Stellaris is complicated

My first Stellaris campaign — 4 hours into game play

Back in the day when I liked to play single player games, and did so predominately, I tended to play RTS and RPG games more than anything else. RTS games were perhaps my favorite, eeking out a bit more favorability with me than RPGs.  But quite honestly, none of the RTS games I was familiar with in the 2000-2005 era were very deep, offering somewhat simplistic and easily understandable power progression systems.

Maybe the odd RTS offered a bit more complexity than its competitors, but in all the years I played RTs’s I never once felt out of my depth in understanding of what I needed to do within the game, and certainly never once felt I needed to hit up youtube to watch video tutorials before playing again.  Yet that is precisely what I feel I need to do before playing Stellaris again.  Six hours into playing Stellaris and although I feel I’ve emerged from the chrysalis of a complete game novice, I still feel like I’m playing with a thick cloud of fog surrounding me.

While I love the complexity and richness of Stallaris, the game woefully lacks any real semblance of a tutorial system.  It guides you through some basic nuances of the game but that’s about it.  You’re largely left on your own to figure out a game that by many accounts, offers “hundreds of hours” of game play.  If there was ever a game where a tutorial campaign was desperately needed, Stellaris is probably it.

So what is Stellaris?  Its a massive RTS game set in space, in which players are afforded multiple distinct paths to success.  As a player you can “conquer” the galaxy through diplomacy, trade, or warfare depending on your specific set of goals, which equates to a tremendous replay value to the game.  There are a number of variables you can also tinker with to make the specific game play easier, or difficult; and there are a number of different races, along with their own sets of variables to choose from as well.  Some races offer tremendous advantages over others in certain respects, so there is an awful lot of consider before you get started.  Again, another instance of where the game fails to help you understand which decisions you need to make, why, and which decisions matter less than others.

I wish I could say I know more about what the game offers, long term, but as I said, I’m six hours into it and feel only slightly more knowledgeable than when I started.  At this point in my play, the important elements are building up my resources, producing units and buildings/stations, and performing research in order to develop new and useful technologies which ultimately feed back into my production.

Sounds like every RTS game you’ve ever played, right?  But resource gathering is slightly more complex in Stellaris than in any other RTS I’ve ever seen.  While there are certainly the mundane resource stockpiles available where you simply build an appropriate gathering station to develop those resources, but on the planets you’ve settled, you can also tweak resource production somewhat.  You aren’t entirely locked into the game deciding for you how many resources are available to you as a finite number.  Rather, you’re afforded some agency to produce more, or less, of different types of resources depending on your need.

But its not quite that simple either, because in addition to the resources themselves, you have a workforce you have to keep happy too.  You also have to manage favorability rating, unemployment, housing, amenities, ecological impediments, and a range of other variables that impact resource production.  All while expanding throughout the galaxy, and eventually encountering other alien empires.  Some of which may not be as tolerant, or peaceful as you may be playing.

Whether you set out to play a a trade, diplomatic, or conquest based game, you’ll expand across the galaxy by taking possession of systems.  Some of which will have habitable planets you can settle, while the rest will become sources of resources and technology.  You can imagine, in a galaxy with up to 1000 systems, the prospect of producing resources, units, and managing work forces across a number of worlds becomes more and more complicated over time.

I’m definitely not giving up on the game, but feel I need to watch some videos before dipping my toes back into it again.  This, instead of playing the game I spent $32 on off Steam yesterday.  Not quite the experience I was expecting Paradox Interactive….


2 thoughts on “Stellaris is complicated

  1. fringetastic

    It’s much more of a 4x game than a RTS game, at least in my experiences with RTS. Granted, most 4x games I’ve played are turn based, which I still prefer, but I sit on the space bar while I’m playing.

    You are right, it is deep. Deeper than all of the other 4x’s I’ve played (started with Civ I, love the genre). The newest update that came out this week may push me away from the game completely, though. I didn’t know the game well — despite 147 hours played (some of that is being AFK) — and with all the changes and more complexity added, I don’t think it is a good candidate for being a secondary game for me. Which makes me kind of sad. I don’t want to admit I’m avoiding complexity but I don’t think it’s wise for me to exert the time and energy to learn the game in-depth. It is an impressive game though, that is for sure.

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    1. Complexity is a bit of a duel edged sword for me. I crave it, yet there’s a point somewhere beyond which complexity becomes a burden. And I think in the case of Stellaris, it may have crossed that line. I just can’t get over the fact I’m going to have to invest time watching video tutorials to play a game.

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