Anyone who has read my Xcom 2 review knows just how I feel about these filthy aliens existing in what is clearly MY galaxy.
Now I have a game where I can systematically conquer my enemy, enslave their population, make them work my land, and then purge them when no longer needed? Sign me up! The godfathers of the grand strategy genre, Paradox Studios, have no doubt produced the best 4x game I've ever played while mixing in enough classic paradox grand strategy to keep us all up into the wee hours of the morning. Fans of everything and anything space are going to find themselves wondering just how its actually possible that the clock reads 2:37AM when you could swear it said 10PM about 30 minutes ago.
Buckle up boys, because we're making space great again!
4X stands for: Explore your surroundings, Expand your empire, Exploit your resources, and Exterminate your enemies! It's a genre that I've played a ton of both on PC and as board games and from what I've seen in Stellaris, Paradox have managed to take elements from the best space 4x games and combine them with some elements from their more traditional grand strategy games in order to create a strategic game that is both complex and considerably more accessible than any of their previous titles. Be warned however that if you are new to Paradox titles then you may still experience a fairly steep learning curve as you master all the tools you need to efficiently control your empire. In Stellaris, players will control the fate of their civilization from their first baby steps of interstellar travel until you purge their entire galaxy of the xenos threat!
The basic mechanics are actually pretty simple. Players begin the game with nothing more then a single planet, 1 science ship, 1 construction ship, and a pretty pathetic little fleet. Colony ships can be built and used to settle new planets in order to expand your empire. Construction ships can be used to build stations that harvest resources for your empire. Science ships can be used to scout out new systems, revealing more resources and more habitable planets. Fleets can of course be constructed in order to reduce your enemies to ruins. Perhaps you're a Star Trek fan and war isn't exactly your style. That's ok because you can form alliances with your alien...friends... and later even join together as a Federation as you bring in all the nations of the galaxy under your wing. Planets grow in size, assign workers, and build up the land in much the same way as the Civilization series. Ships can be given custom designs in a similar way to the board game Eclipse with different layouts of weapons, armors, shields, and special items to give your armada everything it needs to lay waste to your enemies!
Research is actually quite interesting in Stellaris compared to some similar titles you might know. You are given 3 tech trees to research from, except you only get to choose from a random selection of 3 technologies at a time. What options you get are based on what you've already researched, what your science ships have learned in their explorations, and some luck. Initially I had my doubts about losing complete control over how I tech up my empire, but it was a few hours into my 3rd new game that I looked at what technologies I currently had and realized just how different my current empire was from any of my previous ones. Paradox have taken away some of your control to add a little variety to each playthrough and after I got over my initial doubts I really learned to enjoy it. One playthrough you may have researched yourself into having the mightiest fleet this side of the galaxy, another you created an economic powerhouse, and yet another your people sit back and relax as robots work your land, fight your battles, and crush you into dust as they punish you for enslaving them for so many generations.
Perhaps what I enjoyed more than any element of the strategy was this unique quality of each playthrough.
The abundance of lore and interesting events popping up as I went about the game kept me very entertained. Reading through the text as first contact is made, or as I encounter strange anomalies while exploring the space around me was very immersive. Early on these random events may seem rather innocent, but in what has turned out to be a brilliant move in creating such a re-playable game these events evolve based on how your game is playing out. Maybe those AI technologies seem really strong and exactly the thing your empire needs right now. Well it turns out giving your robotic slave workers sentience might not have been such a great idea. Now the fracking cylons have won their war for independence splintered off from your empire and are now on a hellbent quest to purge the galaxy of all organic life! Maybe that new warp drive technology is just what you need to get ahead of your enemy, or maybe it'll accidentally release the chaos gods into the galaxy forever altering the course of fate! It's these type of unique qualities given to each playthrough via randomized techs, adaptive events, and random planet and enemy distribution that give Stellaris its own niche in the Paradox oeuvre.
Those familiar with Paradox or grand strategy may find that Stellaris isn't quite as deep as HOI, CK2 or even EU4, but it has more than enough to keep space fans consumed for hours, and enough variety to keep each playthrough unique. The lore is awesome. The custom ship designs are awesome. The map and visuals are awesome. If you're a Star Trek fan, a BattleStar Galactica fan, a Star Wars fan, a Dune fan, or even if you just looked up at the stars one day and thought “woah...” then Stellaris is for you!