Review: Stellaris: Apocalypse

Sometimes a developer will deviate from their usual path, taking the meat of what makes their games and fiddling with it in different ways to create something entirely new. One such game is Stellaris from Paradox Development Studio, released on May 9, 2016 to widely positive reviews. It was a different sort of game from Paradox, being known for historical real-time strategy games or famously Crusader Kings II which garnered notably popular attention. Here was Stellaris, though, the proud new game from Paradox. Stellaris was about as Science Fiction as could be, deviating entirely from history or accuracy, blazing its own trail through the stars where it would find an avid fan base, while only getting better and sticking to the 4X grand strategy fans of Paradox felt familiar with.

Through the less than two years since Stellaris’ debut, it has gained many additions, from Species Packs, to Story Packs like Synthetic Dawn, to full expansions and most recently, Stellaris: Apocalypse. Each addition bringing a new unique flavor to Stellaris that was just the right touch. Stellaris had a thirst for hard sci-fi with story cues that will make any sci-fi nerd geek while exploring the universe growing ones’ empire or democracy. Games of Stellaris embraced certain political aspects that other Paradox games didn’t, which unfortunately left other areas lacking. After just a few months many of Stellaris flaws would begin to show, but it would prove neither a deterrent for fans or Paradox. With the steady flow of content that only added to a rich sci-fi game, it kept Stellaris alive and well. Stellaris: Apocalypse proves no different, adding significant changes that drastically improve certain areas of the game and adding new tech with story flavor that Stellaris fans love.

The most notable change with Stellaris: Apocalypse is the war system. Base Stellaris leading up to this point had a war system that was lackluster and pointless. Wars waged in Stellaris didn’t amount to much; while the political stakes were high, it felt more like apes throwing rocks with no reason to do so other than they can when it came time to go head-to-head with a neighboring territory. Stellaris: Apocalypse with accompanying patch 2.0.2 fixed this entirely. The war system has gotten turned inside out, made into something functional that makes sense for the 4x grand strategy game Stellaris is. It might have taken a moment to get here, but a key piece has fallen in place with Stellaris: Apocalypse.

The way war now works in Stellaris is simply intuitive. Instead of insulting or just generally being mean to certain neighbors in the galactic neighborhood, war now must have meaning. This involves things like maintaining certain political aspects while spreading through the stars to claims which are entirely new with Stellaris: Apocalypse. When Claiming, it involves outright stating to the opposing NPC/PC that a certain star system belongs to you, even if it is not in ones’ immediate border territory. It’s a nasty way to play war, but fuels the flames to get the drums of war started.

This can also cause problems where they otherwise might not be found. Example: if running a truly diplomatic society when coming up against opponents that are Despondent Slavers, what does one do? Obviously, liberation, but this means maybe going against a part of ones’ society that have become pacifist due to certain spiritualist beliefs that have garnered attention. Does one risk part of their society breaking off to free a planet enslaved? Will this start a chain of events that leads to even larger galactic warfare? Stellaris has always asked the tough questions of its players and the stakes feel higher when waging war with the new war system. It makes the player ask why am I doing this and is it worth it?

While this hefty overhaul to the war system significantly improves many elements of the game, Stellaris: Apocalypse hasn’t managed to fix a certain problem from the beginning. When booting up a new game of Stellaris it’s known that it will be for the long haul. The game has three speeds, but due to only going so fast, it means lots of waiting. Depending on the scale of the game times can vary, but Stellaris can drag even with the smallest of universes. The mid-game has always proved impenetrably bland. This is usually around the second century mark with most of the universe having been explored, and many anomalies tagged-and-bagged. Technological advancement will have slowed down too. While there are certain diplomatic aspects that can improve things such as Research Speed or Resource Output, they can only go so high. Even if playing a peak efficient game, Stellaris’ mid-game will feel comparatively slow to the rest. Luckily the end game has gotten spiced up in the best way.

When thinking of popular sci-fi, many will reference Star Wars and then reference the Death Star. Everyone knows the Death Star, it’s a planet destroying weapon that turned out not to be a moon. Well Stellaris: Apocalypse’s name isn’t just flashy, it has meaning, which should be obvious at this point. Yes, Stellaris: Apocalypse brings with it world destroying weapons appropriately named Colossus Class. They are as terrifying as they sound and exactly what Stellaris needed. Who doesn’t want to blow up a planet? Sure, millions of voices might cry out at once, but…OK that’s grim, but these new weapons are awesome. Maybe destroying planets isn’t your thing? Not a problem. Stellaris: Apocalypse has a bubble weapon as part of the Colossus Class. Just put the enemy planet in a giant space bubble and they’re sure to never bother you again. These additions to the weapons and ships available in Stellaris make the perfect addition to an even more improved command of not only war, but the fleets, armies and stations at ones’ disposal.

Along with the war system, the combat and capabilities of fleets, armies and stations changed entirely. Making just one more part of Stellaris efficient while fun. Naval fleets now have their own menu allowing for ease of fleet management and upgrades. It means being able to control fleets more effectively on the fly while managing any other task. The only ships that receive upgrades now are military vessels, which takes the weight off having to manage civilian ships for upgrades, including transport vessels for armies. Instead of recruiting x amount of armies’ defense/attack, now it’s based on a planet’s pop and output, easing up just one more aspect of Stellaris. Finally, the most important change to command of naval armada is setting up stations. Stations are now the line of defense for ones’ borders through Hyper Lanes, and due to everyone starting with just Hyper Lane technology, this becomes important in the early game. Paying attention to choke points, what tech is being attached to stations and where enemies are placing stations becomes crucial to the long game.

Closing Comments:

Paradox has always made fantastic strategy games and while Stellaris proved different it still found a base. That base carried it to where it is today and Paradox has delivered just one more piece of exceptional content that, more than anything, drastically improves areas of Stellaris that were weak or confusing. While the mid-game of Stellaris still proves slow, this isn’t an uncommon problem with many grand-strategy games, but it would still be nice if Stellaris could eventually find that something to fill the gap. With the revamp of war, naval combat, technological additions and managing territory, Stellaris: Apocalypse might even be a more ambitious addition than last year’s Stellaris: Utopia. Stellaris only seems to journey towards a brighter future and Stellaris: Apocalypse paves the way for it to shine.