You might or might not have noticed that there hasn't been a lot of activity on this site lately. The reason for that is Stellaris[^1].
Over the last couple of years, Paradox has become a highly respected brand in strategy gaming circles. The Swedish publisher/developer, operating as Paradox Interactive and Paradox Development Studio respectively, has published and developed some of the most popular strategy games and strategy franchises on the PC platform in recent years. Titles like Crusader Kings, Hearts of Iron, Europa Universalis, and Cities: Skylines will make most strategy gamers giggle of joy.
Paradox’ grand strategy games, in particular, have amassed a considerable amount of dedicated fans. Despite their steep learning curve, complicated mechanics, and non-intuitive user interface, Paradox’ grand strategy titles are among the finest in the genre. It was not a huge surprise then, that the strategy gaming community got very excited when Paradox announced their first science fiction title back in 2015: Stellaris.
There were some skeptics. Of course. There always are. Until Stellaris was announced, Paradox had dabbled exclusive in historically based strategy games. Would they be able to conquer space as well? One year after release, it’s time to see if Paradox’ first science fiction title has turned into everything it set out to become.
Stories from Space
Stellaris is not a game driven solely by the players quest for a victory condition. Through exploration, your science ships will discover anomalies that you can choose to investigate further, or ignore all together. An anomaly might result in a special project or an event chain being triggered. This can lead you on a goose chase around the galaxy, an adventure that might give your empire access to rare technologies that give your the upper hand.
To spice things up even further, the Stellaris universe also features spaceborne aliens, fallen empires, and semi-random crisis. All these features make sure that there is always something happening, and it never gets boring. Your ultimate goal for a game is of course to reach a victory condition, but there are always one or more sub-goals that you can chase on your way there.
But even if there is always something happening, the game doesn’t feel overwhelming. A rather thorough tutorial will help you to quickly come to terms with Stellaris’ many menus and screens. A lot of things to tinker with is not uncommon for a game of this kind, but unlike some previous Paradox releases, your brain won’t catch on fire when you try to figure everything out. It’s obvious that both [UI] and UX design are areas Paradox has focused on during the development of the game. And it pays off big time. Stellaris is grand strategy for the masses.
You’ll find everything you’d expect from a science fiction strategy game in Stellaris. Exploration, research, colonization, diplomacy with other races, a ship designer, and, of course, huge space battles. The game doesn’t bring anything revolutionary to the strategy game genre, but the sum of all it offers is amazing. For a long time, I’ve been looking for a game that I don’t have to spend months learning, that I can play in relatively short sessions, but at the same time doesn’t feel shallow. I think Stellaris might be that game. 54 hours of game play is a good indication that it is.
If you decide to jump on the Stellaris bandwagon, be prepared to stay on it for a while. Paradox has a history of keeping their games alive for years by releasing patches, free content, and expansions quite frequently. Crusader Kings II is a prime example of just that. The game launched back in 2012, but the most recent expansion was released in March this year. If Paradox decides to give Stellaris the same treatment, we’re in for a long, and wonderful ride.
This review is based on the Banks patch (version 1.5.1), with the following DLC and expansions: Utopia, Leviathans Story Pack, Plantoids Species Pack, Creatures of the Void, and Horizon Signal. All screenshots are from Paradox' own promotional content, but they are a bit outdated.