I have owned Stellaris for a while.
The game launched in May of 2016 and it looks like I picked it up on Steam somewhere in October of that year, if my early achievements are any guide. Also, there is a blog post about it.
The achievements also indicate that I played some in 2018, which is when I no doubt bought some DLC for it.
What is Stellaris?
Stellaris is one of those 4x empire building grand strategy games along the lines of the Civilization series, only in space… so maybe more like Masters of Orion. It is one of those games you stay up playing late into the night to get in “just one more turn!”
Only there are no turns in Stellaris. It is a Paradox Interactive game and built on their Clausewitz Engine, which has been powering their deep strategy games since Europa Universalis III, which means that it runs along popping events at you as they occur. You can speed the game up, slow it down, or pause it at need. And you’ll need to pause it now and then.
You’ll need to because being a Paradox Interactive title means that the game is incredibly complicated. The concept is simple; start and maintain a space empire via exploration, military strength, and diplomacy. The reality is that nearly every aspect of the title is its own mini-game and if you forget to pause while you’re down the rabbit hole of managing your planets or running your fleets you can suddenly find yourself with quite a queue of notifications about scientific research choices, explorers reporting back about artifacts or anomalies, diplomatic requests, and the other bits and pieces that the game would like you to attend to.
And yet it isn’t as dense or complicated to get going as most of their other titles, and I say this who owns most of them. It is nice and simple when you start out, a lone planet in a cluster of stars as opposed to being thrust into the political economic simulation of some European age.
You can play for a bit without worrying about too much. Just explore, do some research, claim some systems, build up your fleet, maybe colonize another planet. You feel like you are making progress, doing okay, maybe even doing well.
And then you run into another civilizations, or some space amoebas eat one of your exploration ships, or you realize you’ve built out too quickly ahead of your resource generation capacity, or the governor of your home planet has died and there is a political process to choose a replacement, or there is unrest or starvation on a colony, or half a hundred other little details that the game is often so very eager to inform you about, yet quite taciturn when it comes to how to deal with them.
But by that point you’re probably hours into the game, it is past your bed time, and you are hooked. And, in any case, that is why you have a pause option. It is an option I use quite a bit.
I use it because since I last played I have forgotten most of the details about how to play, so there have been quite a few pause, tab out, Google, tab back moments.
Also, the game has actually changed quite a bit since I first played it. I didn’t realize how much it had changed until I looked back at some of the early screen shots I took of the game. A lot has happened in five or so years.
Fortunately the game has a pretty forgiving easy mode setting that will let you run your empire in… if not peace, then at least mild chaos. Pirates and space beings and random hostile NPCs jumping out of black holes will keep you from snoozing too much.
I had to try a couple of games before I availed myself of the easy mode. It is bad enough getting stomped by the AI, but when you can’t even figure out why or how to respond, it is time for training.
Of course, I still probably bit off more than I should of with my current game. A smaller cluster with fewer civs to deal with might have served me better.
In the end it isn’t that difficult. Each individual system is quite comprehensible and things like fleet combat isn’t a lot more complex than, say, Spaceward Ho! used to be back in the day. There are just a lot of systems to master and they do influence each other in their own special ways.
As I said, it is a game that will eat up your time. Steam says I have played over 24 hours of it so far this year, though ManicTime puts me closer to 16 hours. Some of that was because I tabbed out and walked away with the game paused, but I have no doubt that a chunk was also me tabbed out and looking stuff up as well.
And not having turns seems to make it even harder to put it away for the night, as there is always one more event to deal with or another fleet move or diplomatic scheme that is coming due soon. I expect that Stellaris will figure prominently in my month in review time summary.