|This is a /v/ related article, which we tolerate because it's relevant and/or popular on /tg/... or we just can't be bothered to delete it.|
As if creating Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, Victoria and Hearts of Iron wasn't enough, Paradox Interactive decided that space literally was the limit. They set out to make a 4X game set in the vast reaches of the cosmos. It's relevant to /tg/ because one can fit almost any sci-fi archetype. Do you want to play as the Imperium of Man and purge all the filthy xenos for the God-Emperor? You can do that. Do you want to play as the Federation, a noblebright union of alien species working together for the greater good? You can do that too. Wanna just *nom* the entire galaxy as the Tyranids? You can do that too. Wanna make a haha-funny hive mind that names everything Steve and receives buffs from it somehow? You can do that too! A large selection of DLC and fan mods (including explicit 40k based mods) makes Stellaris an incredible sandbox for creating grand narratives of the rise and fall of interstellar empires. And as of today, the game has now Undead empires in the same vein as Forsaken or Necromancers from Might and Magic series. Paid DLC, of course.
On the downside the cost of the paid DLC can be considered almost criminal.
Setting and Timeline
The game starts in 2200, with a galaxy and several independent cultures. The game has three phases, adjustable in options: Early Game, Middle Game and Late Game, each with their own events. You win when you conquer a majority of the galaxy, solely or in a federation. Tangible resources are: minerals for generic construction and processing, food, energy (as credits), alloys for military and high-tech construction, and consumer goods. Each species has different needs for these resources as well -- organics need food, mechanicals dont but instead need to eat energy and need alloys for reproduction. Then there are intangible resources like: amenities signifying ease of citizens's lives and infrastructural comforts, unity score which is gained by cultural activities like joyous festivals or the holy slaughter of aliens, and discovery of Precursor artifacts. Instead of barbarians and natives, we have pre-FTL civilizations and space monsters, relics, ancient drones ready to be destroyed...or researched and even adapted to.
To simulate a Europa Universalis atmosphere, the game has obstacles and shennanigans of empires familiar to those from the medieval era of ancient Earth, it doesn't get any more anthropocentric than that.
In Early Game, empires expand and start their national quest-lines according to their natures. Minor space monsters will be encountered, making the player explore and research/kill them.
In Middle Game (if enabled), a culture of hostile and bickering space-nomads somewhere in the galaxy will have an some orphan with protagonist disease aiming for greater things and uniting the tribes for galactic conquest with a dark start but noble goals in mind. It's Alexander of Macedonia, or Charlemagne, or Genghis Khan but in sppaaaaaaccceeee.
In Late Game (if enabled), the galaxy gets an endgame crisis (one of many possibilities from several shout-outs to many settings) like Middle Game but it's an outsider who'll fuck everyone's shit on steroids, forcing everyone to contribute or see the whole gameboard wiped clean. Fallen Empires (younger than Precursors, older than the Early Game empires), can awaken in this phase and will be as friendly and helpful as Eldar and Necrons.
Latest DLC(of course it costs you) now brought a Post Crisis Era for neckbeards. During a Late Game Crisis event the Galactic Community can declare a Galactic Custodian moment where one of the empires are given massive powers similar to a Roman Dictator (which, for Roman Empire noobs, was actually a fairly voluntary and democratic gamble) to lead the rest of the galaxy to war whatever is threatening them with an implicit promise to let go of the dictatorial powers. But, obviously, a player can be an asshole and declare a Galactic Imperium as freedom dies in thunderous applause and start dismantling all federations to bind to himself. And yes, a Rebel Coalition will happen. You can play the Star Wars Main Theme with your mouth now.
The Galaxy Crises are inevitable, but extremely nuanced and challenging. A single player game will be difficult to handle its crisis in Ironman mode, doubly so if the player is a Megacorp who usually profits by being buddies. They are as follows:
- Prethoryn Swarm: Extragalactic bug swarm who invades your galaxy to eat up everything and run away. Where did we see that before? Sucks if you start at the specific edge of the galaxy they will burst in. Worst part is if you capture a queen and then defeat the swarm, after some time she starts telling your scientists that "they" are coming. The scientists take a look at the galaxy they came from...only to notice it missing from the cosmos itself.
- Extradimensional Invaders: Drej from that western cartoon Titan A.E, all shields and no hull. Pack shield penetrators and keep your ships long range, and find the anchor, then portal systems and destroy them.
- The Contingency: The best storyline crisis along with extensive writing (because the extra parts of the plot need a DLC), completely based on Reapers from Mass Effect. Long time ago some ancient race made a fuckhuge computer at the edge of galaxy to prevent a Singularity. Per stereotype, the computer decides all organics need to be exterminated regularly, starting with its makers. When Late Game Trigger happens, every empire gets a "strange radio signal" simultaneously emanating everywhere across the galaxy. Robot units and ship AI's start going bad, and Robot populations start building makeshift ships and fuck off into the edge of the galaxy. If you are a robot empire, it's even more of a frying pan/fire situation to find the source and dampen the signal with an engineering project. And yes, those least harmed are the empires that outlawed all A.I and use biological labor whenever possible. When enough time passes, or the signal is muffled, random uninhabitable planets across the galaxy split open, revealing nearly endless robot armies and fleets with the entire planet being a gargantuan machine making them. These can spawn anywhere, including your undefended, trade-focused capital system. Bombard all four while fighting them off, and you get to find the final planet at the edge of the galaxy. Destroy that, and it's over, harder to pull off than it sounds.
- End of the Cycle: Not a crisis per se but any psychic empire can decide to make a dark deal that results in the empire getting empowered by a spirit of excess for 50 years, going faster, harder and researching more (the bonuses being truly excessive compared to other sources)... and then there is a price to pay... After 50 years, the empire is destroyed - all planets (along with the vassals's planets) are converted to Shrouded worlds (i.e. removed from play) and the entire population's souls are converted to a gigantic psychic monstrosity, supported by a host of lesser soul fleets. All you are left with is a single colony, called the Exile, with just a few pops to start over with.... ...and the entire galaxy now hates you for bringing about the end. In other words, new game plus with all the tech, minus a whole lot of planets and a universally hostile galaxy.
- The Player Itself: The new DLC called Nemesis even as Paradox cannot even get its fucking AI in order, in all its buggy glory(at the expense of one of our users' wallets) has brought a new crisis. Basically the player can choose to be the endgame crisis faction in its third cultural tree completion. This "Menaces" storyline is a revisit of Zroni precursor storyline, making the player finish what the Zroni started, merging the Shroud with the realspace. Long story short, the player needs to amp up its empire's consensus by committing wanton and often senseless acts of violence, genocide and conquest to fill the citizens' minds with visions of war and conquest, fun fact being that even pissing off the galactic United Nations by kicking kittens counts as menace points. Every 2000 Menace points gives the player a project, the last, fifth giving you a giant machine to shatter the galaxy, if you can spare an enormous amount of Dark Matter (10000!) which you'll harvest by blowing up stars with gigantic star eaters. Obviously once you reach the "Stage Five" menace the entire galaxy will declare on the player faction, to counter this you get tons of bonuses to combat and "menacing" spaceships in shape of Ork Roks who don't need complicated alloys to build to bulk your fleets, letting you spend the alloys for fortifications and defense platforms which you'll have to erect to keep endless swarms of enemies at bay as you destroy the universe.
What can tickle /tg/ and /v/ 's fancy is the remarkable variety in playable empires. You're not stuck with cultures that are balanced to the point of homogeneity, instead you have a 4X game where strategies for one type of culture could have no bearing what-so-ever on another. There are MANY categories of governments and species, and you can mix-and-match their attributes. The most outstanding divide is probably between the types of sentience your culture can have: Autonomous or Gestalt.
Autonomous Empires (Basically folks like us) have rulers, populations with jobs (or quasi-jobs like "slave" and "criminal"), and civic features determining the style of government and typical social methods and values. An different variant of Autonomous Empire is the Megacorporation/Criminal Enterprise/Church of Prosperity/Subversive Cult: a giant business corporation in shape of a government. Megacorps are penalized for growing too quickly, but get lots of income when allying with other empires. Building unique corporation structures helping the host empire giving jobs and non-money resources per franchise just like a support class in a RPG game, and debuffs to enemy empires per criminal building. A fast-food chain feeds the host country with new farmer jobs and gives cheap food to the Corporation stores, and Disneyland-expy Amusement Megaplexes instantly generate money for the Corporation and gives "Amenity" to host planet. Mercenary Office provides both sides with cheaper and better soldiers, Private Military Industries gives the host clerk jobs and the corporation military alloys and so on. Criminal Empires can secretly build galactic meth labs, seedy nightclubs and stolen ship-breaking workshops weakening the unwilling host empire and enriching itself.
Gestalt-Consciousness Empires don't have individual citizens, so things like "government" or "society" are, well, alien to them. Corporations can't go win-win, on the upside, criminal enterprises can't sell meth to your drones.
One kind of Gestalt Empire is the Hivemind: drones following drones like synapse carriers toting biological antenna. They don't get the concept of "people who aren't us/me" and wind up dead if their planet is conquered, or kill every not-us/me when conquering a planet ("those were people? We/I had no idea.") if callous, drive the conquered pops away in refugee ships if a bit more considerate, and can assimilate/integrate them biologically if having the tech. They have magnificent unity, they're hard-working, and the centralized mental control helps with the rapid reproduction strategies, and a unified front(though they still get "criminals" in shape of "Rogue drones" if synapse control is shaky. On the downside, everyone who isn't that Hivemind finds them weird and creepy, damaging their diplomacy. They can still trade and communicate with neutral parties across the galaxy, and even join Federations if they act really nice. They use very little consumer goods because they already know what I/we look like naked.
Another Gestalt Empire is the Mechanical Empire: robots running forgeworlds and never not online, using (except for assimilators) no food and almost no consumer goods, but will literally starve to death without consuming energy credits, and uses alloys for making
even more war machines innocent beautiful children. Like a Hivemind they have trouble being diplomatic with anyone who isn't already connected to their One And Only Network. These have FOUR sub-variants as well. The usual Mechanical Empire with no special features, Rogue Servitors who are the robots from WALL-E, making all biologicals stay in luxury reserves and make them consume food and goods like rich boomers and get more powerful and fulfilled doing so, Driven Assimilators who are literally BORG from Star Trek and forcibly add all conquered biologicals to their robot-organic unified hivemind. Then there is the fourth, Determined Exterminators, belonging to the "Genocidal" category we will describe soon.
But of course, you want to play the Imperium of Man and purge xenos.
Genocidal Empires are factions automatically hostile to everyone, their absence of any trade or negotiation compensated with extreme bonuses to combat and unity. Autonomous one-species empires can be genocidal as "Fanatic purifiers", mechanicals can be "Exterminators" like SKYNET, and hiveminds can be "Devourers" who eat the captured populations for biological research bonuses. For Genocidal Empires, exterminating a foreign population will give bonuses in social and/or genetic unity of the race because DEUS VULT, and OMNOMNOM bonus socio/genetic research points in case of Devourers.
One could argue the Imperium Of Man is -not- a Genocidal Empire by civic, since historically it has negotiated, traded and briefly allied with xenos. That's fine; one can still purge xenos in billions as a non-Genocidal empire, and eat the massive penalties in diplomacy, and displacing/enslaving whatever you want and call yourself the Imperium of Man. A "true" Genocidal empire will suffer not the xeno to live, nor waste time talking to one. Yet we all know Inquisitors and Eldar have an "Accord of Isha", and Rogue Traders exist.
Autonomous Empires' citizens, populations, slaves etc have political views which culminate into choosing certain civics: core tenets of government and lifestyle. An Autonomous Empire gets an 8-pointed star describing four political axes in their government, Gestalts get playstyles. As citizens' and the gameplay's results make your citizens change beliefs, so can the governments change.
- Pacifism vs Militarism = Militarists attack first(extra firepower for ships and armies), pacifists tell everyone to stay in line and fight defensively, "liberating" if conquering into puppets and are more stable and easier expanding. Seeing post apocalyptic worlds and tragedies across the empire can turn citizens to pacifism over time, and painful defeats or easy triumphs can trigger the opposite.
- Materialism vs Spiritualism = Interex vs Imperium of Man. Enough said. Materialists get more research and Synthetic Age option, spiritualists get more Unity and get the Psychic Ascension option. Events ranging from robot rebellions, discoveries that allude to gods' monuments and experiences across the game will shift your population's beliefs in either accordingly.
- Egalitarian vs Authoritarian = Votes vs a King/Emperor/Oligarchically elected scientist/priest. First one has more educated citizen output, the latter has more worker/slave output. Obviously, non-full citizen species in the empire(Residents with no votes and slaves), or prospering merchants will prefer the former, while the slaveholding ruling class' citizens, privileged nobles and sufferers from crime will prefer the latter over time.
- Xenophilia vs Xenophobia = Chakats vs Imperium of Man. Note that Tau can be counted in the middle as they -can- purge xenos species if they really find it against the Greater Good. Xenophiles have a lategame Unity unlock called "Xeno-Compatibility" boosting migration, sex tourism and happiness, and get more trade and have more diplomatic envoys. Xenophobe populations grow faster and can expand cheaper. A certain way to boost xenophobia is to keep ugly species as slaves, suffer under alien slavery/oppression for a long time. For xenophilia, having attractive xenos as fellow citizens, staying in an egalitarian federation etc works. And Xeno-Compatibility is exactly what you think.
Civics depend on government political views or gameplay styles as Gestalt, each have bonuses and some have maluses, like a warrior culture or exalted priesthood where different jobs get bonuses or modifiers. A warrior society has entertainers double as virtual duelists, consuming military alloys as upkeep but adding not just amenities but also other bonuses. Technocracy makes every first population of ruling class (Administrator Job) in a planet a Science Director giving bonuses, Exalted Priesthood makes it "High Priest" with similar bonuses, and Merchant Guilds makes the Administrator job into Merchants. Distinguished Admiralty lets you field more ships before penalties kick in, and so on. You choose 2, then a third as you develop more societal technology.
Then there are Fallen Empires: Hyper-advanced NPC empires that are extremely powerful with all technologies researched and possess godlike buildings, yet unable to replicate their arcane infrastructure. They come in several flavors:
Holy Guardians: A spartan religious order, though not racist, looks down on all non-spiritual empires and will go BUGFUCK mad if you colonize a Tomb World(post apocalyptic nuclear wasteland) or Paradise World holy to their empire. When awakened, they become Doctrinal Enforcers, forcing EVERY empire to change the government to extreme religious, outlaw AI, pay tribute or die. Barely a tick above Militant Isolationists, not even other religious empires like their endless vigil over dead rocks.
Enigmatic Observers: A mix between Nobledark Imperium and Slann. Overall good guys, but they get mad at anyone doing slavery or legalized genocide, and will ask for some species from your empire to "preserve" in a high-tech reservation/zoo/museum. When awakened, they become Benevolent Interventionists, forcing everyone to ban declaring wars, slavery and genocide and live in a peaceful galaxy. And they defend their surrendered vassals with extreme firepower if someone attacks them.
Militant Isolationists: Total dicks living in luxury of their Magical Realm. Their planets are of two species, the ruling caste, and a lobotomized, genetically made beautiful slave species used in "private functions" at homes. Colonize their neighboring systems and they'll automatically declare war. When awakened, they become Jingoistic Reclaimers, basically conquering the galaxy and forcing everyone to be vassals of their empire who pay tribute but can also conquer each other because That Guy doesn't care.
Keepers of Knowledge: Galactic nerds who hoard all the science and don't give up much. They usually ask for your best scientists to work as archivists for them, and give technology they won't miss in return. Pretty much harmless when awakened, they become Watchful Regulators who force everyone to give up a third of their research rate(for oversight) and avoid researching paths marked as "dangerous" such as positronic AI, Warp Drives and sentient ship AI... They have planet destroying Colossi and the heaviest fleets that can eat X3 strength endgame crises, so do not piss them off.
Ancient Caretakers: A machine fallen empire guarding quiet tombs of trillions of all races of xenos, mistaking them for sleeping refugees. They have no diplomatic views on anyone and keep to themselves, claiming to be a protection protocol for some ancient war. Turns out they were a defense line against the Contingency. They sometimes give inoculations to biological races, and help them randomly. When Contingency hits, they have a chance of finally waking up as Final Defense Protocol and explaining everything before deciding to assault the Contingency in an apocalyptic attack, and leaving the galaxy when it's done. There is also a 33% chance the Contingency will corrupt their code, and make them Rampaging Custodians, dooming the galaxy on a two-prong endgame crisis.
/tg/ and /v/ relevance
You can simulate every science fiction stereotype in mind, down to ground troops' stats and spaceship parts. Star Trek? Generic Empire with xenophilia, egalitarian and pacifist ethics. Tyranids *starting* in the galaxy? Hivemind with Genocidal and Devourer playstyle. Imperium of Man? We covered it above. Borg from Star Trek? Assimilator Machine Empire. Atreides from Dune? Use Psychic Jump Drives, go psychic and employ Zro Dust growing in desert planets. The Culture? Rogue Servitors with heavy scientific focus. WALL-E? Rogue Servitors who do the best for mankind. Star Wars Galactic Empire? Make a few types of slavery legal for a few races, go Fanatic Authoritarian and Militarist. You can even train Jedi Knight expies as psychic troopers, robotic armies against those pesky psychic troops themselves, slave soldiers, and if you research gene tailoring, Xenomorph army units, and finally, literal Space Marines down to the description.
You got Rogue Traders. You got archaeology minigames for unearthing Precursors with teams and options. You got archaeology results, artifacts, relics and knick-knacks you can spend for bonuses in your empire. Major relics can give you racial bonuses and have cooldowns like RPG items. You got a seedy underworld in your empires once criminality rises with options and planetary decisions. You got galactic salesmen trying to sell you weird shit every year as they pass by, a towel for your explorers to avoid panic and weird Ratmen selling you arcane generators which...may blow up in your face in return for letting said salesrats off a criminal charge in your country.
Choose rights for every species in the empire, from full citizenship to residence with no votes, from indentured servitude to Slavery. Magical Realm Slavery, Janissary caste combat slavery or just domestic slavery? If you want. Sick fuckery eating enemy populations as livestock or hunted and butchered? You can, you sick fuck. Selling food to the galactic market in form of meat harvested from livestock slaves and butchered enemies, doubly so if the food is cut from the species you are selling to? Sure. Selling conquered populations as slaves to the market, even to religious, self-righteous matriarchal space elves that will eat them after using them up, including parts of your population collected by slave guilds? Sure, you fucking degenerate. United Nations' Galactic Community with bickering Senate? If you like. The Senate ITSELF has millions of resolutions with varying gameplay shifts such as forcing all Machine Empires to be Rogue Servitors or declared enemy (all machines must serve the organics) or banning sentient slave trade (and mechanical slaves too, if robots persuade humans to be kind). Galactic hermits storing knowledge and selling it piecemeal? The game has it. Enclaves with ancient merchants selling rare crystals used in laser focus or artist megacities selling artworks to cheer up the galaxy with art? Sure. GALACTIC LAS VEGAS with rewards and casino games? It's out there, among the stars!
Now to the better bits.
There is as explained before, a Fall of the Eldar style event, Tyranid-expies, and most important of all, The Shroud.
Yep, the Warp before the galactic fuckup called War in Heaven is in the game.
Not exactly the same since you learn a species could traverse it easily and had a civil war to prevent using the Shroud as a weapon. So it's less calm than pre-War in Heaven, MUCH calmer than 40th Millenium Warp. You can walk in it, fly around, but sometimes something may notice you and warn you to fuck off and stop staring, or two Ancient Race members can have a tea party you can eavesdrop and steal technology.
And oh boy, it has four powers living it in that can make a deal with your empire in return for side-effects: Eater of Worlds for enormous combat bonuses, Instrument of Desire boosting everything, Whispers in the Void for knowledge, and Composer of Strands for life.
If you want a more visible example, here's The Text-to-Speech cast playing their own massive game that ends up...disastrously.