Stellaris: Distant Stars

Reviewing a Paradox Interactive game is a tricky job. Within a year or two the game receives patches, new expansions and downloadable content, changing it completely. For long time Paradox Interactive customers such as myself, the base game is viewed as merely a foundation upon which the company will often build upon. Examples of this abound with Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV and Hearts of Iron IV. Stellaris is no exception and while the base game is solid and fun, thanks to expansions such as Utopia and Apocalypse, it has changed considerably. Now Distant Stars comes along to add another layer to the foundation.

Being a downloadable content pack, Distant Stars adds a lot to the game. Rather than breakdown every addition, I want to focus on what I view as the main selling points of the pack. Otherwise I’d just be parroting the change log. First and foremost, Distant Stars adds a whole slew of events to the game. Stellaris already had a large number of events which gave life to its randomly generated galaxy. Distant Stars adds even more, prolonging the exploration phase and giving players who focus on it further benefits. Some of the new events have quest chains and consequences which I’d rather not spoil in the review. Suffice to say they are all interesting and quite surprising at points.

Another noticeable change brought by the content pack is for anomalies. Before, anomalies would be ranked on a 1 to 5 scale and could be failed, leading to some catastrophic events (and dead scientists). With Distant Stars, anomalies rating scale was doubled, reaching to 10. Furthermore, scientists can no longer fail anomalies, turning the ranking into as a multiplayer which increases research time. The balance of risk versus reward is still maintained though as the multiplayer can really stack up. Occupying a single scientist in an exploration vessel for upwards of two years to research an anomaly is a waste of resources, especially in the early game where every exploration ship counts.

Other additions include two new Leviathans, each with their own unique rewards. New perks as well as changes to old ones (Master Builders receives a huge overhaul that makes it even more desirable). Re-balancing of traditions. A few new technologies including an ability for science ships to travel via sub space, thus circumventing bottle necks. The hyperlane generation has also received a fair bit of tweaking, creating more bottle necks and natural constellations which allow for a proper strategic depth. AI difficulty scaling returns, having been previously stripped from the game, for people who want more challenge. The marauders’ behavior was also improved and once a player empire reaches a certain level of naval power, they would call off raids. Pirates spawn was adjusted and now they won’t spawn every decade (by mid-game, if you manage your empire well, they wouldn’t spawn at all). Some event fixes were also added, in particular the Enigmatic Fortress and the Worm-In-Waiting.

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Yet I haven’t talked about the most major addition to the game – The L gates. L gates are a new mid-game crisis centered around these gates. Unlike other gateways, these spawn only in black hole systems at their center and are scattered all over the galaxy. They each bear the name “L Gate” and cannot be restored even if the player had researched the gateway activation technology. Instead, the player needs to gather seven insights through exploration. Once all insights are gathered, a new technology would become available called “L Gate Insights”. Researched, it will create a special project for a scientist to preform on the first L gate whose system the player had claimed. The L gates all connect to a constellation outside of the galaxy known as the L cluster.

Without spoiling what is out there, I can say that the gates were sealed for a reason. That said the L cluster has its own rewards. Special strategic resources that can only be found there, plenty of colonizeable planets that can be quickly and cheaply terraformed and lets not forget the L gate itself which connects to dozens of locations across the galaxy. This makes the L cluster quite valuable not just economically but also militarily. However the L gates must be treated as a proper mid game crisis, albeit one the player has some control over its timing (unless the AI beats you to it, at which point you are most assuredly in trouble). Thus opening the L gate should only be done when the player is truly prepared for it.

Graphics wise the content patch adds binary and even trinary star systems, brown dwarf suns and ice belts, making the universe even more beautiful and varied. Sound wise I haven’t noticed any additions to the soundtrack though it is solid as ever. That said there are a few new voice packs for notifications as well as a fully voiced tutorial advisor which can aid newer or returning players.

Overall I had a lot of fun with the new content and it did get me back into playing Stellaris for a few weeks straight. All the additions are solid and for its price tag of 10$ I feel like I got my money’s worth. It feels weird to grade a downloadable content pack but I’d give Distant Stars a solid 8/10 as it adds a lot to the base game. That said when it comes to recommending it, I’d put it strictly for Stellaris fans only. If you don’t like Stellaris or were turned away by the major changes in the Apocalypse expansion, this content pack won’t change your mind.

8/10 for Stellaris fans only.

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