The Long Game

EDGE - - SECTIONS - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Para­dox In­ter­ac­tive For­mat PC Re­lease 2016

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.

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