What to make of Stellaris? Another Space 4x game, another Paradox sandbox game. Every gamer has longed to conquer space since Galactic Civilizations. To seek out new civilizations and beat them up. My last space game was Endless Space, technologically engaging but dry. Before that there was Galactic Civ and Alpha Centauri. How does Stellaris measure up to these and to previous Paradox games like Crusader Kings 2? Read on.
The real stand out feature is Stellaris plays in real time. Unlike every other game in its genre there’s no end turn button. Your scientists will sit on their tentacles, your ships will idle playing video games and your workers will starve into oblivion because everything is happening right now. However in practice it’s not as big a difference as it seems. You’ll spend time waiting for things to complete, just like you would in a turn based game.
In terms of choice, the game is unrivalled. You can modify everything about your starting species, from their genetic makeup to their choice of transportation. All of those things are integrated into the game proper too. So later on you'll use the same interface for adding new genetic modifications or uplifting non-sentient species. Technologies open up new forms of governance, while the weapon types for your ships become staggering. Then there's the number of different species with their own tech levels from stone age to space flight capable civilizations. Stellaris really does feel like a kitchen sink game. There’s so much openness that I decided it was time to live out my sci-fi dreams.
My first game was with a version of the Idirans from the Culture novels. You know, the religious, immortal beings who believe all other species don’t have souls? My empire turned the willing into vassals and waged war with everyone else. I made no truces and no alliances, only ceasing in war when goals were met. Eventually my empire succumbed to the combined might of the numerous federations that united against me.
My second game was as a group of genetically enhanced humans based on Khan from Star Trek. Calling ourselves the Ascendant we made it our mission to find humanity and conquer it. When we found old Earth and discovered the humans there had reverted to a primitive steam age culture we were naturally upset, terraformed the planet to kill them off and upset an ancient, stagnant culture who promptly wiped us out.
My third game was as the mind flayers from Dungeons and Dragons. Our decadent Star Empire was built on the enslavement of both aliens and sentient machines. We grew fat and wealthy by assisting other empires in their wars, then cannibalizing the remains. Alas I didn't get the end I was hoping for. Due to my prodigious technology growth I was able to impose Aasimov's three laws on my synthetic slaves ensuring they could never rebel. This meant they never rebelled against me. Instead we were invaded by organic beings from beyond the galactic rim who wiped out my rivals for me.
And that is Stellaris, a kitchen sink, a playground for you to live out pretty much any sci-fi series you can think of. That it can do that speaks well for it. Of course there’s a lot room for more. I expect it’ll receive a fair few DLC packs, not just in terms of new races and map types but also new mechanics. One of the features from the last patch was to add more variety to the system backgrounds, so they’re full of good ideas. Plantoid races are due to be available in the first DLC. What other wonders lie out there, amidst the stars?