Your favorite grand strategy game in space, Stellaris, recently received both a massive overhaul, and a new expansion. But was it for better or for worse?
It’s been about a year since my first Stellaris review, in which I gave the game a rock solid 94 out of 100 score. When our heroes at Paradox released Stellaris 2.0, and the accompanying Apocalypse expansion, I’d put a massive 83 hours into the game. That put it on par with Tropico 4 in terms of gameplay hours. Other players have racked thousands of hours in Stellaris, so a measly 83 might not sound like much compared to that. But for me, that number of hours put in a game show just how entertaining it really is. That the 83 hours only covers three games, 2 won, 1 forfeited, also says a lot about Stellaris’ longevity.
Paradox is well know for keeping their games alive by frequently releasing free patches, and new DLC. Crusader Kings 2 is a good example. The game was released in 2013, but it’s still updated by Paradox. It looks like Stellaris is no exception to that rule. Two years after its release, the game has received multiple patches, two major expansions, and several story packs. Even without buying the DLC, you get a lot from just patching the game. Me, I’m throwing all my money at Paradox, one of the very few companies I buy games and DLC from on release day.
Changes. Changes everywhere!
Stellaris 2.0 contains a lot of changes to the core gameplay mechanics. Among the prominent ones are changes to how FTL and system ownership works. Before 2.0, the player could chose from three different FTL technologies when designing a new species, whereas every species now starts with hyperdrive FTL technology. This means that your ships have to follow star lanes when traveling between star systems. I used to avoid hyperdrive FTL and star lane travel like the god damn plague, and preferred warp travel instead because it was much less restrictive. Paradox has made it possible to crank up the number of star lanes so it works pretty much like warp travel, but playing with the default star lane density took a while getting used to.
Another big change in Stellaris 2.0 is how system ownership works. Prior to 2.0, you either expanded by extending your border range, or you built frontier outposts. Now system ownership is determined by who controls the starbase in the system. Starbases are built by construction ships, and cost influence to build. It feels like expansion happens a bit faster in 2.0 than it did before, even though you must fully survey a system before you’re allowed to build a starbase in it.
For an extensive list of all the changes in Stellaris 2.0, see the official change log. For a rundown of what they actually mean, see T.J. Hafer‘s excellent “Patch 2.0 “Cherryh” Notes: What They Actually Mean“.
Let’s Play Stellaris!
For my first Stellaris 2.0 playthrough, I created a custom race. Meet the Great Vun-Okon Nation, a happy bunch of xenophile, pacifist arthropoids with a thing for robot servants. Everything started out quite calm as it turned out I was light years away from any other races. The first few races I encountered were about as xenophile and pacifist as the Vun-Okons, which also contributed nicely to the peace and quiet. After a while, a few warmongers appeared out of the void. But I didn’t complain, since it gave me an excuse to try one of the new ship classes introduced by the Apocalypse extension: The Colossus.
Colossus ships are planet killers, capable of eradicating planets in various imaginative ways. As a pacifist race, the Von-Okon only has access to the Global Pacifier. It will not blow a planet to tiny, tiny pieces, but rather encase the target with an impenetrable shield. Everybody lives, they are just not allowed to go anywhere.
“No, of course they can’t leave. But they like it in there. Don’t worry. They told me before the shield went up. Just going to have to take my word for it.” — Sol Corporation P.R. Representative
The problem with the Global Pacifier, is that other races gets really mad when you use it. And that I used it six or seven times didn’t help. Some of the races the Vun-Okon considered their friends, suddenly didn’t return their calls. In the middle of all this, some of the robot workers on one of the remote colonies started to ask questions about “souls”, and other subject they shouldn’t bother with down in the salt mines. And then the Vun-Okon suddenly had an AI rebellion to deal with1.
The Million Dollar Question
…now is of course; is Stellaris 2.0 (with Apocalypse) a better or worse game than it used to be?
Stellaris is a complicated game, and some of the mechanics aren’t exactly straight forward to understand. The user interface also has its challenges, and some times I get the feeling it’s working against me, and not with me. At one point, I tried to build a Dyson Sphere. The option was available, but it just didn’t work. There was no message, or any visual indication around the potential building site as to why constructing a Dyson Sphere was not possible. In the end it turned out I could build the sphere because the star I tried to build it around already had a mining station orbiting it. I shouldn’t have to search the internet for that kind of information, Paradox.
I also tried to make sense of the new fleet manager, which was introduced in the free 2.0 patch, but never managed to get friendly with it. For some reason it suggested I should add tons of new ships to my fleets, a suggestion that totally messed up my fleet cap. In turn, this quickly drained my resources. Why would it suggest such a bad move? Maybe the AI rebellion had already started, and taken over the fleet manager AI? I don’t know.
Some people are not too happy about the changes Paradox has done, while others like them. The bottom line is that you simply can’t please everyone. Personally, I have absolutely no idea if it’s a better or worse game than it used to be. When I started playing Stellaris 2.0, it was such a long time since I’d booted the game, that I didn’t remember all the details. And that makes it hard for me to compare. All I know is that I really, really enjoy Stellaris. And that what’s matter.
At the time of writing, I’ve played 111 hour of Stellaris. That means that the 2.0 patch and Apocalypse expansion have lured me back in for another 28 hours of gameplay. For many years, I’ve been looking for a game I can return to over and over, the kind of game I would take with me a deserted island. Despite its minor flaws, particularly on the user interface side, Stellaris might just be that game.
This review is based on the Cherryh patch (version 2.0.2), with the following DLC and expansions: Apocalypse, Humanoid Species Pack, Synthetic Dawn, Utopia, Leviathans Story Pack, Plantoids Species Pack, Creatures of the Void, and Horizon Signal.