What’s Wrong With Stellaris’ Victory Conditions

Every time you complete the colonisation of a planet in Stellaris, the game’s AI assistant cheerfully barks ‘New colony established.’ When I started the game, it was a pleasant reminder to plan the future of a new planet. By the time I was approaching the two victory conditions it warned me of a chore. By then, my empire was the strongest in the galaxy and I’d settled into the long galactic clean-up that precedes formally completing the game.

Stellaris’ victory conditions demand you either own 40% of the galaxy’s habitable worlds or conquer or subjugate all other empires. Both are a bad fit: rather than guiding you through the game’s rich, durable simulation of competing sci-fi civilizations, they shunt you down one narrow path which takes far too long to complete. Whether you’re colonizing planets to fill a victory bar rather than to meaningfully enhance your empire or crushing weak empires who don’t stand a chance, Stellaris’ victory conditions suck some joy from an otherwise great strategy game. They are badly implemented, badly designed, and even were both of those issues solved they’d detract from the game.

Stellaris’ implementation of victory conditions is baffling. Take, for instance, the game’s relatively complex system of alliances, which doesn’t figure into deciding whether a player has achieved either victory condition. For the purposes of controlling 40% of habitable worlds, your planets and your vassals’ planets are the only ones which contribute towards the quota. Since allies and federation members count as independent, it’s impossible to achieve the victory condition to eliminate all other independent empires in an alliance or federation. The former is particularly baffling, since it can lead to situations where, if your federation is large enough that you cannot occupy the necessary space to reach the quota, you end up in a stalemate with your allies.

The one empire which can actually help you win comes in the form of the extragalactic aliens the Prethoryn Swarm. These Tyranid-like beings are permanently hostile to everyone when (and if) they arrive from beyond the edge of the map in the late game. When they capture planets, they add them to a special, uninhabitable ‘infested class’ and as a result these planets are removed from the pool of habitable worlds. As planets are removed from the pool, though, your remaining worlds make up a greater proportion of the total and so the Prethoryn’s onslaught can actually boost you to the victory quota of 40%.

Given the excellent foreshadowing of the aliens’ arrival, and the events which imply they’re a threat to the whole galaxy, it’s bizarre that you can end up as a supporter of an alien race which is always hostile to you. It is, of course, possible to play on beyond victory or fight the aliens even if they’re technically helping you in the spirit of roleplay. In that case though the victory conditions are still detrimental: it’s extremely jarring to be interrupted during a struggle for survival with a notification that you’ve won the game. It’s easy to brush aside criticism of Stellaris’ poorly implemented victory conditions by condemning competitive play rather than the game itself, but in cases like these the people worst affected are those who want to roleplay as a particular empire, or at least behave sensibly in a well-written science fiction universe. Where someone playing to win might have no issue with casting aside a century long alliance or helping to bring about the extinction of all life, someone with their eye on creating a cool sci-fi story will balk.

This speaks to a larger problem with the victory conditions as currently implemented: namely, they’re at odds with what Stellaris otherwise allows or encourages players to do. To win at Stellaris, you need to be a large empire. Colonising or conquering 40% of habitable planets even on a small map will make you enormous, as will conquering your rivals’ planets. While you could theoretically make opposing empires into vassal states and remain small, they’re sure to be disloyal since their opinion of their overlord is modified by your power relative to theirs. This requirement is odd, since Stellaris includes plenty of incentives to make small empires viable and enticing. As a small empire, you don’t have to create as many sectors (self-governing parts of your empire).

The game’s punishing research penalties imposed for expanding too quickly are easy to avoid as a small empire too, since one way around them is to own a small number of exceptionally developed planets. The latest patch even further enhanced small empires by attaching an influence cost to colonization based on the distance of the planet in question from your space. This is not to say Stellaris wants everyone to play as small empires; rather it’s odd they’re viable to play but not to win as.

Similarly, your chosen empire ethics play a large part in how easy it is to win. With fanatic pacifist ethics you cannot declare wars of conquest, making the condition to eliminate the other independent empires all but impossible. Instead, you’re limited to liberating planets from existing empires, which causes a new empire to be created in specified systems with your ethos and a positive opinion of you. You can’t forcibly vassalize empires as a fanatic pacifist, so your only hope is to convince these newly created empires to willingly become your subjects. By selecting fanatic pacifist ethics, you’re opting into a marathon mode where winning is almost unachievable because of the sheer length of real-world time it would take. Ethics in Stellaris are in theory created equal, but for the purposes of winning you’re at a severe disadvantage as a pacifist.

And ethics are important. The game differentiates ethically dissimilar empires by giving populations various bonuses and tolerances (so materialist populations are better scientists), limiting the types of governments empires with different ethics can choose, and changing the text of events as well as your possible responses during diplomatic actions. As far as victory conditions go, though, a pacifist and militarist or a spiritualist and materialist are all pursuing the same goals.

Stellaris lacks the broad spectrum of victory conditions which could recognise the validity of the many different ways to play the game. There is something to be said for 4X-style victory conditions, which usually allow for diplomatic, scientific, and cultural ways to win. As well as encouraging the spectrum of playstyles Stellaris is otherwise so good at fostering, this approach has the advantage of allowing players to begin with one idea in mind and transition as circumstances demand. For instance, you might form a strong alliance in Galactic Civilizations II, but in order to win choose to eliminate a particularly intransigent empire who won’t get on board.

Unfortunately, these kinds of victory conditions are usually fun to pursue because other AI empires want to win too, which is not the case in Stellaris. Instead, Stellaris’ rival AI empires behave according to their personality type which is determined by their ethics. There are an impressive variety of personality types, from largely peaceful federation builders to ruthless capitalists who prefer to attack weaker empires. Stellaris’ AI empires have particular behaviour patterns depending on their personality, which they execute whether or not it will lead to victory.

Fanatical purifiers will almost always be hostile and will never enter alliances, while democratic crusaders like other democracies but dislike empires with other forms of government. It would be criminal to break this delightfully complex simulation by making them uncharacteristically pursue either of the two existing victory conditions, and the addition of a few more victory conditions wouldn’t be a significant improvement.

Stellaris’ AI empires inhabit a galaxy rather than a game board, and that’s to the game’s great credit. Where Civilizations V’s AI compete against the player to win the game, Stellaris has clearly been designed with greater attention to creating a galaxy which could conceivably exist. The abundance of pre-spacefaring species and the game’s Fallen Empires both bolster the sense that you’re stepping in to a pre-existing ecosystem when you start a game rather than just setting up chess pieces. That, of course, makes it all the more incongruous that the player is encouraged to pursue an arbitrary win condition which doesn’t necessarily fit with the empire they’ve either selected or created. It also means that just expanding the existing range of victory conditions is not a good solution for Stellaris.

It’s no surprise that Stellaris excels as a simulation as well as a strategy game. The same is true of Paradox’s other games, such as Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, and Hearts of Iron IV, none of which include victory conditions. Partially that’s because it would be absurd to have France pursue the same victory conditions as Ragusa, but it also encourages players to make up their own goals. Even Hearts of Iron III, which did have victory conditions, allowed for some flexibility since players could pick a range of objectives from a list. You can (and should) make up your own goals in Stellaris, too: I’ve had fun just defending pre-spacefaring civilizations from interference as well as running entire empires based on slavery. It’s just irritating that while the game allows for this, the built-in goals discourage it. Victory conditions in Stellaris are discordant with its robust simulation.

Paradox have dealt with the problem of providing structure to their games without explicit victory conditions in the past. Both Europa Universalis IV and Crusader Kings II have scoreboards, and the latter is particularly inventive. In Crusader Kings II you play as a sequence of characters in a dynasty, so your score is the prestige and piety of each character you have played added together. When you get to the score screen (either at the end of the game or when your dynasty becomes extinct) you’re not judged against other in-game dynasties, but rather Paradox’s ranking of historical dynasties. At the top of the scoreboard is France’s House of Capet, followed by the Hapsburgs and other notable dynasties from the period covered by Crusader Kings II (that is, 769-1453).

What’s great about this system is that it attempts to judge you, however crudely, from a contemporary perspective. Prestige is gained in Crusader Kings II in most of the same ways you would expect a ruler in the middle ages to gain prestige: victories on the battlefield and winning wars, for sure, but also making advantageous marriages and creating or usurping noble titles. The same is true of piety, where participation in holy wars and pilgrimages bolsters your total. Crusader Kings II began as a game allowing you to play as a European Christian ruler and the game judges you as such.

It’s incongruous if you’re playing in India or North Africa, but as of the original version of the game you’re judged according to the society to which you belong. This is the opposite of the approach taken by Stellaris, where at least one of the conditions, to control 40% of habitable planets, is completely arbitrary and neither take into account your empire’s ethos or government form. Crusader Kings II provides a good counterexample to Stellaris since the objective there suits the setting and makes instinctive sense in the universe.

Stellaris’ built-in goals highlight its worst features. Even if you want to play an extremely aggressive game, it’s tedious to mop up empires who stand no chance against you, and even if you want to play a large empire it’s tedious to colonise planets for the sake of filling a bar rather than enhancing your empire. Even in the very rare case that you want to pursue either objective, their messy implementation is frustrating. Meanwhile, if you’re playing anything other than a large, aggressive empire you’ll be locked out of the game’s nominal goal. These victory conditions are terrible, and even were they fixed they wouldn’t fit Stellaris. Despite its dedication to rethinking staples of the 4X genre, when it comes to victory conditions Stellaris fails badly.

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58 Comments

  1. keyan says:

    Great analysis! This game has been sitting in my Steam wishlist since it came out, and while this article doesn’t entirely dissuade me from buying it, it does give me pause. Is there any way to simply disable the victory conditions or set such a long game length that they become irrelevant?

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      Graever says:

      As the article so nicely points out. The victory conditions are effectively irrelevant. They are almost impossible to achieve unless you specifically play to complete them and even when you do a there is a button that allows you to keep playing.

      There is a large number of good reasons why Stellaris is worth playing. And a (in my opinion) much smaller list of reasons why you might want to skip it. The victory conditions are neither though. They are simply there to be ignored.

      • Someoldguy says:

        The criticisms of Stellaris are fair. The opening part of the game is well built but the mid and late game are not, but that’s nothing new with a Paradox “world” sim. I have only once ever played through to the final curtain call end-date in any of their grand strategy games. The rest I hang up my boots when I’ve achieved the goals I set myself – or the steam achievement I was aiming for. It could be more satisfying to reach an end-game victory screen, but they’ve not yet found a way of making these hugely long games really satisfying to play for that length of time once you’re already the most powerful entity on the game map by the half way point, if not before.

        I will be very disappointed if Paradox alter the atmosphere of Stellaris to get the AI empires competing for arbitrary victory conditions. It’s good as it is. We just need better “victories” for the player.

    • brucethemoose says:

      Just ignore the win condition.

      It’s kinda like recent Bethesda RPGs. If you just do what the game wants and rush the main quest, you’ll have a terribly boring experience. But if you completely ignore it, and just take off in a random direction the moment you step out of the tutorial cave, you’ll have a great time.

      In other words, roleplay as your empire, and just start a new game when you feel like you’ve won, lost, or are stuck.

      • KoenigNord says:

        Roleplaying your empire is really great fun. I recently played a campaign with pacifists that tried to pacify the Galaxy by liberating small empires and changing their ethics and governments. I ended up with a galaxy looking like the Holy Roman Empire. It was fun.

  2. RaoulDuke says:

    Is your name pronounced “Deenis”?

  3. Misaniovent says:

    This is a common problem in this genre. Look at Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations II and III, Endless Space, Civilization, etc. Combat victories are exhausting but often what games push you toward. Eventually you reach a point in all of these games where it is clear that you are going to win eventually.

    It’s just a question of whether or not you want to put in the hours.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      well, i think that was the whole idea behind the late game crisis’. They were supposed to shake things up for those cruising towards victory, and I think with some more work and balancing they will. The problem with them now is that, IMO, they are pretty weak. I’ve had the scourge invade me a couple times, and each time they entered the galaxy on the far side, and were eliminated in a decade or two by a “pathetic” empire after taking 6-7 systems. I think more, better, and more dynamic crisis’ will help shake that grind, but I do agree with the article about the stupid limited victory conditions. What ever happened to the concepts of a diplomatic victory, or a tech/ascension victory, or maybe even trait combo specific victories (ie. Materialist empires win if they create/foster a successful synth society, democratic crusaders win if x/y empires end up as democracies, etc)

      • Victor A Yorke says:

        Is a great idea, and others in the chat thread have stumbled upon it. I’m kind of shocked it’s not already in the game, if they wanted win conditions…

        One interesting problem for that – players who fall into the ‘Xenophobic Isolationists’ personality type (Fanatic xenophobe, ideally pacifists too). You’d have to have a really inventive win condition to stay thematic to that arrangement, I guess. Any ideas?

        • mouton says:

          Special tech victory. Construct a device to isolate your stars from the rest of the universe. Take planets away, like Ringworld’s puppeteers or shift them to another dimension or make an impenetrable shield etc.

          • Someoldguy says:

            That’s an excellent approach. It should not be necessary to “win” the galaxy to reach victory. You just have to achieve the logical end-goal for your particular empire, which could be becoming one of those fallen empires grumpily sitting on a dozen stars and enjoying their retirement.

          • TheMightyEthan says:

            Someone get this to Paradox!

    • Chewbacca says:

      At least in Endless Space, you could easily achieve a scientific/industrial victory by building a certain amount of highest tech buildings. The pacing were also quite good, so you were usually able to do that around the same when you could also win a domination victory (or a bit earlier, so ppl had to try to stop you).

  4. Sakkura says:

    The current victory conditions look like placeholders to me. They’ll (probably) come up with something more sensible a few patches or expansions down the line.

  5. daphne says:

    Regrettably, Stellaris seems to be a product of the DLC-milking arm of the Paradox, one which silently surfaced in the dismal pair of offerings that are Conclave for CK II and Mare Nostrum for EU4. They seem to be banking on the public’s memories of them being the “good guys” among the indie publishers, but everything about the game suggests finely and insidiously cut DLC-sized holes. This article is an elucidation of one aspect of it. Certainly I regret my own purchase.

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      Alfy says:

      The two examples you give are indeed very representative of recent dip in quality in Paradox’s DLCs. In both cases, the content was weak and the mechanics introduced poorly balanced and modestly interesting (the whole conclave mechanic might look great on paper, in practice it’s barely an upgrade of the vassal management system).

      I see a lot of people saying Stellaris will be great after a couple of DLCs: it might not be true, and it’s certainly disheartening that it feels so necessary.

    • Hobbes says:

      Except the first two updates have been free and significant reworks of core mechanics, and there’s a ton of modders doing a lot of the heavy gruntwork because Steam Workshop. From what’s been understood on the roadmap, the next two updates will also be free of charge whilst Paradox get the game out of what I will kindly term “0.9 beta” and into a finished “1.0” state.

      Generally I -would- agree, but I’m going to hold fire on the “Paradox is doing their half a ton of DLC dance” until they -actually- start doing it. Something tells me they’re more worried about actually finishing the game so it can serve as a platform FOR the DLC before they start bilking the consumer base for coins.

    • Someoldguy says:

      I’m not happy with Paradox’s DLC approach, but at least they generally improve the base game with the free content that ships alongside the paid DLC. A few iterations of paid DLC usually gives us a full base game. My only criticism would be in some cases they make the game significantly more difficult and requiring more tedious micromanagement while they plug AI loopholes. Sometimes that stops the game being the casual light entertainment I’m looking for.

    • Blackfish says:

      I don’t think it’s as cynical as all that.

      I honestly think they just got way over their head in thinking they could design a 4X-GSG hybrid and revolutionize the genre right off the bat.

      Judging by the kind of improvements and features they’ve managed to patch in barely two months after release, I think Stellaris would have been leagues better had they simply delayed the release by a few months.

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    Syt says:

    Diocletian Tetrarchy? Someone’s a fan of late Roman politics, it seems? :D

  7. MetalShadowChaos says:

    The only victory condition I found actually fun to pursue in Civ V was Science. It was the only one that felt like a legitimate goal, and was basically the only one with any clear sense of progression, as your technology advanced. Domination/Military had that too, but only bcause your military evolved with your science, so it basically just leeched off the successes of another victory type.

    Everything else just felt like waiting for bars to fill up. Babysitting city-states for World Congress votes to declare yourself world leader was tedious, and better achieved by owning nukes and getting a specific ideological tennet anyway, and cultural victory is more likely to be ACCIDENTALLY achieved in pursuit of the various benefits culture gets you. and they aren’t just boring things you won’t do, several times my grand world history has come to an abrupt halt as someone suddenly declares themselves world leader out of nowhere with no way to stop them, or I’ve accidentally stopped my progress in the space race because my culture is popular worldwide. I wanted to go to SPACE dammit, why should my popularity stop me?

    I’d like to puck up Stellaris at some point,but I know I’ll just turn off victory conditions when I do.

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      Nauallis says:

      This is very pleasant wishful thinking; there is no option to enable/disable victory conditions.

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        Erayos says:

        But we can ignore them.

        I’m not sure because I’ve not completed any game, but even if you manage to “win”, you probably can still play.

        • Cheese says:

          Yea, you can continue playing after you’ve achieved the victory conditions, they’re pretty irrelevant.

    • Apologised says:

      Agreed. The only time I’ve EVER tried to win via a Military Victory in Civ 5 was when I reached super lategame, already had the Not!Metal Gear and decided to dick about.
      Essentially, I parked multiple carrier fleets with Nuclear Bombers next to every Capital City in the game (including my allies) and pushed the button to start OPERATAION: INEVITABLE BETRAYAL.

      Hilarity ensued.

  8. Riggazonie says:

    I agree with the victory condition issue. The game has so much depth that having simple conquest style objectives just seems silly. Im pretty sure they will change them in an update. The great thing about the Devs is their commitment to improve the game since it was released.

    I just ignore them. My first game ended with a colonial domination victory. So I won… naaa I just clicked it off and carried on.

    You dont really need a pre set victory condition in a sandbox like this. The game ends when you feel its done, be that a unified galaxy or you completely eliminate evryone. Then start a new game, pick a totally different empire style and go at it again…

  9. Mezmorki says:

    This is Stellaris’ biggest failing and missed opportunity.

    I remember reading what the victory conditions were before release and my heart sank. They would’ve been MUCH better of in my opinion not having any victory conditions at all (as with other grand strat. games) until they came up with something genuinely interesting.

    On that point, I’m also really tired of the basic 4X conquest, diplomacy, tech, culture victory paths. They are pretty boring at this point.

    Stellaris sets the stage for all sorts of amazing and interesting narratives through discoveries and events, but none of these are connected to victory conditions. Races all have sorts of interesting ethical positions, but none of these connect to victory. What I would like to see is some dynamic system for narrative or quest-based victories that stem from your ethical characteristics. If you are playing as a militaristic xenophobic race – maybe your victory condition should be purging the galaxy of all other intelligent life! But if playing spiritualistic pacifists, or collectivist materialists, the end goal should be completely different. Imagine if different combination of ethics opened up different victory quest lines (just as different government choices are provided to you based on ethics), so that you have some thematically appropriate avenues to explore to achieve victory. That would be killer.

    • Ephemerous says:

      Quest lines actually seem more restrictive than what we have. Right now, the victory condition is completely invisible during play, and easy to ignore. More complex victory conditions are going to be more intrusive throughout the entire game.

      I’d rather just have the devs ignore victory and concentrate more on having things happen in the middle of the game than in driving it predetermined endings.

  10. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I think you might’ve spotted the answer without realizing: the ethics system. Your goal should be chosen from a number of options contingent on your empire’s ethical/philosophical standpoint. Are you a peaceful theocracy? War is no longer an option, but missionary work is! Or perhaps instead you want to achieve a state of higher consciousness and a means for your citizenry to access it?

    You could do a lot here, including tons of events for each variant. I would especially like to see goals that didn’t necessarily fall into “endgame” scenarios, so I could feel a sense of closure whether I’m playing a short game in a tiny galaxy or a massive, months-consuming behemoth of a game.

    • Mezmorki says:

      Yeup! I said nearly same thing right above and totally agree.

      • Victor A Yorke says:

        You both said it before I could…

        Although as a simpler (possibly a stop-gap) implementation, what about divvying out victory conditions as per your personality type? For example:

        –As normally happens during play, the game looks at your ethics and draws up your faction’s best-fit personality. This is what assigns your faction’s government name and your leader’s full title, so its definitely applied to the player as much as the other factions.
        –Once the player hits a certain point to indicate they’re ready for the mid/late game (maybe 2 of three metrics like technologies, total planets controlled, total fleet size), the game assigns 2 possible win conditions and creates single-stage questlines for each.
        –The win conditions would need to be applicable to that personality, but don’t need to be exclusive. Ideally they are internal/external or aggressive/peaceful, to cover as many bases as possible.

        This way a Ruthless Capitalists player might have a questline to own (control or trade for) a percentage of the MINED strategic resources on the map (25% seems attainable without becoming a horrific slog, but 51% is much more thematic), along with a questline to produce a certain number of energy and minerasl PER POPULATION…

        This way, our player can either turn to closed borders and late-game technologies to form the ultimate min-maxed civil organisation (a suitably Randian form of cultural victory) or must expand their economic reach (rather than only their borders) to physically corner the galactic market in just about everything…

        The real problem with this routine would be making enough plausible, attainable victory conditions and making them balanced enough…

  11. Riggazonie says:

    I forgot to mention… to anyone on the fence. Dont be put off by the victory conditions or this article since RPS love this game. The game is amazing. You can just ignore the victory conditions, they make no difference at all to how you play the game.

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      Nauallis says:

      Yeah, this. It seems bonkers to not have some actual end-goal in mind, but there are enough other games that do something similar.

      The only real hurdle seems to be other people’s obsessive need to see a win screen.

      • Mezmorki says:

        Here’s the think …. you need a goal in order to be able to actually strategize. With a goal, it’s not really even a game or a competition. It might still be a simulation (and a good one at that) and it might take some skill and knowledge, but without competing for or working towards a goal it isn’t really even a game. Just a thought.

        • Riggazonie says:

          Yeah thats a goal, not a victory condition. The game pushes you towards doing things, achieving things as you go along. What im saying is the game does not need to present you with a victory condition for you to enjoy it. Of course you need a goal. But that goal is yours to set. Do you want to conquer the galaxy? Do you want to enslave everyone? Become an overlord? Form a federation that spans the galaxy? Ita up to you. They are your set. Not an overall… heres a victory screen. Game over.

          • Riggazonie says:

            My point being. On my first playthrough, I WON the game by colonising 40% of the galaxy, yet as that happened the scourge had just arrived a year before and started to kick my butt, then 2 rival empires saw my weakness and declared war. So as I looked at the victory screen, I decided I hadnt WON the game. My galaxy was only just getting interesting. I had my own goals… :)

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          Nauallis says:

          Okay, now argue that again, but for Minecraft.

          • Mezmorki says:

            It depends on what your definition of a “game” really is.

            I like Keith Burgun’s hierarchy of interactive forms, which assets that a game is predicated on a “contest of decision making.” As a contest it requires there to be some sort of opposition you are playing against that can also win. It requires you to make decisions because without decisions the whole endeavor is something like a running race – a contest to see who can get to the end first with few deep decisions to make along the way.

            So Minecraft and other survival sandbox games….

            Yes, they are “games” from a layman’s perspective, but it is not a competitive, proper, “game” per Keith Burgun’s hierarchy. In fact, per that definition, an awful lot of games aren’t really games – they are contests, or puzzles, or toys, or simulation sandboxes. Minecraft has more in common with a pile of LEGOS (a toy or sometimes a puzzle) than it does with a game.

    • DeadCanDance says:

      Seconded.

    • Itdoesntgoaway says:

      I think some folks – myself included – find it easier to imagine/invent compelling reasons to play than others. Self imposed limits, creative story-telling, role playing etc. are not natural to many (and actively discouraged by a big % of real life pursuits and mainstream gaming).

      It would have been nice for Paradox to do more of the heavy lifting in this regard to constrain players and encourage role-play – maybe some random goals based on the Society/Ideology you choose combined with other. Fanatic Spiritualists trigger a nasty Pogrom against the first other FS Empire you meet, or Pacifists suffering a debuff for every neighbour in a long-war and getting a reward for acting as a peacemaker etc. with a risk that one or both sides turn on you. And based on their writing about the game earlier in the dev cycle, I suspect this was their initial intent.

      But these are all things you can do yourself anyway, I’ve played isolationist pacifists, reckless technologists and militarist bigots totally differently, and have never finished (or even tried to) finish a game. Just takes a little bit of extra effort on the player’s part.

      I do agree that the systems are not yet in place for full freedom yet though (I can’t see a sensible way to play a Ferengi type race for example).

  12. Laurentius says:

    Great summary, couldn’t agree more. I played Paradox game since Europa Universalis so I know how to make my own goals but Stellaris implemanetation of victory conditions is terrible. Game is still unfinished and to be frank rather badly thought of. HoI4 is far better title from Paradox that still give me hopes.

  13. ramshackabooba says:

    I think the problem is in thinking that you need a victory condition. I’ve played CK2 and EU4 for over 800 hours each, and so far I have never finished a EU4 game, and I finished one game of CK2. I just set myself a victory condition without needing the game to tell me ‘you won’. Perhaps they thought Stellaris would be the same way, while most people who play 4x games do need the game to tell them that they won.
    The point is moot as Paradox said they will introduce more victory conditions in the next patches (it’ll take a bit yet since they are just starting their 1-month European Summer vacation).

  14. Universal Quitter says:

    I was on my 4th or 5th game before I even noticed the victory conditions screen.

    I don’t want to say people are playing it wrong, because they obviously added win conditions intentionally, but it seems like a wholly unnecessary step.

    I feel like this is another case where focusing on the MP side of things detracted from the core single-player experience. Outside of MP, I don’t see any purpose from even having win conditions.

  15. Time4Pizza says:

    Well put, and a much needed article. I remember my first night playing Stellaris, and going on the forums looking up victory conditions. I couldn’t believe it only had two (aggressive) victory conditions! Incongruent is an understatement. I’m glad you emphasized in a game that is so much a sandbox space simulator they would pigeonhole you with such victory conditions. Makes no sense(?).

    I know, people love to say, “ignore the victory conditions and play how you like”. Well, you could say that about ANY game. Baldur’s Gate? Forget advancing and finishing Saverok, just play! Super Mario Brothers? Don’t try to rescue the princess, just enjoy that side scrolling action! Point is that beating a game and victory conditions DO matter. They don’t make or break a game, but they are a part of the complete package. To simply say “forget victory conditions!” is on par with ignore the graphics, or forget about a bad user interface, or disregard a poorly designed combat system. Yes, you can ignore such things, but it detracts from the game as a whole.

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    Alfy says:

    I completely disagree with people who say you don’t need victory conditions and then go on comparing this to CK2 and EU4. Both of these games have implicit victory conditions: can you do better than the nations/realms did in real life? Even simply going a completely different path (can I make Venice a major player in the colonization race?) is a victory condition set up by historic precedent.

    There are no equivalents in a space game. I want goals to achieve that I did not just set for myself, and I want a nice victory screen at the end to celebrate good ole me.

  17. Rituro says:

    Great article. Haven’t managed to survive a game long enough to even get closer to either win condition; somewhat demoralizing knowing what path is required to get there.

  18. Glentoran says:

    Don’t worry- this is Paradox we’re talking about. Expect about 20 different DLCs to fundamentally change the game you’ve bought/replace features at your expense, or fix problems inherent in the game design, all at exorbitant prices. Just like they ruined EU4

    • MaXimillion says:

      EU4 has been improving steadily over time. Sure, most patches have some downsides as well, but overall the game keeps getting better.

  19. Hobbes says:

    I think the big problem right now is Paradox don’t really know HOW to work out win conditions for Stellaris. They’ve built the core platform and they’re still finishing the game, but how to get it to an endpoint still feels like an ongoing conversation the developers are having. They’ve put two fairly perfunctory and terrible win conditions in just in case someone wants to go “HULK SMASH” on the universe, but in reality the odds of anyone being in that position are fairly minimal.

    What it really needs is a set of win conditions that can be toggled or varied based on the universe setup (also a thing that’s currently somewhat lacking in options and variety). But at this point diplomacy is still somewhat shallow for a Paradox game (really could use some kind of Universe version of the UN for late game diplomatic stuff), and espionage beyond scouting and scanning planets and the like doesn’t really exist. Not counting the usual research and possible story based goals which aren’t even there.

    So there’s a lot to do.

    That said, as a platform, Stellaris is still light years ahead of anything that exists in the 4X bracket, even as buggy and incomplete as it is. Endless Space 2 will need to come out guns blazing considering Wargaming’s MoO reboot got shown up as the mediocre IP shlock that most people predicted it would be.

  20. JohnnyMaverik says:

    I wish they’d made Stellaris a bit more CK II and a bit less EU 4. Nothing wrong with EU 4 or EU, but I feel Stellaris is at it’s best when it is going out of it’s way to surprise you with small details. When you are just digging into the meat and gravy of the game, colonizing and war essentially, it’s just as boring as it sounds.

  21. Chemix says:

    I like to think of myself as an imaginative person, and certainly, I can imagine a win condition and play to it, but there’s something itching me, completionism, perhaps, that demands a pretty picture and something that says I won. It’s petty, I know, but even when I roleplay a game, I like it to have an end. I mean, on my campaign, my C’thulu worshipping space squids conquered a sizable chunk of the galaxy, but then it just kept going, I got to something around 2590 before I just had enough and was bored. My people struggled to achieve a place in the cosmos, and then they got a place, but it just felt so stale. In a game where the creation of narratives is the selling point, it just felt empty. There was a late game ‘crisis’ , the scourge, but it was meaningless as they got roadblocked at the first civilization they came to. All the funny little stories like the planet with the pheramones, they all dissapeared by the mid game. After that, it’s just moving along till the end. I could write secnarios and events for my people to experience, but I kinda bought the game expecting for me not to have to.

    On the other side of the coin, there’s a Bethesda angle where they do give you stories, they’re just not that interesting. Before Dragonborn came out for Skyrim, I had come up with an elaborate story for this new menace, and was completely underwhelmed by what I got. Which I should expect to some extent, I mean, it’s Bethesda. My version involved a person literally becoming forbidden knowledge by being erased from history, and in that, came under the dominion of Hermaeus Mora. It was much more complicated than just that, but that was the jist of it.

    But I’m rambling now so… off to bed

  22. Undermind_Mike says:

    I find it very telling that when the game released, the very popular “Blorg” stream was stopped. cKnoor always said this was because “you want to be playing not watching us,” which may be partially true, but I believe it’s also because the game was starting to become a slog and completing the campaign would have demonstrated an uncompelling end-game.

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      I think it had more to do with that the Blorg stream was also run on nightly builds and save game compatability became more and more borked as they went along.

  23. kromeboy says:

    For me is not victory condition the main issue, but the lack of an arbitrary end date.

    In other paradox game the implicit “win” is to survive until the end date, and all the game is centered around the historic period.

    In Stellaris late game science become a series of bonus, the fleet has an arbitrary cap, and possibly the diplomatic landscape gridlock in a series of competing alliances or federations.

    The game is great, and the Asimov patch address some of the huge problems of the original version but it would be great to have some kind of proper endgame.

  24. C0llic says:

    The lack of a federation style victory is a very strange omission. At the very least that should be in there.

  25. NephilimNexus says:

    Come back in 20 DLCs, I’m sure they’ll have fixed it by then.

  26. Listlurker says:

    I love Stellaris. It’s one of my very favorite games already — but this article is bang-on correct. The current victory conditions are not only irrelevant, they’re intrusive, and counter-intuitive to much of the gameplay as established.