Is Stellaris similar to Civilization?

If your genre of choice as a gamer is the strategy genre, you might have been exposed to one of these two games: Stellaris and Civilization. They are top-rated mainline strategy games that deal with building an empire over time, but they both come with a specific flavor that makes them distinct from one another.

Stellaris Research Screen
Stellaris Research Screen

So that begs the question: Is Stellaris similar to Civilization? If it is, how are they similar, and how are they different? And if you’re looking at both, which one is more worthy of your investment?

Accessibility

At the very base, the main similarity between Stellaris and Civilization is that they are both 4X games. 4X – an abbreviation of Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate – is a subgenre of strategy games focused on building an empire.

As such, you would expect a similar level of accessibility between both games, but this is not so.

Stellaris deals with concepts that are of a larger scale than Civilization. Due to that, most of Stellaris’s more advanced gameplay concepts are not as readily accessible as with Civilization [read: How long to learn Stellaris].

Stellaris Galaxy Map with FTL lanes
Stellaris Galaxy Map with FTL lanes

In this sense, Civilization’s fundamental concepts are much easier to grasp on the first run than Stellaris. That is understandable considering how much deeper Stellaris goes, but it does make Civilization a lot more accommodating for first-timers of the genre.

This also means that the learning curve with Stellaris is slightly steeper than with Civilization. There are simply more things going on in Stellaris, which can be slightly intimidating for beginners. I remember the first Stellaris game I played, in which it took me a while to even understand how to build units. That said, the tutorial in Stellaris does do a good job in progressively introducing the many mechanics of the game, and by the end of that first game, I already felt like I knew most of what makes the game tick.

Gameplay

Being 4X games, both Stellaris and Civilization share a roughly similar gameplay loop. However, these two games are vastly different in the overarching theme behind the gameplay. The space-based sci-fi theme behind Stellaris pervades the game, while Civilization feels a lot more the earth-bound affair than it is. I have a great interest in hard sci-fi, so the choice here is pretty straightforward for me – even though the theme isn’t usually what someone would base their purchases of games by.

Stellaris Empire Homesystem Adeptus
Stellaris Empire Home system Adeptus

Next is the research tree of both games, which is much more expansive in Stellaris than in Civilization. It is easy to get lost in the vast research options in Stellaris, much more so than in Civilization. That said, the available options can be confusing, especially for first-time players. But this only really means that you need to spend a little bit extra time to understand what each item on the tree does with some external research.

Another difference in gameplay between the two is much simpler: Stellaris runs real-time while Civilization is turn-based. The ability to pause in Stellaris does make this difference less stark, but it does affect the overall gameplay of Stellaris, in which there is an underlying urgency that can feel lacking from Civilization. As a result, things feel a lot more connected and immediate in Stellaris, leading to a deeper immersion into the game itself.

Graphics, Sound and Music

In terms of graphics, it’s very easy to say that Stellaris is markedly more visually lush than Civilization. While the graphics are similarly pleasant on both, there are many more opportunities for a space-set game like Stellaris to wow compared to an earth-bound game like Civilization. Planets, nebulae, and stars do make for a much more vibrant backdrop than a planet’s surface on its own.

Even more so in combat, where skirmishes between Civilization’s units can seem overly simplistic compared to the grand space battles of Stellaris. Add to the fact that each of Stellaris’ vessels is intricately animated, adding a sense of epic scale that can be lacking altogether from battles in Civilization.

More often than not, I find myself just pausing the game mid-battle or even while checking my empire in Stellaris, just to spend some time enjoying the eye candy. I can’t think of a better way to describe how good things can look in the game than this.

Stellaris Ship Designer Screen
Stellaris Ship Designer Screen

For sound, I find that the sound effects in both games are more than sufficient to convey the ever-dynamic nature of your empires, although Stellaris does have a bit of an edge simply due to the sheer scale of everything. Things are never really dull sound-wise in Stellaris, but everything isn’t presented in a way that overwhelms you aurally either. The ambient background and sound effects in Stellaris feel like they enhance the game’s presentation.

As for music, it’s pretty subjective. I prefer the electronic-styled music presented in Stellaris to the more tribal and “human” music in Civilization. Some of the tracks in Stellaris are simply epic, especially when engaging in some intricate grand strategy whilst outmaneuvering your rivals’ responses.

Customizability and DLC

This is another aspect where Stellaris is markedly different from Civilization. In Stellaris, the number of customization options available to you can be mind-boggling. You can customize your starting race almost every way and adjust their perks (or nerfs). You can customize the ships you field, from a thematic level up to how they are built.

In Civilization, your customization options are a bit more limited. You can, of course, rename your starting race and adjust a few options here and there. But, as a whole, you have a far lesser number of variables that you can adjust.

Stellaris Research Screen
Stellaris Research Screen

And then there is the modding scene, which involves fan-made additional content for the games. The modding scene is far more developed with Stellaris than with Civilization, which is probably helped by the scale and flexibility of Stellaris itself. There’s also the fact that Paradox Interactive is far more open to the scene does help as well. As a big fan of additional content, I feel like the title with better modding support is superior, and Stellaris scores big here.

Finally, there are the DLCs available for each game. Here, Stellaris is superior, with multiple DLCs available that add various things to what’s available in the base game. For example, I find myself enjoying the Nemesis DLC in particular, which not only adds the broad end-game scenario of saving a destabilizing universe from a threat but even gives you the option to BECOME the threat itself. This presents a unique opportunity to “play the bad guy” on a galactic level, which is not often presented in other games in such an exciting way.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we can see from what we have just discussed that while both games are similar in that they are 4X games, they are ultimately very different in various aspects. While both games have their supporters and detractors, it feels that Stellaris is the superior title here. 

With a much deeper degree of customization and more content than you can shake a stick at, Stellaris is the better between the two if you’re looking into something you can invest in, in the long term.

Read: Is Stellaris without DLC worth playing?

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