After a couple of abandoned matches where we were trying to figure stuff out we finally managed to finish (i.e. win) our first Stellaris campaign the other night. Today I’ll share some impressions and opinions.
I recently read an article that had the TL;DR at the top, and I quite liked that, so here it is:
Stellaris is a 4X strategy game in space, and it’s pretty great fun. Some systems need a bit of work still, but overall I highly recommend it.
Getting started wasn’t quite as easy as I’d hoped. This is a complex game, and while you’re given the choice between a ‘just the basics, please’ and a ‘full’ tutorial, I felt even the full one didn’t help all that much. As you can see there’s a lot of stuff on the screen, and the UI definitely takes getting used to.
It was fun from the get go though, and we deemed it worthy to put in the effort. After a couple hours of trial and error (and googling) we got the hang of it, and things started to get interesting. The CPU expands aggressively, so the just explore and colonize part of the match was over rather quickly and we needed to ready ourselves for war.
I like that the devs put so much effort into making the game look good up close. All that’s lacking is an option to turn off the UI. You don’t spend much time zoomed in this far however, and even if you do you can’t really intervene much. The battles basically play out by themselves.
Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how you look at it – going to war isn’t as easy as sending your fleet anywhere and letting it rip. You can’t even touch other empire’s ships or planets unless you have officially declared war on them, and you have to specify war goals when doing so. Once you’re at war both parties suffer from ever growing war exhaustion. Once yours is at 100% the opposing side can force you to surrender after a while, even if you’re not finished yet and might even have the upper hand in terms of military strenght. It’s a lot to learn and get used to.
This isn’t a bad thing as it makes matters more strategic, but it surely prolongs the duration of a match considerably because you can’t just build the biggest fleet and steamroll the galaxy in one fell swoop.
If you think managing your fleets is the only thing demanding your attention, think again.
Managing your home planet, colonies and, over time, planets you have conquered is another whole game in itself. You need to make sure there’s enough housing and amenities (seriously) available for your ever growing population, as well as jobs for everyone. Oh boy, the jobs. The game basically goes for hyper realism here I feel, because unemployment becomes the biggest threat to your empire as the match progresses, much more so than any opposing fleet ever could.
Jobs are provided by districts and buildings you construct, which is great because that way you can suit a planet’s production to your empire’s needs. If you want to build large fleets, for example, you need huge amounts of alloys, so you build Alloy Foundries for your citizens to work in which refine raw minerals into said alloys. If you want to speed up your research you build Research Labs, and so on.
The catch is that the maximum amount of districts and buildings is restricted, and your population grows and grows and grows. Even worse off are conquered planets whose native population is treated as slaves and can’t be used for advanced jobs at all.
Lakisa and I had one revolt each during the course of this game. Multiple planets splintered off our empires and declared war on us, which was quite a nuisance. Obviously just ignoring rising unemployment isn’t really an option. To be honest, I still have no idea how to tackle that problem properly. Like I said, realism.
We managed to get everything back under control and defeat the remaining NPC empires. The last one required some more military buildup on our part because it was a Fallen Empire which do not expand but have very powerful fleets, but given our combined economical strenght we came up on top easily.
Since no other empires were left and we’d agreed to work together from beginning to the end we were basically finished, yet decided to continue for a while just to see what else might happen. After all we’d not reached year 2500 yet, and the game was set to declare a winner at that point. We also wanted to experiment with some more game systems.
I’d researched the Colossus technology too late to try the ship – basically a Death Star – on one of our opponent’s planets (and Dantooine was too remote to make an effective demonstration), so I tested it on one of Lakisa’s planets. After saving the game of course.
That thing “only” wipes the world clean of infrastructure and population alike, the planet itself can be re-colonized afterwards. Pretty effective…and scary.
Meanwhile Lakisa finished building her first Megastructure, a Ring World.
Other than that not much happened until year 2470…
A dimensional portal appeared in one of my systems, and out came fleet after fleet of these blue guys. For a couple of weeks it looked like they were just sitting there waiting for us to attack them, but then they started to spread out in all directions, easily taking systems as they went.
To have a fighting chance at all we had to retrofit all of our fleets because theirs were specifically fit to do as much armor and hull damage as possible and had very strong shields, so our ships needed to counter that. Refitting and building some more ships took some time though, and we lost many systems until we were finally ready to fight back.
Even with our counter-fit fleets it wasn’t easy to reign them in. As you can see they’d spread out quite a bit, and their reinforcements kept coming. With combined efforts we finally pushed them back and took a foothold right next to the dimensional portal. From then on any fleet coming through was obliterated instantly, which gave us the breathing room needed to mop up the rest of them. While we retook system after system we discovered that they’d not just conquerered the inhabited worlds, they’d destroyed them. So they get to use a real Death Star and I don’t? Pff…
Once we took their last system we’d officially overcome the endgame crisis.
Shortly after we reached year 2500 and I was declared winner, mainly because I’d done quite a bit more research over the course of the game and also destroyed a couple more endgame crisis ships. Could have gone the other way, really, and it didn’t matter anyway since we’d worked together all the way.
So that was our first full game of Stellaris. It’s a really fun game if you like this kind of thing. It’s not for the impatient though, nor for the time-strapped. A match takes a lot of hours, especially when you’re still learning all the things. As long as it’s fun that’s not a bad thing though, right?
Oh, and it’s also pretty funny, I almost forgot to mention that. Many of the dialogues are written very tongue in cheek, and I’ve had a lot of laughs.
So yeah, totally recommended.