Stellaris Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Paradox Interactive
Developer:Paradox Interactive
Release Date:2016-05-09
  • Role-Playing,Strategy
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

There's a secondary but very important reason that makes colonizing planets crucial to the expansion of your empire. When I first played Stellaris, I was under the impression that frontier outposts would be crucial to the title's gameplay loop. These are stations that allow you to claim a system under your borders, but at the cost of significant upkeep in terms of influence. The other way to expand your borders, though, and arguably the recommended one, is to colonize a planet inside it.

The early game is also the densest part of the game in terms of chain of events at the moment. These are special "quests" of sorts that start with a little text box on the screen informing you on some special circumstances, such as the discovery of the ruins of a precursor race on another planet, and add special new objectives to vary up the flow of gameplay. These chains of events can take a long time to conclude (some can last an entire playthrough) and add a nice bit of flavor to the game.

The Middle of a Playthrough

I find the early game of Stellaris enjoyable if slightly uninvolved. It offers a well-paced, wide-eyed introduction that sets the tone for its game of surprisingly optimistic galactic expansion very well. But once the game starts introducing more and more empires, the pacing gets completely lost, and I would be more than willing to forgive a player for not wanting to slog through it.

On first glance, there is nothing particularly wrong with how Stellaris expands on its systems. For example, once you hit the cap on how many planets you can directly control, the game will nudge you in the direction of sectors. Sectors can be created to put a part of your empire under the control of the AI, which will micromanage your planets for you. It's a flawed system, partly because the AI isn't great and partly because it doesn't govern any of the spaceports in the sector, meaning the player will still have to access them manually to build new ships in that sector.

By this point, the game also introduces twists on other systems, such as strategic resources. These can be obtained much in the same manner as other resources and allow, for example, the creation of far more powerful buildings on a planet. A betharian power plant, which requires a particularly rare mineral, will be able to produce far more energy credits than a normal power plant, for example. The tutorials stress the importance of these resources, though my experience with them leads me to believe they are overrated by the development team.

Of course, the major twist on gameplay that happens by the time you reach mid-game is the introduction of other empires in the mix. Each independent empire has its own species, planets, fleets and needs, and can be interacted with diplomatically or, if need be, fought. The game's diplomacy system does its job, in this sense, but I complained before that empires are simply too stingy. Even seemingly reasonable demands, such as the access to an empire's borders for civilian ships, can be met with incredible disdain from empires who you'd otherwise enjoy good relationships with.

Galaxies also get crowded very quickly in mid-game. My first intention with Stellaris was to make a pacifist empire and succeed through the strength of my wits and perhaps a little bit of diplomacy. I even selected the pacifist trait, which gives maluses when in war, to better role-play that scenario. But it was not to be. Granted, I should say that it's not impossible to win a game as a total pacifist. The planet colonization victory condition counts planets owned by vassalized empires too, and it's possible to request vassalization of an empire in the diplomacy window. In my experience, though, it was far easier to declare war on other empires when convenient, even when controlling a pacifist one.

Events also seemingly dried up during mid-game. Very rarely did I encounter an interesting story and, on the contrary, because the empires keep their borders closed by default, it took me a long time to complete chains of events that had started early in the game. I'm not sure whether this was an intentional design decision. It's possible the developers intended to use the early events as a guiding hand for the player and an early resource boost, and it's possible the closed borders were introduced as part of a diplomatic challenge for the players. It doesn't really work well in terms of pacing and flow, however. In fact, one of Paradox's upcoming patches will make other empire's borders open by default, which is a decision I personally welcome with open arms.