Twilight Of The Space Gods: Three Tales From Stellaris

My review of Stellaris [official site] will be published on Monday. You’ll have to wait until then to read a full judgement and critique of what Paradox have accomplished in the time since that first oh-so-exciting announcement, but I couldn’t resist sharing some stories right now. Here are just a few tales from an infinity of galaxies.

At this week’s multiplayer event, one journalist was already referring to it as the XCOM event. A galactic empire with expansionist tendencies finds a pre-FTL civilisation and monitors them from orbit, preparing for an eventual invasion. Scientists spy the ship and panic ensues. An international extraterrestrial combat force is formed and they succeed in shooting the UFO out of the sky, celebrating their victory over the invaders.

In this scenario, one of hundreds that can play out, you’re playing as the galactic empire rather than the defenders of Earth (or this particular Earth analogue). What happens to those plucky terrestrials next is entirely up to you. Eliminate them, educate them or leave them be…

Like Crusader Kings before it, Stellaris is a grand strategy game (as well as being a 4X game, of which more in the review) but it’s also an engine for the generation of stories. Here, they’re not alternate histories, of course, they’re possible futures set in galaxies far far away. The game takes your chosen/created/random species from the first days of FTL travel to the days of galactic federations, despotic empires and untimely extinctions. I’ve played a combination of singleplayer and multiplayer for more than sixty hours already and I’ve found galaxies full of wonder.

Here are just three stories taken from the vast collection I’ve already created in collaboration with Stellaris:

1) Multiplayer Alliances And The Galaxy As A Menu

Stellaris allows you to play as all kinds of different species. They’re split into several main groups – mammalian, fungoid, avian etc – but there are plenty of portraits and personality types that you can mix and match. This led to delightfully grotesque moments in the multiplayer session I took part in. Elsewhere in the galaxy, we discovered a race of spacefaring turkeys – their warcry of “GOBBLE GOBBLE” haunts me – and after years of peaceful co-existence, my happy Cthulhus and the people of our federation finally took against these feathered fiends. I renamed a nearby system the Bernard Matthews Processing Plant and left those words hanging in space as a terrible warning.

Fungoid friends feared that they may become mushroom omelettes and my monstrosities were convinced they’d see a Calimari Lovers League cropping up in some dark corner of the galaxy.

The species that populate the galaxy lend themselves to silliness in a way that’s entirely in keeping with Paradox’s writing. While the studio’s games may be intricate, complex things, covering centuries of history with remarkable depth, they’ve always had a sense of humour about them. Stellaris is full of horrors and mysteries, but wanting to eat your neighbours seems a heck of a lot funnier than it would in almost any other context.

2) Fallen Empires And Getting Put On The Naughty Step

Stellaris begins just as your species’ greatest adventure begins – you’re ready to head to new stars, seeking to understand the secrets of the universe. Your home planet is covered in industrial wasteland and sprawling slums, having been cyberpunked to fuck in the decades since VR really took off and people forgot how to go to the toilet. It’s a mess, there aren’t enough jobs to go around, and it’s really time for the kids to move out and find a new place to live.

Off to space they go, then, looking for planets to colonise. It’s a big place, space, so you might not run into anyone else for a while and even when you do, chances are they’re even more primitive than you, or they’re at just about the same point in their development: exploring, expanding, exploiting and exterminating. Maybe even trying to make friends.

Problem is, you’re not the first gang to arrive in the spaces between the stars. Fallen Empires are one of Stellaris’s more unusual concepts. They’re ancient civilisations that have been doing the whole interstellar community gig for a long time, and they begin the game with every in-game tech and some of their own tricks that you’ll never be able to replicate.

There are several variants but my most memorable encounter with a Fallen Empire also came during that multiplayer game. These fellows were isolationists and when they first opened a communication channel with my Cthulhus, they weren’t happy to see us. They said we were like children, running around space and making a ruckus, and they wanted us to stay the hell away from their magnificent ringworlds.

Specifically, they wanted me to abandon four colonies that were near their borders. I guess they could pick up our radio and TV from there or something and thought we had terrible taste. From their perspective we were infants so even our most sophisticated programming probably felt like a constant loop of the worst of Cbeebies. That hot new playwright we’re always banging on about who really nailed intergalactic politics in that one play with the space-king who divided his stardom among his daughters? That’s equivalent to the Teletubbies.

Little wonder, then, that they wanted me gone. I dutifully abandoned the colonies, not wanting to drag my allies into a war that we could never win, and I thought that’d be the last of it.

A few years later, another insult arrived with another list of demands attached. This time they wanted me to abandon even more planets and wanted to see me humiliated. I wouldn’t stand for it but after seeing precisely how much military power they were willing to hurl in our direction, I acquiesced and retreated to the naughty step.

The humiliation, previous iterations of which had involved a stern dressing down and a hit to happiness, involved the brutal murder of my democracy’s president, live on stage during a speech of surrender. Stellaris can be amusing but it can also be downright brutal.

3) Painting Empty Spaces And Meeting The Old Gods

In one of my singleplayer games, I was the despot at the head of a warlike community of furious parrots. These avian menaces didn’t fight in the name of a god or even under the banner of a partcular belief system; they wanted to conquer everything they saw because they found every other species in the galaxy hideous, pathetic and weak. Their main motivation was profit – they loved their cushy lifestyles so much that they were keen to enslave everything that they didn’t kill so that they wouldn’t have to any of the heavylifting required to run an empire themselves.

One of the things I’m enjoying about Stellaris is the ability to randomise not only the galaxy and its other inhabitants, but my own species as well. It forces me to play the game in ways that are outside my comfort zone.

In almost any 4X game I can think of, I tend to pursue science and culture (were available), seeing war as a drain on resources that could be better spent unlocking cool new tech. The thing is, that can lead to incredibly dull experiences. Pressing end turn to wait for bars to tick up and research and construction to finish, rather than moving units around and getting into a big old scrap. The momentum of games within the genre tends to involve the filling of empty space and then the fight over occupied space.

Stellaris goes some way toward changing up that flow and, again, you’ll have to wait for Monday’s review to find out how well that works, but it typically involves the creation of peaks and troughs. As external threats become less of a concern, you’ll be forced to look inward. Essentially, as should be the case for almost any strategy game, simply painting the map in your colour shouldn’t be the end-point, it should be the beginning of a new phase of the game wherein you need to make sure the paint doesn’t start to crack. If you spend the rest of the game simply watching that paint dry, there’s a serious problem.

My parrots were too busy knocking walls down to apply so much as an undercoat. War was a constant and our orbital bombardment took a serious toll on civilian populations. Survivors were enslaved and forced to work in the seedmines.

All of that changed when we discovered a shrine on a seemingly abandoned planet. It seemed to be connected to important periods in parrot history, but our scientists couldn’t explain why it was out there in a system so distant from our home planet. Deciphering the murals on the side led them to believe that they’d uncovered some kind of starmap that included clues as to the possible locations of other shrines.

New science ships were constructed immediately – the first non-combat vehicles to leave our docks in decades – and we sent our finest minds into unknown regions. Each new shrine brought a sense of impending doom. Like a mountainload of greedy dwarves, we were digging too deep.

I’m not going to tell you how that particular story ended, but my parrots were much-changed by the things they uncovered. And I’ve seen different endings stemming from the same beginning. Some shrines are different to others, and sometimes you might decide to let sleeping gods lie.

There’ll be many more stories here next week, when the game is out in the wild, and the review will be here on Monday, breaking down how the game works. It’s a fascinating creation and there’s little doubt that I’ll have put in almost a hundred hours before I write the review. I have a feeling it’ll still be surprising me with new stories after a thousand.

From this site

63 Comments

  1. dontnormally says:

    Cannot wait.

  2. csbear says:

    That last line says it all… ;)

  3. Telkir says:

    Never has 2 days, 20 hours, 27 minutes, and 42 seconds seemed like such a long time to wait.

    Damn you and your teasing!

  4. Sakkura says:

    So you’ve been playing with the hype-drive FTL, eh?

  5. Calamity says:

    Hey guys. For anyone that doesn’t know yet RPS is hosting its own weekly Stellaris Multiplayer campaign. Read more about it in this RPS forum thread link to rockpapershotgun.com.

    Until sunday there’s also a lore contest for RPS regulars that participate in the campaign for a stellaris code.

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    Elusiv3Pastry says:

    I understand the business justifications for releasing a new game on a Tuesday (or Monday, in this case) but I still hate it.

    • Rizlar says:

      What are the business justifications, out of interest?

      Also arrrrgh, hype overwhelming!

      • Calamity says:

        They can instantly react to feedback and fix bugs, patch etc

        • Rizlar says:

          Ah, of course.

        • Koozer says:

          So why were games released on a Tuesday back in the days when games came in actual boxes and wouldn’t get patched for months, if at all?

          • Calamity says:

            Probably monday used for transport +mondays are usually days that stores are close (at least where I live). So tuesday to give retailers an equal start if transport had a hiccup so that they’d have the entire week for the initial sales records

          • Lagran says:

            Thank (or blame?) Sonic 2. Sega wanted a global launch and Tuesday ended up being chosen, partly for the fact they could do Sonic 2sday as their marketing. Before this, games were just sent out whenever and retailers got them whenever.

            Of course, this doesn’t apply globally. In the UK at least, games are still frequently and routinely released on a Friday (see: No Man’s Sky. US release on the 21st, Tuesday; UK release on the 24th, Friday).

      • gou says:

        gives the game the optimum amount of time to score well in weekly charts

      • Silent_Thunder says:

        Not having to call in programmers on the weekend if launch goes pear shaped.

        • Otterley says:

          Call in programmers? I thought the vessels of their crunch-crushed souls were firmly tethered to a workstation at all times.

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    Big Dunc says:

    So, it’s quite good then?? ;)

  8. gi_ty says:

    Dammit! This is my most anticipated game in a very long time. I am chomping at the bit so to speak (it’s the Kentucky Derby weekend).

  9. J. Cosmo Cohen says:

    I have a difficult time mentally playing grand strategy games, but not as much for 4X games. Adam, is it easy enough to get into for someone that couldn’t play Crusader Kings II?

    • Adam Smith says:

      I reckon so. It’s a hybrid – part grand strategy, part 4X. Leaning toward the latter in terms of interface and complexity, though scaling up as you approach the mid-game. Starting from scratch, rather than jumping into a world in media res makes all the difference; gives you time to get a handle on the systems before there’s a great deal to keep track of.

      • J. Cosmo Cohen says:

        Thanks for the reply. If it’s a gradual build-up I can handle it better. I may pre-order this one, if only because it sounds wonderful and I kind of want those extra alien races.

      • Vandelay says:

        This is good to hear. I really bounced off CK2 the couple of times I tried it. EU3 too.

        This looks really good, but I have felt the same about other Paradox strategy games, only to find myself staring at the game at max speed waiting for the next thing to happen. I look forward to reading your review.

        • abHowitzer says:

          The trick is to get a feel for the game and grow a personal goal. Then all those things that seemingly just *happen* to you become things that shape your story and path to accomplishment.

      • Lagran says:

        Whereas I’m the opposite — watching a few Let’s Plays/streams and wondering where the complexity akin to CK2 has gone. Good to know that it is there, but people are guided in a lot more gently than in Paradox’s other GSGs.

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    teije says:

    Hype-o-meter raised to 11 now…

  11. derbefrier says:

    after watching the Blorg videos it I was sold and this just increases the hype level.

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    ffordesoon says:

    Well, this will be my new drug.

  13. McGuit says:

    Purchased today.
    All hail the mighty republic of bird, avian, reptilian…er…oh shoot…can’t wait.

  14. Zenicetus says:

    Looking forward to it. I’m ready for a space 4x (or hybrid grand strategy, whatever) where I can focus as much on interesting diplomacy and faction role-playing as I do on combat and conquest. That’s a real weakness in all the other current space-based strategy games.

  15. Ufofighter says:

    I hope the review addresses the blatantly obvious missing features that will come at 14,95€ the piece like spionage, a proper trading mechanic, etc.

    • Universal Quitter says:

      I don’t, since regardless of how you feel about Paradox’s DLC practices, two things are true:

      1) ****ing everyone knows what to expect up-front, making the entire exercise masturbatory.

      2) Paradox games have amazing DLC compared to what you get from other AAA studios and publishers, AND they almost always come with huge free content patches.

      • Ufofighter says:

        You are the the dreamed client every company like to own. Congratulations.

        • mrbeman says:

          This is such a silly attitude. Paradox is a smaller publisher and developer doing unique titles for a niche audience. They have found a way to provide a good product that also keeps them in business, generating millions of dollars of positive economic activity in a cut-throat industry while still being guided by their creative vision. In return, those of us willing to spend money on a product we like get to play fun videogames. And if you don’t want to pay full price for the DLC, wait for the steam sale bundles.

          But, based on your extensive experience in the industry you’re confident that they’re Doing It Wrong and anyone willing to spend money on a product they like is a dupe and a rube. You’ve further no compunctions about sneering at them for it either. You also seem to have 0 self-awareness in that you give your demands for game features primacy above all others, without the slightest apparent inkling that there are legions of others just like you making competing demands.

          Just silly.

          It may or may not be good – I hope it’s good – but your willingness to arrive at your verdict before you’ve touched it based on your own preconceptions does not reflect well on you.

          • -Spooky- says:

            Niche? Exactly. Where is “Close Combat: The Bloody First” and the new shiny engine. *oh wait*

          • Thwap says:

            @mrbeman That is pretty much a pitch-perfect retelling of my thoughts on this topic. You also managed to explain it in terms that the original poster might understand, so bonus points there too.

    • Telandria says:

      Id like to point out to you that while it may miss espionage, trading in Stellaris is the same as other 4X games (as seen in the multiplayer twitch event), AND to boot, only the host needs the DLC – if you play with other people, only one person needs to buy it. This is unbelievably generous by most dlc standards.

      • Ufofighter says:

        “trading in Stellaris is the same as other 4X games”

        No it isn’t, no trade routes, ships, stations, buildings or technologies, and no piracy of enemy routes. Gal Civ II had all these features 13 years ago, Civ IV and Civ V have most of them, Distant Worlds has all that and more (to mention the most known ones).

        • Menthalion says:

          And you can play all of them already instead of in two days ! Why are you still here I wonder ?

          • Ufofighter says:

            You convinced me with the total sum of 0.0 arguments. Nice job.

    • slerbal says:

      You are entitled to your opinion, but personally I completely disagree. I find Paradox’s approach to DLC has refreshed both EU4 and CK2 for me many times and vastly increased the amount of times I have played each. I’m happy with what Stellaris starts with. That said, I hope it can become the game you are looking for at a price you are ok with :)

      • Ufofighter says:

        Oh, I have many EU IV dlcs too, but I never had the feeling of completely cut content at launch, trade wasn’t a leader to leader window before Wealth of the Nations, there was espionage, you could play as a muslim nation before Star and Crescent, etc. Is much better after the dlcs, no doubt, but there was “something” before.

        • slerbal says:

          That’s a fair viewpoint and it’s definitely arguable from either side. For me with CK2 given the title I was not surprised that it started with just the European Nations and I felt like the Caliphs were an interesting (if broken – don’t get me started on Decadence!) alternative take. I should say that I personally stopped buying the DLC when I ran out of scenarios I wanted to play, so haven’t picked up Horse Lords or Conclave.

  16. Ugubriat says:

    Spelling mistake in your subheading. It’s “Calamari”.

    Also, there’s a “were” that should be a “where”: “four colonies that were near their borders”.

    • Ugubriat says:

      Oh god. I wish I could delete that last line. Brain fart.

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      cpt_freakout says:

      You are right, but the mistake is elsewhere: “I tend to pursue science and culture (were available)”.

      I think this should say “where”?

      • Thwap says:

        Although, “were available”, implying the possibility of a future gene-tech that allows for the lycanthropic bio-engineering of legions of space wolves does pique my interest.

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          Harlander says:

          I thought it was “we’re available”, the battle cry of the Fanatic Xenophiles.

  17. slerbal says:

    I can’t wait. I love that the dev diaries have given me a benchmark for my expectations so I know what I’m getting into.

  18. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    I’d completely forgotten about this. Sounds amazing! Can’t wait

  19. Press X to Gary Busey says:

    The spies must flow.

  20. Rue says:

    Everything has lost its flavour; 4x games are my favourites, and I’ve not played a decent one (Distant Worlds was merely ‘OK’) in years.

    Paradox games are my only real vice. I buy pretty much everything they make.

  21. Beeprog says:

    All hail The Tentacular Triumph! The MP stream was very entertaining to watch.

  22. Relani says:

    I don’t know, I haven’t been following this too closely, so maybe someone can tell me I’m wrong. I feel like they initially billed this as a sort of galaxy-spanning grand exploration story-generating kind of thing.

    After watching a few of the recent dev videos, it just kinda looks like a very boring, samey, absolutely not groundbreaking 4x game. It has really slick visuals, to be sure, but it doesn’t really seem to do anything that hasn’t been done before–and by multiple different titles. Anyway, would love to be proven wrong, and I haven’t been following too closely, so I’m sure someone will “correct” me.

    • Calamity says:

      By tailoring the settings you can make it mroe exploration focussed. Most people now go for a lot of AI and are quickly boxed in ending early game exploration. if you were to go for a larger galaxy with only 7 AI that might even start with more advanced tech you’d create a widely different and more exploration focussed scenario.

      Another thing with paradox is that they release abosulte gems but they can certainly feel unpolished. They release a good solid game but then go with the idea “No game is ever done” and continue to push out changes and free patches along with DLC (mostly cosmetic).

      If it’s not deep enough for you at the moment don’t spoil it for yourself and just acknowledge this and then pick the game up in a year or so when it’s got way more features.

    • kulik says:

      Same here. Been there done that. I was trying to get interested by watching some LP’s but they were all so generic and uninteresting I’ve quit after an hour or two of the gameplay. Visuals were fine and there was some nice ideas, UI seamed also very friendly. Perhaps the later grand strategy part is more entertaining than the 4x part I watched.

    • LacSlyer says:

      I’ve only seen a handful of gameplay so far, but I have followed it quite a bit and my take on it is that it’s focused on being re-playable for a difference experience over most everything else. The majority of the features do seem very generic, as they are with the majority of 4x space games, but with some interesting design decisions to make each time you play the game rather different it does sound more appealing. Such as race customization for yourself and enemies, what FTL technology your race uses, and which being limited to research options offered due to race customization.

      If you’ve played CK2 or EU4 that’s the gameplay style they were interested in achieving, where one play through is completely different to the last without changing the basic mechanics of the game but rather who you play as and against.

  23. LacSlyer says:

    I have extremely high hopes for this game, but mostly due to the barrage of completely stale space 4x games that have come out in the past year or so. MoO3 and GC3 in particular just feel so generic and dull compared to Stellaris.

    At the very least this should hold over my 4x itch until D-Day (HoI4).