Paradox, which in recent years has become the publisher of choice for many independent strategy game developers, has put out sci-fi strategy games before, most notably Sword of the Stars. What sets this new game apart is the fact Paradox is also the developer. The same minds who worked on Europa Universalis IV, one of the most beloved strategy games to come out this decade, will be working on Stellaris. The game even uses the same engine.
But it’s not just pedigree that makes this game exciting. Epic sci-fi strategy games have felt a bit stagnant as of late, despite a blossoming of new titles like Galactic Civilizations 3 and Endless Space. Games in the genre tend to follow and all too familiar expand-research-destroy pattern, which actually goes against the grain of many tropes in science fiction. Star Trek’s Federation didn’t launch itself into the galaxy with the intent of conquering all known life, yet many space-spanning strategy titles encourage just that.
Stellaris will certainly include war, and plenty of it. But, as you might expect from the Europa Universalis developers, the game will have a heavy focus on intergalactic politics and discovery. To encourage a sense of discovery, races will be randomly generated from a massive list of traits and behaviors, each of which will impact how the race interacts with the players. The galaxy will also be randomly generated, as well, and absolutely massive.
The game’s “advanced diplomacy system” will let you able to form the usual trade pacts and alliances, but there’s another, more interesting option: federations. Far deeper than alliances, a federation gives the elected president (which can be either you, or the AI) a degree of control over the entire federation’s foreign policy and fleet. Play politics well, and you could find yourself commanding the force of several civilizations. Play it poorly, and you could come under the will of another power.
Paradox also plans to fulfill the discovery aspect of classic sci-fi through a research system that features “hero” units — important sci-fi ships that you send out to discover strange new worlds. They’ll bounce between planets and anomalies, surveying them to learn more about the weirdness of the universe. The knowledge you gain doesn’t fit into a tech tree, either. Instead, a breakthrough will let players choose between random tech “cards” that are influenced by your civilization’s ethics and past discoveries.
All of that sounds good, but what about the endgame? Many strategy titles reach a point where the player dominates, but victory conditions haven’t been fulfilled. Boredom results. Paradox plans to combat that with new threats that can challenge even the most powerful empires. The incredible AI that made your ships unbeatable? Perhaps it rebels. Or perhaps a scientist you lost in the early game returns, twisted, full of dark knowledge and ready to lead your enemies. Paradox seems to believe a final, climatic threat is the key to a memorable end.
Excited? You’re not alone. Unfortunately, the game is currently still in early development. There’s no release date and plenty of risk, because while these ideas seem great on paper, they’ll undoubtedly be complex to implement. In fact, many of these same promises have been made to fans of genre before. What’s different, this time, is Paradox’s prestige — with the possible exception of Distant Worlds, the company’s in-house strategy games are among the most complex and successful ever created.
Let’s hope Stellaris will be another hit in Paradox’s stable. And if you’re particularly anxious, you can follow the game’s Steam page for the inevitable Early Access offer, or head to the official website.