Stellaris: A 13-minute video introduction

Cassius Sonoda

by Cassius Sonoda

YouTuber, blogger, PC hardware seller, and PC gamer.

Stellaris is a 4X space video game developed by Paradox Development Studio. In this YouTube video release, we provide a 13-minute introduction to the game, explaining different facets and providing tips suitable for a beginner.

Transcript:

Jump ahead:
{Introduction}
[Game objectives]
[Races]
[Game settings]
[Player interface]
[Empire management]
[Technology]
[Military]
[Random tip]


{Introduction}

>>Back to contents

Stellaris is a 4X space video game developed by Paradox Interactive.  This is the Paradox of Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron fame.  For Paradox who evidently specialise in grand strategy, Stellaris marks an exciting departure from historical to a sci-fi setting.

Overall, Stellaris is a fantastic game for sci-fi and 4X lovers.  The game presents many futuristic scenarios including the advent of ftl travel, first contact, galactic diplomacy, terraforming, and an era defined by genetic enhancements, xeno zoos, and the eclipsing of human labour and ingenuity by synthetics.

Similarities have prompted many comparisons to the older title, Sins of a Solar Empire.  However, it should be noted that Stellaris has more of a grand strategy emphasis whereas Sins of a Solar Empire emphasised combat.


[Game objectives]

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As is true of any 4X game, the aim of the game is to explore, exploit resources, expand and eliminate rival empires.  There are different kinds of ships in the game which facilitate each of these goals.

Exploration is achieved by science vessels, which periodically make fortuitous discoveries as they survey celestial bodies.  These discoveries, if followed up on, may grant various rewards to the player including resources, research points, and planetary modifiers, or they may even trigger special events.  A beginner’s tip is to break up your starting navy fleet and send them in various directions to reveal any habitable planets in your galactic neighbourhood.  You can then know where focus the efforts of your science vessels.

Exploitation of natural resources is achieved on the surface of settled worlds as well as through off-world mining.  Orbital research stations generate science points.  A construction ship will allow you to harness off-world resources.

Expanding is achieved ultimately by dispatching a colony ship to a candidate world.  During this period, you’ll be slapped with a massive energy bill to cover the costs of the expedition and colonization project.  But once settled, the colony becomes self-sufficient and this energy toll is lifted.

Orbital frontiers, may be used foot-in-the-door style to hold territory until you permanently settle it, or as permanent gap-fillers in regions of space lacking habitable planets.  Generally though you’ll want to minimise the use of orbital frontiers because the cost to influence becomes unacceptable very quickly.

Worlds that are not hospitable to your species may eventually be terraformed to make them so.  World types range from arctic, to arid, to tropical, to oceanic and continental.  Tomb worlds are post-apocalyptic worlds – the legacy of civilizations that have nuked themselves out of existence, while Gia worlds are paradises.

The eliminate objective is nominal in the 4x genre as you can win the game purely by peaceful means.  In Stellaris, there are 3 ways to secure a victory.  The first is by traditional military conquest which includes soft conquest in the sense of diplomatic persuasion or strong-arming to make tributaries and vassals out of conquered civs.  Secondly, you can win by owning 40% of habitable planets on the map, and thirdly, you can win by having your federation own 60% of habitable planets on the map.  In all cases, a military will be indispensable, even if they are not brought to bear directly.  Your military consists of a space navy and terrestrial armies.  Armies are needed to hold and take over planets while navies assert map control and facilitate army invasions by reducing planetary fortifications and preventing the defending army from healing as they slug it out with the invading army.


[Races]

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In stellaris, preset races may be chosen, or you can customise your own, based on appearance, method of space travel, government style and race traits.

Interestingly, one thing that entry into sci-fi genre allows is a measure of historical detachment and removal, allowing for historically un-PC options like slavery and purging.  Indeed, the polar dimension of xenophobia and xenophilia is offered, based on the kind of regard you would have for other species.


[Game settings]

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Pre-game screen.

From here, you can control the difficulty level, AI characteristics and buffs, the number of players, the rarity of habitable planets, permitted modes of space travel, and you can specify the relative spawning locations of players.

For maps, you have a choice of eliptical, ring and spiral.

Other variables include the appearance of powerful fallen empires and the occurrence of end game crises.


[Player interface]

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The game runs in real time, and the player has the ability to pause and control the speed of the game as needed.  In addition to single player mode, stellaris features a multiplayer mode which allows saving.


[Empire management]

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As you might expect for a 4X game, Stellaris is rich with facets of empire management: policies define your approach to numerous governmental affairs while edicts confer bonuses for the cost of influence.

Leaders may be appointed to enable science vessels, or provide various bonuses to government, research and military strength.

There are separate tabs for planatary overview, planetary tile management, and army and space navy production.

A situation log helps you to keep tabs on researchable anomalies.

Contacts, technology, leader and ship design screens are other highly visited areas of the player interface.

A tradition screen allows you to spend unity points to further your progression along different tradition trees and accumulate various bonuses.

In games, two levels of player engagement are often contrasted with each other.  The first is the macro game, describing the big-picture activities, such as resource-gathering, government, building and production.  The second is the mIcro game, which is all about the fine-tuned control of units locally.  Requiring manual dexterity and emphasising reaction time and split-second decisions, micro is about fast-paced action and reflexes.  To be honest, there is very little to no micro involved in Stellaris.  This is what makes it grand strategy and sets it apart from other games.

A peculiar aspect of the Stellaris macro game is a system of government which limits your direct control over parts of your dominion.

Stellaris’ solution to the ever growing cognitive load of macromanagement as your empire grows, is the sector system.  After you reach the core number of planets that you are allowed to have under your direct control, you will start to suffer influence and energy penalties.  The way to stay under the cap is to delegate systems to semi-autonomous sectors controlled by AI on your behalf.  You may still collect resources from sectors in the form of adjustable tax, or manually syphon off 75% of their resource stockpiles at the cost of influence.  Generally, systems under AI sector management underperform, and there is an advantage in controlling sectors directly.

As your bureaucracy becomes more efficient through the study of government, your core systems cap is able to be increased and you can reclaim full control of systems as the game progresses.  Unlocking one of the so-called ascension perks raises your core systems cap by +5.


[Technology]

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Stellaris features a 3-track tech system which adheres to an underlying tech tree.  The 3 tracks are physics, society and engineering.

Ship techs are conveyed by the engineering and physics tracks, while government, military, biological and terraforming techs are all lumped together into the societal track.

One of the features lacking in-game is the visualisation of the tech tree for planning and strategic purposes.

For this you would have to go online where you can find user-generated tech trees.

I recommend this java-script-based tech tree which allows searching by Ctrl-F in a browser.  Link in the description.

The Stellaris tech tree can be described as vertically very broad but horizontally shallow, when compared to something like the tech trees of Sid Meier’s Civilizations.

Progressive refinements of physics and engineering techs are designated I, II, III, etc. in roman numerals.

Players are presented with a random subset of all the possible options at any given time although additional options may be unlocked through anomalies or events, or by salvaging space debris.

Selecting the technocracy civic at the start of the game persistently grants 1 additional research option every time you are presented with the options.

The only exclusive tech category is psionic, and is really only notable for unlocking powerful psionic armies and jump drives.  While the jump drive becomes eventually available to everyone, the psionic jump drive has +50% range.

Research in each of the 3 tracks is overseen by a scientist, without which a speed penalty is applied.  On the other hand, if the presiding scientist’s expertise matches the active research programme, then a speed bonus is applied.


[Resources]

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Resources are harvested either by working planetary tiles or mining celestial bodies.

Energy is needed to sustain the empires’ facilities and military, while minerals are required to build them.  Terraforming costs large amounts of energy.

A unique political resource know as influence can be gained through declaring rivalries, fulfilling election mandates, or satisfying faction demands.  Influence is required to establish colonies and recruit leaders, as well as pay for edicts.

Unity is another resource which allows you to gradually unlock bonus trees, eventually culminating in the unlocking of powerful ascension perks.

Strategic resources give you various empire bonuses, empower your ships, or facilitate terraforming.


[Military]

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The military is divided into two arms: a navy, and army.  Navy combat is richly visualised while army combat is simulated by icons and health bars. Army combat only occurs when an invading force lands on a planet.

There are only 4 classes of ships in this game, and no race-unique ships or weapons.  Diversity in the appearance of ships, based on biological classes such as mammalian, plantoid, and reptilian, are purely cosmetic.

There is a modular system for customising your ships, consisting of weapons, shields, armour, hangers, power generators, propulsion systems, and combat computers.

There are 3 weapon types each with their own defensive counters.  Shields counter lasers, armour counters kinetic projectiles and point defence counters missiles.


[Random tip]

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Did you know that sometimes you will find yourself stranded in enemy territory after a war is -over, because you are immediately denied passage back?  This seems a bit silly.  In any case, the little-known solution is to force a return by clicking on the corresponding button in the fleet tab.  You will be prompted to go MIA – that’s missing in action – and your ship will jump into the void and go missing for certain amount of time before returning safely back home, if a little shaken.∎

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