If exploring a vast, open and endless galaxy is something you have always dreamed of doing that say hello to Stellaris, developed by Paradox Development Studio. Offering the chance to do just that, with exploration being at the core of the games design, Stellaris will let you develop and grow your empire as you journey through the systems in pursuit of victory. With a number of complex systems in place and countless options to explore and grow, Stellaris will make sure you can develop just as you would like. That said however, does Stellaris hold up throughout the experience and can this strategy game stand strong till the end?
Stellaris is a grand strategy game that gives you all that you would hope for across the board. Ticking all the boxes of the 4X genre, Stellaris makes a point of showing just how much there is to do. From managing your empire, government, fleets, planets, technology, influence and so much more. There is always something to be studied and acted on during a session of Stellaris with so many options and data to take in. The options and flexibility available with empires you can choose, or create, also help to define the sort of experience your have as you progress through the game. With so many systems to explore it’s an impressive if somewhat overwhelming at first. In time however you learn to manage and master the systems in place and hopefully run a successful and solid empire.
You find yourself starting on the small but humble home world of your chosen empire (Earth if you go for Human) and from here your branch out. You’ll need to maintain power, resources and control as you ship your colony craft to inhabit other worlds and your science vessels to explore, map-out, and study the main worlds and stars around you. Remember to build an army to defend and conquer with though, and support all of this through your government. There really is no short and easy way to explain the systems in place within Stellaris but understanding the scale and scope of the game helps with that.
The biggest problem Stellaris has is how it teaches new players it’s game mechanics. It opts for a more “learn as you play” approach over a tutorial mission, which may be great for some, bur I can see this being difficult for others. You’ll set up your game by picking your starting faction and then setting the game’s rules before having the option to have “no tutorial”, “some tutorial”, or “a full tutorial”. Do not be mistaken however because these will be tutorials throughout the course of the game rather than just playing a short mission to learn the core basics. It’s not that this is a bad way to teach players but it did have it’s problems.
Once you spend some time in a game of Stellaris though you soon find that the basics are very easy to get a hold of but past that it becomes confusing and lost. Early game exploration and expansion of your empire is a key and a valuable strategy, but having no idea how to do so can make the whole journey a pain. Some of the other elements that causes headaches, at least during my games, was that for one, research is down to the luck of the draw. You see, your three research trees will give you three options to pick items to research, once completed you’ll be given another random three to pick from. This is not a wrong way to do this just that in a game like Stellaris removing the random chances where possible would feel a bit nicer.
At the same time however Stellaris has a robust interface that helps to make everything clear and easy to read. Sure, you might have to spend a great deal of time coming to terms with all the systems in place but the interface will make that process somewhat easier. The use of “tool tips” when you hover over almost anything also aids in the learning process. Even with the random elements such as the research trees, everything will be explained with enough detail that you’ll soon have yourself expanding your empire across the stars and taking over other empires all in the name of victory.
The best moments of Stellaris are when you’re expanding your empire, exploring the stars and managing a solid ecosystem and economy. The trouble is most of this feels to be in the mid to late stages of a game and that can take some time to get too. The early game has that feeling of bliss and joy you get when starting anew and planning your journey through the universe, but that joy and passion soon turns to a boring walk through the void as the pace grinds right down. Stellaris becomes a game of stamina as you find yourself reaching a point where the game loop becomes boring rather than exciting, and though this wouldn’t affect, everyone it did get to me.
Where Stellaris really stands up is in it’s visual fidelity as planets and stars are rendered beautifully. Panning around the gorgeous suns and gas giants that fill the systems is peaceful and relaxing. Sometimes in Stellaris pausing the games speed and just looking around the systems is a joyful experience as you take in the beauty that is the endless reaches of space around you. Though there is a lack of graphics options, and settings in general, Stellaris looks stunning regardless of the options you pick. Performance is another area where the game stands out as through even the more complex and hectic of space battles the game continues to run smoothly and effortlessly.
Watching your fleet’s battle it out with another is a visually stunning series of events to watch. Though you lack the direct control over your ships and have to play it by the numbers, watching the actions unfold is amazing. Once you get to the late game and have some of the bigger and more visually impressive weapons you want to slow the game speed down and just enjoy the fight unfold before you. The built-in ship designer that lets you fine tune and create the best combinations for your fleets really adds another layer of flexibility that is another added benefit that the game offers.
It’s worth noting as well that the sound within Stellaris is spot on from an interface point to the music that accompanies you during your games. When everything is put together you end up with a game that not only offers so much in the way of gameplay but also in ways of visuals. Helping to sell the experience and the idea of commanding your empire and exploring the galaxy. It’s just a shame that the barrier to entry is raised due to the rather confusing lack of a traditional tutorial and pacing issues that Stellair suffers from.
Stellaris is a great game, I can see that. There is so much that it has to offer to the genre but sadly it just doesn’t feel right. The initial experience of trying to learn how to play and struggling with the lack of a solid tutorial really impacted my later experiences with Stellaris. Even when the game opened up and expanded the excitement quickly faded as I found myself in a continuous loop that just lacked any enjoyment. That is not to say that Stellaris is a bad game because it is really clear that it is a fantastic game that just has a few small issues. Given time, and I’m sure it is already happening, I expect Stellaris will truly be that fantastic game that it wants to be. Making it easier for new players to join and enjoy the genre at the same time as given those players who know what they’re doing more in the way of gameplay options.
I would recommend Stellaris if you’re looking for a grand space strategy game that has more than enough in the way of content and life but I would suggest bearing in mind that it might not be for you even if you’re a genre fan. Take the time to look at some gameplay and get a feel for the basics before jumping right in because that initial learning curve is a tricky one. If however you’re not too concerned about that or are more then happy to just jump right in then Stellaris is a worthwhile game for your collection. It just isn’t for me.
Stellaris is available now for PC and Mac.
This review is based on a PC copy of the product provided by the publisher