The Long Game
Progress reports on the games we just can’t quit, featuring the ever-expanding universe of Stellaris
Two years ago, Paradox’s internal studio took its first (and, so far, only) step out of real-world history, and into a rather wider universe. When
Stellaris launched, it was enthralling, but it also felt less a finished product and more a foundation upon which to build. Sure enough, it’s followed in the footsteps of its older brother Crusader Kings II, enjoying such a regular stream of updates and DLC that it’s essentially mutating into its own sequel.
It’s clear the developer holds no one part of its tangle of systems sacred. Warfare, FTL travel, politics and more have all been totally overhauled, and the game’s all the better for it. Alongside this gradual rebuilding of the game’s core has come a spread of paid expansions, adding everything from Death Star-like superstructures to swarming hive minds.
While this path would see some titles succumb to bloat and over-complexity, Stellaris thrives in every new layer of variety or detail. To call it a strategy game is almost misleading – it shares as much DNA with tabletop role-playing games as it does the average 4X, using its systems to guide the player’s imagination. It’s a sandbox for generating stories, and as such it benefits from being littered with toys.
The new MegaCorp expansion is thus another welcome addition. It allows you to run your empire as a galaxy-spanning business venture, complete with regional branches on other species’ planets. You can even opt to operate as a mafia family, sowing crime in enemy empires and reaping the rewards; or, brilliantly, a space-borne mega-church in the mould of American TV fundamentalists.
Oddly, the biggest downside of this font of fresh releases is that there’s never a right time to start a new save. Should you play now, or wait until the next DLC? Or a few weeks after that, when the inevitable balance changes and bug fixes arrive? But by then, the next stop on the roadmap will have been announced, tempting you to stall another month or two. If you’re the sort to proudly announce, on the advent of any game’s release, that you’ll be waiting for the GOTY edition, you’ll find yourself paralysed.
And if Crusader Kings II is any guide, then this is only the beginning. After six years, Paradox’s original darling is still trundling on, its latest expansion arriving in November. With that game, however, its added content has always been at least somewhat predictable, bound as it is by real-world nations and events. Stellaris’ future carries a wider potential. With nearly the complete spectrum of science-fiction to serve as inspiration, the sky – and 1,000 procedurally generated stars within it – is the limit.