I Became My Own Worst Enemy

HIGH Surviving long enough to witness a galactic empire rise to glory… or infamy.

LOW Having my empire absorbed repeatedly by mid-game. 

WTF The xenophobic AI humans hated me while I was playing as human.

Ever since our ancestors stood on two feet, we stared up at the stars, mesmerized by the beauty and scope that laid beyond the planet we call home. Come the 20th century, technology had advanced enough for us to begin sending objects into space, culminating in the first people to step on the surface of the moon in 1969 (unless of course one thinks that was faked, in which case 1969 was significantly less eventful.)

In the years since, exploration of the universe has been largely left to scientists using unmanned probes and spacecraft. Stellaris asks, “What if a bunch of intelligent lifeforms on different planets in a galaxy all discovered interstellar travel and started colonizing other worlds at the same time?” Apparently the answer is a lot of pop-ups and menus, but that’s to be expected from a grand strategy title, and particularly a title from Paradox Studios — they’re best known for series like Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis.

In Stellaris, the studio breaks into new territory with players starting out not by picking a historical country, but instead a species. Each lifeform has positive and negative aspects that tend towards different playstyles, and there’s also an option to make up a species from scratch. After choosing some galaxy-building details, gamers will load into a randomly-generated map and begin a session.

There are a multitude of ways to play, but the general goal is to build up a civilization (usually via expansion and political maneuvering) in order to become a galactic superpower over the course of a few hundred in-game years. The campaign begins with plenty of free real estate in the form of unoccupied and unexplored star systems, but eventually civilizations will begin bumping up against each other. This can lead to tension and even war, depending on the parties involved.

An important consideration throughout each campaign is the potential for crisis. Generally there are one or more mid-game events that cause some nuisance for the existing civilizations, and one large crisis (late game) that usually involves something trying to wipe out every living creature in the galaxy. Fighting against this threat is necessary, and if the empires of the galaxy refuse to form a united front then that lack of cooperation may spell demise for all.

The latest DLC, Nemesis, most heavily effects this endgame by giving two major options — become the savior of the galaxy, or its end. If a player gains enough power and influence, they may become the “galactic custodian”, giving them special emergency powers to help push back against the impending doom of a late-game crisis threat. These powers can also be used for political force, setting oneself up as the unequivocal ruler of the known worlds.

The other major option is for players to become the crisis themselves. Early on in a campaign, players can choose to go down this path. In order to build up to the endgame, they must perform certain actions (taking over others’ planets, defying interstellar laws and edicts, etc.) in order to increase their crisis level. Each level gives special perks that assist in becoming more of a menace as things progress, and once level five is reached, gamers can work toward building a special superstructure and finishing off other species in the galaxy in a sort of “evil” victory.

While these changes are interesting (particularly the option to become an existential threat to all of existence) these changes have little real effect on the game, with some campaigns playing out almost exactly the same as before the Nemesis DLC.

While Nemesis DLC adds some interesting twists for for endgame, it ultimately doesn’t seem to justify the add-on’s asking price. Stellaris overall already offers hours of interesting and engrossing grand strategy gameplay, but this addition doesn’t add much to what was already there.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Paradox.  It is currently available on PC, XB and PS. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 24 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed4 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E 10+ and contains Violent References and Mild Language. It’s mostly looking at maps and menus and watching spaceships blow up. There are many references to violence, but little is shown beyond space combat and vague pictures.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. (See examples above.) Sound cues are not required for play. This title is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. The game is largely controlled via mouse, with some keyboard shortcuts to open menus or execute tasks.

Mitch Z

Mitch has been an avid fan of games since his childhood, getting his butt kicked by his friend’s older brother at Super Smash Bros. Melee in between matches of Yu-Gi-Oh. While the number of games played has diminished over time, the enjoyment of the pastime and interest in the industry has not.

As a lover of portable gaming, he plays on his Switch when he can and alternates between older handhelds when it suits his mood. He also enjoys playing a wide variety of games on PC, in particular strategy games like Victoria II. His favorite game is TWEWY (The World Ends With You) and he owns a copy of every version to prove it.

The humble Ohioan hopes to develop his writing and analysis through his work at GameCritics in his spare time, and also mess around with music production and maybe invent a new subgenre.

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