This is my first ever attempt at playing a 4X science fiction strategy game, and on a universal scale, it has me hooked.
Stellaris is a brilliant and perfectly balanced 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) sci-fi game developed by Paradox Development Studio. It was released on the 9th of May, 2016, and it has hit the strategy video game genre by storm. You have the ability to attempt literally anything you wish (within boundaries of a 4X strategy game), from building a vast empire focused on annihilating other races, to being a resourceful trader, who focuses on maintaining and balancing peace treaties across 25+ empires.
When I first purchased Stellaris, I was incredibly worried about the learning curve, strategy titles can be difficult to learn and unforgiving for noobs to the play style. In my case, it was very easy (with the tutorials on of course) to get a grasp of things, and my empire slowly, but surely grew to space relevance. Paradox give you a huge sandbox to play in and allows you to become a galactic tyrant focused solely on wiping out other empires, or the other extreme, you can be more attuned to exploration and scientific breakthroughs. It's totally up to you.
26 hours in to my first playthrough, my empire is focused mostly on exploration and science, I was absolutely astonished to find out how much you can do in this game, I am still discovering new habitable planets and anomalies. Sending probes out into the unknown is a regular part of Stellaris, charting stars and surveying planets for minerals is core to growing your empire. Once a region has been discovered you send in your construction ships, building mining and research stations around moons and worlds are key to boosting your economy they help speed up tech research along the threes paths of social, physics and engineering, which are all studies simultaneously. To date I haven't taken place in many battles and have only conquered a few lesser beings, you see space warfare is not cheap and constant fights will send your empire broke real fast.
Customizing your empire can be pretty fun, you choose from six different species: Mammalian, Reptilian, Avian, Arthropoid, Molluscoid and Fungoid. From those six species you then have access to a dozen or so different races. You then select perks that can improve various facets of your empire ranging from food sustainability for any planet that you colonize, to increased resource output allowing your empire to grow rapidly. One feature I found especially cool is the ability to choose your own transport system, a few notables: faster-than-light travel and wormhole travel (which is crazy difficult to get used to apparently). Basically, you can set up your empire to be what you desire it to be, the solar system is your sandbox.
The fleet combat in Stellaris is somewhat dull, enemies spawning uncomfortably close or ships taking on a mind of their own in battle flying around and shooting sporadically were semi-constant headaches but thanks to the modding community it can be fixed. Patch 1.2 has recently been released improving alot of the combat A.I and providing an even better player experience.
There are however a bunch of challenges that players often come across. The most common challenge I seemed to encounter is behind bordered off by a superior empire, and no matter how much I tried to form an alliance or friendship, they denied me over and over. So, I spent the last 4 years (in-game years of course) building a fleet with what few resources I have in my borders, only to be attacked by my stubborn neighbors. The first time they struck I got absolutely dominated, I barely made a dent in their their military force as they flew off laughing. After copious galactic politics I eventually lucked into an alliance with a superior race and together we crossed my empire's border and layed a serious beatdown on the big Stellaris bully who caused me so much pain for several years.
For anyone seeking that co-op experience fear not, Stellaris allows you to exist within a galaxy with 20+ would be emperors and empresses all vying from space infamy. The ability to team up with friends, allowing you to conquer the galaxy together plays just as good as it sounds. I have played with a friend for a good 5-6 hours tackling it in a different style than my single player save, we built a large fleet and reigned down hell on every single empire we could find. The ability to share resources between friends allowed us to continue our vast galactic rampage without an issue.
This game is a definite resounding yes from me, I have loved every minute of my time with Stellaris, my journey at times has been relaxing, while at others complete space chaos that got my blood pumping. The entire universe is waiting to be explored so jump in your star ship and take flight.
4 out of 5
STELLARIS WAS REVIEWED USING A "RETAIL" DOWNLOAD PURCHASED ON STEAM.