Editorial: Stellaris, Paradox, and the Future

Stellaris is a grand strategy game developed and published by Paradox Interactive. Paradox are notable for developing a range of strategy games in the past, some of which can even have saved games move between them as they fall into sequential historical ages. Stellaris is the first by the company to be set in the future, and it brings with it a unique set of challenges.

The main focus of this editorial will be about Stellaris, but I want to take a while to look at came before it, and how they connect together. First up is Crusader Kings II which takes place near the end of the Dark Ages in 1066. Players take control of a lord who controls land in Europe and attempts to grow their domain without it falling apart. There is also a fair amount of political happenings going on to keep players coming back for different stories each game. Released in February 2012, the game is still getting expansions this year.

A bit too much like Game of Thrones if you ask me.
About as far away from Stellaris as you can get.

Should a player continue a campaign of CKII to the year 1453, the game will come to an end. This is where Europa Universalis VI takes over, and tasks player with controlling a nation Through the Late Middle Ages and beyond. The gameplay requires the player to balance military, diplomacy, and economy whilst dealing with random events that crop up during a game. Saves from CKII can be used to begin a game of EUVI thanks to offical mods for the game that will preserve much of the world state in the transfer. When the games end in 1821, that is when things get a little tricky.

Victoria II covers the timeframe from 1836 to 1936, but predates both CKII and EUVI, and as such requires a fan-made mod to convert saves into it from EUVI. Whilst combat is a part of the game, it has less of a focus than others from Paradox and instead politics and economics take a center role. As Victoria II is currently the oldest game from Paradox (of those that are mentioned in this editorial), it is also the one that most often asked for by fans of the company. This brings us to the final historical game, Hearts of Iron VI.

A fun era, but one that is sadly gone. On to the future!
Vanilla Stellaris with borders that grow over time.

HoIVI is set during World War II and is also the most recent of the four games so far. Again, there is a fan mod to create a scenario from a Victoria II save, but it can be a little tricky to get the desired results out of it. Players can choose one of three different ideologies; Democracy, Fascism, Communism, or stay Non-Aligned. The player of the game has to deal with their country’s research, diplomacy, construction, production, trade, and have the job of commanding and recruiting their troops at a tactical level over a map of Europe.

Fast forward to the year 2200. This is where Stellaris takes over. The shares many features with others from Paradox and is also played out in real-time like the rest. The main departure comes from the fact that the map is on a galactic scale rather than a mere planet or solar system, and plays out much like Civilization in how the player must manage armies and research. I first encountered Stellaris shortly after it was released and put many of my hours into it. The game can be quite tough in the beginning as CPUs will declare war quickly if they have a decisive advantage. My favourite way to play was by turning off every other opponent so that I could built up an empire with having to worry about the threat of war. End game crises soon made me realise that this way of playing was unrealistic.

Like the rest of the games mentioned here, Stellaris has had several major expansions that tweak the way the game works. The first was Leviathans which added powerful space creature to guard special planets. The second was Utopia with buildable megastructures and new options for creating hive-mind races. Synthetic Dawn expanded this latter feature further by adding robot races into the game. Apocalypse was by far the most radical change the game had see to date, as it not only added super weapons capable of destroying planets, it also changed up the way players controlled territory in the galaxy. Distant Stars added many new events to the game and a cluster of stars outside of the main cluster that required special attention to reach.

Mind control lasers are also available.
Planetary destruction as seen in the Apocalypse expansion for Stellaris.

This brings us to the upcoming expansion, Megacorp, and possibly the reason I will be picking Stellaris back up again after several months. Currently planets have ten to twenty-five tiles on which the player can place structures. These tiles usually have some kind of resource that benefits certain buildings. Having these resource titles can lead players into feeling like they have to build the relevant structures on a planet or else they are not receiving all the benefits they could. Megacorp keeps the planet size, but does away with the tile system. In its place are districts.

Whilst on the surface districts can seem similar, as the resources on a planet are now deposits, and players get a bonus to districts that use theses. Explore a little deeper and one finds the real changes. Research building no longer use up space and are instead build in slots that are unlocked through generating infrastructure. Different districts provide different infrastructure amounts, and one can blanket a planet in cities and research labs for massive bonuses.

The changes make it easier to play in a ‘tall’ style where one builds heavily on relatively few planets rather than ‘expansive’ where they would try and hold many. This also leads to a new type of government in the game, the titular megacorp which works best under a ‘tall’ play style.

Altogether the upcoming changes mean that Paradox will be getting my money (again) and I’ll dive back into Stellaris again. I just hope they have not over complicated everything by adding in too many new mechanics to the game.


  1. I recall watching you play Stellaris! Slightly. There was space.

  2. @Lusipurr: The expansions keep me coming back. I’m not sure if the price I pay is worth the time I spend on release, but unlike MMOs, the xpac features are still in use during plays with new xpacs.

  3. It just seems very, very, very process-based (which may be why you play it).

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