I know, its long overdue. I know I've already covered it in passing a few times already but I've never given it the proper attention it deserves. I've either been busy at work or at school, once again my personal life has gotten in the way of my professional one and I do apologize. But I feel like now is a good time for me to get out a lot of my thoughts and feelings about the game in a coherent argument.
Now it should go without saying that Paradox hasn't made a bad game yet, and Stellaris is no exception. They ran it on the slogan of Make Space Great Again and they did just that, there's not many games in the 4X space genre that can stand up to Stellaris or even meet it on the same level. Of course like all Paradox games in the very beginning it feels remarkably empty at times but this is slowly and steadily being worked on, both by the community of fans and the developers themselves.
Now examples of this emptiness include the fact that the preset starting systems are incredibly limited, dare I even say pitiful. There is mankind's own Solar System, the Deneb System, and Random. Two presets is what we are effectively dealing with here and the name list for the Plantoids, the first DLC (cosmetic, not content) isn't even fully fleshed out in terms of content. For the Pre-FTL Plantoid societies, the name list is remarkably unfinished, with the most memorable names being Moss'Expand and having strikingly human sounding names, you look at some of the Avian or Mammalian names and the creativity and attention to detail is heartwarming to see how much attention had gone into the main game.
But as I said, this is being worked on. The community of mods has been wonderful about it, a few choice mods downloaded and all of the emptiness in the main game goes away, there are some really wonderful ideas out there. Things like a wartime demand called 'Demilitarization' in addition to the standard 'cede planet' or 'make vassal' option, something that is perfect for that alien nation that's naval capacity is that much higher than yours. Sure, vanilla Stellaris does feel empty but the excellent community of modders that Paradox Interactive has cultivated makes sure that the game doesn't have to be empty, you have near unlimited choices on what you can do. In fact, here's an article I wrote awhile back about some of the best mods you can have (that were available at the date of publication) to lessen that feeling of emptiness.
The early game revolves more around exploration than expansion and this is one of the areas where the game shines. With your trusty science ships you go out into the uncharted galaxy, never knowing what you'll find in that system just over the horizon, the events that are given to you are very well written and do help to create a more fleshed out universe, almost like quests. One could lead you to investigate the ruins of a 60,000 year old alien civilization and what happened to them, another could wind up ending with armies of genetic monstrosities falling from the skies of your world after a terraforming incident gone wrong.
The game takes a unique approach to several key elements of its genre and this should not go without mention- the randomized tech tree (maybe tech rolodex is more appropriate) to ensure that players don't make a beeline for the good stuff but instead have to patiently wait, even, dare I say, adapt to their current surroundings. The multiple means of FTL travel present while most focus solely on one and the use of Pre-FTL species sprinkled across the galaxy to add an extra element? It's everything that I didn't know should be in a game of its kind until I actually got Stellaris.
But for me where the game excels is in its multiplayer. Sure vanilla is fun, sure I spend most of my time playing a single player campaign. But when you've got two or three of your friends playing with you and you're all struggling for survival in an empty corner of the galaxy while the AI slowly creeps in around you and threatens to overrun your defenses, the bickering and arguing as you are slowly boxed in. Helpless. Unable to do anything but slowly watch as the light dims and your planets fall one by one, some of your people enslaved. Some more purged, and everything you've worked to accomplish over the course of 10 agonizing hours wiped off the face of the galaxy. The act of coordinating with your friends, that same time next week? atmosphere that Stellaris gives off in its game, that all Paradox games give off. Those five extra minutes are never enough and that's the mark of a good game, its addicting. And for all of its early flaws, I highly recommend it.