Released just last month, Stellaris by Paradox is a great 4X game. After two 1000 star “Hard” games, here is why in my book.
With 1000 stars available to conquer out of the box and mods available to go to 5000, the only limit in scale is the power of the hardware used to play it. Each star has a set of planets and other astronomical features for exploration that makes the universe a fairly interesting place to look at.
It truly feels that you are looking at a galactic empire when you see that sphere of influence on the main map. No hex squares to break that immersion either. (E.g. Galactic Civilization)
Just add a few more galaxy shapes, especially 3D ones and it will be golden.
One of the main problems of 4X games is that because the amount of colony micromanagement increases significantly as the game moves on. The larger the scale but the worse it gets. So much so that one can get repetitive injury just by doing all the build and order queuing.
Stellaris sidesteps this by forcing the player to automate the management via “sectors”. In a typical game, a player will only need to micromanage 5 to 7. The AI is relatively competent as a governor in this respect and this is an asset. Not perfect but good enough.
Unfortunately this is forced on the player as part of the game which makes people who wish to have full control unhappy.
Leaders and death
Taking a page out of “Endless Space”, leaders play a significant role in a game. As a twist, the leaders can die of old age or other causes. This is such a logical concept, and it adds a extra dimension to the game.
Losing a leader is not crippling but the possibility of losing one makes them precious. Time lost in this game can mean the difference between win and defeat.
Like “Sins of a Solar Empire”, the game is real time. Unlike it however, it retained the feel of scale which was sorely lacking in the former.
Turn-based games are fun and it had been the staple of 4X games since the beginning. However there is a first move advantage that is omnipresent in such games.
Real time games also confer a feeling of liveliness to the world. The universe feels alive in other words.
Taking another chunk out of “Sins of a Solar Empire” and “Sword of the Stars”, combat is immersive and fun. It can be better as one of the mod to beautify the combat shows but it is sufficient for now.
Watching a fleet chase down another in a star system is simply awesome. Being able to give the opposing side a slip is just as good. With careful planning and a nice trap set up with gravity wells, a small fleet can overpower a bigger one, which makes things dynamic and fun.
With overpowered corvettes balanced in 1.1, combat should look to be more interesting.
I must say I loved the return of “Master of Orion” creatures like space amoeba and crystals. They make the universe feel more alive than ever.
Add to the list, natives, pre-sentient races and pre-spaceflight that a player can interact with. Every game is never the same with this mix of random factors. Integrating that newly uplifted race can directly affect expansion speeds due to the world suitability.
A mix of races is not a new concept but Stellaris handles it well without making it to cumbersome. (E.g. Sword of the Stars) With every species having their own benefits which is retained in a mixed colony, the game offers a new dimension in min-maxing efficiency.
Stellaris is a combination of many concepts from other 4X games before it’s time and for the most part, the concepts are implemented relatively well.
The game is not perfect but has much room available for improvement. But as far as new releases go, it certainly started with a bang.
Here’s to hoping subsequent patches make this an even more awesome game.