It’s not often that I find myself suddenly enthralled in brand new video games directly at the time of release. Sure, there’s the occasion where I will swing into GameStop and pick up a new Xbox title or I’ll download some little indie game from Steam that I’ll inevitably play for a few hours to pass the time, but nothing has really held my attention and fascinated me quite as much as the recently-released 4X strategy game Stellaris from Paradox Interactive.
Around my neck of the woods, we’ve mostly just known Paradox from their work with the excellent city-building game Cities: Skylines but are also well-known in the gaming world for their work on the Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron strategy games. Stellaris appears to be one of the rare instances in which Paradox looked up from its history or military strategy books and instead looked to the cosmos for their inspiration. In turn, Stellaris is one of the most remarkably beautiful modern space-faring games you can imagine. For those that aren’t hip to gaming lingo, “4X” refers to key elements in a strategy game’s features. These types of games task you as the player with control of an entire empire that must “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate” your way across the in-game world. At the outset with Stellaris, you’re immediately placed in command of an entire civilization that has just started mastering interstellar travel. Soon, you’ll be utilizing those four X’s as you explore the gorgeously rendered universe around you, expanding your empire’s massive borders, exploiting the mysterious alien civilizations and powerful resources of new planets, and very likely even trying to exterminate rival empires trying their best to outpace you and seize control. Unlike Sid Meier’s Civilization series (another favorite around these parts and often the industry standard to which these types of games are held), Stellaris does not currently feature cultural or scientific victory conditions. The only two ways you’re going to win a game of Stellaris are through conquest, which the game defines as conquering or subjugating all opposing empires in the game, or domination, which requires the player to conquer or colonize at least 40% of the in-game map’s habitable planets.
The great joy of grand strategy games are not in the ability or the time it takes to win a quick match — Rome wasn’t built in a day after all, but they were laying bricks every hour. In order to make things a little more compelling, Stellaris not only allows you to choose between several pre-defined empires, Paradox also smartly included the ability to create and name your own empire from scratch. You can choose between humanoid species as well as a few others such as avian, fungoid, and insectoid species. You’ll also be able to choose your empire’s traits and characteristics, design your flag logo and colors, the type of home world, starting technology and starship designs, language types, the architecture of your world’s surface structures and much more. Although it may sound like a silly and cosmetic approach, it gives you a unique opportunity to tell the story of your own people in Stellaris. As you discover more and expand your empire, your story will change and develop right along with it. This isn’t even to mention the scientific anomalies and research studies that your empire’s scientists will uncover to unlock new technology and various, diverging storylines. In my own experience with the game, for example, I’ve created a humanoid empire known as the Valdari Union that’s currently experiencing some trouble with rebellious splinter factions of my own population that have started converting cargo ships into makeshift warships while my scientists just started surveying the Sol System, which just might sound familiar to some of you. Hint: You live in it! The Earth that my Valdari Union has uncovered hasn’t yet unlocked the secrets of interstellar travel yet and it appears to be roughly World War II-era (two large alliances of nations are in a heated global war).
The game is a little pricey in terms of new and untested releases — Steam currently has the base game listed at $39.99 while the bonus feature-packed “Nova Edition” is $49.99 and the “Galaxy Edition” for $69.99 — but the fact that Stellaris quickly became Paradox’s best-selling new title in its first day of release should speak volumes about the greatness of this game. It also doesn’t feature a monthly subscription or in-game transactions that require real money, so once you buy it the one time, it is yours to play for free forever. This instantly makes it significantly cheaper than some entertainment venues!
Interested in joining me in Stellaris? You can buy it here!