The bone-dry sci-fi of Stellaris, a game that doesn't even work


The central concept in Stellaris — that a galactic emperor isn’t a god — doesn’t work. It’s a concept Paradox has explored to great effect, especially with Crusader Kings and Victoria (minus the galactic part, of course). Some things are outside the control of a ruler. He does not get to tell each point of population which tile to harvest. He does not get to gobble up territory indiscriminately. He does not get to move sliders willy-nilly. History, Paradox’s favorite subject, is not a strategy game. It is an exercise in limitations. It is about people trying to hold power against the demands of social unrest, religious freedom, petty rivalries, Popes, capitalists, natives making a fuss about self-determination, evolving political philosophies, progress, entropy. To their immense credit, Paradox’s strategy games are the same thing. They are among my favorite historical essays.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


I can't say I was expecting the UI issues or heavy (and as usual, terrible) automation you object to, but from the very first announcement I've been expecting Stellaris to be dry as dust because you just can't hand the worldbuilding and narrative context off to a computer to randomly generate and expect to get anything memorable or interesting out of it.


Since before the game came out, I've been watching Let's Plays and reading forum posts to try to decide whether to budget the time into learning and grokking this game. My overwhelming sense is that fellow Paradox fans (and I am a fan of theirs) are desperately trying to talk themselves into not admitting that this game simply isn't very enjoyable. Most of the reaction I've seen has been the dog in the fiery Stellaris house. "This is fine."


"One of Stellaris’ really cool concepts is that fleets in space incur a massive financial and material cost."

Holy. Shit.

The more I play Stellaris, the less I like it, and it's not a great sign that every review that agrees with me has a totally different reason for disliking the game. Mine is the fact that military power is impenetrable. So this empire has an "equivalent" military strength compared to me? Well why are its fleets significantly larger and more powerful? Why does my somewhat superior-seeming fleet die so easily to them? Am I supposed to have more than one fleet? Because I can only afford one.

Nevermind the many other little issues that get in the way and suck the fun out.


I admit...i have been trying to like this game......guess i should just preorder Hearts of Iron!!!


This game is so utterly without creative substance that I had to start making my own.


Nice review Tom. That's Shepard by the way, not Shepherd. But maybe you know that, or that's the theology student talking. :)


I cry for the harshness, but understand it, atleast Paradox knows now not to rest on their laurels.


I still don't have a lot of time in the game yet, but your review matches up with my fears. There just isn't a lot of interesting things to do.


+1 Tom, except combat I found horrid. Just numbers in a blob beating lesser numbers in a smaller blob. Another huge disappointment.


Actually the combat is garbage. It may look pretty but its terrible. Build only corvettes, use the highest tier defensive AI computer you can, max out thrusters. Take any modules that boost evasion. Win. You never even need to upgrade your weapons. Literally the only fun part of Stellaris is breaking it. Taking a certain number of choices lets you use a single planet to generate 1200 pop every 10 years and move it anywhere that has a planetary administration for 1 influence. For clarity, after you've played for 50 years you now have a single planet that can generate 12000 pop in a mere 100 years. You are now all powerful. Sadly this removes your ability to min-max research but its still a good trade. You should consider modding the planet cap to 999 and ignoring sectors if you are desperate to enjoy Stellaris.


A lot of them are banking on potential. "Paradox's games always shine with DLC" and "Paradox has never let a game go unsupported" are already tired refrains, conveniently forgetting to mention Sengoku and March of the Eagles.

There is probably a combination of DLC mini-expansions that could make Stellaris more than intermittently fun, but that's definitely not the game on release. Right now, it's a handful of great ideas tied together by a spreadsheet with a penchant for randomly generating values.


The AI is really atrocious. I have to imagine the same AI that is used for sector control is the same all the AI opponents use. They both horribly mismanage tile resources (despite whatever settings you make). Also I don't know how many times I've conquered an AI planet with a full population and buildings to see how badly they utilize planet resources. Some other random musings:

How inconsequential land combat and techs are. Why can't I glass a planet? You mentioned clicking on a fleet that takes you into planet view, how about clicking on a construction complete notification (that doesn't even indicate what was built) that takes into planet view?! Diplomacy is almost nonexistent. Zero espionage. No trade routes or interstellar/interplanet trade that generates money. No automated planet survey. No automated build mining stations etc.

The staunch Paradox Plaza detractors always accuse them of releasing broken DLC selling platforms. I honestly never believed that to be true until now. The game certainly has a base to be built around and improved, which could even become a great game. But why it was released in it's current form is inexplicable to me. PP isn't the 'little engine that could' anymore, the one that needs to release a game for revenue. So much of this game screams 'release it now, we'll fix it later'. IMO the game looks to need at least another year of development and testing to have become a complete game.


Sadly, while I was always drawn to Paradox games, their way of dealing with AI shortcomings in other players was to have them out produce you SIGNIFICANTLY while then running their units back and forth from one side of the AI empire to another in an attempt to balance the AI versus AI interactions. It seems the AI can battle each other just fine because they all act indifferent toward each other. If you could reveal the map on all the Human/AI shared borders, you would think they were all expecting you to attack them constantly - even if you negotiate treaties and such.

I had just picked up Stellaris the other day - too bad I didn't see this review before that :) I should have known better, but they did a good sell on the graphics and concept...


Or you just suck at the game?


I actually adore the personality system of Stellaris, even if only for the fact that it breaks the sci-fi mold.

Because let's take a look at let's say the Zerg. An endless sawrm of hungry bugs trying to absorb all organic life. What are the Tyranids of WH40k fame? Right, a sawrm of bugs that wants to absorb all organic life? The Cravers from Endless Space? Yep, bugs eating all organic life.

Meanwhile, your first contact in Stellaris may be a race of gigantic space-Mantisses. Your warships pre-heat their weapons, for your crew knows through decades of stagnant sci-fi that bugs ,mean trouble. But after establishing communication it quickly is revealed that those fearsome bugs are actually a democratic nation looking for allies.

On the other hand, you can run into cute little space foxes that only seek to exterminate all non-fox life in the galaxy. Heck, once I even ran into a Human Fallen Empire, which absolutely shattered the space 4X trope of humanity being new to the stars and being adaptive and whatnot (because most developers are humans), while these guys were a stagnnant, monolithic society of tech hoarders, that had "beaten the game" millenia ago, now having little but thinly veiled contempt for all the younger races falling over their feet trying to control the cosmos.

Another strength of the system is that it creates what are essentially highly unbalanced galaxies. Because let's take for example Civ V. In a large game, you due to the highly limited amount of civs (which are all mere caricatures anyway) will more often than not get a relatively balanced miy of AIs - some warmongers, some diplomats, some scientists. In Stellaris, you just might roll into a galaxy consisting of nothing but guys wanting to build federations, or a galaxy populated by nothing but what are essentialy Crusaders,

The problem is that it AI is too passive, not trying hard enough to achieve their goals. Alliances and federation should from much faster, and Zealots and Purifiers should wage far more wars.

Sectory are eh, on the one hand their AI needs a serious enhancement, at least they reliefe me from the atrocious planet micromanagement. If I am a Space Emperor, I do not care about what poweprlant is build one tile (4/5) on planet 29, or if my Corvettes use Blue Lasers or UV Lasers. I hire people that care so that I do no longer have to care.


"The design is obviously based autonomy," Is this a typo? Or is it some jargon I'm unfamiliar with?


Also, a typo I'm fairly sure of-"Did Paradox really thing Stellaris doesn’t need a minimap?".

I'm going to unethically use this opportunity to ask two questions-How did you feel about the Jak games, and can we expect a Hearts of Iron 4 review anytime close to release?


There are counters and builds for fleets that help even the odds.


I really like the game. I think it's missing stuff yea, but it's a got a good base and paradox has made vast improvements already. If you don't like it, that's fine. We all have our own opinions.