Stellaris is one of those games I kept wanting to give a try but wasn't sure if I would enjoy it. The reason for that is because it is developed by the same Paradox, the same company responsible for Crusader Kings 2. Now I love Crusader Kings 2 but that game has a very steep learning curve right from the start. My fear was that Stellaris would be the same and for a game like that I just need to be in the right mindset.
Since Steam had a free weekend for Stellaris I decided that this would be the time to find out if it was a game I wanted to play or not. After playing it through most of the weekend I can safely say: yes, I love the game. And yes, I bought it and all the DLCs. 🙂
Now if I had to describe Stellaris it would be like if Master of Orion and Crusader Kings II fell in love and had a child. Then that child grew up to become its own person.
There is a lot of things that remind of both games and a lot of things that feel more unique to Stellaris. And that was only from a weekend with the base version of the game.
There was so many things I wanted to see and try but unfortunately just one weekend wasn't enough for it all. I felt like I barely scratched the tip of an iceberg. That is why I am not even going to attempt to do a normal review of it as I don't think it would do it justice and I'd definitely not be able to cover everything that one can do in this game.
Instead of that let me just try to briefly describe my game session and explain the parts of the game I interacted with.
As it is usual with this kind of game, the first thing we do is pick what Species/Civilization we want to play. In the base game there are the usual options of humans and a bunch of other species, like avians and even fungi.
Each one has a different set of traits, government and general attitude towards other alien races, warfare and some flavor text to describe how they came to be like that. These are all things that can change over the course of the game too (although some of these may be harder to change than others).
Of course there is always the option of creating your own custom species/civilization.
Since it was my first time with the game I decided to go with one of the pre-made species. My first choice were the Blorg, a species of sentient mushroom that decided to go exploring space when they picked up some radio transmissions from somewhere. They just want to be friends with everyone and party away. The only problem is they are fugly which doesn't give them the best of the first impressions.
Then I noticed that depending on the government type slavery is okay. Unfortunately the Blorg didn't have that so I decided to pick the Jehetma Dominion, a sentient colony of fungi whose society was ruled by an elected wise king.
They were extreme pacifists but they were completely fine with slavery. Also, I don't know why I was so hellbent on playing a species that didn't see a problem with enslaving others. Probably because it is one of those things that we can rarely do in games (with good reasons) and I just have a weird attraction to rare mechanics.
After choosing the species there is the option to customize the game like difficulty, galaxy size, number of AI empires, minimum habitable planets and so on. I just left everything on default.
We start the game with an initial planetary system containing the capital to our empire, some mining and researching stations already built in the other local planets, a starbase and some spaceships.
It also gives a set of options for the tutorial: Full Tutorial, Just Tips or None at All. I decided to go for the Full Tutorial and much to my surprise it was pretty good. It just explains how to the basics of the game without forcing you to do it immediately. For example, it explains how to colonize a planet but if you don't feel like colonizing a planet immediately, for any reason, you can just ignore it and the explanation will sit there on your Situation Log.
The Situation Log is where you can track events that are occurring in the galaxy and that you can act on. For example, the fist one is to survey other planets that went through catastrophes that destroyed all life on it. It is one where your scientists hope to figure out what happened to them so the same fate can be avoided for your species.
There are also anomalies, kind of mini-events that can appear while your science ships survey other planetary systems. They have different levels of difficult which determine how much time it will take to research them. Most of them you can usually just come back later to if you feel they are too hard to research now. There are a few that have will disappear if you don't start researching them within a certain time though. However the required time tends to be pretty generous and I haven't missed any so far.
Most of these events also have some decision that can result in different rewards. For example, one of your science vessels may have found a derelict ship. Investigating it reveals that it is an ancient space ship whose crew got lost and died of starvation. You then have a choice of retrieving the ship to your own fleet or scrapping it for parts.
Some of these events can also be affected by your species politics. For instance say you are playing as a xenophile and there is an event where aliens are seeking asylum on your planets. Due to that trait you can't refuse them. While the opposite, xenophobe, I assume you would just tell them to go die in a ditch.
The beginning of my game was pretty much full of anomalies and mini-decisions like that. I just kept surveying different star systems then building a space station on them to claim to my empire, colonizing planets when I could while my scientists kept researching new technologies.
It didn't take long to make contact with another sentient species. They were some space turtles that called themselves "Democratic Bokasheran Systems". There were 3 different options to greet them based on my government type. I chose to greet them as the most peace-loving imperial ever... which they didn't seem to like much. I believe that was due to them being a militaristic democracy which was pretty much the opposite of the Jehet.
Not much long after that I got into contact with another species, some hippie arachnids called "Yibrak Commonality". This time I just chose the more peaceful response which seemed to go pretty well with them.
Over time our relationship grew so well that we did trade and research deals, opened our borders to each other, entered into a defensive pact and even allowed free immigration between our planets.
Meanwhile things with the space turtles deteriorated fast. They declared me a rival, kept insulting me and even made claims on a couple of my start systems. I tried to fortify my border with them as best as I can, even stationing my fleet over there. I was confident that if a war happened I could defend myself. I was wrong.
When they declared war they sent two fleets against my lonely one fleet. Combined those two fleets had a much bigger number than mine and were able to destroy it. They them proceeded to go take over other systems.
I tried to rebuild my fleet as fast as possible to mount a counter offensive but I didn't have the resources to do so. The Yibrak did help in the war effort but the border they shared with the Bokasheran was on the other side of the galaxy and that is where they were fighting them. Still, that probably kept the space turtles busy enough to not damage me even more than they already did.
Once I was able to build a fleet large enough to try defending myself it was already too late. I was forced to surrender due to the war weariness that my people were suffering and the Bokasheran got to keep the two systems they claimed.
I wanted to declare war again just to try to reclaim those systems but being an extreme pacifist I couldn't do so. I could have tried to reform my government so we could declare wars but I was afraid this would be too much of a radical change in my people's culture and could cause extreme consequences to my government in the short term.
So, I just sucked it up and kept exploring the parts of the galaxy I could, researching new technologies and trying to build a bigger fleet just in case another war broke out.
Eventually I got into contact with a lot of other different species that either didn't like me because of my imperialistic ways or were big powerful empires in decline that they just couldn't care less about me.
They were all far away from me too with the Yibrak serving as a nice layer between me and them so I never felt threatened by these other empires.
Unfortunately my free weekend with the game ended before I could do anything interesting like developing a technology to explore a wormhole that is within my empire's region or to study that inactive gate left by some ancient civilization.
I imagine my empire of sentient mushroom colonies just kept to their part of the galaxy, quietly researching and sharing everything they could with the Yibrak Commonality. Maybe even built a federation with them.
Now I could have tried to continue the save since I bought the game but since I bought the DLCs too I wanted to start a new game with everything enabled.
The first game I attempted after it, to use everything I learned during the weekend, didn't work out so well. I just got unlucky to be between two other civilizations that were militaristic and quickly reaching a point where I couldn't expand without going through them. To make matters worse said two civilizations became buddies with each other pretty fast and decided to declare war on me. Fighting a war on two fronts was not something I could do and I gave up on that save.
I decided to read some newbie tips for Stellaris, made a custom race, changed some of the difficult settings and things are going way better so far. So much better that I am already thinking of what other kind of crazy alien empires I want to create in the future. 🙂