Stellaris launches Utopia expansion and Banks update

Today’s a big day for Stellaris [official site], as developers Paradox have launched its first proper expansion and a big game-changing patch. Headline features for the Utopia expansion include space habitats, dreadful new forms of enslaving and purging species, and ‘ascension perks’ to customise and shape species towards mechanical, biological, or psionic final forms. Update 1.5 (nicknamed Banks), meanwhile, reworks the government system, adds a civics system to make empires more unique, improves AI, fixes bugs, adds technologies, and changes plenty more. Exciting times in space.

As is often the case with Paradox expansions, Utopia bundles together a load of different parts under theme which kinda unifies them. Utopia does have some shiny utopian bits, like building Dyson spheres and habitat stations, and ascension paths that shape species beyond the puny forms our flesh is born in. It looks to be more about enabling unique empires, though, with very particular beliefs about who they should be and become and how they should treat other species.

Enslave species for livestock then decide to cast off your flesh and become shiny and chrome. Indoctrinate lower species then try to touch a higher plane of existence. Be a hive mind. You do you, maaan.

And as they often will with Paradox games, the update launching alongside the expansion brings important changes of its own. The Banks update sees the government system “completely reworked” and Civics added, which Paradox say allows for “far more customization when creating your empire’s government”. Factions have become movements with specific beliefs rather than simply rebels. Species rights can be set on a per-species basis. Bits of your ships, as well as their engine trails, now take on the colour of your flag. And… there’s so much more.

These patch notes have full details on both the free features of Banks and the paid ones of Utopia. It sounds like Stellaris now has a lot more options and intricacies in the empire you’ll become – and those you’ll face. Which is good.

Utopia is £14.99/19,99€/$19.99 on Steam. Stellaris is on sale right now, with a 40% discount bringing it to £20.99.


  1. brucethemoose says:

    And more music! Stellaris has a great OST.

    Anyway, now I gotta sit on my hands and wait for my favorite mods to update.

  2. Pogs says:

    In my Utopia you will be able to play finished Paradox games.

    • Ghostwise says:

      How 20th century.

    • Neutrino says:

      Agreed. $6 for an update to a 5 year old game like CKII is one thing, but $20 for an update to a less than one year old game that was released with very thin content is severely taking the Michael.

      • causticnl says:

        you clearly havent played the game the last year. there have been 4 major patches, id say its at the moment the best space 4x game in the market. and the expansion is entirely optional, it wont affect the content in the basegame if you dont buy it.

        • Scraphound says:

          Have you ever played Distant Worlds?

          I haven’t picked up Stellaris yet. DW is sort of the king of 4x games in my opinion. Curious how you’d compare the two.

          • BobbyDylan says:

            As a massive fan of 4x games, I bounced off distant worlds pretty hard. It had some cool concepts I’d like to see in other games, but on the whole…. I was just… bored.

          • svge says:

            I’ve played both and DW is deeper and more customisable with how much you can automate. DW private sector is the best thing since sliced bread and Stellaris’ resource system is what you spend most of your time managing and it’s not so much fun just directing construction ships to build mining stations. I’m also not a big fan of the random tech tree in Stellaris as there are certain things which are too unbalanced if you don’t see them.

            Having said all that, I’ve never persevered with a game of Stellaris to the end due to mid-game fatigue so I’m not any sort of expert.

          • Kalle says:

            I have played Distant Worlds. The UI is so bad it is not playable. There is no documentation for most of it’s systems and trial and error learning is near-impossible. It is the worst purchase I’ve made in 25 years as a gamer.

          • Shadow says:

            Distant Worlds has also been out for years and has had like four major expansions. Still a flawed comparison, but it’s fairly likely Stellaris will eventually overtake it.

          • causticnl says:

            thats a 4 year old game with I think 4 or 5 expansions included now. funny you compare that with an statement about paid dlc policy. Slitherine has a WAY worse DLC policy, with $60 basegames and $40 DLC’s.

            I played DW, and while its a good game, the UI is dreadful and very hard to get into the game. Stellaris has a great UI, and the gameplay has just right amount of complexicity.

      • Jools says:

        The game has received four major, free gameplay/content patches since release. It got another one today alongside the expansion. Don’t be ridiculous.

        • SaintAn says:

          Doesn’t change the fact that this is an overpriced expansion, doesn’t have much content, and the other updates didn’t add much to an already small content game.

      • Scraphound says:

        If you don’t like the price wait a couple years, figure out which paid content most appeals to you, and scoop it up in a Steam sale.

        This is a big, complex game. I don’t necessarily like Paradox’s model, but it does mean that they continue working on their products long after other companies would more or less abandon them. CKII today is a very different beast from the CKII I picked up around its release. If not for Paradox’s model I’m pretty sure CKII would have a fraction of the features and compatibility issues with more modern hardware. And I buy my expansions when they’re 75% off, so it doesn’t feel like such a ripoff to me.

        Someone else who has more disposable income can drop large stacks of cash on all the latest and greatest if they want to. Or you can be frugal and patient.

    • teije says:

      In my dystopia, Paradox would never enhance its games with massive amount of new content – both paid and free – for years after release.

  3. mavrik says:

    Last I checked the update was free and brings bunch of new stuff? And the actual payment is for the expanded content part?

    • iniudan says:

      Indeed the expansion basically give you:
      -hive mind;
      -ascension perks, which all the megastructure and the three ascension method are part of;
      -new forms of purge: neutering, forced labor and processing, displacement is also new, but since it part of the change of collectivist to Autoritarian ethic, that one is part of the free feature of the patch;
      -new forms of slavery: domestic serviture, battle thrall and livestock;
      -civic that introduce new player mechanics: fanatic purifier, mechanist and syncretic evolution;
      -ability to indoctrinate pre-FTL species, through the orbital study station.

      Everything else, including the tradition tree is free, as part of the patch, if I remember everything right.

      • Superpat says:

        And they learned their lesson too, the ascension perks system is included in the free patch, this expansion simply gives you a set of ascension perks (With future sets being released in future expansions)if I’ve read the dd’s correctly

  4. Branoic says:

    and for an alternative point of view:

    $20 for an *expansion* (not update) full of new features for a fantastic game I’ve already sunk plenty of time into is perfectly acceptable.

    • Gothnak says:

      As a developer anti-paid DLC sentiment always annoys me. In the old days, the game would be released and that’d d be it. But now you get the opportunity to get more content for your fave games and people complain about it?


      (Yes, it wasn’t in the base game because that had a budget and a schedule to hit)

      • Snowskeeper says:

        Even then, most of the content is being released in a patch for the base game.

      • dylan says:

        I remember forking out plenty of money for expansions as a kid, especially for the wonderful Blizzard RTS games, like Warcraft 2: Beyond the Dark Portal and Starcraft: Brood Wars. Paid DLC only bothers me when it’s overpriced for what it adds to the base game (I didn’t feel good about XCOM 2’s DLCs, for example). That’s never been Paradox’s problem, though. They not only add cool, interesting features, they also use that revenue to continue patching the base games for years.

        Another way to think of it: I’d rather own CK2 and a stable of interesting DLCs which I get to pick-and-choose, than be on to CK7 by now.

      • Premium User Badge

        kfix says:

        I agree with you about the Paradox model, but day one DLC can be a dodgy practice depending on how it’s done.

  5. Snowskeeper says:

    Time to institute my newest policy: fish are food, not friends.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      Hey, why can’t they be both? ;)

    • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

      I do love that what the AI says to you is dependent on your species’ relationship. I was playing a race of giant spiders my first game and ran into a group of very hostile turtle-people who threatened to eat us because we were bugs. Got a good giggle out of that one.

  6. Babymech says:


    …I keep forgetting that I won’t be getting any more Culture. Ever.


    • anarchitect says:

      a movie or tv series will be up at some point at least

      • Nauallis says:

        And in the meantime there’s no reason not to build a monument or a theater.

        • barashkukor says:

          And a campaign! Forget Idris for Bond (he’d be a much better ‘M’ anyway). He’s the best suited person there’s ever been for playing “Alien Gurgee” in ‘The Player of Games’; which is my absolute favourite Banks.

    • teije says:

      I feel your pain. Such a wonderfully inventive universe Banks created. At least we have the books to read and re-read (and re-read…)

    • Monggerel says:

      I read a few of Banks’ books, and they’re mostly enjoyable in their own way, but I really don’t get the fan following the Culture itself enjoys; I guess they have fancy names for their ships?
      The only Culture book that stuck with me (like shrapnel, heh) was Use of Weapons. It’s Banks’ masterpiece and I just feel that the rest of his work never came even remotely close to it. Which I guess is praising with faint damn, because most things don’t come close to Use of Weapons. Still don’t see why the Culture ended up a, uh, cultural fixture in nerd circles.

      • Nauallis says:

        I can only speak for myself – I found Bank’s culture novels to be a refreshing blast of improbable hilarity mixed with healthy doses of existentialism and epistemological philosophy. Much of sci-fi (and not necessarily so-called ‘hard sci-fi’) is narrowly focused on “what seems likely” even if it’s in the context of “it could be possible.” Banks took wild ideas from physics (holographic reality, the energy grid, matter-energy conversion, multiple dimensions), philosophy (solipsism, nihilism, authenticity, the excession problem), and computer science, and tended to go absurd with them, and best of all made the application and usage of those concepts seem like completely rational, normal things. A good deal of the humor is dryly tongue-in-cheek as well. The motif of the series is “yes, the universe can be a shitty place, so we might as well make the best of it.” Compared to the genre on the whole, it’s a relatively unique perspective.

      • Zenicetus says:

        I’ve never understood the love for the Culture either, unless it’s just that it’s basically a nerd utopia, where every wish is granted, and they’re just killing time until they go for Ascension and bug out completely.

        I have trouble appreciating Banks. What I’ve read so far were decent page turners — Consider Phlebas, Player of Games, Use of Weapons, and Excession, but then I stalled out there. I’ve also read The Algebraist, which I liked a little better than the Culture novels.

        He had some great ideas, but also an annoying habit of hand-waving high tech space magic into the plot, whenever he wrote himself into a corner. I prefer the Alastair Reynolds approach of accepting some tech limits, and writing within those parameters. Banks is just all over the place, which I guess is part of the appeal for some readers.

        • Darloth says:

          You should probably try Against a Dark Background at some point, if you liked the Algebraist better than the Culture series.

  7. morganjah says:

    The Paradox model of releasing dozens of DLC’s for their games is a little more complicated than just claiming they ‘enhance’ the game. Using Crusader2 and EU IV as examples, many of their expansion DLC suffer from one or more of the following problems. Some break the game until eventually fixed, and/or introduce systems which require the DLC and screw players who don’t purchase it, and/or introduce ‘features’ which make the game more of a micromanagement chore to play.
    They all change gameplay incrementally. Since these games are almost entirely undocumented after release, and not well documented to begin with, each new DLC/feature patch requires a new cycle of trial and error to figure out the game systems.
    If one steps away for a year and tries to get back into it, the question is what DLC’s are necessary, and then a long slog of trying to figure out how to play the current rendition of the game punctuated by hours trying to pore over forums with often out of date or conflicting information.
    Paradox could do themselves a huge service by maintaining an up to date manual and tutorial. Otherwise, they aren’t really games for the gainfully employed.

    • Replikant says:

      Fully agree. EU4 is really a great example. I wish Paradox offered a more fine-grained control over features. I like the new ship-missions (less micromanagement), hate the estate system (more micromanagement), the shattered retreat and the fort mechanics, …
      Which version should I play?

      And I really wish there was an automatic warning if enemy army or fleet stacks of doom approached one of my armies/fleets distributed around the globe. Either that, or an automated retreat option. It sucks to be in a major war and to spent so much time scrolling around the world map.

  8. Replikant says:

    I’ll pass for now, thanks. I played the base game when it came out, but lost interest due to the dreadful UI (no list of colonizable planets, really? It’s the first thing any playtester would request) and the boring mid-game, which was endless ressource optimization and mind-bogglingly boring (and broken) clusterfuck fleet-combat.

    The randomized tech-tree, while interesting in concept, was actually quite horrible in my experience. Part of the fun of a tech-tree is building towards a goal (even if that is obviously not how science works) but in Stellaris it feels just completely random.

    Exploration: The science ship mission had some interesting and creative writing but having your high-ranking scientist die more often than not just wasn’t fun. Also, I wasn’t able to finish any of the larger quest chains (due to lack of relict sites). All those unfinished stories just sat there in my quest log. (I believe that has been fixed by now?)

    At some point I may give Stellaris another chance, but I’ll definitely wait for a sale for the DLC’s.

    • amblingalong says:

      “no list of colonizable planets, really? It’s the first thing any playtester would request”

      Go to the top left of the screen and click ‘expansion planner.’ You can do all kinds of things like see which planets are best for different species, how much they’ll cost to colonize, etc.

      “having your high-ranking scientist die more often than not just wasn’t fun”

      There’s a display with a % chance to complete each mission, and as you level up, the % chances go up as well. Just wait until your scientist is experienced enough to tackle each site.

    • bramble says:

      Speaking as someone who loves the game and has over a hundred hours in it, I can say if those are your complaints you’d do well to keep waiting. We have a colonization planner and the precursor quests are all completable now, but combat and the tech tree are relatively unchanged. The lead developer has mentioned combat being the next thing they want to take a hard look at, along with diplomacy. Paradox has been amazing with the improvements they’ve put out already, and they seem enthusiastic and determined to keep improving on and working on the game.

  9. Syt says:

    I played a fair bit of Stellaris when it came out, but then meandered away from it. Started playing again yesterday on my Twitch channel (Username there is Syt1976 – where I sit talking to myself #FoeverAlone), and I’ve enjoyed it so far.

    Though to be fair, after 3 hours I haven’t gotten far enough to get to the meat of the expansion.

    I do like the civics that they straight up stole from Civ V. If you steal, steal good things. And factions look interesting, but so far my Xenophile Spiritualist Molluscs (I always play random races) have an easy time at keeping them appeased.

    I do look greatly forward to playing more of it tonight. I have friendly spiritualist neighbors and I want to pull them into a Holy Federation of sorts. :D

  10. Solidstate89 says:

    This is definitely what would get me to back into Stellaris…if I wasn’t already completely engrossed in The Witcher 3 right now.