Time Played: 39 Hours* (closer to 29, a friend has a save on my PC)
Last Played:  5/30/2016

Stellaris: …No Peace

“Can there be peace between us?” the Inquisitor asked the collection of crystalline blue energy.
“… No peace…” it responded, as if disinterested.

And, for the first time, war was brought to the Interstellar Multyx Hive. Not from an ancient rival. Nor from our many neighbors. War came to us from beyond… Beyond the limits of our own perceivable universe. Something from the void broke through the barrier between spaces — and what came through had motivations alien to our own. They seemed to lack anything that could be related back to the beings of our plane, that is… except for their hunger. That we understood well…

As it is how the galaxy died. Consumed from within by an extra-dimensional incursion.

But, we take solace in knowing that their appearance brought disparate species together in self preservation; old rivalries mean little when confronted by such a foe. And though none may know of us, or our furtive galaxy, the proof of our existence is self evident in our collective refusal of The Unbidden. 
You might be wondering what I’m going on about… Well I’ve been playing Paradox’s new game Stellaris! And my peaceful empire of spiritual space scarabs was invaded by beings of energy from “a much higher plane”. At this point in my game there is almost nothing I can do to prevent them from consuming my people and moving on to our allies, friends, and neighbors…

But that might not mean too much to you without context!

So let’s start with the obvious, What is Stellaris?

Stellaris is a 4X Grand Strategy game from Paradox interactive. It was developed by the same guys that brought us Europa Universalis IV. If you’re familiar with that game you’ll be right at home with Stellaris, if not… Well EU4 can be summarized as a pseudo-historical 15th century European political simulator.

And if you managed to parse the meaning behind that string of words then you’re either particularly interested, or have already given up.

But fear not! Stellaris is a Galactic Politics Simulator! Ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a Pacifistic Spiritual-Collectivist society of space faring, highly adaptable, sentient worm-beetles?

What do you mean, no? Look, just roll with it…

Well, then Stellaris is perfect for you! But enough of the sales pitch.

Stellaris is one of the better designed 4X games I have played in that it has a lot of the genre’s idiosyncrasies, but manages to mitigate a lot of the boring busy work that seems prevalent in many 4X games. Stellaris does this in really cool ways, while also providing a large amount of potential ‘flavor’. Like being able to place entire star systems into self governed sectors of your empire. Meaning you can automate a lot of the individual planetary choices.

This also helps when differing political factions crop up in your empire and you want to silence their voices. Just gerrymander them into political impotence!

Like, for real though, it’s a blessing from God to be able to just throw planets into a group and say “make me money” or “Make me more science”. Another nice feature is the “Upgrade” button on fleets. Just click on a fleet and hit “Upgrade”, and then they go to the nearest space station on their own. No more having to phase out old armies.

Now I do need to say that Stellaris is not a particularly deep game. It has a breadth of systems, but none of them are intimidatingly deep. After a game or two you’ll be reasonably comfortable with the various systems in place.

I actually found the game to be very easy to pick up and play without too much struggle. Which is great!

Now, the reason I say that Stellaris isn’t that deep is that: Stellaris is a game that is only going to give you as much as you put into it. It really does feel like a game that was designed for Role Playing over, say, hard tactics. What I mean by this is that the meat of the game is in the early and late game “segments”, all of the battles are essentially automatic — being determined by ship design and some other factors, and the diplomatic systems are a bit iffy at times. (Do know, however, that the developers are actively working on content patches for some of these “issues”.)

So you should go in with the right mindset. This isn’t Sins of a Solar Empire, it’s a more abstracted “big picture” kind of game.

Now if you’re wondering what I mean by “Role Play”, well, Stellaris lets you generate an empire in much the same way you would roll up a DnD character.

You have a selection of something like fifty different races, that fit into six different species ranging from mammalian and reptilian, to fungoid. On top of that you can pick your space mushrooms belief systems from six different Ethos that come in the normal and fanatic varieties.

Fanatic Spiritualist Militarist Space Mushrooms sound fun.

You can then customize your particular species of interstellar Fungi by giving them up to four traits, read perks, that facilitate different play styles. You’re limited in your choices, so as to provide some semblance of balance, but you can definitely make some powerful creatures.

My Space scarabs had a lot of negative traits, but they are highly adaptable meaning colonization is easy! More bugs means more bugs, which means more bugs.

After you give your species traits, then you pick your starting planet. Your selection influences which biomes your species can colonize, as well as what is considered habitable to them – without terraforming or genetic modification. For example: if you originated on a Tropical world, an Arctic world would be particularly hostile to you.

The customization in this game in one of the main draws for me. One game you can play as a massive mega-corporation. The next as the Imperium of Man from Warhammer 40k. Or if warmongering and the subtleties of oppressive scientific directorates aren’t your thing, you can always be an indirect democracy focused on technological innovation! The limits are really only in your imagination, and your willingness to fudge a bit. Sometimes I like to just sit down and create different empires. It’s genuinely fun going through the process. Plus the game can pull all of your custom made empires and use them as AI. It’s always fun to find out you started right next to the incredibly strong space-troll-monsters you made.

Now empire customization is all well and good, but is the game fun to play?

Yeah, it is. The early game has you just entering the galactic scene as a space faring race. You then travel from star to star surveying the various systems around you while looking to expand, make first contact, or ways to generate money… Whatever you feel best suits your empire’s flavor.

A large portion of Stellaris is actually exploring the Galaxy itself. And this is done via your Empire’s particular mode of faster than light travel. The game supports three, and they each offer a different play style; trading things like speed for unrestricted travel, or being bound by “lanes” but moving almost instantly.

At this point the game in almost entirely what you make it. There are early game encounters that give you things to do or react to, but they start to taper off towards the mid game. It’s up to you to play the game how you want to. At the time of this writing there are only two objectives in the game.

Conquer everyone, or colonize 40% of the habitable worlds.

Other than that it’s truly a Galactic Political Sandbox.

Never fear though! Eventually once you reach a later point in a game, something large will occur. Which for my peaceful space bugs was being invaded by interdimensional energy beings bent on nothing more than consuming our very sentience. These are known as Crises. And there are currently three:

Being invaded by interdimensional assholes,

An extragalactic alien incursion,

And a rogue sentient AI rebellion.

It’s definitely some Sci-Fi novel level stuff.

The different systems of Stellaris all work together to create a wonderful story that will, in many ways, be unique to your game. It may share elements with other people’s but it will never be exactly the same.

On one world of the Interstellar Multyx Hive, the locals began experimenting with genetic modification. This ‘accidentally’ created a separate race of ‘superior’ space bugs. They called themselves the “Meta-Multyx”.

They didn’t want independence from their “alien overlords”, but they did want the be represented in our Theocratic Oligarcy. I had no problem with this… But the local Multyx didn’t like the new species that had sprung up within their society. Because of this a civil war on the planet broke out between the two sister-species… Sadly the Meta-Multyx were smarter, stronger, and overall better than their “lesser” cousins.

Eventually the Multyx were purged from the planet, and the new Meta-Multyx race represented about 6% of the population of my entire empire. I was worried that one day they would rise up against me. But they were content to have their world and live within the empire comfortably. They were in a relatively backwater sector anyway, no one really bothered them.

But these are the things that happen very frequently in Stellaris.

In a previous game I played as Spiritual-Collectivist Xenophobe Space Crabs. They were, for all intents and purposes, the more forceful precursor to the Multyx. These Crabs could only live on Arid worlds… and a race of Chthulu looking molluscoids were living on a huge patch of Arid worlds that I desperately needed… So I fought four very bloody, very long, wars against them. Destroying their entire fleet several times over, taking their worlds from them, and occupying their other worlds. I would force them to cede their planets to me and slowly creep into their space by force.

Eventually after many decades I had their entire portion of the galaxy’s spiral arm under my control… But in doing this I had forcefully integrated billions of xenos into my population…. And they were not happy about it.

Going so far as to create underground terrorist organizations that bombed my cities, and called for the secession of their people from my empire. I tried to ‘re-educate’ them. I tried to silence their leaders by bribing the media. I even tried to bribe their leaders… But they wouldn’t have any of it.

Eventually I turned to enslaving entire planets of these Molluscoids to keep them in line… and when that didn’t work… I turned to genocide.

I purged upwards of thirty billion Molluscs. And I, the God Emperor of the Holy Tehznid Principality, wasn’t even sorry. They had dared to defy me, and my mouth appendages clattered with glee as their worlds became devoid of life, and my people took over their abandoned cities…

Or at least that’s what I assume the Tehznid God Emperor would feel like. Because as it turns out, purging an entire race from existence means that a lot of people start to dislike you. And then they want to fight about it…

It was a mistake.

But one that you should consider making. Because Stellaris is a great game.

Go buy it.

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