Stellaris – A Complete Galactic Perspective

Having played multiplayer stellaris both on and off stream with Mystic Beast, I was rather surprised we didn’t get a post on the journal about it. This is going to focus on the game as it stands with the Federations DLC and Wells update. Paradox does a lot of free and DLC updates, considering I have all of the DLC my opinion may refer to mechanics only available in the DLC.

Mystic Beast and I have been playing this from some of the earlier FTL choice days, and although we were sad this was changed to the uniform hyperlane travel, it was clear that it works well for strategy. Clearly defined choke-points based on the hyperlane density setting, and in combination with the starbase mechanic can certainly make fighting through someones territory a bit devastating to your fleet. Mystic Beast and I have various interests and Stellaris seems to be the unifying factor for us. I love simulation and Strategy games, while mystic beast prefers a more action survival fps style. Stellaris has a lot of involved mechanics that allows you to micro management resources and build what you need, or you take Mystic Beasts approach and focus on one or two resources, and utilize the galactic market.

Regardless of your playstyle, I love to play stellaris and I hope you all have a chance to enjoy it as well. Hopefully this perspective gives you the information you need to join us in the Galactic Community.

Game Setup:

Stellaris has a great empire creation system allowing a variety of play styles. You decide everything from the name and looks of your species, to the core ethics and governmental style of the race. Many ethics have clear opposes such as Pacifist-Militarist, Authoritarian-Egalitarian, Materialist-Spiritualist, and finally Xenphophile-Xenophobe. There is also a single conscious choice of either Organic hive Mind or Machine empire. Choosing the government itself isn’t that hard of a choice, you have common forms like Democracy and Dictatorship, as well as Oligarchical and imperial. Choosing Civics allows you to fine tune how the governmental effects, and allows you continue choosing your gameplay style. You can also customize the traits of your species themselves, this come into play when you building up your planets, there traits that provide direct bonus to core resources, such as food, minerals energy and research, but there are also traits that affect the living conditions such as housing, amenities, even habitability. I can tell you Mysticbeast and I both love coming up with various races and it really helps our roleplay because we spend so much time fine tuning some of the characteristics.

Having created a race its time to actually setup a game, the default settings are good for standard game as you play though, you mind that you like certain mechanics such as Wormholes, Gateways, or perhaps you want to be more or less restricted with hyperlanes. Currently after playing multiple games, I have found that I like having more wormholes, especially when I am going between the sides of the galaxy. We also found early on that we don’t like advanced empires, but that doesn’t mean your playstyle couldn’t benefit from them. The tool-tips are helpful, but without a few games under your belt you may not understand how it affects the game. One drawback I will say here is that many sliders are a multiplier such as 1x or .75x, and without playing you may not know how long 1x research cost is, or that a 0.75x crisis is still hundreds of ship power. Don’t get me wrong, you want a crisis to be overwhelming or its going to end to quick. We found this out when I set it to .50x, and it was killed within two years by AIs.

After making the settings, your finally loaded into a galaxy, and greeted tutorial bot, I do like the learn as you play approach so having an option on the tutorial to provide information based on the screen was nice, though the tutorial, if you opt for the full one, only covers the basics, surveying systems, and building ships. I recommend leaving the game paused as you go through some of the resource screens. There is a lot of information displayed, all of which is important to know. This is one thing I like about stellaris, the top hud has all of the key information, your resource income, starbase and fleet capacity, and sprawl in one place. There are extras on there like pop, science points, and a few others that may not help you other than to brag to a friend that your making more science then them. But each icon is clickable and takes to another screen, however the menu on the left is also going to each of those screens, so there is always a way to get to the same screens. If your want the market, you can click it on the left, however if you want alloys, you can also click alloys at the top and it will take you to the market screen to buy or sell them. I have spent 20 minutes going through all the screens walking someone through the information, so don’t be afraid to take your time.

To conclude this section, I love the customization in the races, I love how much modification you can do in the game settings despite them being less than informative as multipliers, and the tutorial works for me but even with the full tutorial option selected, it only covers basic science and ship building functions.

Gameplay:

Its time to talk about the later parts of the game. The customization that you had at the beginning continue, as you are able to rename planets, ships, and entire fleets. I do thoroughly enjoy how the game is separate between early game, mid-game, and late game. Though everyone plays differently there are some main things that tend to happen every game. You’ll find your self growing and expanding your empire in the early game, but come mid-game you likely know several empires around you and you’ll either be working your fleet to make yourself defensible, or even to overpower your friends. The territory that you do have is pretty solid, and you may even have a handful of planets. This is where you start sizing up your opponents and choosing your rivals as you decide to whether to work with your neighbors and become allies against the opposite side of galaxy, or if your the massive power of the south and looking to conquer further. Finally by late game, you will be envisioning your doom, perhaps you recall that one game where you didn’t plan for the crisis and were completely devastated, or you will be working with your allies that now encompass 80% of the galaxy after many fought wars. The focus would be on your fleet, starbases that were not upgraded, and then its time.. when you get that one communication and you learn where the crisis will be. Its a roller-coaster the entire game for Mystic Beast and I, though our focuses always change accordingly, we will always have that one ai that has made it exceptionally difficult.

I find the way the starbases are upgraded to be understandable, six modules and four buildings on a starbase, with four levels seems to work well. Each level unlocking more modules and slots. Although the Citadel upgrade unlock a module, it does unlock a building slot and is required for the larger Titan and colossus ships to be built. Each upgrade also increases the overall power of the starbase, for example, a citadel with only one module for weapons, is still stronger than a starport with the same module weapon. The one thing I would like to see changed here would be the ability to customize the weapons a bit more, even though I can add a gun battery to the starbase, I can’t specify if that should be a laser, rail-gun, or plasma thrower. The same goes for missile battery, I am not able to chose if i want them to be missiles or torpedoes.

I also enjoy the Fleet Manager, though mystic beast doesn’t like it, I am always using it to fine tune my composition. I love having all of the classes in one Fleet, Titans, Battleships, Cruisers, Destroyers, and Corvettes. There are a few layout glitches with the fleet manager, which show themselves when you scroll the list of current composition, then change to another fleet, but aside from that I really like how its setup. An option to reinforce all next to an estimate fleet cap, keeps me from going over my limit, as well as each fleet itself having an upgrade and reinforce button.

Generally after mid-game you will hit the galactic community event, which basically reveals all of the members of the community and then everyone that is a member can choose to vote on the various policies. After so many policies are enacted it becomes clear what is galactic law, and if you are unable to meet the requirements, either due to ethic restrictions, or your own choices, every sanction that passed would impact you. Mystic beast and I ran into this with our recent militaristic game, with space amoebas, we are not able to pacify and co-exist with them, however with politics we managed to prevent it from passing. The drawback I have with the community is that I think empires bounce too much. I don’t mind people deciding to abstain throughout the voting process, but mystic beast and I watched the same empire jump basically as soon as they were able to (120 days). I am pleased to say that empires tend to have the same stance as I haven’t witnessed empires going from supporting to opposing and back, its always flip-flopping with abstain. The concept of the community is great at its core though, I love seeing the number of policies affecting different ethics.

Throughout the game, if you have Leviathans, Apocalypse and Distant Stars, you will see unique events. Hostile aliens that have a power rating of a skull, can be terrifying because you may not know just how strong you need to be. With Apocalypse you will even have a mid-game crisis from the khan, and the finally the end-game crisis. Each of these events can either give you an advantage, such as science, or completely through your fleet down the rain. In the case of the khan if you had a federation, you might leave it to become his vassal, or you may just be completely out of luck and lose your entire fleet and systems. Other things that happen include Fallen Empires waking up, and battling it out requiring you to take a side or none at all. I love how many events can shake up the game, and it keeps us on our toes.

To conclude this section, I love how the game is split between early, mid, and late game. Starbase and Ship customization is great and allows a lot of flexibility with the exception of not being able to customize the weapons on the starbase itself. I find a lot of use out of the fleet manager, including a reinforce all, and a separate reinforce button for each fleet. The Galactic community is a great concept and has many policies that make sense, though there is still a lot of bouncing around from empires between their chosen side and abstaining. Lastly the various events that happen at each stage keep many of our games different and always has me on my toes.

Planetary Management:

One of the first things you will find yourself doing is adding districts and buildings to planets. Early versions of the game used a tile based system and felt extremely restrictive, now using the new District and building slot system has allowed a tall play-style and although you will still run into restrictions many planets can be specialized. One planet may have more mining districts, allowing a mining specialization, while another may have more generator districts allowing it to specialize in power.

I am pleased they changed it to the new district system, and I found myself enjoying the planetary management more than I did previously. There is a lot of information on the planetary screen, but it gets easier to navigate as you learn where all of the buttons are. This can be confusing as many icons are not labeled and rely on tool tips. For example to clear a tile blocker, you have to go to planetary features, but there was nothing that said in the game that was where the tile blockers could be cleared. Colony Designation is another great feature, but its not clear that it can be changed until you click the designator icon, which doesn’t appear to be clickable.

The key pieces of information are still clearly visible though, how much housing, amenities, and jobs available are easily found on the main screen, followed by the number of districts total and used. I like the various building designs, and the ability to upgrade buildings helps in the late game.

Federations:

I wanted to break this into its own category because the amount of detail I am going into is mostly related to the Federations DLC. Now if you don’t have the DLC you will still be able to form a federation and you will have options for changing laws and leveling up the federation. Officially though Mystic Beast and I have only played two federation types, The research Cooperative and the Martial Alliance.

The Federation screen is nicely laid out and you can easily find information about the members relatively quickly. Information such as how many tech points they have, how strong their economy is, and the number I like the strength of their personal fleet. the fleet tab is mainly helpful for determining the current strength of the federation fleet, but only the president can really make designs. The next tab is laws. any member can propose law changes, they will require a majority rule to pass, and there is a fair bit of variation between the laws, ranging from war, fleet, term length, all which can help make the federation a fighting force.

Each type of federation has a varying set of bonuses, the research cooperative provides bonuses to research, each level gives you an added bonus to research speed. When the crisis hits, its another bonus to research speed. This combined with research agreements makes getting tech pretty easy. The Martial Alliance focuses on military, every level increases how much the base law cap actually provides, for example low contribution is only 10%, however that 10% that takes from your cap, (well say 10 for easy math), can then be counted as a 25% bonus to the total. This combined with the Double cap perk from unity is really stacks. 10 can be 20, then you get 25% of that, which is another 5, so now you have 25 just from you for the fed fleet, while only taking 10 off your personal cap. Each level just adds more, there are also fire-rate bonus, and a ship speed bonus. All federations can have fleets so you don’t have to have a martial alliance, just like all federations can research. The bonus though certainly help define them.

Overall the improvement from previous versions of stellaris is substantial, and I am no longer ignoring federations. I can see myself joining a federation each game, whether that is with mystic beast or not is yet to be seen. The information is easily laid out and the bonuses are large enough to notice.

Unity and Ascension:

Another break away, and this section utilizes Utopia DLC content. There are three distinct and mutually exclusive trees: Synthetic, Genetics, and Psionics. I made the mistake during our current series taking a biologic trait that prohibited me from pursuing psionics, so its important to know by the the second or third slot to know which path you want to go done. Many of these trees relay on specific techs, so you will generally have your first perk before any of the techs roll. I love how each path is unique in its own regard, though my only drawback for many of the trees is the amount of research time the projects can present.

Even after starting Flesh is Weak for Synthetic, there is a decent amount of time before you benefit from the Cyborg trait. This is a engineering project so you wouldn’t be researching new armor, kinetic weapons, or new ships or starbases during this time. The same goes for Engineered Evolution, although it allows faster modifications, it still takes a good bit of time if you are trying to modify entire population. At least this is society research so its easier to have this running in the background. The hardest I feel is the psionic path, even as a fanatic spiritualist getting psionic theory which is already a rare tech is required to start the path. The benefits are a bit more immediate, however the time and luck required for this path can be just as long as the projects to change/modify your species.

The Unity branches themselves are pretty straight forward, and bonuses all make sense, increasing happiness, increasing science, faster expansion. You can do these in any order, but generally by late game you will have them all unlocked and your ascension perks will be all filled up. There are various perks available for free that do not specifically align to either of the three trees, and include things like defender of the galaxy for crisis damage bonuses, and force projection for that fleet cap all the way to Mastery of Nature for blocker costs and World Shaper for terraforming bonuses.

Diplomacy:

This is is probably one of the biggest parts of the game and deserves its own section. When you come across empires you will be greeted with an intro communication that provides different options based on the ethics, however its your policy that determines whether your borders are open or closed. You can click on an empire’s emblem which is next to any system with a colony in it. This opens up the main overview that shows various pieces of information such as colonies, population, diplomatic weight, and of course their opinion of you. With other players the opinion is not listed as a number. Then you have an overview of there interactions with empires, and then options to interact with them yourself. There are a number of interactions ranging from trade, agreements, and even inviting to a federation.

All of the options make sense, and the recent changes to require an envy for some of the options is a nice touch because it limit the number people you can have good or bad relations with, at least until you can get a rivalry going. Once you have enough agreements you can move the envy to another empire, and may not lose a lot of opinion. As you play you will get notifications along the top of the screen when other empires wish to interact with you, this usually provides an ok option, or an accept or decline option for agreements.

The various agreements each have a purpose, research, non-aggression, defensive pacts, commerce pact, and even migration treaties. The one thing I do not like though is that migration treaties can lose meaning during the late game. If you get a migration treaty with an empire, that also opens your empire to any of the migration treaties those empires have, even if you choose not to accept one empire, you can get that empires pops through another nations treaty.

Mega Structures

I wanted to spend some time talking about some of the late game structures and features. The first are the largest of ships requiring Citadel Stations with Titan and even the Colossus building modules. The first ship is Titans, these are larger than battleships and provide a massive laser that can do a lot of damage. I find it well balanced in the sense that you can only build a small number based on your naval capacity. The aura module on Titans only affects it’s fleet. The next ship is the Colossus, which is basically a planet killer. There are multiple ways to kill the planet, in fact I had plans with Ethirans to get the Divine Enforcer, however I messed it up by not becoming psionic as I originally intended. The Divine Enforcer kills machine pops only. Juggernauts can also have an Aura module that affects the whole system. Juggernauts are mobile stations. I only managed to build it once or twice, but loved it every time I got it. One game I used it to knock out a few corvettes in a system by itself.

Now the mega structures themselves have a variety of purposes and you may find your self building one or two, however, it may not always be the same two you go for. Mega Shipyards are one of the structures I used the most because I love being able to build a lot of ships at the same time. during our current Ethiran Gospel series, I opted to build a strategic coordination center because of naval capacity. Other times you may find you want diplomatic weight, or in another series I opted for a Science Nexus because I wanted more research. The possibilities are endless, these muti-stage structures have great bonuses, however they also take a lot of time to build. Five years per stage, and without living metal, or an ascension perk, you will not be able to reduce this time frame. There is no limit to the number, however with the time it takes to build them, and the resources required to build them, you may find yourself choosing other priorities.

Final Analysis

Pro:

Customization – Ranging from races to ship names Stellaris has a lot of options.

Game Setup – The sheer number of options that can fine tune each game differently

Various Random Events – The events are nicely written and help split the game up between early, mid, and late game

Fleet Manager – Once you understand it, provides a great way to modify fleet composition and manage reinforcements

Upgrades – Starbase, habitat, and building upgrades all seem to expand at a decent level

Graphics – I have always found the game has great visuals, and with the customization options, can really provide a great experience. Many of the screens are decently laid out, despite some minor bits of information lacking

Diplomacy – The whole diplomacy process is great, the screen provides several interaction options, and opinion clearly shown to see how an ai would react.

Mega Structures – These provide a lot of good bonuses and allows you to grow even in the late game.

Con

Sliders are modifiers that are not easily understood

Tutorial – though it provides just enough to get you started, I feel like there is still room for improvement

Lack of Starbase Customization – Despite customizing both ships and defense platforms, I’d like to fine tune the starbases.

Some screens lacking in information – Planets for example do not clearly show a way to change colony designation or a way to clear tile blockers. Yet it can all be done from the planetary screen

Galactic Community – Though its a great concept and the policies are good, there is a still a lot of flip-flopping from empires.

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