Stellaris is a real-time grand strategy game set in space in the year 2200. Gameplay revolves around space exploration, managing an empire, diplomacy and warfare with other civilizations combining simulation and strategy to deliver a huge galactic sandbox title.
Stellaris was developed by Paradox Development Studios and are known for their grand strategy approach to the RTS genre creating such titles as Crusader Kings 2, Europa Universalis series & Sword of the Stars. The biggest feature within Stellaris compared to other Paradox titles are Species. There are a number of pre-defined Species to select but the real fun is creating them from scratch. Species are highly customizable, you can choose up to 6 different races, give them an identity with selected traits, type of Government and Ethos. On the surface, this looks very simplistic and bland but under the hood, your options will define the whole playthrough, how others interact with you and event based scenarios will change.
Once created you can select the race appearance with the supplied portrait art to give them a visual representation. Don’t worry all traits are governed by a point system keeping them balanced against other races in-game. You can create many unique species and save your customizations, this way you add them to your saves should you wish to have more control over your playthrough, or decide you want to play a different playstyle in another. The computer will auto generate AI for every save should you not want to spend too much time creating your own species. Replay value increases tremendously and should avoid the game becoming predictable and linear through each playthrough. Create a unique race by choosing from a large array of portraits, traits, and ethics. Meet an incredible number of random species – everyone in Stellaris is a potential ally or emerging threat. Galaxies are extremely large and consist of between 100 and 1000 star systems which can including black holes, pulsars, and neutron stars, maps are randomly generated. Faster Than Light travel methods have an impact on playstyle, you are presented with one of three options Hyperlane, Warp, and Wormhole travel. Hyperlane travel is fast but is limited to an existing layout of connections between star systems. Warp travel is slower but provides freedom of movement. Wormhole travel requires stations to be constructed at the edge of star systems but allow for a longer jump.
A large part of the early game is spent researching star systems with science ships and thus building your empire and expanding across the galaxy, this can take some time to achieve. In-game progress will trigger events continuously providing missions to break up play, present decisions which could help or hinder your progress. How these scenarios pan out depends on your empires ethos forcing you to make decisions on whether to move away from standard research temporarily. Research is divided into three categories Physics, Society, and Engineering and it doesn’t follow the traditional “tech tree” pattern. Technology appears to be random and influenced by the ethics of your empire as well as the traits and demographics of the scientists in charge of each department. Research has been well thought out and takes away the intimidating large tech trees which require an awful amount of time to master. The player is forced to make on the spot decisions based on the current situation, it also offers the chance to miss something vital which you may require later on. If you forget to assign any research in-game you’ll accrue research points so no downtime is lost whilst micromanaging.
The late-game becomes politically ingressed and you’ll have to pay closer attention to diplomacy. Again, diplomacy rests on the Ethos of other Empires and the strength of your opponents empire in comparison to yours. Resources will play a huge part in the end game and determine the strength of your empire, making sure resources are balanced is crucial. This can lead to late game resource micromanagement which can be laborious especially on larger maps. Paradox has added a feature called sectors which is aimed at cutting down late game resource micromanagement. The combat system as with all Paradox titles is quite linear, anyone expecting a battle map and strategically placing units Total War style will be bitterly disappointed. Most of the combat strategy is determined through modifiers, research, ship designer, and military strength. The tool enables you to build a ship with modifiers to defeat your enemy, you can, of course, create multiple types of fleets to deal with different threats, this is where the strategy really comes alive.
There are many features I haven’t touched on and some I have only read about and yet to experience in a playthrough. That gives you an idea of the scale and potential of Stellaris. Visually, Stellaris has a lot to offer compared to other Paradox titles but is never going to compete with elite games. Real Time Strategy games very rarely need to look visually stunning but Stellaris is still better than any RTS game. For that reason, it’s very forgiving on lower end machines and will appeal to those who don’t have high-end machines. The sound is much better than previous titles and the audio is quite calming, as you would expect for a title like this.