Stellaris (PC) Review

By Eric Ace 09.05.2016 1

Review for Stellaris on PC

Stellaris takes on the task of the latest comer in the field of 4X grand space strategy games - a narrow niche that inspires deep cult followings that, for better or worse, result in much more intense reactions from the player base. Unlike Stellaris, the problem with most games in the genre fall into a simple pattern of taking one planet and growing and empire out of it - an appealing concept that has left a wreckage of bad games. Many get bogged down in minutia, annoyances, or generally unrealistic meta-gaming, such as finally getting to the stars and the first thing to do is build a battleship and smash our neighbours out. Stellaris takes a much more even and slow approach early on that works in a way rarely seen.

Stellaris takes on the task of the latest comer in the field of 4X grand space strategy games - a narrow niche that inspires deep cult followings that, for better or worse, result in much more intense reactions from the player base. Unlike Stellaris, the problem with most games in the genre fall into a simple pattern of taking one planet and growing and empire out of it - an appealing concept that has left a wreckage of bad games. Many get bogged down in minutia, annoyances, or generally unrealistic meta-gaming, such as finally getting to the stars and the first thing to do is build a battleship and smash our neighbours out. Stellaris takes a much more even and slow approach early on that works in a way rarely seen.

Screenshot for Stellaris on PC

Stellaris does things different in a way that really works. First of all, it takes the "eXploration" of the 4X genre serious, and is the first game in this genre that actually captures the feeling of how lonely, desolate and far space is. For a majority of the early game there is no fighting, no colonisation, no huge fleets rolling around; what it is, instead, is a humble science ship going to nearby stars and scanning them looking for something, anything. The game plays out in real-time, so there is the added sense of just how mighty of an undertaking this is with the few ships slowly moving through the planets, checking system after system and finding no habitable planets, or maybe an asteroid belt that could be mined and that's it.

Even colonising is arguably a "midgame" type undertaking of actually finding a planet, devoting huge resources to the ship, sending it out, getting it started. Now the genius part comes not from getting only one planet by the time it is midgame, but that the empire is being expanded by various mining bases or space stations from constructor ships. Thus, it adds a level of realism that a million colonies and battleships aren't rolling out soon after FLT is discovered, but there is still an empire "eXpanding" as remote mining bases slowly increase the resource base of the soon-to-be empire.

Screenshot for Stellaris on PC

Even researching takes a long time. A single tech could easily take 30 minutes to research, but it never feels bad because there is so much to actually do on the map. Each system often has some anomaly or alien animal - do you want to just shoot it, try researching it, or ignore it? So very often the main research is temporarily side-lined as soon as researching the newest crystal alien or gas giant creature comes along. As everything else does, combat also plays out in ream-time, with ships shooting and dodging right next to the planets. It works, but never ends up being a huge part of the game, as there is not any tactical mastery to be done when it starts.

Perhaps the biggest merit to Stellaris is there is much customisation for the race, decisions, diplomacy, and so on; nothing new there, perhaps, but it is all streamlined and happens in the background unless absolutely wanted to be seen. Thus, ships automatically move from planet to planet, stuff is automatically queued correct, fleet commands work easy, there are multiple ways to get to where is desired, population actually goes to generally the best locations. It is a rare pleasure to have a game this complicated with a good GUI that doesn't get in the way.

Screenshot for Stellaris on PC

Stellaris is not easy, and there is easily a 1-2 hour learning curve, even with the tutorials. There is such heart put into this, though. Little touches are aplenty, like the background changing based on what government is picked - a military dictatorship shows fleet battles on a screen, compared to religious types with temple-like interiors. Leaders from science ships, to fleets, to researchers all slowly level up, gain skills, die from old age… The whole experience feels very whole and "present" in a way never experienced in other 4X space strategy games.

There is a slight genre switch feel that really works, because for the early game, it is just your planet and the occasional alien creature in space, and it is a slow exploration of the desolation in front of you. It gradually transitions into a more typical empire-builder game. The various story quests, different decisions, and options to pick from leave a lot of replayability in this overall excellent game.

Screenshot for Stellaris on PC

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Stellaris strikes the rare balance in the 4X space strategy genre of bringing enough new things to the table, while retaining what works from the past. An amazing amount of customisation in skills, traits, and abilities seamlessly flows into the background without ever bogging the game down. The single largest difference from others in the genre is a heavy focus of the early game and "eXploring," as you actually feel like you are leading a brave race into the empty space and its dangers. All the subtle touches, decisions and excellent GUI make this a rare pleasure to play and an absolute recommendation to fans of the genre.

Developer

Paradox Development Studio

Publisher

Paradox Interactive

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Having played this game much more, I would revise my review to a lower score such a 6.  The game simply takes far too long to beat for its 'multiplayer' elements.  I had games go for easily over 10 hours, and most people were complaining about it just wanting to be over.

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