STELLARIS

Para­dox blows up the uni­verse and starts over.

PC GAMER (US) - - EXTRA+LIFE - By Tom Hat­field

In C.J. Cher­ryh’s Down­be­low Sta­tion, Earth ex­pands to the stars by con­struct­ing a net­work of space sta­tions, and ships jump from one to an­other. The sta­tions are the glue that holds space to­gether. Stellaris’ huge 2.0 patch isn’t just named af­ter Cher­ryh, it prac­ti­cally uses her nov­els as a de­sign doc­u­ment.

Ver­sion 2.0 is bold, chang­ing fun­da­men­tal as­pects of Stellaris, and it all starts with the map. Be­fore 2.0, bor­ders were vague blobs, with em­pires lay­ing claim to sys­tems they’d never vis­ited. But what was ana­logue is now dig­i­tal: If you have a star­base in a sys­tem, you own that sys­tem. It seems sim­ple but, cou­pled with the fact hy­per­lanes are now the only way to travel be­tween sys­tems, it has a huge ef­fect on how the game plays. Travers­ing a large em­pire is much slower, for ex­am­ple, forc­ing you to split up your fleets and gives smaller em­pires a fight­ing chance of win­ning a small war be­fore the their op­po­nent’s forces can mo­bi­lize.

Wars, too, are more bi­nary. Be­fore a war be­gins you can lay claim to sys­tems, then if you oc­cupy them when the war ends, you own them. It’s sim­pler than the war goal sys­tem, but still feels fid­dlier than it needs to be, as the ‘War Phi­los­o­phy’ pol­icy for­bids the ag­gres­sive em­pires from im­pos­ing their ide­ol­ogy on oth­ers, while dis­al­low­ing peace­ful ones from mak­ing claims un­less they are at­tacked. The lat­ter is es­pe­cially rough, as the AI is re­luc­tant to at­tack un­less they have a large ad­van­tage.

It also means that those de­fence sta­tions I spent hours de­sign­ing were never en­gaged by any­thing more than a few pi­rates. Which is a shame, be­cause de­sign­ing star­bases is fun.

Stellaris 2.0’s changes are def­i­nitely for the bet­ter. Apoc­a­lypse, the paid DLC re­leased along­side it how­ever, is more dis­ap­point­ing.

Shadow of the Coloss i

Apoc­a­lypse brings the Colossi— planet-sized su­per­weapons. There’s a Death Star-style planet cracker, a mind-con­trol­ling laser, and even a paci­fist ver­sion that en­cases a planet in a shield. Ini­tially, the idea didn’t ap­peal to me, as I rarely play as the kind of su­pervil­lain who would de­ploy one, but even­tu­ally I found my­self fall­ing back on them when con­fronted with an endgame cri­sis. There’s noth­ing quite like a neu­tron sweep for clear­ing a planet of an ex­tra-ga­lac­tic world-con­sum­ing swarm. Colossi can also act as a spark to ig­nite a volatile po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion: Other em­pires feel threat­ened when you build one, and can go to war to force you into dis­man­tling it.

Ma­raud­ers are an­other ad­di­tion. They’re like a war­like ver­sion of the cu­ra­tor, artist, and mer­chant en­claves in­tro­duced in the Le­viathans DLC. They con­trol a small amount of ter­ri­tory, but pack it full of tough fleets. Ev­ery few years they raid em­pires for slaves and re­sources. They are great char­ac­ters, but they’re so cheap to pay off that I was never un­der any threat of be­ing raided.

Ma­raud­ers get more in­ter­est­ing when the Great Khan event oc­curs. It’s billed as a ‘mid-game cri­sis’, a mini ver­sion of Stellaris’s endgame. Around 100 years into the game, there’s a chance that a ma­rauder clan will ex­pand. What makes this dif­fer­ent from the ex­ist­ing crises is that it has a time limit, the Khan will die and the em­pire will ei­ther shat­ter into war­ring states or con­vert to a demo­cratic fed­er­a­tion. What makes this work is that it shakes up the es­tab­lished or­der, which has gone stale by the mid game, de­stroy­ing old em­pires and adding new ones.

There’s lots of fun stuff in Apoc­a­lypse, but it can’t help but feel un­der­whelm­ing when com­pared to the Utopia ex­pan­sion, or even the much cheaper Le­viathans DLC. Un­less you re­ally, re­ally love Death Stars, the best parts of Stellaris’s huge 2.0 makeover are free.

Stellaris 2.0’s changes are def­i­nitely for the bet­ter

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