Stellaris, as with many Paradox Development Studios games, gave a good, solid foundation for the developers to continue to build on over the next few years. That said, it was also a bright and interesting new theme that they explored with a lot of clever ideas along the way, looking to take on some of the fundamental problems that 4X games can run into.
In particular, there was the addition of end-game, galaxy-threatening menaces, the hugely powerful but dormant Fallen Empires, and the little stories that can randomly appear. Each new campaign can mix these things up in different ways, so you’re not entirely sure what to expect along the way, as you grow your empire.
Leviathans is a “story pack”, which means that it’s adding into that collage of the original game. There’s new events and new species portraits – some of which are stupidly cute, in their own particular way – but there are also huge Guardians, powerful living creatures that might take affront to your coming into their star system, independent space stations who look to trade with you, and the possibility of a new end-game threat that can tear across the galaxy.
The real problem is that, well, because of the randomised elements in the game, you don’t know if you’re going to see these things pop up in a given campaign. It took me while to realise that the crystalline beings camped around a star were in fact some of the new Guardians in the game. At least, I think that’s the case – they were labelled as Guardians, but didn’t quite match the awesome power I was expecting from the trailers.
The same was true of the two Enclaves I found while waging wars with other empires. Once I figured out who they were, I eagerly clicked and threw energy credits at them to see what bounties they could offer me… Alas, I met them a good few decades after they could have offered a serious improvement to my empire’s rise, but I did get a rather clever new Scientist for my troubles and a couple of new research options.
The two Fallen Empires in my galaxy have, as yet, sat there like lions lazing in the sun, unable to find even the vaguest desire to fight each other. My seeing the ‘War in Heaven’ event seems like it will have to wait until another time.
In typical Paradox fashion, it comes alongside a patch that makes a number of changes to the game for all players. The changes are so big that older saves won’t work with the patched game, and that’s quite understandable.
Ship building has been refined a little further, albeit by reclassifying and reorganising existing components, and these hull sizes now have specific roles in battle. Planet habitability isn’t based on a wheel of climates anymore, but instead on climate groupings. Federations can now now invite outside empires to be associated with them – a kind of non-aggression pact for all involved. Separate from the War in Heaven event, Fallen Empires can still awaken in a number of different situations.
The 1.3 Heinlein patch adds to those changes and tweaks made previously, but there’s still those rough edges to some parts of the game. Diplomacy still feels frustrating when you’re unable to find any potential allies nearby for idealogical reasons, even if you have fantastic relations, and there still comes a point where I personally feel that military action is the only real way to progress and expand.
Managing sectors is still unrefined, in that if I’m unhappy with what the AI is doing I can’t override their decisions without spending 25 Influence to liberate a system from its control – the AI still seems to be rather dumb, which makes this worse. Fleets do fight in a better, more interesting and visually appealing fashion than at launch, but I cannot ascribe different tactical approaches before letting them lose.
Meanwhile, the appearance of the Unbidden as an end-game event – an extra-dimensional race that would love to eat everything – was initially a little exciting as I saw fleets more than six times as powerful as my entire empire, but they’ve barely made any headway in conquering the galaxy… the list goes on.
For all that Stellaris does right, it has these issues that detract from the overall package. And yet, it’s still a fantastic and engrossing game. Leviathans adds a few new possibilities into the mix, and in testing it I’ve found myself losing hours of time to the game in the last week. I’d say to myself, “I’ll stop at half past midnight.” Next thing I knew it was 3AM.