Stellaris is a space-based strategy game with enough depth to keep you learning throughout your journey, as you expand your empire one system at a time.
The daunting nature of 4X strategy games (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) is always something that has absolutely fascinated me. By their very nature these games are larger and more cumbersome than any other genre and yet it is their ability to quickly communicate core systems and an ease of use that often defines their global success. In this sense, Stellaris is an absolute success. It doesn’t just present you with a myriad of systems at the beginning of your journey but ties them to a narrative plotline that becomes the driving force for your empire’s expansion. Whether you choose to stop and read every piece of information presented to you or not, the game offers enough of a connective tissue between its systems and the universe in which these systems are based to make everything blend together almost seamlessly.
Starting out as a fledgling society taking their tentative first steps into space, you will need to first cultivate the resources from your home galaxy before developing the technology to begin going further afield. Mining resources from uninhabitable planets is as simple as building a mining platform above the planet. The resources will be gathered and returned to your store with no micromanagement required. Planetary mining and power usage become slightly more technical as you build around your population on a tile based system. Another “Pop” on a tile allows you to build tech on the site to benefit both the planet and your empire at large. While some of these technologies will harvest food to stop your people from dying of starvation you can also overload a planet with key resource mining or power farming which feeds back to your overall stockpile. Power becomes a huge resource later in game when you need to manage large fleets which have a large energy consumption requirement to maintain them. Your key resource is your base currency and used to purchase a lot of your stations, ships and upgrades.
The influence system is a fixed point for your empire and something that rarely changes. This is the amount of influence you have over your society and ticks up at a steady monthly rate throughout the game. Although some outward factors can have an effect – such as declaring a rival empire – this low number will be the limiting factor to your empire expansion throughout your campaign. Influence is required for developing frontier outposts that you need in a system before you can begin developing on the planets in the system. You need it to command edicts to your people to keep them in line and to also hire Fleet Commanders and scientists to further your expansion. It is the most important resource and there is little you can do to affect it.
Your research tech tree will allow you to focus the development of your empire. You may choose to focus on colonization and develop tech to allow you to settle on a number of different worlds. On the other hand, you could focus on new technology for your war machine and take the universe by force. You will hire scientists that will multitask as part commander, part researcher. They will command your science vessels and survey alien galaxies while researching your tech tree.
Your fleets will be commanded by an Admiral who you will use influence to hire – these will add buffs to your fleets that can turn the tide in every battle or enable you to specialise a fleet for different situations. I had an Admiral who granted a 20% sub-light speed boost that acted as my first responders – they were mobilized at the first sign of trouble and the fleet consisted of the fastest, most agile ships. I would follow that up with a fleet of dreadnoughts – hard hitting capital ships that are slower and can stand up to all but the most lethal enemy barrages.
The game has an inbuilt shipbuilder that you are encouraged to use at every opportunity. You will constantly be developing new technology for your fleet and will be able to save a huge amount of designs depending on what you want from the system. I always held three types of ships – scout, support and heavy that I tweaked for different situations. I could save templates in an instant and construct them in an instant. Each game I played I approached the ship builder differently and got vastly different results. My first was to iterate quickly as soon as I had a new tech and have different ships building almost every year. My second approach was to hold off until I could do a complete refresh on a line and by far I found this the most satisfying. Each fleet is given a combat rating that will give you an instant way of knowing whether you will be successful in combat or not. This gave me instant feedback as soon as my ships dropped from warp into a system whether I should flee or mount up and bring the cavalry. Usually, a combination of the both meant I was reasonably successful throughout. Hiding at the edge of a system while support warped in was always the most nerve-racking few minutes.
Everything in Stellaris happens in real time meaning those crunch times are always a stressful few mouse clicks. As your empire grows you are often faced with numerous notifications, along with a war on one front and pirates popping up back deep within your empire. The game allows for this and expects you to manage through pausing, which actually allows you to put everything into perspective, organise and mobilise before letting the action continue. This meant I could deal with a hunger crisis on Earth, pop over to my construction yard to load up a queue of dreadnoughts and then move my combat units around the enemies. Hitting the pause button would then allow you to watch as your masterful strokes are undertaken by your people.
Although you are in command of your people you are not the galactic leader – this is someone who is elected into place by the people. You can use your influence to support one of the leaders who can provide you with buffs and also influence boosts if you aid them in completing their elections promises. Sometimes these can be frustrating: A common example being tasked with building 4 research stations and they’re not in your immediate expansion area. The payoff being some extra influence points. It’s a nice risk reward system that challenges you again and again.
Storyline options appear throughout your time in the form of missions that are entirely optional and give you little benefit unless you are keen to know more about the universe you are currently conquering. These story-beats are usually in the form of planets you send researchers to discover a piece of ancient alien tech or burial ground. They flesh out the history of the galaxy and give some light objectives, should you bore of simply conquering the universe again and again. I found these pieces fascinating and as someone who is a bit of a sci-fi nerd always prioritised these missions over others whenever they popped up.
Stellaris looks absolutely fantastic. The time taken on every single detail within the game world is obvious. Even at close inspection the ships look stunning and even show off the changes you make in the ship builder. Each galaxy looks different from the others and holds a completely new set of planets to mine or colonize. The beautiful universe constructed made the hours I sat in the dark playing the game fly by.
When I was younger my gaming choices consisted of games such as Civilization, Age of Empires and Star Trek: Armada. It’s not until Stellaris that I have found something that combined all three of these franchises in a way that I truly adored. Stellaris captures the in-depth management edge that I crave from large games. It covers my need for space exploration and seeking out strange new worlds while also giving me real time combat that I felt involved and in control. I connected with my race more than I ever had before in a game of this type. I felt involved in their political squabbles and wanted to crush those enemies that dare try and confront our youthful expansion into a wider galaxy. These were my people. Stellaris drops you into a universe full of strange and wonderful races that span across hundreds of galaxies. You are given the tools that are easy to manage and never too cumbersome, then you are on your merry way to mould this universe to your very liking.
Sprawling space adventure
Every new game is a completely different adventure
Modding will improve everything about the game over time
Can begin to feel repetitive at times