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AAJoe

Stellaris

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So I picked up Stellaris on launch day (pun intended) and ... I thought I'd post my thoughts for any grand strategy / 4x fans out there.

 

Short version: Wait for updates.

 

I want to give props for the Paradox team for moving away from their tried and true terrestrial war strategy games. I'm a big fan of Crusader Kings and Europa Universallis, and I still have fond memories of a lot of great space games (Masters of Orion, Race for the Stars, and Starships Unlimited all ranking quite high on my list.).

 

So Stellaris comes along and it does a lot of things right, a lot of things wrong, and has an incredibly weird mix of trying new things in some places while not budging at all from status quo on others.

 

What you'll recognize immediately is the tried and true "Snowball expansion" needs of space empire games. The best way to perform is to simply expand as rapidly as possible, claiming as many planets and as much territory as you possibly can. Build your snowball quicker than the enemies and eventually your economy will simply crush them. This is because, unlike Civ or even EU4/CK2, there's basically no negative feedback loop working against rapid expansion. The only thing that exists is a penalty for going over your maximum controlled planet limit, which is undone by creating sectors (AI controlled regions). This means you get between 0 and 75% (you pick) of the resources made by that region and ALL of the tech value. The % you don't get goes into construction in that region controlled by the AI. The net result of this is basically every ounce of resource you pull out of the game is getting used. Expand quick, win.

 

They also didn't budge from the weird obsession space games have with rock - paper - scissor combat. Lasers beat armor. Point Defense beats missiles. Projectiles beat shields. There's a few "special" techs you can unlock that do other things, but that's the brunt of combat. See what your AI opponent is building and counter it. The AI is currently too dumb to do this to you.

 

Those two stagnant parts of the game can be overlooked, but one problem can not be. War is an all or nothing affair where victory means a huge advantage for the future of your empire and defeat is the end of the game. This is in huge contrast to CK2 or EU4 or even civ where losing a war could be bad news, but not the end of all things. In EU4 especially you may lose a lot of territory or even become a vassal of the conquering empire, but the show would go on and you could use that loss to forge alliances and return to glory. Stellaris on the otherhand... making alliances with stronger AI is difficult to the extreme, especially on harder difficulties where they give you a relationship penalty just for your difficulty level. The result is losing a war not only is economically crippling or outright removes you from the game, but your weakened status makes it basically impossible to form a new alliance to retake your lost territory. 

 

While the AI doesn't do it, a player can also engage in scorched earth tactics the likes of which I haven't seen in modern games. Destroy every single resource gathering node in an empire and they'll simply implode, even if you can't "crack" their homeworld. Of course taking that "land" is now kind of worthless, but maybe that wasn't your goal anyway.

 

Which is a shame because they do a lot of neat things, from random event chains to well written anomaly events. Exploring space hasn't been done  better. Running into your first "Fallen Empire" (A massive super empire that is in decline but still able to beat the crap out of you) is a terrifying experience. Not just in your first game, but never knowing when one may pop up and say "Hello, I see you've been building in stars within our borders. We'd like you to stop that or face extremely quick death." - thus massively shifting your plans is great. Managing leaders and their quasi-random tech tree is solid. 

 

In the end though, you have a game that mimics war a little too closely. It's hours of absolutely nothing punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Your eyes may glaze over managing the steady expansion of your empire until you run into an AI that had a better start than you or a fallen empire that was randomly decided to be diametrically opposed to your starting ethos and is basically in your back yard, then war is declared, and the game is over. You never stood a chance and you know it. If you survive, it's only a matter of time before they finish the job.

 

Paradox is known for coming out with regular and good patches (and no shortage of DLCs), so I expect things to improve. As it stands, I can't recommend Stellaris quite yet. 

 

-Joe

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It sounds like it has promise, but the core of the game seems flawed.  They'd have to overhaul it drastically to "fix" it, if you want to call it that, and that would mean making a lot of people angry that like it now.

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It does seem that the devs are actually planning some major overhauls, and the general population seems pretty on board with it. I'll swing back to this post in 2 major updates (which is when I plan on re-trying the game).

 

Unless Civ 6 comes out first, in which case screw that :)

 

-Joe

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