Serenity and wonder fill my ears when I first open Stellaris. Pulling from the same lived-in future aesthetic of games like Mass Effect, Stellaris opens with an invitation. It wants you to explore, it wants you learn, to unearth secrets your galaxy has held for millennia. As I do, astral outlines and nebulae dot my galactic map. Carved out into large chunks are the cosmos’ remaining empires. The Kalaxenen Order. The Sibulan Core Worlds. The Bruggan Consciousness. And my own nascent superpower–the Reaper Commonwealth.
We’d coexisted with our neighbors peacefully for centuries, but we were out of space and desperate for some breathing room. Our scientists yearned to comb through the rest of the galaxy’s hyperspace lanes and long-forgotten ruins. And our priests were compelled to spread the will of the divine. So the galaxy erupted in war.
War always seemed to follow me in Stellaris. That’s partly because it’s hard to expand indefinitely without frustrating someone, but also because there’s a few hitches hiding within the layers of Paradox Interactive’s latest grand strategy game.
If you’ve ever played Civilization or any of its 4X descendants, you’ll be familiar with Stellaris’ basics. You helm a new civilization at the start of its journey. You can choose how they’ll govern, what their guiding principles are, and how they’ll develop technologically. If you choose to play alone, each of your opponents will have a randomly generated set of traits all their own- ranging from despotic fantastical pacifists to xenophobic materialists. Human players are just as likely to come up with creative personality combinations too. When you start a match, you’re dipping your toes into an ocean of possibilities, eager to yield as your people explore and grow.