It’s 2021 and Stellaris has been released for more than 5 years. I am late to the party, installing Stellaris from the Steam servers only a few weeks ago and am welcomed by the announcement that I am playing the Stellaris version 3.0 code-named “Dick” on my PC. To get started and not really knowing if the game was worth it, I only bought the vanilla version without any DLCs or installing any mods. So my estimation is based on playing the game “out of the box”.
So is Stellaris (still) a good game, a game worth buying and playing? Here is my verdict, after that i will go into the details:
Stellaris in 2021 is even more worth your time and money than ever before. With the latest updates the gameplay has improved even more and today offers a complex but very rewarding gameplay. And Paradox Interactive, the makers of this grand strategy game, are constantly working on improving the game even further, not to mention the myriad of different expansion DLCs (downloadable content) and Mods, letting you use the base game to create your perfect space strategy game. Stellaris also comes with Co-op mode and Multiplayer if you ever get bored with the single-player. If you like space adventure and strategy at all, this game is a must-have.
The only thing that I dislike so far is the micromanagement you have to deal with on your economy and colonies. But perhaps I am just not good at it?
Stellaris is now better than ever before
Since its release in 2016 Stellaris has basically seen three development phases, signaled by the version number. Many report that Stellaris today is basically a completely different game than at the time of its first release.
Stellaris Pre V2.0
Listening to first-hour players up until version 2.0 Stellaris seems to often have resembled a game in beta, with many bugs still limiting the gameplay experience. With version 2.0 in 2019 Stellaris made a big leap ahead, while the developer Paradox Interactive not only keeps repairing bugs but also with nearly every update changes some features of the game.
Warfare and running the economy are described as having been very tedious in the early versions of the game.
To be fair, running the economy in Stellaris 3.0 still feels very tedious to me though – I suck at it so much that my colonies always are on the brink of revolution. Also, I still not fully understand the options and dependencies yet, i.e. why crime still goes up though I have 0 unemployed etc. To me, it’s complicated.
I personally would rather deal with research, exploration and conquest than with trying to keep my pop(ulation) employed. Later in the game there is an option to seemingly automate the planets’ development – but am still on the brink of revolution.
Now, many do enjoy micromanaging the colonies, so this has more to do with me than with the game. In real life I am also no big fan of administrative tasks. But still, I would love to get the economy-stuff off my hands – have to search for a mod(ification) – see below -to do that for me. Also I read that the Utopia DLC (see below) improves the management of your planets – will have to check that out.
Where is HAL 9000 when you need it?
Now mind you, not everyone is happy with these changes. Some first-time players miss features changed by updates since the game’s release.
With the update to Stellaris 2.0 some changes made, especially the introduction of a mandatory reason for war (“casus belli”) and the new concept of war exhaustion create some dissatisfaction.
Also, many were unhappy with the retirement of 2 of the 3 Faster-than-Light (FTL) space-travel options. Before 2.0 you could use wormholes and warp-drives to basically appear anywhere in (the rival’s) space, only limited by distance.
From version 2 onwards the only way to travel interstellar is by using pre-set FTL-“routes”, which can make getting from one system to a neighboring one a 10+-jump process, taking years in-game. This also changed the strategic DNA of the game, since now a few fortified “choke points” – star systems controlling the FTL-lanes to an empire – can effectively keep invaders in check.
Before, they could basically appear anywhere out of nowhere. This change alone has made a huge impact on the game and there are still players missing that option.
I think I understand why Paradox Interactive made these changes to make playing the game more strategic and long term and less erratic and spontaneous.
The v3 Update 2021 – Dick
On April 2021 Paradox Interactive rolled out the v3 update, named “Dick” after one of the most influential (and I might add scarily dystopic) science-fiction author Philip K. Dick.
The most important change with this update is the way “First Contact” with alien species is made. And I must say it’s lots of fun. While you explore your part of the galaxy, unknown ships suddenly appear and research star systems like you do. Or suddenly you get an alarm that one of your science crews runs for their lifes from an unknown attacker.
While Stellaris automatically opens an intriguing User Interface driven process to find out who or what you are dealing with. Just to make sure you also immediately scramble your Navy to protect your interests. And you start praying that your military research is advanced enough to cope with the unknown attacker.
This whole First Contact scenario is very much fun and has a thrilling suspense feeling to it.
Next to some other improvements like an overhaul of the espionage feature, Stellaris 3.0 for sure is absolutely worth it… and mind you, right now I am only playing the “plain vanilla” base game. Stellaris has so much more to offer.
Since the game’s release in 2016 Paradox Interactive has constantly improved the game with free updates… but also offers additional paid-for content offering great expansions to the already great game.
While I haven’t dipped my toes into the DLCs yet, what I hear is that some of these paid-for-content-packs really take Stellaris to a whole new level. Once you feel that vanilla Stellaris has given you all it has to offer, enriching it with one of the many DLCs will provide you with a whole new experience of the game. Many players don’t want to miss for example the Utopia DLC once they installed it.
Each DLC enriches the game with new graphics or a general new game aspect and idea. The aforementioned Utopia DLC puts you in charge of nothing less than developing the galaxy itself while trying to keep your people happy: In short: Building the perfect Utopia.
The 2021 Nemesis DLC on the other hand lays the fate of a deteriorating galaxy in your hands, in charge of stopping the imminent end of all life as its Custodian – or becoming its Menace as the personified endgame crisis. All these new gameplay options come with new espionage tools and more fun playing Stellaris.
Some DLC are even called “Story Packs” (i.e. the 2018 “Distant Stars Story Pack” or the 2019 “Ancient Relics Story Pack“) for adding more “story” to the game.
As I said, I haven’t played these DLCs myself yet… the “vanilla” base game is so far enough fun for me right now …but I am very much looking forward to continuously enhancing Stellaris with new tweaks, stories, species (some DLCs are called “Species Pack”), plays and options, so that I probably will not get bored with Stellaris any time soon.
As of this writing, there are more than a dozen DLCs available, though some are arguably adding more new stuff to Stellaris than others – more worth buying than others.
By the way, DLCs are often on sale on Steam, in case you want to enhance Stellaris later on.
But not only the game developer Paradox Interactive themselves keeps adding content and fun to the Stellaris’ gameplay,
Paradox Interactive develops its games in a way that allows and even invites users and fans to themselves create unlimited content for their games, allowing them to even change the game to its core.
This technique of users creating add-on software for a game is called modding, and the single software-add-on is called a “mod(ification)”.
Think about it: Millions of fans worldwide can add to the game and offer their self-created mods for free to other players. I cannot think of a better way to keep a game interesting, honestly, than to open game development to the fan base.
Steam – one of the best resources for buying PC games – alone catalogs more than 20,000 available mods for Stellaris right now …wow! We will cover the mods most worthy of your time in another post.
Each of these mods was developed by someone who had an idea of what he/she would like to see in the game. Not all mods are worth testing or even compatible with today’s Stellaris version, though.
But many are real gems: Some mods are just improving graphics or changing the user interface… and some completely change Stellaris’ look and feel into a Star Trek or Star Wars Universe … all created by avid Stellaris fans.
Paradox Interactive business strategy guarantees Stellaris’ longevity
With all its games Stellaris’ creator Paradox Interactive has been in for the long haul… all their games are updated and expanded regularly for years and the business decision to open the game for user created content or even nearly complete rewrites does in my opinion guarantee a game’s success and the longevity for any buyer of the game.
So by keeping the game updated and offering paid-for and free user-generated expansions, Stellaris is successful for over 5 years now and will attract players for years to come.
The actuality of the game and its fun make it very much worth buying – but there are even more reasons why Stellaris is worth our time:
Can you play Stellaris with friends?
Next to all the fun trading or battling on your own with different computer-generated AI species (and robots), Stellaris allows us to play with your real-life friends in co-op mode, too. You and up to 31 of your friends work and build in their corner of the galaxy, explore new worlds while deciding if you want to trade or battle each other.
Stellaris Co-op and Multiplayer
When the co-op game begins and the fog of war hides the yet unexplored galaxy from your view, only the voice chat will connect you at first: A typical Co-op game begins with “Where are you? – I am at 3 o’clock in the middle spiral arm. – Oh, then you are pretty close to me…”
Shared screen and LAN-network games are not possible, though.
Since technically Co-op and Multiplayer are the same thing in Stellaris, you can also decide to open your co-op server to others to join or join a running open Multiplayer game. Adding humans to the game adds a total new level of unpredictability to the game.
A nice feature of the multiplayer mode is that only the server-admin needs to own the DLCs (you can switch on and off the use of any DLC) for the whole server. So the server initiator can create the game to his/her liking without limitations.
Or you enter an open multiplayer game with your friends and form alliances while battling the other human players worldwide.
I do think that the Co-op and Multiplayer option in Stellaris also render it a game worth buying!
Is Stellaris popular – how many players play Stellaris?
In our search for an answer if Stellaris is worth buying today, the number of active players give us a very good indication if the games gains traction or looses interest:
Looking at the development of online players at Steam shows a clear trend showing upwards, since 2019 Stellaris gains more and more traction with players.