SHORT REVIEW: PC VERSION
Review of a 4x strategy game? Oh dear… Reviews for games of this genre tend to waffle on a bit, innit’. Not on this website, oh no. This calls for a short review.
“What is a 4x strategy game?” you mutter. Why, it’s a nerd game in which you do a Star Trek. You start with a single planet and attempt to best rival civilisations to take over the galaxy. Hopefully to the soundtrack of an 80’s montage sequence.
Paradox Interactive have made some of the finest nerd games known to man, in fact Crusader Kings II is one of my most cherished playthings in recent years. Even if it was a massive pain in the arse to get into.
How do Paradox fare when they come to boldly, something, man has gone to something, something, before. Space.
Stellaris appears complex and insurmountable. Truth be told, it’s not. Stellaris is a huge and varied game but the biggest problem is the interface. All the informations on the screen, but no-one’s bothered to decipher it for you. The tutorial does an excellent job at getting you started, but doesn’t stop to smell the roses, or stars. Baffling design decisions rear their ugly head, which is understandable, as it must be infinitely tricky to consider what it’s like for a new player, when making such a complex game for a great chunk of your life.
Skip to the next paragraph if you’ve ever played a grand strategy game before. The following is a quick explanation of the basics of 4x game and Stellaris.
eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. Nope… forget it.
Go somewhere else. Look at the above picture, you’re a smart human character, you can figure it out. Big empty map, change it to your civilisation’s colour by any means possible. Go away.
Welcome back, If you’ve played a 4x strategy game before.
Hmm, let’s try to quickly explain it. Stellaris has a few interesting tweaks to the formula, but right now such tweaks are mostly superficial. You send out science ships to survey planets and check out anomalies, which turn out to be excellent story investigations/tidbits. You send out construction ships to mine things and colony ships to expand your empire. Yes, there’s more to it than that, but you get the gist of it. Of course you do, you skipped to this paragraph.
You get into a nice rhythm, you contact and make peace with your neighbours. You figure out how to make money, keep the population happy and how to enslave a nation. All good stuff. The writing and anomaly incidents give the sterile map much needed flavour. You hire leaders and shrug as you pick the one you think is best for the job.
Side Story – Stellaris contains many nice touches. A handy message pops up. You can study primitive non space-faring societies! This leads to all manner of naughtiness as you can mess with the primitives, yes; even on a genetic level. To carry out such mischief you have to build a sneaky observation post to spy on them. One problem, I couldn’t find where the primitive sods lived on the massive galaxy map and didn’t know what icon to look for. Hours later I found that you can find them on the bulging ‘contacts’ page. Grrrrrr. Yet another easily avoidable frustration, nice one Stellaris.
Hours have passed, the interesting science story bits dry up, the borders of the civilisations are set, you piecemeal your empire as you can only directly control 5 planets at once. You upgrade your ships with seemingly incremental upgrades that encourage a shrug. You create a grand Federation of Planets! That joy’s short lived, as you realise you’re not the el’ Federation presidente and you cannot wage wars. When it is your turn to be president, the Federation have to all agree to war, depriving player choice. No-one likes being told ‘no’ in a power fantasy. The fun factor slips away, should leave the Federation, I guess. The game feels over. Choices dry up unless you desire constant war, you take a renewed interest in the randomised tech tree…
Something’s missing. Meaningful interaction with other civilisations, spying on your ‘friends’, border control, something.
The lack of intrigue hurts.
You cannot control more then 5 planets without great cost, so you’re forced to create independent sectors. It’s a great idea reducing the tedium of a sprawling empire. When you do so, you cannot see your own planets on your ’empire’ list, so it becomes a huge frustration to upgrade, say, space stations (for some space bucks). The great idea turns sour as you manually search through your own systems and planets, just what are they up to? Colony ships created in these sectors are hidden away and you have to hunt everything down, you’ve given away control of your empire. You’ve given it all away.
It’s one thing reducing boring empire management, it’s another thing to remove the empire from all consideration. Grand space impotency.
Or another way to look at the whole review. This is Endless Space released a fair few years ago next to Stellaris on the left.
For debates sake, I like Endless Space, but prefer Stellaris.
These games, yeah. It’s all the bloody same, yeah.
Stellaris will become one of the finest 4x strategy games after an expansion or two, as Paradox are already addressing customer feedback. Oh, be warned, it will eat into your precious life like a parasite.
Right now the game has an excellent framework to chuck new ideas in. I look forward to seeing them.
In fact it has been a year now, so why not read the next exciting instalment?