EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Para­dox In­ter­ac­tive Devel­oper In-house (Para­dox De­vel­op­ment Stu­dio) For­mat PC Ori­gin Swe­den Re­lease TBA

Since 1999, Para­dox De­vel­op­ment Stu­dio has en­abled us to in­vade and ne­go­ti­ate with (and even make vas­sal states of) global pow­ers, and taken strat­egy fans to such pe­ri­ods as Vic­to­rian times, the Mid­dle Ages and WWII. So un­til you see Stel­laris in mo­tion, it would be easy to imag­ine this three-act, pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated 4X (ex­plore, ex­pand, ex­ploit, ex­ter­mi­nate) space opera as some sort of midlife cri­sis. But while history has been flushed out the air­lock and the world map has been re­placed by con­stel­la­tions of un­fa­mil­iar des­ti­na­tions, the ev­i­dence of 15 years’ study in grand strat­egy is un­mis­tak­able.

Stel­laris is the po­lit­i­cal dom­i­neer­ing of its fore­bears run ram­pant in space, rev­el­ling in its free­dom to in­vent the fu­ture, in­fil­trat­ing neigh­bour­ing gen­res and in­tent on telling sto­ries. ‘Grand’ barely cov­ers its am­bi­tions.

Big things come from small begin­nings, how­ever, and you start out as a sin­gle world newly pos­sessed of faster-than-light tech. What­ever hap­pens next is your story. Your race, traits, sys­tem of gov­ern­ment, ethics and pre­ferred mode of star travel are just the first bar­rage of de­ci­sions. Mil­i­taris­tic fun­goids who hate deserts and travel by worm­hole might be a good one, or per­haps paci­fistic, demo­cratic avians con­fined to hy­per­lanes will be a win­ning com­bi­na­tion. These first min­utes hand you ex­ec­u­tive power over how you will man­age your peo­ple, colonise plan­ets and in­ter­act on the galac­tic stage, and con­tain a dy­namism and mys­tique that map-based strat­egy is rarely blessed with.

Mean­while, Stel­laris is busy seed­ing a freshly birthed gal­axy with life built from the same toolset: fledg­ling space­far­ers just as odd as your­self are scat­tered through­out the stars along­side stag­nant fallen em­pires who you re­ally ought not to pro­voke. No longer are you con­scripted to fend off the French for the first hun­dred years for history’s sake; out­side your so­lar sys­tem, even Para­dox doesn’t know what’s wait­ing to de­vour, co­coon or tax you.

“My vi­sion,” says di­rec­tor Hen­rik Fåhraeus, “is es­sen­tially that it’s a lot more ran­dom than what you would see in a nor­mal 4X game, but it’s char­ac­terised by grand strat­egy me­chan­ics. But it’s not as crazy as

Cru­sader Kings, where you might spend the first 20 years with­out an heir and that’s game over. Pick­ing fa­natic paci­fists, if you will, is go­ing to make for a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence: paci­fists are given pow­er­ful in­ter­nal bonuses, which will help them in the late game. It’s more about playstyle than any­thing.”

Stel­laris’s open­ing is a blur of ex­plo­ration and ex­pan­sion akin to Civ­i­liza­tion. As you find your­self with galac­tic house­mates and the po­lit­i­cal land­scape takes shape, things

nat­u­rally be­come more tac­ti­cal: war comes to the fore as pow­ers vie to have the largest em­pire. Space bat­tles flare up, pit­ting ships of your cre­ation – mashups of alien tech as­sim­i­lated on your trav­els – against en­emy fleets, both sides de­ploy­ing gad­getry to con­trol the en­gage­ment (dab­bling in warp in­ter­dic­tion, per­haps). Or you can ne­go­ti­ate your way to dom­i­nance, sweet-talk­ing burlier, more bel­li­cose em­pires into serv­ing as your meat shield. Ex­pan­sion is not your only con­cern, though: ig­nore do­mes­tic mat­ters and plan­ets’ pop­u­la­tions may form re­bel­lious fac­tions dis­sat­is­fied with your con­trol.

For all its scale, Stel­laris wants to be a hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. From the off, you’re as­signed a sci­en­tist work­ing in one of three de­part­ments: physics, en­gi­neer­ing and so­ci­ety. This is a char­ac­ter around which to frame your tales of mis­ad­ven­ture – they’re named, have per­sonal traits, will im­prove then grow old, and fi­nally check out to be re­placed by an ea­ger but less ex­pe­ri­enced seeker af­ter knowl­edge. Sci­en­tists are your agents in

Stel­laris, ad­ven­tur­ing, re­search­ing and tempt­ing fate on your be­half. Their pri­mary func­tion and your first small step will be to scan nearby plan­ets for knowl­edge and re­sources, and Stel­laris shines when their hy­pothe­ses are hor­ri­bly wrong.

“Some­times, when you’re sur­vey­ing, you find var­i­ous anom­alies,” Fåhraeus ex­plains. “‘At­mo­spheric pro­jec­tions from New Luna do not match sim­u­lated pro­jec­tions.’ If your sci­en­tist isn’t up to the task, there’s a chance they can fail, some­times cat­a­stroph­i­cally. So if it’s an as­ter­oid I’m re­search­ing, I could knock it out of or­bit, and put it on a tra­jec­tory to hit my home planet and kill ev­ery­one.”

These anom­alies are the shards of an emer­gent galac­tic nar­ra­tive – ten­drils of cen­tral mys­ter­ies such as the ori­gin of life or the source of the un­scripted space no­mads that bum­bled through our demon­stra­tion. And depend­ing whether the dis­cov­erer is a laser ex­pert or foren­sic ar­chae­ol­o­gist, the out­come mu­tates. Much of this is han­dled through mul­ti­ple-choice event pop­ups, but the Sit­u­a­tion Log will track the progress of your ef­forts to re­solve big ques­tions. What ap­pear as frag­mented events re­veal them­selves to be a be­spoke story arc that may only ever be un­cov­ered once. The sen­sa­tion that you might stum­ble, un­bid­den, upon the se­crets of the uni­verse or your species’ history is the tan­ta­lis­ing on­ward tug Kirk must have felt.

“There’s very lit­tle ex­po­si­tion,” Fåhraeus says. “We have a lit­tle ad­vi­sor sys­tem in the game, who will com­ment on things that have hap­pened, but he won’t be a nar­ra­tor. If you re­gard the anom­alies as you travel around as sid­e­quests, the main quest will be one of these back­sto­ries that we have cre­ated for the gal­axy this time around.”

Both 4X tech trees and grand strat­egy de­vel­op­ment time­lines are ab­sent, the march of tech­nol­ogy now ap­ing the wild leaps and un­ex­pected leads of the real thing. Fåhraeus de­scribes the pos­si­ble re­search sub­jects as be­ing drawn from a deck of cards stacked ac­cord­ing to a re­searcher’s at­tributes. If your physi­cist, say, lost his mind a lit­tle while con­tem­plat­ing the abyss, then the odds of him whip­ping up some­thing bonkers will be ac­cord­ingly higher. No em­pire, even of the same ba­sic phys­i­ol­ogy, will fol­low your path through the stars – the sane might be mired in shield re­search while your free-thinker works on or­bital mind-con­trol lasers.

Fed­er­a­tions, em­pires, galac­tic crises, and prim­i­tive species: all are here for the tin­ker­ing in a ban­quet of sci-fi cliché. Ev­ery con­ceiv­able mo­tif and plot twist must surely have been ear­marked for in­clu­sion, and yet Fåhraeus still sees his great­est chal­lenge as pro­duc­ing the va­ri­ety of events to sus­tain hun­dreds of hours of pro­ce­dural space­far­ing. Qual­ity as­sur­ance and co­her­ence seem other likely hur­dles for a game in which ex­plo­ration, nar­ra­tive, tech and diplo­macy are in­ex­tri­ca­bly bound and cooked up on the fly, but while its com­po­nent parts are gid­dy­ing day­dreams, many are present in the game’s cur­rent late-al­pha state. Plus, that ded­i­ca­tion to ran­domi­sa­tion and the brav­ery to leave the player to the whims of fate mean that, in Stel­laris, no fron­tier is truly fi­nal.

No em­pire, even of the same ba­sic phys­i­ol­ogy, will fol­low your path through the stars

Game di­rec­tor Hen­rik Fåhraeus

Alien hard­ware can be in­te­grated with your own by re­verse en­gi­neer­ing, and this is some­times the only way to ac­quire ad­vanced tech. Amoeba weapons in par­tic­u­lar are be­ing touted as a gooey de­light

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