My final game review for a while and I wanted to go big. I’ve played a lot of games over the years and a lot of those have to do with having a solid story. A good story matters. What happens when the story is vague? Your brain creates it.
President Sheridan walked through the doors of the large conference room to the sound of squabbling.
In most games, you play as a character. You may be trying to escape a test chamber as an unnamed android, play a mouse trying to find his lost love or fight hordes of zombies as one of many survivors of a plague, but what they always have in common is that you play a character.
“Which is why I’ve said to do it! Of course the President sanctioned it!” Roger argued. The room was dominated by a C-shaped table around which sat the advisory board of the Omegan Empire. Roger, the tall, handsome English fellow was addressing a strikingly handsome woman in full military regalia, who appeared on one of two screens at the front of the room.
Even when I played Star Control, where you play as a ship, you’re really the captain; the ship represents the character and crew, but it is still a singular avatar that represents the person playing.
“What have I sanctioned?” Asked the President. Looking at the screen, he addressed Captain Kevina Hearns with a nod and a the single word: “Captain.”
I picked up Stellaris during a sale from Humble Bundle. Created by Paradox Studios and released in May of 2016, I’d had my eye on it for some time but knowing my preference for action games, (and not being a particular fan of real time strategy), I couldn’t bring myself to buy the game at the full price. Little did I know, it was worth the full price!
“Good afternoon, Mr. President.”
When I started this game, I turned on Vir. No, not the advisor from Centauri Prime in Babylon 5, but a robotic assistant who could guide me through the game and make decisions. It barely scratches the surface.
“How’s that top secret superhero father of yours doing? Still itching to get back in the saddle?”
When the game starts, you make some preliminary decisions on size of map, AI skill, and among a ton of other things, how many years the game will take. At the default speed, a day in game is a second in real time. This can be slowed down or sped up, but that’s the average and the default game length is 200 years. The game can also be paused at will.
“Of course,” she said, with a glimmer of mischief in her eyes. Her father had lead the attack on the Till’Lynessi Empire, allowing them through the Omegan defenses only to perform a pincer maneuver which destroyed their fleets. After being injured in one of the battles, his daughter took over and was now representing the military aspect of the meeting.
That said, you can have generations in the game. So when someone dies, they could be replaced with a child of the previous person. But that also means you don’t have a single character to identify with. You identify with your species!
“Roger, you were saying? What have I sanctioned?”
The first game I played went on for the better part of a month in real time but when I hit the 200 year mark, I thought the game would end. Alas, an alien entity started coming through a wormhole wiping out an entire quadrant of the map. I was not doing very well to begin with and realized I could not win, nor could anyone else while this race was on a rampage, so I opted to forfeit the game.
Roger brought up an image on the second screen. The double screens at the head of the room displayed a galactic map on the left screen and Captain Hearns on the other. “The move to expand into this territory here.” He highlighted the uppermost section which was not colored. “I’ve colored our area red, to make it easy to distinguish.”
In the second round, I was defeated during a war in just over 2 weeks of game play. But the third round…
President Sheridan thought it looked more pink, but he opted to let it go. Captain Hearns chimed in, “But if we leave the Omegan border, the Lynesi are likely to attack again! I am not willing to leave my father’s work unprotected.”
The game gives you many races to play as: there are insectoid, mechanoid, fungoid, … the list goes on. But for some reason I still play as human. I decided to create my own race for my third round and the Omegans were born. I create everything from their disposition to their flag. It’s detailed, like a Role Playing Game, but rather than creating your Mage or Rogue, you’re creating an entire race.
“You’re not wrong about their intentions, Captain, but Roger is not wrong either. If we expand, we gain greater influence with the other governments. Besides, they’ve signed the accord which is good for 10 years. If they make a move against us, they will be making a statement to the rest of the galactic empires that they cannot be trusted and they will be fighting a war on at least two fronts. Besides, does it pay to question an Englishman on the subject of expansion?”
You are even able to give them a backstory for the start of the round. It will add an extra dimension to the game when I play in multiplayer…
A chuckle filled the room. “Point taken, sir. We will engage with the Crystal entity within the year.”
What I found incredibly interesting was how many parts of the story filled up in my mind as I played it. I didn’t need a story told to me; I was making the story as I went. I can only equate it to music. A song tells you what’s going on, but an instrumental piece allows the listener to imagine whatever they want. Stellaris is the instrumental version of a video game.
“Thank you,” the President said amiably. He turned to his Production advisor. “Mike, how goes our energy production? Can we sustain another push into the void?”
Most of the game is spent in the large map you see above. There are different views on how to sort the map but I like seeing things the way they are here, where I can observe Galactic borders. It gives me a chance to see how to protect myself and where to build strong defenses.
Mike had become known as “new age” Mike in recent months after an extremely successful campaign to bring the Omegan empire into a new age of prosperity. He was well loved by the nation but remained humble about it. His bright blue eyes shined and he put his hands together and began as he always did with, “Hello. Yes, we have a reserve of 8,600 GW of energy stored and have a positive energy influx of 19GW per month. Not to mention our influence has a rating of 54 so other races are impressed by us. We truly are bringing the Omegans into a new age!”
At the top of the screen, what looks like a ticker of information is actually critical to knowing how your race is doing.
The President smiled as Mike used his own nickname again. It was debatable whether or not he was aware that what had started as an excited phrase became a nickname that everyone loved, but his own positive energy continued.
Energy is the main source of income but thankfully you can sell other resources through a market screen and convert that into energy. If food is scarce, buy some. It’s a trade off but, needs must and all that…
Energetically, Mike piped up again, “Additionally, our trade in consumer goods is nearly at 9,900 products and pulling in an additional 9 per month! Not to mention, alloy production at 932 metric tons with 23 additional per month. And food! The farms are nearly at 12,000 units with 27 units…!”
The better you are doing with your resources, the better your planets are doing. Keeping your people happy can make all the difference!
The President held up a hand, “thank you, old friend. In other words: things are looking good!”
Planetary management is a thing too. You can zoom in to an individual planet or zoom out to the galaxy at large.
“Yes indeed, sir. A new age is dawning!”
Each system has its own set of planets and to expand our influence, and you have to send science vessels into the area to survey them before you can send a construction vessel in to build a base. Bases need upgrading too.
The President tried hard not to chuckle. These meetings were serious and helped him formulate plans to improve the Empire he was asked to govern. “Do we have the From Beyond on the call?” he asked.
While exploring, any number of random events can take place. In my current round, a science vessel vanished for several days. When it turned up, half the crew was missing. They turned up on another ship claiming they wanted to get back to work. The player is given choices. In this case, allow them to remain, or destroy them in case they are no longer human.
“This is Vish. I’m on the line!” Her voice sounded over the speaker system but no video was able to get through. She was in a system without a starbase to help boost the signal.
If things get ugly, I could zoom in to watch a battle take place, but I don’t kill strange things if I can help it. I welcomed the From Beyond into the fold with glee!
“How are things on the rim?”
These random events are hands-down one of the most exciting elements of the game because you never know what strange things will be found on different planets.
Vish was one of a number of people who were part of a science mission that went missing. When they turned up again after several days, they were on a ship that appeared out of nowhere. No one knew what to do and debate raged. Eventually, the President made the call, giving them the benefit of the doubt. They christened their new ship the From Beyond and allowed it to continue; a decision that the President was keen to remind his friends was entirely his idea. Vish was one of the youngest science officers in the fleet and was currently in the deepest reaches of the empire exploring a mysterious area known as Demon’s Maw. She had been an absolute asset to the team.
And of course, there’s other races that don’t necessarily like us. I happened to be on the border of an enemy that declared war on me once. Through a very clever maneuver, if I do say so myself, I allowed them to decimate a few of my bases, only to cut them off and cripple them. They surrendered and signed a 10 year non-aggression treaty. That treaty is almost up…
“We’re scanning each planet cautiously. We’ve identified an entity at the center of this system that is frankly… huge. I don’t think our forces are ready for it. I’ve uploaded the stats for you and Captain Hearns to review. Also, we’re picking up a signal from a nearby planet. Should we investigate? Its transponder indicates it may be one of our early exploratory vessels.”
I’m hoping that one of my discoveries will give me a boost to utterly defeat my enemies but the politics of the game mean I have to be careful not to freak out my allies. I don’t want them to turn on me. I have to play my cards right.
Roger offered, “It will take us several more months to finish our expansion into that area. If we leave Demon’s Maw until the end, it would give Vish time to complete her surveys.”
The right hand side of the screen shows us how our planets, ships, and starbases are holding up. The left hand side allows us to delve into other areas.
“Agreed. Let us know what you discover. John? Barbara? What news do you bring? I don’t want to leave our quarterly review without some good news from you both!”
I can set scientific research in 3 key fields. When a scientist dies, I can hire a new one based on different skills. Some increase the speed of research, some are cheaper or younger. And these discoveries can help me build new ships or enhance the land on my planets.
Barbara spoke first. “Marriott’s World is asking for an art commission from The Artisans but political favor is still with the ruling governor so there’s no rush. Galactically, we’re at the lower end of a bell shaped curve in relation to our neighbors; our approval rating is on the high side with all of our neighbors with the exception of the Till’Lynessi. Unfortunately, they are getting a bit pushy and have laid claims to the Jondus system.”
You can offer trade deals with other races from here too. Doing so can get you some important information or curry favor with a race to stave off an attack. But the attacks, when they come, are fun to watch and zoom in on, as ships fly past one another in a battle to the death.
“And you think I am unjustified in my concerns, Mr. President?” Captain Hearns was her father’s daughter; ready for a fight when she believed in a cause. She jumped on that faster than the speed of light.
Edicts and traditions can be drawn up to improve things for your people too. Increase healthcare to make them happy and more productive… I’ve barely scratched the surface here. There are tons of options. Traditions give additional perks as well.
“Not at all,” said the President, equally quick to quell the outburst. “Send a message to our outpost: upgrade defense turrets and increase our Destroyers in the area. Commission 2 additional ships.” Captain Hearns settled and nodded. At least one crisis could be averted.
Obviously, the game has a steep learning curve and there are a number of expansions that can increase the sheer volume of randomness to the universe. It might take a while to master, if it’s even possible, but no two games are the same so it makes it fun each time.
John waited a moment before beginning. “I want to go over the Edicts that we’ve discussed and initiating a new tradition for our people. I can have those on your desk by morning, but first we need to discuss the L-Gates.”
Right now, I am gathering data about a mysterious thing called an L-Gate. I can’t wait to see what I learn from it. But for now, I’m going back to what has been one of the most immersive games I’ve played in a very long time.
President Sheridan had been dreading it. The L-Gates were one mystery he was afraid to probe. Something about them… He also knew that to understand them, the Omegan empire would need to transfer an immense amount of energy to a newly discovered race that was offering information at a premium. John had been negotiating with them and was about to share his findings….
Check out this trailer to get a better idea about it. I’m going back to my staff meeting to see what my team has learned… ML (Aka; President Sheridan)