Stellaris: A Great Strategy Game With An Infuriating UI

My excitement for Stellaris [official site] was somewhat vicarious: the more Adam vibrated impatiently for its arrival in the RPS Super Secret Clubhouse, the more I began to share his conviction that this would be the strategy gaming event of an already mighty-fine-lookin’ year. However, we were coming to it from different places: he as a long-term fan of Paradox’s historical grand strategy fare, particularly Crusader Kings, me as more of a strategy generalist who was very taken with the idea of spaceships rather than little men for a change. (I’ve never quite got around too much time with Paradox’s mainstays – for no particular reason, and I do mean to change that, but life can get in the way).

It wouldn’t be at all true to say that I bounced off Stellaris, because I’m continuing to play and learning more all the while, and getting more and more out of its remarkable scope and complexity as I do, but as a relative newbie to Paradox’s bread and butter, I am hitting roadblocks that veterans steer right around without even knowing they’re doing it.

My main complaint has been the interface. I’m used – from Civilization games – to being presented with a whole heap of information at one time, so it’s not the concept of lots of numbers that’s been getting the better of me, but instead how critical systems are presented. For instance, the game takes a sort of 2.5D approach, and this means what looks like it’s presented on a flat plane actually has some degree of depth. I ran afoul of this early on in my campaign, when struggling to establish why my Construction ships were not able to build anywhere. Let me illustrate, actually:

Now, let me state very clearly that absolutely everything in that image now makes sense to me, but it took some doing. What Stellaris told me, when I repeatedly tried and failed to find somewhere, anywhere I could build a research or mining station, was that I could only do so within my own borders. I had literally nowhere to go.

Which of the three different types of coloured circle in that image was my own borders anway? The green cloud, the dotted green line, the yellow line? I worked out that it must be the cloud-like one, as the smaller, dotted green one moved when one of my ships did, so it must represent their… something. And the yellow? I had to ask Adam for clarity there – apparently it shows my ships’ warp drive travel distance or something.

Point being, this was a basic and essential piece of interface illumination that the game’s tutorial did not grant me, and nor did any in-game label explain it – a small key on the galactic map could have cleared up many things. Even once that was sorted out, I then couldn’t work out why I wasn’t allowed to build something in the Ullus system (see top left-middle of the image), which seemed to be squarely within my big green cloud of homeliness. Same for Alkald, over to the right.

Well, the problem is that, despite position of the name and the actual graphic of the star – that tempting orange glowy thing – the game actually has the system located at the hexagon just above it, which in both cases is inconveniently just outside my borders. Because something something z-planes. A casualty, then, of the hybrid 2D/3D approach. You can get a far better sense of where a system really lies by rotating the map: but never mind that it needlessly snaps back into place afterwards, this was something I didn’t even realise I could do until a fair bit later, as once again it’s never mentioned. The vital galactic map – the overview of the whole campaign – is almost entirely skipped over in an otherwise fairly verbose tutorial, in fact.

Later, I discovered – after once again verbally raining on poor Adam’s parade – that what I was looking at was a pretty lousy starting position. There really was nowhere I could build anything, which is not a great way to begin, forcing me to build expensive Frontier Outposts or Colony ships right off the bat, which effectively closed the door on doing much else for a while.

That in itself doesn’t bother me, because Stellaris’ unpredictability is one of its greatest strengths, but the trouble is that I, as a newbie player, simply had no way of knowing that I was starting out in an unbalanced situation – nothing in the game setup had talked me through it. All I knew was that I apparently couldn’t build on systems which seemed to be within my empire, and so I ended up slowly and expensively Colonising those unnecessarily, just so I could do anything at all. The cost of this meant I couldn’t raise a military or perform other, more vital upgrades, and got duly spanked not much later.

Again, once you know all this you know all this and it ceases to be any kind of problem, but it’s one example of why I kept littering the chatroom with extremely rude comments about Stellaris’ user interface.

Another is that, if I’m trying to right-click a system to work out whether there’s anything left in it for my science ships to survey, quite often they’ll just start flying over there rather than that I’ll be given a choice of action menu. Then there’s how similar the icon for a habitable world and the icon showing that a research station can be built are. And don’t even get me started on the obtuse horrors of the diplomacy UI, or how the Situation Log is a muddled dumping ground for whatever information or decisions didn’t have its own clicky button on the over-stuffed top bar.

War was hell, as war is supposed to be, but more so, as the military tutorial or any sort of guidance on how big an army I needed didn’t kick in until an immensely more powerful faction had unexpectedly taken against me, a few hours in. I have yet to get my head around the anti-logic of wartime negotiation – and have probably described it wrong – because I lost that war badly. With no option I could find to try and broker peace once it had begun – instead only allowing me, at the moment war began, to choose what rewards would be doled out in the event I won the war, I had little choice but to be crushed.

Though I couldn’t barter with them, I was, however allowed to declare that the guys who’d attacked me were my ‘rival’. Um, yeah, I took that one as read, thanks. The vagaries and restrictions of diplomacy UI also meant I wasn’t allowed to ask any other species (I did have a couple of friends already) for help once I was embroiled in any kind of war.

I appreciate – in both sense of the word – that the whole idea of Stellaris is to learn on the job. For instance, I now know to keep a weather eye on relations with other species and do all I can to placate the guys who are steadily hating me more and more simply because I do not look the same as them, rather than presume that I’ll be OK so long as I steer clear of their borders. I now know that I basically have to raise a fairly significant army or two in case this happens, no matter how peaceful my own intentions.

I know, most of all, to look for the hexagon and not the star when I’m looking for somewhere to build. I am without doubt enjoying Stellaris more the more I play it, but I have had to restart a couple of times already and expect to at least once more again, because I’ve been painted into a corner.

I feel that the interface, not puritanical Mollusc-people or over-enthusiastic expansion has been my enemy: keeping me from understanding a game which is absolutely my sort of game, due to decisions which are either bewildering or simply the consequence of presumed knowledge after years of Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis games. I suspect the latter: icon placement and labelling being more opaque than it needs to be cause it presumes that I already know the concepts each one represents. If I’d come into Stellaris knowing the general conceptual ropes – inherited, as I understand it, from Crusader Kings II – then it would have been easier to pin obtusely-presented tails to its many intergalactic donkeys.

I’ve had similar problems with Total War games in the past, which I was always a Johnny Come Lately to, and struggled whenever I dipped a curious toe into the waters of a Rome II or Shogun II. They felt that they didn’t have to tell me anything remotely useful about how not to get totally spanked on the battlefield, presumed that I knew it all already despite a hilariously cursory tutorial which lobbed a few buzzwords at me then ground to a premature halt. Presumed knowledge is less of a problem when you’re a sequel, and much of your audience is already established, but Stellaris is deliberately aiming for a far wider audience than the Paradox norm, be they disappointed Civilization Beyond Earth players or general spaceship fans (I fall into both categories myself). Many of my problems stem simply from a muddled tutorial, and as such it’s a short term issue, but I struggle to understand why essentials get missed given the deliberate broad appeal of this game.

I’m sticking with Stellaris: there’s no question about that. I love its scope and scale and unpredictability, and once I have learned every rope I’m looking forwards to finally actually playing the thing with a plan in mind. Right now, it still feels a bit like house-sitting for someone who for some reason keeps their crockery in the cupboard under the sink, their spoons in the utility room and their milk on an upstairs windowsill. Everything I need for a lovely cup of tea is there, but by God is it harder work than it needs to be.

I’ve been playing Stellaris in tandem with Dark Souls, my first real experience with that series, and both are journeys of discoveries and learning. The latter, though, has a natural flow to the progression of knowledge: insight from observation and experience, these dawning moments of realisation rather simply piece-by-piece translation of the opaque.

I took all these complaints to old-hand Adam, who did not dispute quite as much as I’d expected, but had an explanation for the disparity. “Maybe one of the reasons that I don’t mind so much that the spoons are in the utility room is because it’s a pleasant change from the days when I used to house-sit for Paradox and became accustomed to stirring my tea with a steak knife.”

Fair enough. I know I’m late to this particular house party, and my frustrations are because I want to get onto the dancefloor as soon as possible, rather than spend all this time working out where the hell I’m supposed to leave my coat. I’ve at least got one arm out of it now though: very soon, I’ll be pulling shapes in space at last.

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  1. Caelinus says:

    As someone who has played a number of other space based 4x strategies, the UI in this game is refreshingly easy to figure out. There are some features that I believe are missing, but they are minor quibbles at most.

    As such I definitely think that the disparity will just come down to experience. Having played things like Distant Worlds, adjusting to this game was simple. Yet I can definitely see why it would be hard for someone completely new to the genre.

    • LacSlyer says:

      I have to agree. While it may not be the most intuitive interface it’s far better than other games and actually provides a considerable amount of information if you know how to read it.

      • Legacyboss says:

        It seems to me that the author of this article is just bad at playing video games. Stellaris has a great UI. The problem must have been located somewhere between the chair and the keyboard.

        • Eifer says:

          Seriously? The UI is horrible. Overall great game, but super horrible UI. And the guy is right, the tutorial doesn’t explain these things. What’s logical for us veteran Strategy or Paradox fans, is by no means logical for a newbie. Oh, and the UI sucks.

          • SexyHomie says:

            Dunno. UI was always kind of mess in every Paradox game. CK, EU, Victoria.. it’s common thing. Stellaris is actually kinda disappointment for me. I guess Crusader Kings 2 will still be number one for me.

    • Beaver says:

      I’ve played 4X since MOO1 and CK2, and I must say, you can definately tell this game uses the same engine as Crusader Kings 2, if you’ve played that at all you will be quite at home with the UI. It’s been perfected for years for medeival combat, and they’ve just started to customize it for space, I’m sure it will just get better. Compare this games UI to X3 and it’s 10/10 rofl.

      • Phidelt230 says:

        Stellaris uses the Clausewitz engine which EU4, Victoria 2, Rome, and Hearts of Iron 3/4 are based on.

        Not modded medieval combat by a long shot

    • GernauMorat says:

      The UI seems pretty straight forward to me. That said, I’ve been trying to play Mius Front recently, which is about one step up from Dwarf Fortress in terms of user friendliness.

      • pfig says:

        Thank you, I have tried (twice) to get into Operation Star, which is definitely my cup of tea, and was conviced I’m an idiot (especially after watching the cool kids playing it on YouTube).

        • GernauMorat says:

          It is beginning to make sense, but it feels almost willfully obscure at times. Mius does has something that claims to be a tutorial, which (barely) of helps.

    • Crazyfly says:

      He kinda nailed it on the dot but, to help him out. I don’t think they planned on people who had played there games but, people who play a lot of strategy games in general. I’ve played rts Homeworld being my first, StarCraft brood war, a few others over the years. I’ve also been a fan of TBS (turn based strategy) games starting with Master of Orion 3,Side meier’s Alpha Centauri, Medievil Total War, Civilization 3-5, Galactic Civilizations 1-3, Total war shogun, and probably a few I’ve forgotten in both categories. Those of us that have played a wide variety we tinker. Like for Stellaris I’m on my 7th game. The main thing I’ve had to figure out is how to keep my tech up and keep my military going. The other thing I’ve noticed is not to tick off one of the dudes that are overwhelming. Seems to always be one no matter what I’ve tried so far and they always seem to be closeby lol. Its also my first 4x that is also a real time instead of being turnbased. Being on my 7thish game I already knew I’d restart several times each time learning from either one colossal mistake or a series of mistakes which overtime give your enemies the upper hand.

      Whereas a new player to the genre or to that type of strategy layout they may not know what to look for. I to ran into the hex symbol problem mostly cause I thought initially they were around the planet instead the hex is to show you where the planet is considered on the map. Something I would recommend is all the players that are having these issues send emails to the studio. Inform them to these dilemmas so they can take it into consideration and to help keep them into perspective. Just cause its automatic/common sense for some us, doesn’t mean it will be for others.

    • Someoldguy says:

      You can tell he’s a Paradox newbie, or he’d know that release 1.0 will be buggy, incomplete and have maddeningly dumb AI in places. Of course you can’t expect reviewers to rate the game based on how good they think it will be in a year once version 1.53 is out, but at least Paradox verterans will know to expect massive improvements and game changing updates as the months roll on.

      Stellaris is extremely polished and stable by comparison to many Paradox efforts, but there are definitely a lot of issues to fix with the interface and AI. Your sector governors are dumb as rocks, which probably explains why you can outplay the AI enemies easily unless you start in a really bad position and they have to offer advanced enemy starts to give you a reason to look over your shoulder while expanding. Trying to search the galaxy (600 stars in a standard game!) for strategic resources when there’s no way to see them on the galaxy map without turning on icons for everything else is just maddening. There’s a long list of quality of life interface improvements requested on the Paradox forums. I hope that they are worked on with some urgency, then this game will really shine, not get put on the shelf for a year waiting for polish like EU 4 and CK 2 did.

    • Elethio says:

      Got to agree with Caelinus.
      I thought the UI was particularly good, everything is laid out in a logical manner, and nearly all the icons have excellent tooltips with multiple levels of info!

      There are some minor issues its true with pop outs that could be better placed and scroll menu that could be compacted, but overall this beets the competition hands down.

  2. Arglebargle says:

    Sounds like some reasonable kvetching there. My familiarity with the Paradox strategy lines (thousands of hours worth) means I am a little more inured to figuring out the quirks of any of their new offerings.

    Doing reasonably well in my first run through, though I did cruise through the game wiki a few times to figure out how to do things, or what the strategic implications of a situation might be. Not bad, considering going in w/o benefit of tutorial.

    Loads of fun though, and Stellaris really appears to be what Master of Orion 3 dreamed of becoming.

    • Beaver says:

      I see a hell of a lot of the ideas from Sword of the Stars 2 in this game… I wonder if they somehow got the code from that game since they were the publisher, haha. Prolly wouldn’t fit in their engine tho, at least they stole the good ideas, although most of them were pretty obvious (like Admirals and sectors).

      • vahnn says:

        Ugh, I don’t remember the lady time i was so disappointed in a game. SotS Prime was so god damn good (after years of patches and expansions, of course) and I was knee deep in drool waiting for 2.

        Then we got that mess of a game (no big deal, they’ll get it going soon!) which they abandoned, leaving us with our hopes and dreams dashed to bits before us, the knee-high liquid around us now comprised of tears. Tears saltier than the oceans.

        And then that wasn’t enough: GameSpy went down, killing off multiplayer for Prime.


  3. yogibbear says:

    Compared to the first time I saw the CKII interface, this is pretty good in my opinion. Yeah there’s a few facepalm moments, but I really feel like they’re me being dumb, rather than the game being dumb.

  4. Sound says:

    The UI is clunky, but very slim and quick to learn. In context, that’s an upgrade.

    But it’s not the UI that drove me away. It’s the AI. And the lack of tools. And the lack of gameplay depth. It seems that this is a compromise where I’m destined to lose: Paradox wants to open it’s games up to the average audience, but in doing so, the game gets simplified to the point that it drives me right off.

    I pray that HoI 4 doesn’t suffer the same lack of depth that occurred with Stellaris. If that happens, I’ll transition fully from a Paradox fanboy to a jaded, jilted hater.

    • LacSlyer says:

      Trust me, HoI4 has the depth you desire. Check out the dev diaries. I’ve read all 40ish of them in anticipation of the game and am overwhelmed by how much depth there is in the game. It’s definitely much more streamlined and user friendly, but as soon as it’s out that’s the only 4x game I’ll be playing for the next year at least.

    • Beaver says:

      where’s the lack of gameplay depth? I haven’t sped up the game once yet, been playing the same ironman since release on monday, and I’m only like 150 years in, and I always have something to do, some mission I’m on, or some war I’m in. And figuring out how to counter your enemies’ weapon choices is great… my first battle went amazingly well because I had decided I’d put PD on just in case, and my enemy’s main weapon was missiles! My 3K army annihilated his 5k army! That’s some depth right there.

      • LacSlyer says:

        Compared to other Paradox grand strategy games Stellaris is much more streamlined for new players, as is obvious in nearly every aspect of the game. Even compared to the more “simplified” EU4 (simplified from previous versions but still a bear for new players to grasp) it lacks the same depth. However, I don’t mind this at all, because I don’t always want to play extremely involved strategy games and it also profits them greatly to provide a game that has mass appeal because it not only brings new players into their market and provides them success for further development of their other games.

        • Beaver says:

          Can you give an example of the lack of depth? Is it strategic depth? Rpg depth with leaders? Ship/army depth with their experience levels? Ship design depth with all the different section types pulled straight from Sword of the Stars? Battle strategy depth with military weapon design and placing, multiple fleet types with specialized admirals and flanking? The 1000s of random events and multistage quests for story depth?

          • LacSlyer says:

            Let me rephrase actually. Because it’s not really a lack of depth but more that the depth is streamlined in favor of being more understandable. Ship building for instance is a bit rudimentary, as is the limitations of ships, especially at the start. But the most obvious mechanic is the research system which is limited to 3-4 options per research group at once rather than providing a massive tree like most 4x games.

            The somewhat simplistic battle system as well doesn’t require advanced micromanagement – not necessarily a bad thing – nor does it require strategy much more than having a higher military points in order to win. Note, I’m aware of there being more depth to the battle system, such as faster ships capable of dodging bigger slower weapons on bigger ships, but my point is more that it’s not quite as necessary in your strategic planning. Which simplifies the combat compared to say EU4 where a vast array of circumstances can cause an army to stack wipe another with twice as many men.

            Let me again say though that I don’t find these to be flaws in the game at all, just more simplified mechanics to appeal to a wider audience. In general the game has depth more like Civ5 compared to more traditional grand strategy/4x games. There’s definitely decent depth, especially compared to more recent space strategy games (GC3, MoO3 are notoriously generic and stale in comparison) while lacking the overwhelming depth that other Paradox titles have.

          • Beaver says:

            The ship building is pretty in depth with balancing power and use all the different combinations of front/centre/engine pieces for each size ship (small buttons at the top when designing). Also I much prefer the non-linear tech tree, and I’ve upgraded so I get to choose fromg 6 techs in each of the 3 categories each time. I see it more as non-linear than streamlined.

          • Sound says:

            A) There are not many paths to victory, generally.
            B) When you “choose” your “strategy,” there’s not generally multiple ways to approach it. Your critical decision points mostly boil down to: Colonize this direction, ally that direction, tech in that direction. Those are, within my gameplay experience, the only meaningful choices that I made. By the time I had about 50 colonies, I got bored out of the game. It was autopilot, no decisions.
            C) Battle strategy is relegated to either 1) knowing what counters to tech/build in advance, and 2) gaming the AI’s pathing to “amubush” it.
            D) Very little in the way of ‘geography’ to leverage against prospective foes.
            E) Diplomacy is bankrupt. “I want planet. Declare war” /end diplomacy. There are zero politics.
            F) No trade, little incentive to cooperate or deal with allies beyond avoiding a dogpile or evening the numbers or get a bonus to research.
            G) The races mostly play the same, besides their habitability spread, and a mild bonus here or there. Being a space fungus is fundamentally the same gameplay as being a humanoid. They have the same incentives and the same tiny toolbox.
            H) … I had something but then I forgot.

            But that’s enough for now anyways. This game’s core gameplay is very shallow. The side-games like exploration are decent, but it becomes a mere chore once the core gameplay fizzles out. And unlike the other poster, I don’t believe the streamlining obfuscates existing depth – I believe it’s fundamentally not there, reflected by a lack of tools and dynamics.

            Additionally, the the AI stinks – In my time playing, there have been zero events in the background. Just slowly colonizing color blobs, rivaling and urivaling each other, declaring war but never taking planets. It just sits there. But I’ve read from others that I am simply unlucky in that regard – somethings made my galaxy undynamic, perhaps.

            Or perhaps my dominance is quelling everyone. But that just reflects the depth problem – weak empires have very little options or strategies on how to defend themselves or engage with the larger power.

  5. froz says:

    For me the biggest issue is that the game insist on going into system view when almost everything can be done without it and more easily. For example, there should be a list of colonized worlds below the star name, clickable to quickly open them, instead of going inside or using the right-side menu. Another example – when you want to go to some of your ships position, the game will open the star system. Why? 99% of time I don’t need to go inside, usually I want to move the ship to another star system. There are so nice options to build mines etc. and to survey systems from the galaxy view, why force me to go into star system view all the time.

    Another minor issue is that you can’t survey scraps from battle from the galaxy view, this is one of the things where you need to go inside and there is no option to auto-add all such targets in a system.

    And the quasy-3d map is ridiculous. I see no reason why the blob representing borders is not on the same level as the stars. It’s just ridiculous.

    I suspect that both of those things are done to show off graphics. I hate that in strategy games, as it makes everything less clear.

    Other then that, the game looks fun so far. However, my first neighbour was positioned in such way that he would completely block me from the rest of galaxy (bad), but he was peaceful like me and xenophil, so we are now allies (good). My problem now is that noone is doing anything, I’ve been playing quite some time now and noone attacked me. Even the Fallen Empire that should hate me for colonizing one of their holy planets (before I met them though), completely ignores me. Maybe it’s the normal difficulty setting or maybe that militaristic empire at my borders just waits until it get some allies. Maybe I should bring peace to them before the attack…

    • HopeHubris says:

      There is a mod that removes the z-axis from galaxy generation, I’m probably going to use it on my next game

    • Mordachai says:

      These are all spot-on criticisms of the UI.

      Colonization especially is tedious since you can’t see what is available without selecting a colony ship first – or manually rummaging through your systems – and even with a colony ship, it’s kind of tedious to find a good candidate (no way to see them all or sort them by any criteria such as distance or habitability).

      There are a lot of glitches I’ve run into but I assume those will be addressed by Paradox soon. “Investigate” on unknown species can take me to the event log – but there isn’t an entry for the special project that should be there to study that species. Many other issues of a similar nature.

      The influence accumulation is excruciatingly slow and I have no ability to improve upon it. Rather tedious and un-fun implementation.

      Similarly – many of the galactic resources are restricted to use within the sector they belong to… what?! DUMB + Tedious = Dumbious.

      Generally – I love the sector concept – but being restricted to leaving it up to the AI which is brain-dead about actually building up the worlds it controls is a real failing. I need to grow the empire, not have everyone sit in value-1 squares pulling pud (forever needing more energy in particular).

      Great ideas – tons to love – much left to be streamlined or thought through a little more completely.

      • Beaver says:

        There are quite a few ways to increase influence but it’s supposed to be a precious resource, I’ve etched it up, and used rivalries to increase it.

      • Canadave says:

        FYI, if you tick the box in the lower right hand corner of the map screen (I think it says “Show extra information”) you’ll be able to see systems with habitable planets in the galaxy map. I believe you can then hover over them to see the planet types and habitability percentages.

    • Jimbo says:

      Enjoying the game, but the pointless in-out-in-out nonsense between map view and system view is infuriating.

  6. sleepless says:

    I thought the interface was pretty great. Very clean, easy to read, and accesible.

    The interface of CKII, on the other hand, stopped me from playing the game. The font was unreadable, and the game had a thousand menus hidden in tiny and ornamented icons.

    I had no trouble finding all the information I needed in Stellaris.

    Some complaints are fair, though. I had the same trouble with my system borders and the hexagons…

  7. Premium User Badge

    Alfy says:

    The lack of a decent manual for ANY of the Paradox games is something that I find deeply infuriating. Obviously, considering how often the company likes to amend its games, keeping a manual up to date is a tall order. But considering the complexity of their production, it’s really the least we should expect.
    And heck, how is a game without a manual a complete product anyways? I don’t care it’s a small company, their products certainly aren’t sold for a small price, so I really don’t see why they’re always left off the hook on this matter…

    • Abacus says:

      I went to test this out, so I booted up Steam and right clicked Crusader Kings II and there was a ‘View player manual’ option. Same with EU3. Is that the case with Stellaris too?

      • HopeHubris says:

        Nope, no Manual option for Stellaris in the Steam menu, but there is a Wiki with most of the info, that is linked to in-game

      • Zenicetus says:

        Nope, no manual link on the Steam library page for the game. Maybe a PDF will arrive later, but for now they seem to be relying on a (fairly thin) Wiki:

        link to

      • wondermoth says:

        There’s no way of knowing this without seeing it on the internet or having really fat/clumsy fingers, but the ‘h’ key brings up an in-game browser to the Stellaris wiki. This has a helpful page on key bindings.

        Me? I’d put them in the options menu. See also: every other video game released for last 30 years.

    • Jp1138 says:

      Completely agree. A manual can give a global impression of the game the tutorial cannot. In some months it would be obsolete, but by then the wiki can take over.

  8. Sangrael says:

    I have four friends playing Stellaris that have never touched another PDX grand strategy game (despite my frequent cajoling). None of them had issues with the UI, and in fact was the only thing everyone agreed on was essentially perfect. I think your issues stem more from a lack of 4X experience than anything else.

  9. GnarTheDestroyer says:

    Honestly I think the UI is pretty great for a strategy game, though definitely not without its share of quirks. The problem imo is in the tutorial. What it does explain it does a pretty good job of, but there’s quite a bit that it neglects to tell you about.

  10. BillsterJ says:

    Super agree. Example: How do I remove a starport that I’ve built?

    The tutorial robot even castigated me for having too many of them, but I’ve spent the last five minutes crawling through the UI and Google to no avail. I think this might be part of a secret endgame twist where the tutorial robot slowly drives me insane.

    • HopeHubris says:

      You can never have too many starports

    • Beaver says:

      Click on the station in system view and hit disband… I need to do that in a few places. Do sector govs build construction ships and use em?

      • Premium User Badge

        HothMonster says:

        According to the wiki if you build one in that sector they will use it, but the general consensus online seems to be that isn’t working right.

        I have my constructions ships from my core planets sitting around though so I just manually send them out when i get new systems and have not tried. It’s easy to do once you figure out you can right-click from the galaxy map and build multiple at once.

        Other pro-tip, holding shift lets you queue orders so you can tell a science ship to scan a whole block of systems.

      • BillsterJ says:

        So I tried your advice… but I still don’t see the disband button for my starports? I’ll post a link to a screenshot below. Maybe I just don’t see it? Am I insane yet? Y/N?

        link to

  11. Rivent says:

    Holy crap, THAT’S why planets were outside of my borders?! After you mentioned the hexagons, I even had to go back and stare at the screenshot for a good minute or so before I even saw what you were talking about. This will make a world of difference! I played for a couple of hours the night Stellaris came out and, obviously, never noticed this. Jesus…

  12. Abacus says:

    It will be interesting to see how Endless Space 2’s UI compares to Stellaris’s. Amplitude have polished UI’s down to a point but their tooltips could be better.

    Interesting year for space strategy!

  13. Viral Frog says:

    I’ve not yet played Stellaris, but I began learning CK2 not long ago in order to prepare myself. Basically all of the UI complaints in this article can be directly transferred to CK2, while only changing a few lines to match the difference in setting. CK2’s tutorial was, in my opinion, an absolute waste of time for me.

    After a while it really does get easier. I now find myself navigating the CK2 menus without even realizing I’m doing it. But man, those first 12 hours? I was frustrated beyond belief. I’m thankful for YouTube and the RPS forums, or I may have just given up on the game and grand strategy as a whole.

    • Pantalaimon says:

      I am sure that Paradox would be extremely interested in hearing how you found the tutorial lacking (this goes for anyone playing any of their games), if you posted on their forums or just contacted them and shared your experience. I went into CK2 as someone who’d put hundreds of hours into CK1 (and the interface was still a culture shock) but it seemed fairly feature packed from what I could remember. Is it entirely about the controls?

      CK2’s tutorial is night-and-day compared to the basically zero tutorials and guides they used to provide – and surely, when Hearts of Iron comes out it will be much better than CK2, because it’s been many years now since that came out. They have put a lot of work into this aspect of their game.

      I mean if anything is worth spending your time on, you have to put some work in to get there… I don’t really understand the complaints that their games require time to adjust and learn the ropes… that’s what makes them great games. They have complexity and they really let the player dig their teeth into them.

  14. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    It’s definitely this – “presumed knowledge after years of Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis games.” It took me no time to pick it up but I’ve been playing their stuff for 15 years so their conventions are all known.

    So even though this is the best UI they’ve ever done, it’s a weak point of their in-house games. Compare it to the polished and intuitive UI of strategy games from Amplitude and Firaxis and they have a lot of catching up to do.

    • Pantalaimon says:

      I don’t think it’s fair to say that they presume anything – their approaches to building more and more detailed tutorials into the games, that basically only serve as ten minute refreshers for their enfranchised players, are testament to how much they want to make their games immediately playable to newer players.

      The thing is that there’s also a tension between overly tutorialising their games and letting the player find their own way, since that is basically the only way you’ll ever have fun playing a Paradox game, and it’s the way you’ll ultimately get the most out of it – by putting hundreds of hours in so that you learn all the nitty gritty and the small things, that may or may not be a tick box in a single screen somewhere…

  15. LegitChamp says:

    It is interesting. So many games are criticized for too long tutorials and hand-holding and not letting the player learn at their own pace in their own way. Then you read reviews like this and you understand why they often have such extensive tutorials.

    Personally, I prefer tutorials to explain the basics of gameplay and controls then let me figure out the strategy myself. Answers to “how do I manage diplomatic relations with X?” or “how large of an army do I need for self defense?” or “where and how fast should I expand?” are all answers I want to find myself. Ideally with a slightly different answer each game.

    • BlackMageMario says:

      The real problem with tutorials in a lot of games these days are not that they are long or even patronizing in certain cases – but that they’re forced. Tell me, why did Titanfall need to force me through a tutorial, despite the fact I had hundreds of hours playing TF2 and had played quite a few hours of CoD too?

      Games should really try to teach you by doing and letting you figure out the game yourself as much as possible. Failing that, tutorials should be at-least optional – so that players who have played similar games before won’t have to go through them. Its especially infuriating in certain Nintendo games (Pokemon, anyone?), especially when they have in the past thought players the right way (Any 2D Mario game being the prime example).

    • Pantalaimon says:

      Well interface design is an art when done properly, for sure, and I don’t think that’s lost on Paradox (even if that was always the stick people used to beat them with, jokingly or not!).

      I agree that what I want from a guide is answers to things I’m having trouble with, not pre-empting a million questions that I’m not going to have in the first hours playing the game. There’s a danger that they lean more in the latter direction, and that tends to hurt all players in terms of learning how to play the game. (Football Manager – to name another game that gets beaten with the UI design stick – has a decent ‘ask a question’ system that has become better in recent years).

      The bottom line is really that you design your UI (and your tutorials explaining your UI…) to shape the gameplay experience you’re trying to create. Paradox want you to invest hundreds of hours in playing the game. If that doesn’t sound appealing, well, it’s probably not the game for you.

      Really it’s a great strength of the games that you can invest hundreds (thousands, really) of hours and STILL learn things every time you play. You can’t get that from a game if it’s pick up and play with no learning curve and no time investment demanded from the player.

  16. Dave Talbot says:

    Well, some of it is handed to you on a plate and some isn’t. It’s taken me a little while to figure some of the bits out (primarily, why can I travel to x system but can’t travel to y, which is next to it?). Also why did I fight a massive losing war against a Transcendent Empire, whatever that is, when if I’d known I could have given them the bloody planets at the start I would have done? However, loving every moment of it, so I don’t mind

  17. LuckyLuigi says:

    For the most part the UI is easy to use and intuitive and quite some effort has been made into making things simple.

    That said, I would never have found out how you can change your empire type to an advanced one if I had not read about it.

    Needs a little more work here and there but I have no worries on that account, Paradox always follows up on their releases.

  18. onodera says:

    For me the biggest annoyance is the galactic map itself. Why can’t I access it by scrolling *out* of the planetary system map?

    • LexW1 says:

      Yeah, that’s my only real complaint about the UI – it really seems like you should just be able to scroll in/out.

    • hollowroom says:

      Yes, I totally agree. Even though I KNOW you can’t do it, I still try. I just seems like the way it should work.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      A thousand times this.

  19. Unsheep says:

    My first playthrough of a 4X game is basically just a lengthy test run, where my objective is not to win but to learn where everything is in the menus and what all the different buttons do.

    I don’t feel as if I’m playing a strategy game properly if I haven’t mastered the menus and commands properly. Everything before that is just practice.

    So that’s my advice, after all there’s more to memorize and manage in a 4X game than in most other genres.

  20. RubberbandAU says:

    Having played all the 4x space games there are, I love the UI.

    The fact that I can quickly see, at the galactic level, which systems have a colonizable planet and where I’ve not built a research/mining platform is awesome (white for no station, green for built although I believe it only goes green if all of one resource has a station).

    The tutorials aren’t quite in-depth enough to tell you that there are these little time-saving icons.

  21. Stardog says:

    Totally agree. I gave up on Crusader Kings because of the menu system where you couldn’t tell what was a button and what wasn’t. I couldn’t find the fun of the game. Seemed to be one for role-players.

    My main issue with this interface is that there’s no back/forward. No sense of state, so it seems like a confusing mess.

    The lack of dockable windows is silly. You know, the best feature of any decent OS?

    The load game screen is hilarious because the default save name is the date, so it displays 2206.10.2 as the title, 2206.10.2 as the date and 2206.10.2.sav as the filename. Very confusing.

    Ship data is just stuck to the bottom of the info box and doesn’t look attached in any way.

  22. TheAngriestHobo says:

    I personally haven’t had much trouble with the UI, but the main issue for me right now is the notable absence of that much-loved Paradox staple: mapmodes. I can’t see who’s in my (or other) Federations at a glance, I can’t get a nice clear visual representation of my diplomatic relations, and worst of all, I can’t hide the motherloving sector overlay.

    The game is phenomenal and my first game is going spectacularly well (which, let’s be honest, helps make the right first impression), but Paradox seriously needs to focus on cleaning up that UI. Mapmodes would go a long way towards achieving that goal.

  23. Shazbut says:

    I’m glad you wrote this because now I know it really isn’t for me. I keep looking at this game longingly, thinking that I’d love it if I could just enjoy learning how to play it. But now I suspect it’s just too much of a hurdle.

    • hollowroom says:

      It probably isn’t too much of a hurdle.

      I’ve tried to play a few Paradox games before and given up, but this one is quite intuitive. It does have its annoyances, but it’s way more accessible than most of the other releases.

    • Jimbo says:

      If you’ve successfully played any 4X before you’ll be absolutely fine with this.

  24. LionsPhil says:

    Sounds like a Paradox game alright!

  25. LovelyCarrot says:

    100% agree. It seems that many of the positive UI comments boil down to – “gee look it’s so much better than Paradox’s other games”. Apparently that bar is pretty low. That doesn’t make it a good UI. Check out Endless Space for a good UI… the data is updated on screen at all times, accessible at a glance, I can spend most of my time in the galactic screen and get my sh(t done without clicking in and out and in and out endlessly. Oh and ships look nice (instead of like 90’s era Star Control or some such). And the huge info bars covering all your spaceports and ships so all you see is colored bars everywhere. And spaceports located somewhere half an orbit away from the planet. And endless static icons and buttons everywhere that provide NO REALTIME INFO. Aaaaaaagh.

    UI aside, I also didn’t love the casual “oh hey see you later” first contact. And the much vaunted quests and “epic storylines” were barebones popups with little clarity as to next steps.

    Oh I could go on but why? My only regret was I played 7 hours and rageqquit, Steam only lets you play 2 for refund.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Yeah, the “colored bars everywhere” for spaceports and ships is one of my UI gripes. It makes it hard to see the icons so you know what you’re looking at.

      Also agree about the look of the 90’s ship models. And not enough variety either. I think this is available for modding though, so we should get more variety in interesting alien ships eventually. That is, after the initial wave of Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5 and all the other tired themes. I just want more interesting and weird alien ships that aren’t tied to a movie or TV show.

  26. Jimbo says:

    Most of the early-mid game concepts seem pretty by the numbers and/or self-explanatory as far as 4X goes. I’ve always bounced off of other Paradox games before but this seems much closer to bog standard space 4X than it does to CK2 etc.

    I thought the Full Tutorial option did a good job of hand holding (without being annoying).. right up until it came time to fight a war. The declare war / peace / warscore systems are probably the least intuitive part of the entire game and suddenly the sassy tutorial robot has nothing to say about any of it. It’s unfortunate because the warscore mechanic actually seems quite promising once you figure out whats going on.

    To sue for peace you have to click the war icon that shows in the bottom right corner of the map screen whenever you’re at war. This icon also gives you a breakdown of how the conflict is going and who has the upper hand etc. which will dictate what peace terms will be accepted.

  27. namad says:

    a lot of these things you’re confused about were either 4x space game tropes (with cloudy boreders and stars) or CK2/EU2 tropes (with the war goals) also how you need to ask for an ally to defend you from an upcoming war BEFORE the war starts (what actual player would ever feel obligated to help you if they didn’t promise so beforehand?)… that’s something that helps the AI compete in ck2/eu4/stellaris. In say Civ4/civ5 you could just buy allies to fight wars on your behalf that were totally against their own interests.

  28. left1000 says:

    A lot of these things you’re confused about were either 4x space game tropes (with cloudy boreders and stars) or CK2/EU2 tropes (with the war goals). Like how you need to ask for an ally to defend you from an upcoming war BEFORE the war starts (what actual player would ever feel obligated to help you if they didn’t promise so beforehand?)… that’s something that helps the AI compete in ck2/eu4/stellaris. In say Civ4/civ5 you could just buy allies to fight wars on your behalf that were totally against their own interests and rolfstomp.

    I will agree that stellaris is not at all a game I would recommend to strategy game first timers. Most of it’s confusing choices though seem to be nods towards the way die hard fans wanted the game to work. Which for me personally, was great.

    I think I’d still recommend something like galciv2 or sots1 or civ5 as a first time player effort (if I wasn’t so desperate to get my friends to all play stellaris now).

  29. Fnord73 says:

    Im really surprised by the lack of lore and narrative myself. The various technologies are (unless Ive missed a submenu) just bare sketches. There is very little sense of substance, just small descriptions wich add very little depth. First contact is just a “meh” instance. There really could have been a layer of text to all of this, making it a more narrative experience.

  30. It's not me it's you says:

    I never successfully played any of the Paradox grand strategy titles before and didn’t come across anything in Stellaris that tripped me up. If anything I found the robot man explained things a bit too thoroughly.

    And this isn’t me beating my chest either – I bounced right off CK2 even after looking up how shit works on youtube and am generally not great at strategy games, though I do enjoy them a great deal.

    Right now in my campaign I’m considering picking a fight with the nearest fallen empire as they’re about the only thing that’s close to rivalling my fleet. If anything, Stellaris on the default settings is a bit too keen to see you win your first game. I even started hemmed in by a few empires with very little space to expand initially!

    • hollowroom says:

      I’m pretty much the same as you, and I’m finding Stellaris quite accessible.

  31. TheWhippetLord says:

    Before I get going, I do love this game enough to have sat down for another half-hour, five hours ago. It is not a bad game at heart, it just has trouble communicating and it inherits a few negative traits from it’s ancestors.

    Classic Paradox game UI issues:
    -Text is fixed size, with no option to change it for those of us with weak eyes, high-res monitors, or both. Turning anti-aliasing off helps a fair bit as it does in CK2, but not enough.
    -Terrible, terrible palette. The text issues are made harder by the combination of near-identical mid-tones for empire colours and the irritating background to the map, which seems to exist only to muddle. They either need to put in some map modes or give an option to turn off the background textures and or the irritating hybrid 2D/3D stuff. It is a map game. Make the map useable please. And maybe use a colourblind-friendly palette? They are often clearer for normal eyes, too!
    -Unpredicatable windows, icons, and menus. The scroll-bars are so narrow that I keep miss-clicking to the right, which dismisses most windows. When tranferring ships between fleets the transfer UI will just suddenly vanish mid-click. And since there’s no way to undo part of multi-stage commands (as far as I can see) the wierd behaviour of the pointer gets really fun for science ships.

    I’ve not been so eager for someone to mod the mistakes out of a game UI since I played Skyrim, which in hindsight now seems to be a well-designed, responsive and reliable way to control a game. OK, that was probably a harsh thing to say.

    Honestly, if the underlying game (as usual) wasn’t so interesting then I really wouldn’t bother. There’s a fine game in there once you get past the bullshit UI and weak tutorial and pop-up system. That last sentence is utterly par for the course for strategy games, and it’s really time that stopped being so. I wonder what Firaxis will do with Civ VI. At least Civ V’s interface felt like someone had sat down and designed it.

    • Pantalaimon says:

      If you post those suggestions on their forum they will read them and respond, or bear them in mind for updates.

  32. fabrulana says:

    Know what you mean haven’t been able to get into any 4X game due to learning curve. Which is a pity as I do understand that there is a lot of fun to be had. Also playing Dark Souls now …

  33. spectralplatypus says:

    The only major complaint I have in this area is how the game does so little to explain border friction, so you never really know how far away you need to be to avoid it, or how badly the other empires will react. This led to be getting totally wrecked by an isolationist fallen empire that spawned right next to me, since I had no simple way to tell how much of a buffer zone they wanted.

    • wondermoth says:

      Nothing about borders is satisfactorily handled. At the very minimum, you need a mouseover effect for colonies/outposts which shows you what systems will be controlled if you settle system x. The current zero-information setup is so dumb I’m probably going to end up taking Ironman mode off and save-scumming.

  34. Pantalaimon says:

    I agree based on talking with friends who play less Paradox games than I, that the interface needs better support and walking through for new players.

    The thing with Paradox games is that the UI has to manage a huge amount of complexity that they can’t just sweep under the carpet, so to start out with it’s overwhelming, but assuming you put the time in, you’ll learn that it’s actually pretty great most of the time (and Paradox always put a lot of work into cleaning their interfaces up based on responses in the months and years following releases). This goes for every UI going back probably to Crusader Kings 2, which became the template for their games going forward, and to a lesser degree the older games (they’re a bit more idiosyncratic, but they do grow to become powerful interfaces the more time you spend with them).

    The key thing to remember is that they love their tooltips. Hover over everything if you need more information. You can find out basically everything you need but it might not be displayed at all times on every screen.

    Most of the best strategy games have actually adopted Paradox’s UI design style. They’re displaying more information and they’re using more detailed expansive menus. This is because we’re used to handling far more information in games these days, and we want access to every bit of it.

    I do like the way that games like Civ do it, but there’s plenty of other games that just don’t provide the information you actually need, at all, anywhere in the game. That doesn’t make a better interface, it’s just sort of the same as the way Apple obfuscates everything and puts rounded bevels and cute buttons on their UI to make it seem like it’s well designed, but in reality, you’re sorely lacking in the data or controls you need.

  35. tzaeru says:

    As a Paradox player veteran, this sounds like Paradox alright! Exact same thing every time, hehe. Somehow it doesn’t even bother me anymore after getting so used to it, as the games are otherwise so amazingly deep.

  36. Premium User Badge

    keefybabe says:

    The UI isn’t perfect but it’s the best Paradox have done IMO. Compared to my first steps into Crusader Kings 2 this feels like a breeze.

  37. Maxheadroom says:

    “me as more of a strategy generalist who was very taken with the idea of spaceships rather than little men for a change. (I’ve never quite got around too much time with Paradox’s mainstays – for no particular reason, and I do mean to change that, but life can get in the way).”

    This describes me to a tee.
    From what ive seen of reviews Stellaris doesnt seem to have the ‘soul’ of CK2 et al. For example in Paradox earlier efforts you have kings, queens etc with their own names and linage where as Stellaris, (like most 4x games i guess) you just have 1 nameless face per race

    Is that correct?

    • Premium User Badge

      keefybabe says:

      Sort of… Each race does have a different feel and I played as humans who change their leader with elections, and their election promises are different.

      Still early days for me but it feels like a middle ground between the CK2 and 4X way of doing things.

    • wondermoth says:

      …not exactly. CK2 has the features you describe, but in this regard, Stellaris is far closer to EU IV. You recruit and deploy “leaders” who govern, or science, or admiral. They level up, they acquire new traits (positive or negative, my best science spacechicken got a very CK2 negative trait yesterday), they just don’t breed.

    • Maxheadroom says:

      Thanks for the feedback. Wasn’t aware you could level up leaders with traits so that’s something

  38. Tsumei says:

    Some of stellaris design choices are a bit unintuitive, but with your comparison to dark souls 3 there I suspect you are the exception to the rule in terms of user experience design.

    Dark souls has gotten better at it, but they are kinda still in the stoneage with a plethora of their play and UI decisions. So that you found this more intuitive than the clean and pop-up-text laden stellaris is surprising.

    But there are always exceptions to the rule. Could be you just think about these things differently; or have exposure to them that makes one approach easier to “read”.

    • syndrome says:

      I am getting infuriated by this “infuriating” headlines about user interface that couldn’t really be much better than it already is. It’s really getting on my nerves.

      I get that some people need hand-holding because they got used to simple games and tutorials, but as a professional game developer, I am fascinated and cannot praise enough how much Paradox did to streamline the user experience in such a profound game, and to turn an otherwise “spreadsheet hell” game into a pedantic, accessible and non-cluttered screen where a universe of information is almost always one click away.

      If anyone finds it unintuitive, perhaps it’s a genre thing?
      Perhaps every complex genre needs some practice getting along with its quirks?

      Besides, to every hype there is an anti-hype, it seems.
      It isn’t fair.

      As much as I like RPS, and constructive criticism, Stellaris definitely needs much more praise. Everything that it lacks can be easily fixed with more content and more features in the future. Whoever says this could be done better, just imagine the sheer size and ambition of this project, and, again, as a professional, I’m sure you wouldn’t do it as good.

      Paradox, if you’re reading, whoever did this marvelous job of a UI, give him/her/them a bonus and stick to their ideas.

      • Jimbo says:

        In broad terms the overall layout of the UI is on the right track, but there are several instances of basic functionality which are either clunky, inconsistently implemented or in some cases just not implemented at all.

        How come I can right click a system on map view to order a ship to survey everything in it, or to order a ship to build all mines available, but NOT to order a ship to collect all debris in a system? For no reason at all that essentially identical operation requires you to go into system view and select each piece of debris manually.

        How come ordering a fleet to move to a peaceful friendly system doesn’t default to them going into orbit, which is where you’ll ideally want them to go ~100% of the time?

        Why can you cycle through your planets but not through your starports? Especially given the latter would be incredibly useful and the former is incredibly not useful. Why don’t Starports get a tab in the Outliner? They’re about the only part of your infrastructure you will even interact with once you have sectors set up but getting to them is like pulling teeth. In fact why is creating a fleet from across multiple starports just about as big a hassle as they could possibly make it?

        Taken together these and other little niggles add up to a lot of time wasted fighting the interface. Given the lengths they’ve gone to introducing mechanics to (quite successfully) cut down the micromanagement which usually ends up bogging down 4X games, it’s surprising just how much needless busy-work they’ve allowed to remain in the game as a result of silly oversights or bad decisions with how the interface functions.

        • syndrome says:

          I’m sorry but you’re consistently pointing out features that are of user convenience, and neither of those are essential for the UI to function as elegant as it does.

          You have to agree that many of these instances are already in there (surveying for example), so I don’t get the criticism when it’s only the case of not having more of it across the board. I can only say: have some patience because a good UI is hard to nail down with just one hammer blow. User interface is typically “sculpted” in many small iterations, and usually after having a large user base to gather some quality feedback.

          Similarly to how I’ve heard Brits build pathways in their parks, you’re ought to wait to see what the concensual pattern of behaviour seems to be, before paving it too soon.

          Concerning the starports, you have that functionality, because the starport and the planet share the same window, it’s only the tab that’s different. In my game, I never have to zoom in nor click a spaceport specifically, because I’ve simply enumerated all my planets with CTRL+[1..5].

          I still don’t get where are you coming from if you’re so spoilt that a lack of a couple of convenience UI features bothers you that much, and how can anyone criticize anything so much without providing a comparable reference on the market, and in the same genre.

          Have you played a comparable game recently, and can you even fathom the scale of this project, UI included?

          Why everybody criticizes Stellaris this much is because Paradox became a high-profile studio with a wide audience, and that some of you 1) should play something else if you’re bothered so much, or that you 2) have too much time (and velvet) on your hands.


        • syndrome says:

          Btw, I had a jolly time adapting to the interface, without having to resort to reddit or wikis for the tips & tricks, and without compromising on the ability to do whatever I wanted. It didn’t felt like fighting to me, on the contrary, it felt extremely easy and elegant. It’s a version 1.0 but everything else is tied to the players’ lack of expectation.

          And this is reasonably the best way to ellaborate why doesn’t everyone deserve Dwarf Fortress with a next-gen UI. Some things are better left as a niche, have a better following as a niche, and are even praised as if they’re exponentially better than they are.

          I guess this sort of obscurity is important for all the great things to be accepted for what they are, without Capn. Hindsights to tell us what could’ve been done oh-so-much-better.

  39. wondermoth says:

    Hmm. See, I’d say Stellaris’s greatest failing is that it’s not enough like CK2/EUIV.

    Where’s the data? Where are the mapmodes? “Detailed” mapmode feels like I’m being trolled; “there’s only one mapmode and all it does is toggle information that you’re never, ever going to want to be without”. The contacts screen is like something out of Civ II, so basic I’m surprised I can even sort by column.

    I’m bored, out here. It’s boring. There’s this massive galaxy filled with fascinating creatures and I have almost no information about them, and the information I do have access to is hidden away, and can’t be easily compared. Meanwhile, my ships lumber about, carrying out my orders. I sit, and watch progress bars, and wonder what’s happening with my neighbours, and also why this is supposed to be better than Farmville.

    And then I check the “Victory” tab I’ve only just noticed on the situation log and see that Victory can only be achieved through conquest, which would have been good to know before I started my peaceful race and sank 20 (frankly tedious) hours into it.

    I really REALLY want to love Stellaris. And Paradox know this, I suspect, which is why they’re holding off on key features like Victory Conditions That Don’t Suck and Espionage So You Actually Have Some Clue What’S Going On. Can’t wait for that DLC!

    Fuck Stellaris.

    • CidL says:

      Sadly, I’m with this guy. It’s surprisingly dull a lot of the time. And I also agree with a lot of the article itself, despite having played a great deal of EU4.

      I think I will come back to this is six months and see where it’s at with mods etc. Not the reaction I was expecting.

  40. DThor says:

    I haven’t had the time to get started yet – that ends tonight! – but it sounds like your points are all good ones. Perhaps “infuriating” might be a tad over the top for me, but many of them can be addressed with some minor UI tweaks to make things a little clearer so hopefully Paradox are listening. Another biggie would be to have a tutorial game – which wouldn’t need to be scripted but is simply a chosen start scenario that doesn’t spawn you in resource desolation or between two aggressive races. Let the existing tutorial AI take it from there.
    Excited to take a crack at this tonight!

  41. Mordachai says:

    I appreciate some feedback for the devs on where their interface is weak, and what could be improved.

    But let’s be clear: this is easily one of the best space-opera 4x games I’ve ever played, and I’ve played damn near all of them.

    I even see folks in here singing praises for Civ V’s interface as clearer and well-designed?! Yikes! Civ IV’s is infinitely better – V was just an exercise in how to make a 4x game for kindergartners (and badly at that).

    Let’s not go overboard on the “suxorz” – yes, everything can be better. But so far, this is one hell of a good game sitting underneath a mostly clear and functional UI (with some notable shortcomings that can and should be improved).

  42. pistachio says:

    I am disappointed actually. The one time I buy a game at release and I get this crap. This feels like The Sims 4 at release. One crappy tv for your household : the rest will be released at a later date (for a price probably)

    So much is missing :

    -diplomacy is beyond shallow
    -espionage does not exist
    -there is really only one resource : minerals. You could say there is a second one : energy but that is essentially money. And ITS EVERYWHERE!
    -food doesn’t really count as a resource either because you can’t trade it. That’s just a minigame to keep population from (not starving as you would think) being unhappy. But since you don’t have to care about them being happy, what is left is population growth only.
    -You can only spend your minerals and energy on your fleet and…getting more minerals and energy.
    -So what inevitably happens is you end up with capped money, capped minerals and a capped fleet with nothing to spend it on.
    -the AI is totally passive. They hardly ever attack the player. Even when your allies get attacked they will fly their fleet to your position and follow you. Pretty much ignoring the battle if you choose to do so.
    -You are only allowed to manage 5 planets. Expand further and you MUST let the AI do it for you. No choice or you get an ever increasing penalty.
    -You can trade your minerals and energy with the AI not by transporting it in a transport vessel, but through the diplomacy screen where they get teleported instantly. But since there is only minerals and money and there is unlimited amounts of both everywhere, what remains is just making the AI more likely to accept your diplomatic deals like trading maps.

    I like the research system though.

    Shame. Should have waited a year or more.

    • tzaeru says:

      If it goes as with CK2, HoIs, etc, then it’ll look like a completely different game in a year or two.

      Personally I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a very polished product before actual massive client feedback. No amount of internal testing is going to prove if this is what the actual gamers want. Therefore it makes sense to publish slightly early *rather* than spend a large amount of development resources on features that might not be what the players even want.

      • pistachio says:

        Absolutely. Stellaris WILL be good.

        But games journalists aren’t doing their bloody jobs (including RPS, sorry), because they don’t want to offend the fans and Paradox has such a good name. Right now the game is lacking. Not 8/10 stuff. 5 or 6 out of 10 at best in its current state. Just like Dark Souls 2 the journalism fails badly.

        • Diogenes5 says:

          Agree 100% except for the part where you give Paradox the benefit of the doubt the game will be good.

          This is a fundamental game design issue: the game makes it so that none of your decisions really matter. Everyone is basically required to make a bunch of mineral stations at the beginning of the game and surveys everything. What choices you have involve the quest system which have uncertain rewards. Everyone’s empire looks the same by mid-game and they look even more the same after you let the dumb AI take over your colonies.

          People keep saying that playing as different ethos and governments changes the game … How? The bonuses are like 10-15% in any direction. Your gameplay options are almost entirely the same and determined by the random luck of whether empires near you are the same ethics and government.

          Reviewers were really dishonest about this game. In no way does this game deserve even close to most of the 8’s and 9’s it got. This isn’t a 4x game. This is the same paradox let’s-have-a-lot-of-minutiae-even-though-your-choices-don’t-actually-matter-at-all game.

  43. tzaeru says:

    Valid point. While I might put it a bit higher than 5 or 6 for myself (I mean, it still quite OK in comparison to what 4x has been like), I hope the reviewers will update it in the year or two to come!

    • tzaeru says:

      Alright, I replied to the wrong place and now can’t remove my comment..

  44. Bobtree says:

    The Stellaris UI needs more automation and polish, but it’s not bad. The rest of the game needs a lot more work though. It’s numbers that go up… IN SPACE, very slowly, with lots of extra fluff to click on, the game! At this point I’m not sure if my first play is just exceptionally dull, or if I genuinely dislike it. My 40 hours has not been well spent so far.

  45. Universal Quitter says:

    Much of these failures to have a proper tutorial, which is historical for Paradox.

    To be fair to the game, though, there’s a button on the bottom right that opens up an in-game browser with the game’s wiki already loaded up for you.

    Perhaps it should be glowing when Full Tutorial is selected at the beginning.

    • Universal Quitter says:

      Ooh, that’s nasty.

      “Most of these come from a failure to have a proper tutorial”

      For Christ’s sake, RPS. There is no valid reason to still not have an edit button.

  46. Premium User Badge

    Ericusson says:

    For the love of space faring aliens give us a keyboard shortcut to go to the next planet !

    Right now the interface is just too little information (your trade deal has ended … Err ok what was I trading again please ?!), useless sectors management by the computer and …

    Well my one game that is pretty advanced, all the Galaxy is covered in colors from various empires. I formed a federation … Annndddd I just spend my time waiting for research to be finished.

    There is nothing to do but war.
    All empires including mine just have so many credits.
    The only option would be to micromanage all planets (mod installed for allowing all planets to be controlled) or going to war to conquer resources for terraforming.

    I find this all very shallow and disappointing past the first 10 hours.

  47. geldonyetich says:

    I have to say that I was pretty disappointed with Stellaris. I think I went into it expending to find the depth of Crusader Kings 2 married to a 4X game. In its current release state, it feels like it has maybe a quarter of Crusader Kings 2’s depth, and its 4X game aspects are basically a very streamlined and simplified version of Sins of a Solar Empire. Also, tile management got to be a real chore, but I can’t trust the dumb AI to do it much itself.

  48. Kent says:

    I learned Stellaris from their Blorg streams on the ParadoxExtra channel and all the other pre-release things they messed with. Not because I have super paradox player powers from playing their previous gamnes. The only real instance where I feel this could really help would be either around how their modifiers work or in the war deceleration screen. One of my first few games on a 600 star system I actually won through domination victory, so my issues with the game is mainly that the AI is too stupid and the game is too easy.

  49. KairosVal says:

    You’re making a bug out of a feature.

    These kinds of strategy games appeal to me precisely because they have a lot of complexity to them. Uncovering that complexity is the game.

    I’m currently in the middle of my third attempt at an empire, easily 20+ hours invested, and only now am I starting to feel like I’m getting a handle on things.

    If my usage of Stellaris follows the same pattern as for other 4X titles, I’ll get progressively more and more into the game, until eventually I’ll feel that I’ve mastered it. Then I’ll stop playing, because at that point, the game is over.

    I do agree that the interface can be opaque at times. On my first playthrough it took me half the damn game before I found the Government panel so that I could actually implement the mining-drone edict I had unlocked that gives a boost to mineral production in exchange for a reduction in energy production. :P

    But for me, a game like this is mental crack. With all those plates piling up, you feel overwhelmed. For me, I get the same sensation – but that sensation draws me in: Look at all these interconnected systems that we have for you to learn how to master!

    The first couple of playthroughs are really just stumbling around trying to work everything else. I agree that the interface could stand to be a bit better. But even with the best interface ever, the first 8 hours of gameplay would and should be a matter of alternating between periods of confusion studded with moments of “oh, that’s how that works, now I get it” over and over and over again.