Stellaris Review

Eschalon: Book II

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

Finally, there are fleet battles and wars to talk about. The war system isn't particularly complex. When declaring war to another empire you get the chance to select from a series of possible demands, the sum total of which more or less determines the warscore needed to obtain your goals. At the end of every battle a score is assigned depending on whether it was lost or won and what kind of battle it was, and the total sum of these scores is the warscore. At any given time it's possible to negotiate for peace or even offer for a white peace that would conclude the war with a tie. I've heard a few grumblings about the system, but personally I think it works out more or less as intended and I don't think the game needs anything more complex. Paradox is apparently now tinkering with its specifics, and I'm not sure all their changes are for the best. I very much enjoyed being able to vassalize bigger empires in a single swiping war.

Fleet combat feeds right into wars, however, and it's not quite in a good shape at the moment. I have no qualms with the basic design of fleet combat. It's a rather simple system that essentially compares numbers and is very well-presented on screen in terms of spectacle. The lack of tactical choices isn't necessarily a big problem, but the strategic side hovers between mindless and excessively micromanagement-heavy. I'll explain why. The basic designs of the game's ships are set by default so that they'll automatically be upgraded, but any custom, highly specific design crafted by the player will have to be updated manually. There is no way to automate a design to follow a set path of progression or anything like that, which made me eventually give up on the ship designer completely.

That is a pity, by the way, because there are actually some interesting strategic considerations to be made, and the fleet combat could theoretically be more involved than it is. At the moment, however, I only feel compelled to invest most of my efforts into making one big fleet that comprises automatically upgraded versions of the game's basic designs.

End of a Review... Well Not Quite

In truth, there isn't much more that changes between Stellaris' mid-game and its final phases. At this point, the game runs out of twists on its formula and only relies on handcrafted content for its last hurrah. In one of my games, I was invaded by a large number of aliens armed with organic ships with whom it was impossible to communicate. While the event initially threw me completely off my balance, the aliens eventually stopped expanding, and I could resume playing exactly as I had so far.

After that, it was simply a matter of having to carefully select which empires to target to finally get as many planets as I needed to. It's also worth mentioning that it's possible to play Stellaris after having won a game and, theoretically, expand the empire even further. Personally I find the length of a single playthrough, even with a small galaxy, more than enough on its own, but it's a good option to have for those who still want to experiment with strategies and see what kind of technologies and options they might have been missing.

More Grievances and Assorted Praise

I have other nitpicks for Stellaris that didn't fit neatly in my description of the various phases of the game. Thinking about them, though, I think they stem from the same fundamental issue. While the game doesn't feel unpolished or buggy, it doesn't feel like it has received enough iteration in the design and tuning departments by the time it was released. While I understand why that happened, I also would argue that part of the reason is that the game is simply too system-heavy.

Now, I understand that this might sound like something of a controversial complaint for fans of Paradox grand strategy games, so let me explain it in more depth. I am well aware of the fact that Paradox's titles need a good wealth of micro to major systems to work as they do. They're games that revel in micromanagement and use their own systems to try and fully simulate and depict a certain type of experience. The games can achieve this simulation through many means, though, and the designers already make choices as to what to depict via a full-fledged system versus handcrafted content.

As Stellaris stands, I don't think there's enough meat to some of the systems to make them worth exploring. The faction system, for example, is woefully underused. Similarly, there's a huge imbalance at the moment in the leadership system. Most of the leader types don't provide vital bonuses, except for scientists, who feel crucial to the well-being of an empire. Perhaps the time that was spent  developing the minutiae of these systems or similar ones, could instead have been invested into more handcrafted chain of events meant to depict situations similar to what these systems intend to simulate.