Terror From The Deep: Stellaris’ Leviathans Expansion

Paradox have announced the first meaty expansion for their sci-fi strategy epic Stellaris [official site]. It goes by the name Leviathans and they’re calling it a ‘Story Pack’, which makes me think this might be where former Failbetter scribe Alexis Kennedy has been sticking his nib. It seems like a smart place to put him if so. Kennedy was the lead writer on Sunless Sea and the trailer for Leviathans looks an awful lot like it’s channeling Terror From the Deep. Take a look.

I cannot wait to scrabble around looking for a Cthulhu’s snooze button when I accidentally trip his alarm.

There’ll be new music, portrait packs, events and other bits and pieces, but the main attractions are right here in this feature list:

In Stellaris: Leviathans, the galaxy will be filled anew with adventure and challenge as your new and naïve space-faring empire comes face-to-face and ship-to-ship with a host of dangers and rewards.

Guardians: Powerful space entities with mysterious origins and motives. Fight or investigate them to unlock technologies and gain access to great treasures.

Enclaves: Independent outposts of traders and artists who are willing to make a deal. Exchange resources, purchase information about the galaxy, or commission a great work of art for your empire.

War In Heaven: Where will your fledgling empire lie if two ancient Fallen Empires decide to renew old grievances in a War in Heaven? Will you err on the side of caution and take a side with the stronger power, or will you strike at both whilst they are occupied with their own titanic struggle?

Look how tiny your little space empire is! That’s what Leviathans seems to be saying, with its ancient Guardians, ominous cosmic scale threats, and wars between deity-level Fallen Empires. I think that’s precisely what Stellaris should be saying. Like so many games in its genre, it’s strongest when the map is still home to mysteries and at its least interesting when you switch your attention toward controlling rather than discovering.

That Paradox are calling this a story pack may be an acknowledgement that Stellaris is built around a marriage of writing and mechanics in a different way to the studio’s grand strategy titles. In Europa Universalis and the rest, the stories generally emerge from the systems as you play, and while it’s true that there are event chains to discover, they’re not on the same level as the ones found in Stellaris.

In the grand strategy games, you’re writing the history of the world as you play. In Stellaris, you’re discovering the history of a galaxy, and writing one small chapter. That’s why it’s good that Leviathans seems to be highlighting how tiny and naive your empire is – in the grand scheme of things, your adventures in space are the blink of an eye. And whatever’s waiting out there probably has a billion eyes.

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  1. Haplo says:

    That looks really cool. The idea of two Fallen Empires battling it out is particularly good (and reminds me pretty vividly of the Vorlon/Shadow War from Babylon-5)

    • melnificent says:

      If I recall correctly didn’t the culmination of that battle end up with them just not fighting and disappearing to another plane of existence or something.

      • son_of_montfort says:

        I think that the younger races (led by mankind) told them to GTFO and forced them to leave beyond the rim of the galaxy/universe.

      • frightlever says:

        The two older races turned into a pair of squabbling kids, metaphorically, and were shamed into leaving the galaxy alone for a bit. That’s how I remember it. I did try re-watching the show, but by the time it gets to Mars it turns into an enormous drag and by the last, rushed season, it’s officially not good.

        Enjoyed Sidekick though.

        • Deakul says:

          Man, what.

          The Mars stuff was brilliant, the show only briefly goes off the rails with the terrible Telepath stuff but then the Centauri War makes up for it in spades.

      • Jeroen D Stout says:

        It was more intellectually satisfying than blood-thirst quenching… although of course also a result from the period Babylon 5 was to be shortened by 1 season.

        • Haplo says:

          It would be nice to tell a pair of Fallen Empires to piss off. Alas, they’re so smug that we’ll just have to do with the (deeply satisfying) alternative of conquering them completely. :(

    • brucethemoose says:

      Have you read the dev diaries? From Dev Diary #43:

      For me, it invokes images of the Galactic Empire from the Foundation and the Vorlons and Shadows from Babylon 5.

    • Rich says:

      “Babylon 5 is a big pile of shit!”

  2. mtomto says:

    Does anyone know if the game is still crap mid and late game?

    • Heavenfall says:

      It’s still crap mid and late-game. That’s why you gotta buy the expansion.

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        spearhavoc says:

        I feel like it’s important to note that this DLC is accompanied by a massive free update that will address a lot of community complaints. The paid DLC only adds new story content.

    • Zenicetus says:

      “Crap” is a bit harsh, but it does stall out in the mid and late game. The fun is in the early exploration phase.

      This new DLC will help, but it feels a bit like a diversion; something to slow your expansion. What the game really needs is elaboration of trade and diplomacy, including paths to success for pacifist empires, so there is more interaction with other empires than just stomping them out.

    • brucethemoose says:

      Mods help a bit.

      For example, tech mods like TFW’s ships parts keep you researching well into the late game, and auto-improve takes alot of tedium out of mid-game.

    • Ufofighter says:

      Yes, it is, and they are going to charge you to fix it, Paradox style.

      • Fry says:

        So this is what the sunless sea writer has been doing.

      • Thurgret says:

        I’m pretty fed up with Paradox doing this and have just stopped buying their many, many DLCs except when at massively reduced prices. I don’t mind paying for new content, but paying to fix serious flaws in game design is a different matter (and at this point, I’m not sure I’m going to buy any more Paradox games at release).

        I also don’t really get why Paradox gets off so lightly, in terms of criticism from gamers, for releasing quantities of DLC that other companies are lambasted incessantly for.

        All that being said, I do really quite enjoy their games once they are finished properly.

        • P.Funk says:

          Well to be fair to Paradox with CK2 they’ve followed a totally different trend. Instead of fixing the game with paid content, they’re ruining it by constantly tinkering with the formula all these years later not only making annoying changes but also rendering most mods from over the years completely incompatible as its a game that for modders is basically permanent beta given the constant changes.

        • klops says:

          Paradox DLCs are usually published alongside a free patch that fixes the issues.

        • Zenicetus says:

          Much of the flak about DLC with other games is about content that feels like it was designed as a core part of the game, and then intentionally stripped out to capitalize on DLC sales.

          I don’t get that impression with Stellaris. They’ve obviously left out some core features one might expect in a space 4x like more involved trade, and maybe espionage. But I don’t think it’s been stripped out. It feels to me like like they’re still wrestling with how to make a good space 4x with the Clausewitz engine, figuring it out as they go along. They released it when there was enough of a skeleton there to be playable. Now they’re patching in new stuff that’s both free and paid-for.

          I’m okay with that because the foundation is pretty good. And it’s not like it’s an expensive game to begin with. I think the base price was $40 and it’s currently selling for $32 on Steam. Not bad for a “big” strategy game. I’ve probably spent $100 or more on individual Total War games + DLC.

        • Fry says:

          Paradox gets plenty of shit for their DLC practices, but they’re a relatively small developer making relatively low-profile games for a niche audience. Paradox hate doesn’t trend on twitter.

          • BlueTemplar says:

            Not anymore, I think : didn’t Stellaris sell more than Civ5?

  3. SuicideKing says:

    “War in Heaven”? What’s the next story feature going to be called, “Age of Aquarius“?

  4. Fnord73 says:

    Oh, yes please! Make it a game about a new imperium in space meeting all sorts of wonders and mysteries and alien races, and less about conquering the red blob to your left while avoiding the green blob on your right. Oh please, please please take the 4xes out of the 4x game and make it more Crusader-kingy with long narratives.

    My dream is to be able to play a 7+/- system empire just adventuring into space, meeting others instead of having to Command and Conquer them all the freaking time.

    • brucethemoose says:

      Exactly, especially since war is so tedious.

      Wars are usually decided by 1-3 massive doomstack battles, the fun part. If you win that, it’s just splitting and micro-ing your giant fleet and army to gain war-score. If you lose that, then you either cheese the AI and get a white peace or give in to their demands.

      • P.Funk says:

        So what you’re telling me is that after 4 years of playing CK2 and wanting something different I have to… do exactly the same thing except in a space empire skin.


  5. Someoldguy says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. The story elements sound exciting but I don’t think we need more things to bump into or block our routes in the exploration and expansion phase of the game. That’s the fun bit already. Hopefully some free game changes will address the later game drag for everyone alongside the paid DLC story elements. Fingers crossed.

  6. GrumpyCatFace says:

    Agree with all of the above. This game has sat gathering digital dust in my Steam library, waiting for more content to be added mid/late-game. This might be just what it needs..

    • Sound says:

      I highly doubt it. This pack clearly contains minor additions. No adjustment to core gameplay. I’m sure the additions will be nice distractions, briefly, but they’re just not of the scale required to mend Stellaris’ weak midgame.

      I still find it confusing that this issue wasn’t apparent long before release. Wouldn’t the devs have been painfully bored themselves?

      • klops says:

        That’s how I felt. I’ve never played the game but what I’ve read and watched the game is lacking in some fields. This ancient race thingy sounds good but I actually expected Paradox to handle the issues that are lacking from the game now, espionage, trading and those. Still, sounds good.

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          Nauallis says:

          Well, you’re not wrong in that feeling. I get about 3-4 hours into a game, by which point I have established probably 3 sectors plus a handful of “core” planets that I keep direct control over… and that means that I might have somewhere between 15 to 40 systems that my empire controls. Generally speaking, I’m probably out of space at that point. The game starts to push the player to war with other empires at this point, which quickly becomes a boring slog. Why war?

          Your expansion options become limited to: open borders to move your colony ships to uncolonized parts of the galaxy; annex smaller empires; push “cultural” boundaries by building colonial outposts, and thus annex star systems from other empires… or go directly to war. Also, at this point scientific exploration is getting kind of stale. When playing as a peaceful race, it’s in your best interest to NOT go to war, but the AI is a giant bag of dicks about demands to open borders. “Oh, so to get my colony ships through your space, I have to give you control over the sector on your border?” …right. I might as well just build up a massive fleet and attack you, same waste of resources.

  7. Severn2j says:

    I really should go back to this game, I really enjoyed it, but once everyone had explored and established their borders, it got a bit stale, so have left it for quite awhile in the hope something else might come along and make it more interesting.. Not sure if this is it.

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    teije says:

    This sounds interesting – love his writing.

    Today with the improvements they’ve mentioned in the dev diaries as coming in the accompanying Heinlein patch, sounds like next month will be perfect to try it out again.

  9. brucethemoose says:

    Gotta admit, I really dig the idea of finding a Lovecraftian god in space… I hope some of them are big enough to stand up to crisis fleets, nothing would fill me with more joy than watching Cthulhu and Skynet battle it out.

    • brucethemoose says:

      Or better yet, a 3 way with a fallen empire thrown in.

      For some reason, I love multi-sided wars in games whenever I find them… something about the chaos of everything. If this DLC lets me get in a complex war between galactic powers allied with fallen empires and (with mods) mutliple galactic crisis events, then its an insta-buy for me.

  10. Laurentius says:

    There are some obvious design flaws that made every phase of Stellaris out of initial exploration quite a chore. Game is getting stale and obvious flaws became visible. And pet peve of mine, why galactic resources are so much BS, something so rare that only be found in one of every 70 star systems that enable to build you some insignificant building with plus 10% to sth bonus. Give me break, look on Ertah and Oil, or read Dune or something. I know, I knoe it because “multiplayr balance”. The only expansion I will buy for Stellaris is when devs will say “it’s only for sp and we threw balance out of the window and game will be bonkers now but fun”.

  11. Andruski says:

    Need to point out that this expansion will be released alongside a free MAJOR game overhaul patch that is intended to vastly improve the weaker areas of the game (combat, mid-game, etc). This expansion will further the experience but is not required to get the improved vision for the game.

    As for me, the expansion looks like an insta-buy

    • Sound says:

      Hm. Fair point. Some of the patch changes do look like promising improvements. On the other hand, there’s not much in the way of exanding the game system – some kind of persistent challenge for the midgame.

      But I really want you to be correct. Stellaris has sat unused in my library, and I keep wanting to play it, but then I remember the actual act of playing it. =/

  12. P.Funk says:

    Woulda been nice if RPS coulda included the information about the free patch that always accompanies these DLC releases by Paradox since that’s where the major changes to the gameplay that people are grumbling for would be found.

    On another note, that beacon beam thingie was very Beast Wars. Yes I’m that old.

    • Villephox says:

      I’m “that old” as well, but at the same time, my five year old nephew somehow acquired a DVD of the first few episodes, and he LOVES it. So it apparently has some lasting charm.

  13. Hyena Grin says:

    I’ll invest more in Stellaris when they’ve improved the existing systems to the point where they’re interesting. I want more interesting industrial/trade stuff, and I want more interesting characters and character development. The story stuff is nice but it doesn’t make for a game I want to keep playing.

    Which sucks. Because Alexis Kennedy is rad. But I gotta stick to my guns on this one. There’s no point buying story DLC for a game I already don’t really play because its overly simplistic systems kind of bore me.

    I actually do have some faith in Paradox to beef the game up, but I’m holding out until they show some initiative toward doing that, and doubling down on event-based stuff isn’t a step in that direction.

    • Hyena Grin says:

      (Though having finally looked at the dev diaries for the free 1.3 patch coming alongside this expansion, I have to say I do appreciate that they are responding to feedback. The new combat mechanics do look like a genuine step forward, and it might tempt me back for a game. It’s just not advancement in the particular areas I had hoped)

  14. carewolf says:

    I just want the captain of my “enterprising” science ship to able to sleep with sexy blue aliens.

  15. fearandloathing says:

    Massive PDX fan here and I’m gonna bash PDX to death now. Paradox devs always stressed (or more like bragged) about how they were perfectionists but at the same time realists when it comes to game design, in that interconnected systems are well-thought separate branches of the same idea of design, rather than an afterthought. And in designing the game, they -supposedly- focused on the AI, so that the player feels as one of the many agents in a dynamic and grand context. This was especially brought forward in development of the latest two, Stellaris and HoI4, and the dev diaries were full of honest self-critiques for the dysfunctional systems in earlier games, and with promises of how they nailed it this time.
    As of now, both games received a few big patches, yet both remain very, very meh, AI in particular underperforms like hell, HoI4 being the worst among the two. Stellaris, on the other side, has some aspects that should be introduced into textbooks as examples of bad design, primarily the sector system. More on Stellaris: you’ll be surely disappointed if you head into the game expecting tough strategical choices, as you’d from any game labeled grand-strategy. Even the diehard fans will admit that the best moments of Stellaris follow from role-playing, not strategizing. Considering the lack of diverse ways of playing, as it’s evident in the lack of a trade system, the game does not quite succeeded in providing a grand-spacey roleplaying, so it no CK2 in space either. Paradox quite obviously did not deliver. PDX fans, or more often devs themselves, downplay this by stating their games are always in-development and occasionally throw some bones with these “free updates”. What should be said outloud, especially in media outlets, is that such “free updates” in fact only provide what was initially promised*. So it’s no different than patching an early access game, it’s not like devs are being generous.

    *this does not hold for other titles like EU4, that indeed received further content and already functional systems were reworked&updated to better ones. whether this was really for the better is a contentious issue, some claim such rework is pointless (or even detrimental) without paid content, and I also feel that reworks came in before the already existing systems are balanced thoroughly.

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    Ericusson says:

    You know, I even tried to buy the Crusader Kings 2 complete edition on Steam and still there were 20 more docs to buy for hundreds of pouloutes (the official money of my imagination).

    After the uber shallowness of Stellaris, and despite my good efforts to actually buy the games I play now (god I even bought No Mans Sky after trying a less than legal version of the game for 2 hours), i will kit for sure buy anymore Paradox products in the foreseeable future.

    I feel dirty and scammed and probably soon censored.

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    Ericusson says:

    Docs — DLCs
    Kit — not

    Editing, one day maybe RPS will invent magic markers !

  18. Neutrino says:

    I don’t have a problem in principle with Paradox releasing pay for DLC to support established games, but this is way too early to be asking customers to pay up for patches that are clearly fixing shortfalls in the original release.

    Once the game is already good, and finished, and content rich, by all means charge some more for decent sized expansions a year or two down the line, but this seems like taking the mickey.

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