Paradox blows up the universe and starts over.
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