For a more in-depth critique of Paradox Interactive’s latest grand strategy game Stellaris, check out our. Below is a glimpse behind the intergalactic velvet rope at a friendly space nomad’s journey into the game’s at times ruthless but highly entertaining multiplayer mode.
I came in peace. Or so I thought.
Stellaris, as I’m sure many of you are aware, is Paradox Interactive’s latest 4X grand strategy game that’s out today. Last week, I spent two days embedded in its wide-reaching space-flung playground alongside 20 other journalists, each of whom shared a common goal: to capture the universe as their own.
Before anyone had the chance to do that, though, before being set loose into the 1000 star-boasting macrocosm which we’d call home for the next 48 hours, game director Henrik Fåhraeus gave us a short briefing on what to expect. He spoke of how most other 4X games available today - Paradox’s back catalogue included - have a tendency to neglect the exploration paradigm of the quad-tiered genre, thus Stellaris aims to place greater onus on investigating your surroundings in your journey to success.
Fåhraeus pointed out that he and his team’s previous ventures - the likes of Crusader Kings, Victoria and Europa Universalis - have tended towards more realistic interpretations of historical eras, therefore placing expedition at the heart of space trip 200 years into a fictitious future makes better sense this time round.
Paradox Interactive have done it again, another wonderful grand strategy title that's surely going to end up on our list of.
I’d later test this theory out in my own game, especially after AI lead Martin Anward - who’d go on to head up the Blorg Commonality in-game, a nation you might have spotted in the recent Stellaris dev diaries - suggested we devise a plan of action early on, but that day one of play would incorporate a non-aggression pact between human players. AI-controlled factions were fair game, we were told, but those set on conquering the cosmos would have to wait until day two to do so. In theory, then, playing as a pacifist was as feasible as playing as a bloodthirsty coloniser, and as a keen but relatively new fan of the grand strategy genre I was eager to apply the seemingly far-fetched former option in order to steer my end-game in an otherwise new direction.
As I say, I came in peace.
Celtic Octopus was duly formed, a peaceful fungoid race who wanted nothing more than to be friends with the universe. As their omnipresent overseer, I ensured a xenophile, fanatic pacifist government was instilled - one that placed peace, exploration and democracy ahead of war - that employed a small fleet of military support for practical purposes, in the unlikely event that another nation would feel obliged to invade our bloodless borders. More on that later, though, as I suspect you’ve already guessed.
Day one saw me closely heed Fåhraeus’ advice as I sent my science vessels on consecutive reconnaissance missions to and from foreign stars and planets, reporting back with handy information - such as which galaxies housed high mineral counts or the lowdown on neighbouring alien species.
I expanded, spreading the green and white colours of our nation further and further afield from our native Adanir planet. I built research stations, and mined energy to sustain our economy; I learned new technologies and sent pioneering colony ships from the homeland to plant our flag in new worlds light years yonder. I negotiated where possible, retreated when outnumbered, and overcame one poor opposing fleet when they just wouldn’t leave one of my construction vessels be. I instantly regretted it; this wasn’t representative of the Celtic Octopus way. No, sir/ma’am/galactic fungoid.
Proceedings came to a close on the first day’s session and I felt good about our progress - we’d tentatively harvested bucket-loads of minerals and were friends with our neighbours. Others in the room had jumped into bed with one another, formed alliances and battled computer-controlled enemy hordes in fierce and bloody engagements. Yet it was so far, so peaceful for our empire as planned. How naive we were.
That evening, while holed up in the hotel bar recounting the day’s events, things started to get interesting. Anward announced that day two would bring with it not just the conclusion of the human conflict amnesty, but also the formation of two federations: The New Space Party and The Possibly Aggression Pact. Federations, an extension of Stellaris’ cooperative alliances, grant allies access to the leader’s tech making them temporarily more powerful, thus it became immediately clear intergalactic war was all but inevitable the following day. Anward’s Blorg Commonality headed up the former crew, while The Tentacular Triumph empire to the north hosted the latter, renaming it the Tentacle Porn Federation.
Trash talk ensued, mini-deals were brokered and reneged upon, bets were placed. But our empire remained neutral. For now.
The jovial atmosphere that had filled the room during the first session was gone come day two. Things were tense, war was on the horizon, and the last uncommitted nations picked sides. To our west lay the Blorg Commonality and to the south the Transhuman Union - both members of The New Space Party. Should we remain independent? The fog of war had begun to cloud my judgement. Although light on offensive services, we had an abundance of energy cells and minerals to offer. Our land could act as a refuge or a breathing space or secondary camp for those passing through to plan surprise attacks and - is this a good idea?
Suddenly an invitation came through: we’d been asked to join the Tentacle Porn Federation and I was almost immediately swayed by the fact they’d already signed up Monica and Rachel’s Apartment - an empire northeast of us who, besides having an ultra-cool name, had gained a strong foothold on the map and showed little signs of slowing down. I got excited. I signed.
I got invaded. Obviously.
In full-blown war, we’d passed the point of vassalising - where neighbouring empires are allowed to operate semi-autonomously under the invading nation’s banner without a say in major political and economic undertakings - thus my planets, colonies, spaceports, research stations, mining plants, our minnow fleet, our pride, and our morals were instead completely overthrown in the blink of an eye. Had it not been for one smart science vessel and one construction ship that managed to hide by hightailing it to the far corner of our galaxy, the sun would’ve set on Celtic Octopus there and then.
Eventually, the Tentacle Porn Federation fell to The New Space Party and peace was finally restored to the universe.
Stellaris is currently available onwhere it's priced at 10% off at £29.74. It's launching fully at 5pm BST.