If you play strategy games in any capacity, you would have stumbled on Stellaris at one point or another.
A Sci-Fi 4x strategy game from the great minds of the folks at Paradox Interactive, which has produced other strategy greats such as Cities: Skyline and the Europa Universalis series, it’s clear to see that Stellaris has a great pedigree behind it.
That said, pedigree alone should not be the only reason behind all this hype. What, then, is so good about Stellaris?
4X GAMEPLAY LOOP, PERFECTED
Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate: The core gameplay loop of any 4X is clearly illustrated by this expression.
From the very first Civilization game up to today, this loop has been refined and distilled with every following game.
Stellaris builds upon the lessons learned from all its genre forefathers and has perfected this gameplay loop.
It’s the beginning of a new Stellaris game. You start alone, with a single star system in nowhere. You feel the Star Trek moment to “boldly go where no one has gone before.”
With every star system you scout, you discover new planets and resources. This prompts you to expand your fledgling empire to cover them so that you can fully exploit the resources they offer.
You continue this for a while, upgrading your technologies with the research tree available as you move forward.
Suddenly, you stumble upon a new, alien adversary. Diplomatic relations break down, and you’re forced to fight. But, thanks to your diligence with research and development, and the vast resource available at your disposal, you emerge victoriously.
Of course, fuelled by the rush of this victory, the cycle begins anew.
It’s quickly very clear that Stellaris is built to facilitate this gameplay loop but is also optimized to repeatedly motivate you to duplicate it.
Take the UI of the game itself. For newcomers, this might feel a bit overwhelming as it is designed to provide the most information about what is happening without overloading you with details.
At a glance, you can quickly determine the status of your fleet and planets, while even more detailed information is never more than a few clicks away.
As a side note, the gameplay circle of 4X is perfect for periodic gameplay. So while you can finish your galactic conquest in one sitting, you never really have to.
Instead, you can play your game as you please, as your free time permits. The 4X loop feels like it is tailor-made for this gameplay style, which might be why it remains popular amongst strategy game enthusiasts.
The next reason why Stellaris is so good is that it provides you with an abundance of choices. From the very beginning, even before you start your game itself, you are presented with many choices in terms of the race you want to play.
Also read: Is Stellaris easy or hard to learn?
If choosing one of the many pre-set race options doesn’t appeal to you, why not make your own? This opens up yet another layer of customizability, with you being able to adjust and tweak almost every aspect of your fledgling custom race.
Everything can be adjusted from name to even the types of ship archetypes your race will use.
And this freedom of choice also permeates other parts of the game. The tech trees, for one, as you pick the best possible route up technological advancement that fits your playstyle.
You can also take different paths in terms of societal development, as you decide on traditions that shape your race as it grows and evolves.
Your ships, too, are modular, and you even can specify each of the parts that will go into the building of individual ships.
Other overarching decisions are to be made as you expand your galactic holdings. For example, do you focus on military might or give more weight to technological advancement instead?
Do you move on slowly and surely, carefully reaching out across the stars, or thrust forwards eagerly, expanding faster than you can fortify?
These more strategic options might seem to be less defined than what to research or what traditions to adopt, but they will also slowly define the game you play.
And then there are the random events, which will sometimes present you with unexpected twists as you continue with your mission to explore and colonize the space around you.
Stellaris – Encounter new Races
Finally, when encountering new races, be it AI or humans, you will have to decide on how you deal with them: Do you treat them diplomatically and open embassies to coexist mutually and prosper together?
Or do you decide to fight them and go on an all-out war to extinguish the threat of your adversary?
With so much to decide on, it’s clear that the bulk of what defines Stellaris is made out of the choices you make every time you play.
Shining Stars and Booming Supernovas
Between the 4X gameplay loop and the choices you have to make, we have discussed what makes Stellaris so good from a gameplay perspective.
How does it fare in terms of graphics and sound, then?
Being a 4X game, you’d be forgiven if you were to think that graphics will be given less of a priority. Fortunately, the game makers have poured the same amount of love and effort into the design as they did into gameplay.
Stellaris is a stunning game, with bright pulsating stars casting dark shadows across their star systems. Zoom into a star or a planet, and you’ll be delighted with the small flourishes that define each particular type of star or planet.
Battles are particularly pleasing to the eyes, with lasers and projectiles streaking across space, damaging ships caught in their path with almost visceral impact. Space battles in Stellaris can be a visual feast indeed, especially when it is an enormous battle involving many different ships.
In short, Stellaris is anything but dull to look at.
Not only that, the UI is similarly filled with little details that catch the eye.
Like small animations in the portraits of your leaders or the subtly descriptive iconography that is used when you zoom out to a further view of your empire.
Of course, the UI leans more towards utilitarian than it does towards fancy, but this does feel like it fits the game’s general theme well.
And then there is the stellar music.
While preferences in music are very subjective, the tunes that are shipped with the game are beautiful. Some of them are epic tracks that can conjure images of colossal space battles, while others are darker tunes that evoke the uncertainty of your push towards the unknown.
The music seemingly urges you forward to more exploration or expansion.
Still, the sound in Stellaris is less noticeable than the beautiful graphics and music. But, staying in the background, this is not to say that it lacks.
Try zooming up close to a star, and you can hear distinct, individual noises of what they might sound like. Click on a planet, and a short clip plays to illustrate what biodome the planet represents.
And space battles sound as chaotic as they look.
In short, the sound is more like an ambient presence that enhances the rest of the game, which works perfectly to complete the game’s atmosphere.
Stellaris DLCs and Mods
Another reason why Stellaris is so good is just how much mileage you will get out of the game itself.
The many official expansions and DLCs already launched and the ones planned in the future promise many new storylines and content to play.
See also: Will there be a Stellaris 2
The DLCs cover everything from extra races to play with to even new stories and events to add to the ones already available in the base game.
Updates to the game also add new content and tweak gameplay to fix issues and introduce new concepts.
Once you have finally finished going through all of the official DLCs and content from new updates, there is a booming mod (unofficial modification) scene behind the game for you to look into.
The creators of Stellaris, Paradox Entertainment, graciously made the game mod ready, opening the gates to various mods that can change many aspects of the game.
Some of these mods add new races, portraits, and even new ships into the game.
If you feel that you have already gotten a bit tired of the core gameplay, there are total conversion mods that change the way the game plays and feels as well.
Additionally, one specific mod makes the beautiful space battles even more gratuitous in terms of visual effects.
Having access to all these different mods will enable you to customize the experience to your liking and enhance the replayability and longevity of the game even more.
Adding to the fun is the multiplayer option to play against real people. This should prove to be a challenge as humans are a lot less predictable than AI and can serve to further extend the enjoyment you get from the game.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
Like everything else, there are naturally some things that remain to be improved about Stellaris. Nothing is perfect after all, and despite being as good as it is, Stellaris does have its shortcomings.
For one, the depth and breadth of the game can make you feel a bit overwhelmed in the very beginning.
Despite the excellent tutorial provided with the game, Stellaris leaves you to explore your own options. While this is excellent in providing freedom for newcomers to try out the different ways one can achieve something in the game, it can sometimes leave you a bit unclear about how to progress, at least in the beginning.
Also, while the AI does provide a good challenge, most players seem to agree that while you get better at the game, the AI remains stagnant and ceases to be enough of a challenge for you.
Your digital opponents are also not behaving realistically in diplomacy and trade and can be even less rational in battle.
Of course, no AI is a proper replacement for human opponents, and the developers are progressively working with these issues.
Additionally, the randomized nature of the game itself runs the risk of generating a game that you will find too much of a challenge or one that is not enough of one.
Unfortunately, this is simply the nature of the beast, and Paradox Interactive has tried its best to mitigate the impact that the randomness has on your enjoyment through several different fixes and new features through updates to the game.
Finally, while the initial phase of the 4X gameplay cycle will keep you occupied into the mid-game, some people do feel that the number of unique events needs to be ramped up into the end-game to keep the cycle feeling fresh. That said, Paradox Interactive has tried to address this issue by introducing new events with each DLC and updates to the game.
After looking at all of the issues discussed above, it should be clear now what exactly is so good about Stellaris and why it is so popular amongst strategy gamers.
While it is not perfect, Stellaris is still worth investing your time in, especially if you are interested in the 4X genre.
At the very least, it certainly would not hurt to try it out for a round or two, especially at the base game’s prices right now. Or catch a free weekend on Steam.
It is also included at the moment in Microsoft’s Game Pass.
Also read: What is the best Stellaris version?