Stellaris, the sprawling and much-expanded 4X space strategy game by Paradox, is free to try out from now until Sunday, May 12th. If you like it, you can snap it up for cheap. The game has now been out for three years, and while it may have been considered a little bare-bones at launch, a trio of major expansions (and some smaller DLC) plus some huge free patches have turned it into a 4X favourite. As well as managing a sprawling space empire, it has a bit of personality to it, with major and minor story arcs cropping up in the vein of Crusader Kings. See the anniversary trailer below.
Stellaris is a bit of an odd duck. One moment you're weighing up a possibly border-shifting annexation for your space empire, next you're picking dialogue options in a miniature choose-your-own-adventure. The fact that there's as many smaller story-focused DLC packs as there are enormous systems-driven expansions drives that home. All that space and all those big numbers don't mean much unless there's some personality behind them, and Stellaris has a surprising amount, starting with your many, many options in creating a custom species to play as. Want to be a race of paranoid, pacifist Emu-folk? Sure. A hyper-capitalist robotic collective trying to sell ad-share to the galaxy? That's doable too.
Each of the game's big expansions - Utopia, Apocalypse & MegaCorp - adds a few more wrinkles to the galaxy, the most recent being corporate empires and city-wolds. Paradox aren't nearly done, either. Recent development diaries have been peeking at the expanded xeno-archaeology systems (the deeper you dig, the more story you get), as well as two new precursor races who can crop up to re-take a universe that they consider theirs. They also plan on overhauling mega-structures like ringworlds, and slowing down progression through the top fringes of the tech-tree. There's a lot of stuff on the way both big and small, and plenty to catch up on.
Stellaris is free to try on Steam until May 12th, and the sale runs until May 13th. While all things Stellaris are discounted up to 75% (£8.74/€9.99/$9.99 for the base game), the most recent expanson - MegaCorp - is only 20% off. A pity, as if there was a £35/$50 all-in-one package that I could recommend, I would in a heartbeat.