be a need for this is the game was more complex with different resources to mine like in Distant Worlds. This depth would have created a need for empires to work together if they truly wanted to succeed – for a similar concept, see Offworld Trading Company. But instead we have minerals and power credits and that’s all. I just hate to be criticising Paradox because I love their games: Cities Skylines, EUIV, HoI3, Victoria 2 – all of them were excellent with great depth. This just feels a little bit shallow – and it’s disappointing because I know Paradox would have put their heart and soul into developing this game. I feel like I’ve completed the bulk of my rant and now I’ll tell you about what they have done well – which is a lot.
Stellaris has a good simple UI that is easy to use and doesn’t over complicate things. The contact screen gives to access to both primitive nations and large galactic empires. The ship design is simple and straight to the point which is better than Distant Worlds’ complex system of having to build components out of composite parts. The galaxy and solar systems are well designed and very beautiful – you can zoom in and view clouds over the planets and see city light.
You can completely customize your space faction, and thus your space experience.
It is a bit disappointing that the planets don’t orbit and spin. That would add a great deal of beauty to the game but by no means necessary. You can right click and spin the camera to view the galaxy from different angles if you want. The overview in the right corner is helpful and as good as the other Paradox 4x games. You are able to choose a pre-made race or customize your own, choosing political views, type of space travel, home planet and more. You can completely customize your space faction, and thus your space experience.
The ships are aesthetically pleasing and there’s a good amount of variation. You can choose between hyperdrives, warping, or wormholes. I advise only using wormholes after a couple of games, because it’s more difficult. I really like the way Paradox has designed the tutorial. You learn while playing the game, so after the tutorial, you don’t have to start from scratch but can continue to develop what you started. The surface building mechanism is really great and gives you control just like EUIV allows you to customize your cities.
The political features in Stellaris are excellent. Every little decision makes a huge difference to neighbouring relations and to your populace’s happiness. This draws on the long tradition of complex politics seen in Paradox games. You have the ability to apportion out planets and mines to “sectors” which allows you to automate the sector and appoint a governor. In a similar way to colonies in EUIV, you can set the focus of your sector to military, industrial, research or financial. Returning to the surface building, it is important to divide up your tiles sufficiently – you need to supply your planet food as well as power, while producing enough minerals to keep your empire functioning.
Every little decision makes a huge difference to neighbouring relations and to your populace’s happiness
The research, despite the inability to see a tech tree, is well designed with interesting technologies to develop allowing you to customize your empire: do you want to develop into an industrial power or a military state. This, combined with the political system, creates an engaging and encourages variation in your gameplay compared to rival empires.
There are several different planet forms and as your empire gets more advanced, you get the ability to terraform and inhabit previously uninhabitable planets. This is a key to having a good space 4x game. The galaxies are enormous. They is plenty to explore and a great deal of variation. Each game could go differently – you never know what will happen. The built-in wiki help page is really awesome – a really detailed and easy way to find out everything you want to know about the game. Across the galaxy, you’ll be able to find strategic resources which are used to build special buildings and spaceport modules. Henrik Fåhraeus, Game Director of Stellaris said on Tuesday, following their record-breaking sales: “we are listening very keenly to all the feedback we are getting and look forward to many years of continued expansions and improvements to the game. Let’s make space great again, together!” This means we know Stellaris, and eventually Stellaris 2 will become better and better as Paradox learns what gamers want and don’t want. Stellaris is a good game now, but it promises to become excellent in the future.
At the beginning of this article I said a few things I didn’t like about Stellaris including the choice not to include a civilian economy and not to have different types of resources. However, these things could be said to just be personal preference. And so I think overall, Stellaris really is a great game and good fun. It captures the imagination of gamers across the world. The ability to customize your empire, your race and your gameplay style makes for a good replayable game as we expect from Paradox. I just want to see a more ‘Victoria 2’-like approach where there is more focus on economy rather than just research, diplomacy and war. I would recommend Stellaris as a definite buy, especially if you like Paradox games. It is available on Steam for $39.99/£34.99.