Pointless Nonsense

Posted in video games by Bill on June 3, 2017

Stellaris had been on my wishlist for a while, but the price hadn’t dropped below about $25, but then Humble Monthly offered it for free in exchange for signing up for their thing. So $12 for this and whatever appears in their June bundle. It’s somewhere between a 4x (Civ) game and a grand strategy (Crusader Kings), which means it’s really detailed gameplay and takes a while to figure out what you’re doing. After my last attempt at playing a non-Civ 4x game, I decided I’d only try one again if the theme was really appealing, because otherwise I don’t think I have the patience to learn the system. Civ had the advantage of starting off relatively simple, and becoming more complex with each iteration, but building on existing gameplay (I probably would have hated learning Civ VI from scratch, but since it build on what I already knew from Civ II-V, it all still felt fairly familiar). This being space/future/alien based, I figured that’s more up my alley than history or fantasy, and I’d heard good things about it.

It doesn’t have a tutorial per se, though I think these kinds of games really should. Instead, if you let it, tooltips pop up constantly to try to guide you. It’s a little annoying in that it tells you “you should do X,” but not a lot of explanation why, or alternatives. So a lot of the decisions I’m making, I have no real idea what the consequences are. Also combat is a bit of a mystery, and even googling for advice isn’t that helpful (it appears to change quite a bit between versions, and every forum thread on the topic seems to devolve into people arguing over why the other person’s combat strategy is stupid).

Probably as a really good sign for my enjoyment of the game, I got about 3 hours in, realized I’d made some mistakes (I didn’t see the resource cost for terrain clearing and bankrupted myself trying to make my home planet look nice), started over, then got about 9 hours in the second time through, got annihilated by the second alien contact I made (I think I lacked weapon diversity, there’s kind of a rock/paper/scissors thing with weapon types and defense types), obsessively read some strategy guides, and 30 hours into game 3, I have a thriving interstellar empire and I’m too hooked to make much progress in this season of House of Cards.

It has a few interesting things that differentiate it from “Civ in Space”:

  • It encourages you to play in “Ironman mode” (a single encrypted savefile, no manual saving, so there’s no going back to fix your mistakes, or saving then trying something risky then re-loading if  it goes awry… I’m sure there’s a way around it, but they make it too much trouble to bother) by disabling steam achievements if you play without it. So you live with your mistakes, and have to accept the consequences of any risks you take.
  • Individual leaders. I hire scientists to do research/map the galaxy, politicians to run cities/sectors, and admirals to lead my navy. They gain experience and new abilities, then they get old and die and I have to hire new ones.
  • There are story-based questlines. Early in the game, I find an ancient civilization that died off but uploaded their minds before they went, lacking the technology to do anything useful with their minds, they just made sure the data was secure and hoped someone might find it later. You could analyze the data for a research boost or continue preserving it, and I chose the later. When I eventually developed the appropriate tech, I was able to put their minds into robots and gain new population. Or I found a race of gaseous people on a gas giant planet who needed transportation to a new home, and that gave the new home a big research bonus. Then they kept asking me for favors, which so far has worked out well for more bonuses. But there’s quality flavor text to go along with it, and in certain situations I might doubt the quest-giver’s motives and not go along with it. Kinda nifty.
  • There is an endgame “crisis,” where something happens like invaders from another dimension, but apparently there are lots of in-game paths that can lead to a crisis. I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m 90 game years into this, and I hear by year 250 you should have had a crisis. So this game is ludicrously long for one you’d expect to play through multiple times.
  • There’s not a tech tree exactly. You have three fields of research: physics, engineering, and society (which includes biology and some other stuff). You have one project going in each field, with a scientist dedicated to each. When you complete a project, you get 3 new options. If you don’t pick one, it may not show back up again. Some choices open up paths, so like if you choose  not to research robots, you won’t get other robot-related techs to choose from later on. I think I took to broad an approach this time, opening up lots of trees, which might make it harder to get deeper into research late in the game. But who knows?

The game is not without its bugs. I was approached by a nomadic species to purchase some of their spare ships, which would have represented a huge upgrade for my fleet. I accepted their offer, paid them most of my store of resources, and they said “so bet it” and never delivered the ships. Googling it, this is a known bug, but when it works right the ships are awesome at the stage of the game I’m in, and the advice was that if you get them early, pick a fight with your strongest neighbor, because you’ll kick their asses. So that’s frustrating that I missed out on that.

Still, I’m enjoying both figuring out the strategy and the little side story things. I’m sure after 5 or so playthroughs, I’ll start getting repeat questlines, but since that’s like 100+ hours, that’s nothing to be bothered by.



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