Stellaris’ New Horizons mod is the best Star Trek game

Everything was in place for the Romulan invasion of the United Federation of Planets. Warbirds screeched out of the shipyards of Romulus and Remus on a direct course for the closest Federation worlds, those belonging to the chilly Andorians. The real goal, of course, was neighbouring Vulcan. This was a symbolic war.

As my jade vessels bombarded the frozen Andorian homeworld, the Tal Shiar informed me that yet another Federation ship had been successfully sabotaged. When my Reman shock troops’ boots hit the icy ground, I realised that Star Trek: New Horizons, a Stellaris [official site] mod, was my favourite ever Roddenbery-flavoured game.

I noticed New Horizons at just the right time. With a new Star Trek show in production, my hunger for that venerable sci-fi universe has increased tenfold, and I’ve found myself once again devouring the previous shows. I’m going through the best of the bunch, Deep Space Nine, at the moment, and it remains just as compelling as it did back when I first sat, transfixed, after school, watching the adventure of Sisko and his eclectic crew.

There isn’t a 4X game better suited to Star Trek than Stellaris, not even the official one from 1999, Birth of the Federation, which was terrible despite the countless hours I spent wasting my time with it. Even without mods, Stellaris evokes the universe of Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway and Scott Bakula’s hairy chest. The focus on exploration, sci-fi mysteries and epic yarns make them superb bedfellows.

None of this is to say that the New Horizons team haven’t done a tremendous amount of work, adding a dizzying array of Star Trek species with appropriate traits, multiple maps of the galaxy – different sizes depending on the beefiness of your PC – complete with canon starting positions and countless species-specific touches like the aforementioned sneaky buggers, the Tal Shiar.

It might be far from finished, but I can’t think of many things that could make it feel more authentic. Everything from technology to statistical bonuses has been run through a Treky filter. So the Klingon Empire uses disrupters and the Dominion uses polaron beams, and when you’re designing your own ships, you can slap on modules like tactical stations and deflector arrays. And they’re more than just Stellaris components with fancy new names.

The scale of the thing astounds me. Downloading it, I prepared myself for loads of bugs and missing features, expecting just a slice of Star Trek rather than the whole cake. What greeted me was a cake buffet. See, New Horizons simulates the entire history of Star Trek, from the pre-Federation Enterprise era onwards. And while the galaxy evolves through conquest, expansion and technological advancement, it also transforms through the events system that Stellaris uses so well.

Events run the gamut from the creation of the Federation to the development of new ship designs, reflecting the changes between the different shows. You don’t want to be flitting around the galaxy in an NX-class vessel for the whole game. At certain junctures, you’ll be notified of scientists and groups who have new ideas, eureka moments, making your ships more effective. Take a look at your shipyards after these events and you’ll notice that your vessels have been upgraded from, say, TOS-era ships to TNG ones.

In my Romulan game, the redesign event also forced me to make some important leadership decisions. I had two ship designers vying for my attention. One, a Romulan military chap, the other a member of a species that was under the empire’s control. Romulans are pretty racist, but the alien engineer was the superior candidate. By choosing him, I ruffled some feathers, but he also became a scientist I could recruit and set to work researching new engineering tech or send off as captain of his own science vessel. I wanted to make my version of the Romulans a wee bit more egalitarian.

While New Horizons gives you the freedom to rewrite Star Trek history – maybe the Romulans left Khitomer alone and became friends with the Klingons – it always feels strongly connected to the shows, full of nods to specific episodes drawn from the universe’s long history. One of my explorers was zapped by a probe that made them live out a dead man’s life in a lost civilisation. Another discovered that a transporter malfunction from years ago created second versions of themselves. For the uninitiated they are surprises rich in meaningful choices, but for fans they evoke memories of some of Star Trek’s strongest storylines.

A lot of what makes the mod such a great Star Trek game simultaneously makes it a great 4X game, taking things like Stellaris’ brilliant asymmetry and running with it, enhancing it even. Take the state of the galaxy at the start of a campaign, for example. Every species feels dramatically different.

The pre-Federation humans inhabit only a tiny part of the galaxy and start off as fairly insignificant, while older species, like the Founders, the shape-shifting rulers of the Dominion, begin from a position of strength. They’ve colonised several systems, have planets full of loyal Vorta – talented clone administrators who evolved on tropical worlds, just like their TV counterparts – and they’re effectively immortal.

All of these things make the Milky Way feel diverse and lived in, a place where thousands of years of history have already played out. There are giant empires and underdogs, blossoming friendships and established grudges. This variety makes it a fascinating 4X game, even if you aren’t invested in the Star Trek theme. It helps if you are, of course. I’ve started up a dozen different games already just to see how the team have managed to transpose stuff from the TV and cinematic universe to the game, turning the elements that make a species interesting into actual mechanics or traits like the Borg’s penchant for assimilating all life.

With so much stuff going on, New Horizons also makes a valiant attempt to fix the mid-game slog that can infect the vanilla game, where you’ve finished exploring and the galaxy sort of drifts into this status quo that’s only shaken up when massive factions decide to go to war. The politics, intrigue, Klingon civil wars and bespoke storylines keep things moving along in a pacy fashion. There are still moments where things grind to a halt, though, and the advantages that some species have go a little beyond asymmetry and threaten to enter the realm of game-breaking imbalance, but it is still a work-in-progress.

If my unapologetic gushing hasn’t already made it clear: New Horizons is something pretty special, and you’d be dafter than a dopey Pakled if you aren’t already hovering over the subscribe button in the Steam Workshop.

37 Comments

  1. Vandelay says:

    “With a new Star Trek show in production, my hunger for that venerable sci-fi universe has increased tenfold, and I’ve found myself once again devouring the previous shows. I’m going through the best of the bunch, Deep Space Nine, at the moment, and it remains just as compelling as it did back when I first sat, transfixed, after school, watching the adventure of Sisko and his eclectic crew.”

    I’ve been on a bit of Star Trek binge myself the past couple of years. Finished off Deep Space Nine sometime last year and was really impressed with its darker and more sophisticated edge. It was a show I didn’t appreciate as much when I was younger and it was originally broadcast, but now I can see young me was an idiot.

    I’m now watching Voyager and, shockingly, rather enjoying it. It definitely is never great and there are normally a couple of painful episodes in each season, but on the whole it is enjoyable and on the odd occasion very good. The main issue is that the crew are rather bland. The Doctor is the one stand out character, particularly in the earlier seasons, as is Seven of Nine when she is introduced, but everyone else is either a cliche or just nothing. It also suffered from having a great setup that is never used to its full potential. I understand that there was some network meddling, who didn’t want another Deep Space Nine with its longer story arcs, as it was not doing great in the ratings. A shame, as we could of had a Star Trek version of modern Battlestar Galactica years and years before it actually happened.

    I’m coming towards the close of season 5 now and I’m still enjoying the stories it is throwing at me. I probably wouldn’t recommend that it was watched from start to finish as I am doing (I’m just a completionist when it comes to these things,) but there are plenty of episodes to watch each season.

    Very much looking forward to the new series, whenever it actually is going to be made.

    As for this mod, it sounds really great and I would be downloading it (if I owned Stellaris,) but it does make me wish for a real Star Trek game to be made from the ground up. It has been years since we have had a game based on the series, even though it has been in the mainstream again in recent years, with the modern film franchise and the surge of people watching it again via Netflix. A Star Trek game (that isn’t the VR game that only a handful of people will actually be able to play,) seems like a good proposition right about now.

    • Fraser Brown says:

      Voyager was a solid space adventure, but it definitely paled in comparison to DS9. Glad you’re enjoying it! Do you reckon you’ll continue onto Enterprise? It’s almost universally hated, but I’m an apologist. It tries to do things a bit differently, and the season-long Xindi arc definitely has its moments.

      • Vandelay says:

        I wasn’t going to, but I wasnt going to bother with Voyager either. I expect I will, particularly if the new series gets delayed any more.

        I recall Enterprise was pretty mediocre in the first season or 2, but got much better with the Xindi arc and the final season, with 2-3 episode long stories, had some really good moments (as well as some not so good.) By the time it reached its penultimate episode it was considered to be a shame by most that it was cancelled, just as it was hitting its stride. So I don’t think you are alone in being apologist.

        Of course, then the last episode happened and everyone hated it again.

        • Reivilo says:

          I am in the middle of a thorough re-watch of Enterprise and surprisingly it aged quite well; I’d even say it is better now than when it was released.

          4th season is very good in my opinion, and a must-see if you really are a ST fan, though I’d avoid the whole Xindi mess. It is entirely forgettable, hopefully.

          Also, every single episode with Shran, played by Jeffrey Combs, is an instant classic for me. I am pretty sure the plan was to have him being part of the crew in Season 5 and this the cruelest aspect of the show’s cancellation imo.
          I think one the problem of Enterprise is that it was broadcast at the same time as Stargate SG-1, which had similar themes with the Earth making its first few steps in the galaxy, and it was a vastly superior show.

          • Tuskin38 says:

            John Billingsley and Jolene Blalock also showed up in episodes of SG1.

    • Scurra says:

      Voyager was fine. And when it was good, it was very good indeed. It’s just that when it was bad, it was worse than horrid. Which is true of all the Trek incarnations – yes, even Deep Space Nine (which I didn’t especially get on with but that’s because Next Gen was “my” generation of Trek.)

      • PixelsAtDawn says:

        Pretty much every Star Trek suffers from ‘first series syndrome’. TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT – all take a couple of seasons to find their feet and become their own thing. Sure, there’s the odd stand-out episode, but all the best ones are later. I learned that from DS9 – it was a long time before I came back to that series because the soap opera style was hard to swallow first time around coming off TNG. Once they get the Defiant and Worf, it really picks up.

    • magogjack says:

      I loved DS9 when I was a kid, but I found that I liked Babylon 5 a lot more. Even though it is both cheesier and darker. It is a much better binge show as well considering that its story was planned out from the beginning.

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorLag says:

      “The main issue is that the crew are rather bland.”

      There’s a reviewer out there by the name of SFDebris who has, out of boredom and frustration I imagine, from having to sit through so many Voyager episodes, developed his own head-canon that makes the whole thing a bit more interesting. Janeway, for instance, is actually psychotic sadist who stranded the crew in the Delta quadrant on purpose to torment them. A shocking number of her decisions make sense in this context.

      • Tuskin38 says:

        And the Chief Engineer needs a tricorder to figure out something is poop.

  2. DarkFenix says:

    Back when I downloaded this mod, it really was a bit of a mess of incomplete or missing features, but there was the potential for something great there. I suppose I ought to give it another shot sometime.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    I already have too many games to play, I was already interested in Stellaris, and now with this mod I am going to have to play it sooner or later…

  4. dsch says:

    I’ll not hear a bad word about Birth of the Federation!

    • Themadcow says:

      Damn straight. I don’t think anything else in the genre was as much fun until Sins of a Solar Empire.

    • Someoldguy says:

      The only bad words I have to say about it are that I haven’t been able to get it to work for far too long!

    • ThePuzzler says:

      Things I hated about BOTF, according to my fading memories:
      (1) Diplomacy basically came down to bribery. Give the minor race enough cash and they’d join you voluntarily.
      (2) To win wars you had to bombard planetary defences, which would generally kill millions of people. Playing as the Federation, this felt off.
      (3) Most technological advances were near worthless – either horribly expensive or trivial. For example, if your technology advanced to the point where you unlocked an Warbird II, it would generally be worth about twice as much in battle as a Warbird I, but cost twice as much to build. The only good thing was that all existing Warbird Is would be upgraded for free. So you had to build as many obsolescent Warbird Is as possible just before your technology advanced to save massively on build costs.
      (4) Combat tactics were basically guesswork – choose an option, and if your opponent chose the right response you’d all explode.

    • Vandelay says:

      Same, I loved it (with the caveat that it was probably the only 4x game I had played at the time.) I was terrible at it, but I always enjoyed the implementation of minor races and the random events, such as Borg invasion.

      The only issue was that I recall it always slowed to a crawl when you reached turn 100. I’m sure it did this multiple computers for me, so I assumed it was a bug for everyone. Maybe I just hadn’t patched it.

  5. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Janeway and Scott Bakula’s hairy chest

    Without an Oxford comma, that sentence fragment sent my mind to weird places.

    Also, yes. Yes to everything you’ve written. New Horizons blew me away when I first downloaded it, and was arguably an improvement on the base game.

    Can I also mention how nice it is to get a ST-flavoured article that doesn’t involve dusting off that tired “I can’t tell Trek and Wars apart” joke?

    • BTAxis says:

      There’s no real ambiguity there because if “hairy chest” had applied to both of those characters it would have read “hairy chests”.

      Unless… Janeway and Scott Bakula were merged into some kind of Ettin-like creature with two heads that share the same hairy chest.

      Hmmmmmmmmmmm.

      • Dinger says:

        Not true. They “hairy chest” may be a reference to the pilose footlocker they share.

    • TheMaru says:

      Way more interesting for me is that he mentions all the Captain character names with the one exception of Scott Bakula instead of Archer.

    • syndrome says:

      You do understand a difference between a “joke” and a troll?

      Comparing Trek to Wars is about the same as comparing The Matrix to Fight Club, Camus to Sartre, Keith Haring to Andy Warhol, Paul Klee to Piet Mondrian, Tomb Raider to Prince of Persia. Although there are major superficial similarities, it’s the nook and crannies (of the corresponding Universes that they belong to) that really outline the underlying semantical differences, thus only ignorant people can mix up the two, just by looking at the face genre, which is nothing less than the simplest of categorizations.

      Even though someone could argue that by following this reasoning all things would become uncomparable, that’s actually true! That’s how categorization works, it GENERALIZES. So to be able to compare, you first have to adopt a striking similarity, as a basis for further discrimination.

      But then, to be able to qualitatively tell something apart, you have to be aware of HOW DEEP you need to dig in order to discover how different these objects are. But it’s not about how much something looks similar to something else, or whether that’s obvious, it’s HOW MUCH TIME and knowledge you need to spend to really discern one from the other, given tools, senses, past experiences, whathaveyou.

      So the next time someone compares Trek to Wars, simply observe and acknowledge that they’ve spent ZERO time examining the actual truth and context concerning the two objects of comparison, which is a basic necessity for those wishing to have a worthy opinion in a reasonable conversation. And boom, you’ve registered a troll that facilitates ignorative cynicism to hide his or her own unembellished disinterest for the common reality, and ONLY to provoke negative emotions in those who DID their homework. Hence, to feel hurt is to give them all the reasons to call you nerd and get away with it, because by that line of reasoning, EVERYBODY who can tell A from B is a NERD at some level of abstraction.

      Don’t feed the trolls. Be proud of the time you’ve invested in knowing stuff, regardless of whether there is a practical application for the knowledge at hand. There is a reason why nerds are more readily engineers and not fitness trainers. Do it their way, LET’S GENERALIZE THROUGH AND THROUGH!

    • warkwark says:

      Exactly what I’d meant to say! You beat me to the punch, Oxford-style.

  6. Zenicetus says:

    Maybe I should try this. I’ve been put off by the way the randomized races feel basically the same with different skins, and not enough unique personality in the vanilla game. I’m not seeing “Stellaris’ brilliant asymmetry” mentioned in the article. So maybe what I need is a hand-tweaked theme like this, with more asymmetry baked into the game.

    I’ll have to brush up on the lore. I was a major fan of TOS and NG, but I just couldn’t get into DS9, and I only watched maybe one or two Voyager episodes. Trek basically ended for me with Picard & Co., but maybe I can get excited about a game where I’m just dealing with the factions from a strategic perspective.

    • brucethemoose says:

      The “vanilla” mods help too.

      TFW’s ship parts + a debris mod increases tech divergence drastically, for example. By mid game, the ships you encounter will have drastically different equipment as oppose to the samey vanilla tiers.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      DS9 had a weak start, and never totally managed the leap from 90s episodic drama and Trek wholesomeness to serious, serialized sci fi, but it was one of the first that tried, and didn’t take too long to become something that rivalled TNG (Avery Brooks’ hamminess notwithstanding.) I’m glad to see DS9 empires are in the mod, since it was the Trek show that put the most thought into the universe’s politics.

    • Reivilo says:

      As soon as Worf joins the show in Season 4, watching DS9 becomes a constantly rewarding experience.

      I was just rewatching the first meeting between Work and Martok yesterday evening, a classic gem.

      Martok “I have come for my son d’k’thag. Give it to me, or I will take it from you”
      Worf “Now that you are here I have no further need of it”
      Martok (bewildered)”You … robbed my son of his honor just to get my attention ?”
      W “You cannot take away what someone does not have”
      M “You’re saying my son is without honor ?”
      W “Your son is a coward and a liar”
      M “And what of his father ??”
      W”That remains to be seen”

      This. Pure gold.

      • TheMaru says:

        I will always remember this one:

        Quark: Did you hear? Keiko’s gonna have another baby!
        Lt. Commander Worf: [alarmed] Now?
        Chief O’Brien: No! Seven months.
        Lt. Commander Worf: I see…
        Chief O’Brien: [to Bashir] Worf delivered Molly, you know.
        Doctor Bashir: Really?
        Chief O’Brien: The Enterprise was damaged. Keiko and he were trapped together when her time came.
        Doctor Bashir: [to Worf] Oh well, I’ll, uh, be sure and call you, when she’s ready to deliver; you can lend a hand.
        Lt. Commander Worf: Seven months? Unfortunately I will be away from the station at that time… Far away… Visiting my parents, on Earth… Excuse me.
        [leaves in a hurry]

      • Werthead says:

        “I don’t suppose I need to tell you to keep a close eye on Garak.”
        “At the first sign of betrayal I will kill him. But I promise to return the body intact.”
        “I trust that’s a joke?”
        “We will see.”

  7. brucethemoose says:

    Definitely gonna try this soon.

    How are the Star Wars, Halo, and Mass Effect mods? I’ve seen them in the workshop, but they don’t look as extensive as this, and Trek’s setting is probably the best fit for Stellaris’s gameplay anyway.

  8. funky_mollusk says:

    I just logged-in to say that the new series is definitely in production. I know someone who was working on the set.

  9. Someoldguy says:

    Stellaris badly needs something to overcome the mid-game ‘meh’ phase, so I shall definitely be trying this out once it’s iterated a little more. Torment finally releases in a few days so I refuse to get sucked into something that can easily eat a hundred hours per game just now.

  10. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    DS9 is my family’s favourite – best characters, and the stories fit best into a living universe. Watching Voyager now and it’s okay, but not as good certainly.

    This sounds great, will have to try it out. Hope they update it with the massive changes coming soon in the Banks update to Stellaris.

  11. Rizlar says:

    DS9 is the best. Also Stellaris. So looking forward to the new expansion, might have to make a second install just to give this a spin.

  12. Will the wtf says:

    I wanna give props to this RPS article from Rob Zacny for how relates to this one about how to fix the 4x with firstly better ways to let imagination fill in the gaps to choose the ideals of success for the challenge in gameplay, and secondly the more interesting, surprising idea of progress unleashing new political ideas, new ideals and measures and gameplay arising from this self-evident development, rather than measuring success with a simple aesthetic shift and bigger numbers. Does RPS think the makers of the mod had the same kind of idea and put it into good practice?

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

  13. Rubel says:

    This IS a really well done mod! I might be motivated to take some inspiration and go help expand the Babylon 5 stuff.

  14. vahnn says:

    I watch every episode of Star Trek every couple years. Except Enterprise. We don’t talk about Enterprise. Can’t believe I haven’t heard of this mod before! It’s time to go where… likely where many people have already gone.