Stellaris: Utopia expansion to blast off with Banks update

Having previously launched a few DLCdribs and DLCdrabs into Stellaris [official site], Paradox today announced Utopia, the first “major expansion” for their space strategy game. It will introduce Dyson spheres and ring worlds, let starlords shape their empire’s future form such as going cybernetic or reaching a higher plane of existence, and more.

As is customary with Paradox strategy expansions, Utopia will be accompanied by a free update with important new features of its own. Changes in update 1.5, nicknamed ‘Banks’, will include expanding species rights, reworking ethics, and adding refugees.

Right! First, let’s look at Utopia. It’s breaking out some big spacetoys. Players will get to build Dyson spheres, vast structures that (in other fiction, at least) surround a sun to capture its energy. Also coming are orbital habitats, huge space stations which will function basically as extra planets. Ring worlds, which are currently only structures one can find, will be buildable too. This dev diary post explains orbital habitats more.

I’d thought habitats and ring worlds might be part of the Banks update, given the connections to Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels, but nah.

Utopia’s Ascension Perks are sort of perks aiding different play styles and goals, from helping create shiny space technologies to helping kick out Fallen Empires. Related to these are the three Species Endgame paths, which determine your empire’s future shape. Will you control your genetic evolution, cast off the flesh and go metal, or develop psionic powers and reach a new level of existence? Each of these mutually-exclusive paths brings big bonuses to kickstart your future, as detailed in this post.

Or, if you want to be terrible, it’ll add extra Slavery and Purge policies. Spacemen will be able to use other species as different types of slave labour or livestock, and Purging, uh, will get new ways to outright eradicate subjugated species. Read about that here. Some real pricks in space, huh?

Moving onto the Banks update! Seven new Tradition trees will offer perks for different playstyles – whether you want to explore and discover things, boost your economy, quickly colonise the galaxy, smash everyone, and so on.

Starlords will be able to set per-species rights across their empire, rather than simply having one set for your founding species then another for everyone else. These cover citizenship, various caste systems, slavery, millitary service, living standards, migration controls, and more. It’s introducing refugee systems too, with mistreated people fleeing from rulers crushing them underfoot. People will flee your empire if you’re dreadful, and you’ll have options to allow or restrict refugees fleeing to you.

Factions are becoming more complex, introducing groups like political parties and movements. They’ll each have different goals which will affect the happiness of populations belonging to them. That post details more ethics changes too.

That… is most of the Banks and Utopia stuff. Not all of it, and I believe some is still under wraps, but for now follow all those dev blog links if you’d to learn more.

Paradox haven’t yet announced a release date for Utopia and Banks, nor a price for Utopia. Paradox’s Crusader Kings II expansions, to throw out some numbers, cost between £8 and £11.


  1. killias2 says:

    Stellaris was definitely one of my biggest disappointments of 2016. However, there is still a chance that Paradox can turn it around, and I like most of the changes listed here. It’s sad that we’ve had to wait so long for factions to become political, something I assumed would be in the game at release, but here’s hoping the game figures its situation out one way or another.

    • Seth_Keta says:

      This is how Paradox tends to work, though. Get the main concept out there. Then iterate over and over and over again with expansions and patches. Stellaris may one day be the best Science Fiction 4x game on the market. Right now it’s just a fun one that’s gradually morphing into a solid pick. But there’s still quite a ways to go.

      • escooler says:

        As an outsider to the genre (beyond neptunes pride and civ) what would you say the best ‘ Science Fiction 4x ‘ game is? I always wanted to embark find one, but there’s a baffling array of options.

        • bills6693 says:

          It’s not finished yet but I’m hopeful for Endless Space 2, based on ist great predecessors. If you’re looking for a way in to the scene it may well shape up to be it.

        • Someoldguy says:

          That’s a hard one to answer. None of the modern ones have satisfied me as much as Master of Orion 1&2 did, but they’re really too dated now to recommend without reservation. I’d still say try MoO2 if pixellated graphics don’t drive you crazy.

          This PCG article lists several more modern space games among its best 4x titles and gives you some reasons to choose one over another: link to

  2. Gothnak says:

    I tried a friend’s copy of this and found it to be completely soulless. I started a civ, expanded a lot and then bumped up against others. I enjoyed searching new systems, but the combat was dull, diplomacy was dull, and basically all the civs just sat there staring at each other. After a while i could cross other’s systems and explore more of the universe and kill more crystal entities, but that was it.

    Sure, i progressed through a tech tree, but some of the civs were huge, so i didn’t want to bother them. Meant it was just dull.

    • QSpec says:

      Especially considering Endless Space exists (that game oozes character).

      Of course, Stellaris has a Linux client, so if they can get their shit together they’ll have my preference.

      • clocknova says:

        That’s funny. I have exactly the opposite feelings. I found Stellaris to be fascinating and deep, whereas I thought Endless Space was horribly dull and contrived. Just a personal preference I suppose, as both games are obviously well made, but take the genre in different directions.

        • SaintAn says:

          Same. Endless Space feels shallow and has poor combat and the tech tree choices don’t do anything but add stats and unlock stuff. The races revealed so far have been pretty crappy too. I’m hugely disappointed in ES, but I didn’t like Endless Legend much either because I have better games like Age of Wonders 3.

          Stellaris blew my mind. It’s an RP 4x strategy game where all the races in the galaxy are randomly generated (or created by the player before a game start) and the tech tree thing actually adds cool and interesting things and has potential consequences to learning advanced dangerous tech. Like it can cause AI Geth-like uprisings, creating a rift in space where the crystal aliens will start pouring out, and other stuff like that. And Fallen Civs force you to play politics or they will wipe you out, so you can’t just gain a bunch of power and roll over everyone else.

          I just don’t get why people are always talking about how they’re so disappointed. This is one of the best 4x games I’ve ever played. And it’s still getting improved.

      • teije says:

        Different strokes for different folks yep. 40 hours in Endless Space and I was done and uninstalled. Found it competent but not very interesting. Whereas Stellaris, which still has some rough spots, is at 200 hours and counting. It’s the species customization and flexibility to RP that species along the chosen ethics path that really gives it life.

        This update/DLC is looking very nice and full indeed. Looking forward to it as it gives far more depth on empire management. With Banks, I’d put it at very good, not yet great. Another year and it will be.

        • Someoldguy says:

          Stellaris is definitely lacking after the expansion phase (at least vanilla, I haven’t shelled out for added “stories” yet) but ES definitely wasn’t my kind of space game. You have to pick aliens as your leaders before you’ve even met any other spacefaring nations. You get an achievement for exploring all of a huge galaxy in less than 50 turns and it’s easy to accomplish with just a few scouts. Space combat is a game of rock paper scissors and leader stats have far too much weight. Diplomacy is very shallow. I could go on, but you get my drift. I really don’t know why it’s so highly regarded.

          • QSpec says:

            I am a huge fan of both Endless Space and Endless Legends, but I loathe getting “heroes” from other races.

            It is especially egregious when you play the warlike faction Cravers/Necrophages that are so warlike that they literally won’t ally with anyone… and then along comes a wood elf and voila, he’s in charge of my city.

        • QSpec says:

          Can you sell me on Stellaris? The reviews thus far have stopped me from pulling the trigger on a game I was initially quite excited about.

          • Nauallis says:

            Try reading Brendan’s write-up of the game where he played a patron race trying to uplift other species. If that article ends up exciting you, you’ll hate Stellaris.

          • brucethemoose says:

            What you won’t read about much in other reviews is mods. They address many of the game’s obvious shortcomings.

  3. Rizlar says:

    Been playing a shitload of Stellaris recently because it’s amazing.

    The population ethics, assigning groups rights and having them influence the galactic political landscape more via factions sounds like the meatiest part of the update, but I’m also pleasantly surprised by the amount of work they seem to be putting into making small n tall empires possible.

    Plus fleshed out endgame scenarios and a bunch of cool space stuff, sounds brillo.

  4. Penguinho says:

    It’s cool to hear that they’re adding purging and slavery. It’s really great to have features that were part of the game at launch sold as DLC!

    • Rizlar says:

      What they are introducing is various purge and slavery policies. One of the new types of slavery involves keeping other species as cattle, producing food for your overlords while being unable to work tiles.

      • Superpat says:

        Important to mention that the equivalent of the old purge and slavery systems in the the new systems are free.

    • Viral Frog says:

      Actually, the changes to those features will be in the Banks update, not the expansion. It’ll be free for all that own the game.

      • napoleonic says:

        No, some of the changes are in Banks, with even more options in Utopia.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Slavery has never worked well in the game, and this might fix it. One of the first things I tried when the game was released was a Kzin Patriarchy empire, only to find out that there just wasn’t enough control over slaves to make it work. Especially once star systems were handed over to AI control with sectors.

      Speaking of which, the new additions sound nice, but sectors are still a mess. Paradox seems to think they’re working fine based on the lead dev’s forum posts, and lack of patience when people bring it up.

      • lglethal says:

        There’s quite a few mods out there that remove or modify the Sector stuff. I always play without Sectors cause I like the micromanagement side! Having mods installed does mean you cant get any achievements (which is a bit sucky) but if you can put up with that, then installing a Sector Mod like “Flexible Core Planet Cap & Resettlement Cost” is a great idea…

        • brucethemoose says:

          And the auto-upgrade mod takes the worst micro out of that.

  5. cardboardcity says:

    I didn’t know about the Banks connection, which is promising, because I love his books. Too bad he died at such a young age. I’ll be waiting for awhile yet tho to sample the game. I think new Hearts of Iron had the same issue of being a little flat before DLCs. Paradox puts out games I really want to like, but for me at least they seem too much of a chore, and I don’t stick with them.

    • Someoldguy says:

      The Banks connection is tenuous at best, the idea of orbitals and ringworlds of all sizes from the merely large to the truly humungous predates his fiction. Paradox just like naming their builds after people famous in the genre and their version of orbital “ringworlds” are smaller than those of the Culture by about a factor of 10, let alone one like Niven’s that encircles a star (habitable surface of 3 million earths.)

      • Nauallis says:

        There’s one particular aspect of Banks’ megastructures for which he particularly succeeded where other authors did not: successfully conveying a sense of awesome, stupendous scale. Usually with his trademark humor and casual absurdness, and by scaling the world against other objects that are more directly relatable and understandable, even if still mind-bogglingly massive themselves.

        For example the multi-layered planet Sursamen in Matter, the gas-giant Nasqueron in The Algebraist, the Inception-esque stacked virtual afterlives that are the metastory of the novel Surface Detail. Even the Culture system vehicles themselves.

        • Someoldguy says:

          Yes, I love his storytelling, although it does get extremely dark in places. I was particularly struck by it when one of the characters demands to be put in stasis until the Culture’s super AIs can prove that the loss of life resulting from the galactic war has been worth it. They don’t wake him up for more than a thousand years… nice one, Mr Banks.

    • Rizlar says:

      There isn’t a Banks connection afaik beyond him being an amazing sci-fi author and his name starting with ‘B’. These big patches are named in alphabetical order, the first one was Asimov.

      • teije says:

        Correct on the author names, but there’s no alpha order, since Clarke and Heinlein patches have also been released.

  6. Snargelfargen says:

    The endgame paths are sorely needed, as the game lacks proper finishing conditions. The most compelling part of the game is the exploration and the narratives that turn up throughout the game, which Paradox finally clued into some time after release.

  7. bedel says:

    A paradox game will end up with endless expansions and patches. Ck2 and EU4 have had so many they are nothing like the original release. Its just part of the paradox process.

  8. cairbre says:

    I fear paradox games but still buy them. I haven’t gone very far into this game yet. I discovered a vicious bug race beside me who seemed intent on fighting everyone. I’m. Going to load up that save one day and research bug spray. Not so smart now are they.