Stellaris: Utopia adds a large amount of content to Paradox Interactive's sci-fi grand strategy game Stellaris. With a pedigree including massively popular series such as Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, and Hearts of Iron, fans have come to expect a lot from Paradox. This new expansion delivers.
Stellaris: Utopia is available on Steam for $21.99.
As a grand strategy game, there isn't much story to speak of. Unlike Paradox's other games, which opt for various historical settings, there isn't even a set timeline. However, I can't help but feel like there is a missed opportunity here; the game boasts end game crises that introduce massive, powerful factions that invade and unite the galaxy against them. Yet, despite this being a major aspect of the game, no additional end game crises were added, leaving the game with the same repetitive three.
Utopia adds a number of new features to the game that helps to broaden the previously lacking late game. Previously games of Stellaris would often reach a monotonous point where all planets were claimed and the game simply became a tug of war between the major factions. However, some new improvements added help to alleviate.
The first major feature is a reworking of how one manages their citizens. Before Utopia, citizens were simply divided into slaves and non-slaves, depending on the player's ethics and policies. Utopia now allows players to further decide citizen's living standards by each individual species. This allows players to choose options like what races are allowed to produce leaders, which citizens are to be enslaved, or what sort of living standard each species will receive. Players are allowed to exercise their benevolence or ruthlessness depending on their ethics and the sort of empire they are playing. In addition, slave races can now be designated into different groups such as battle thralls or indentured servants. For the particularly vicious leaders, slaves can even be culled as food for their other citizens.
Another new addition is Ascension Perks. These incorporate the new Unity resource and Traditions added in the free Banks update. Traditions give boosts based in various skill trees, similar to Civilization V's Social Policies. However, players with access to Utopia will receive an ascension perk for each Tradition tree completed. These Ascension Perks allow players to customize their empires in some extraordinary new ways. In my opinion, this adds an immense amount of depth to the game and capitalizes on one of the best parts of the game; watching your species grow and change over time. Some Ascension Perks have prerequisites, such as first unlocking a certain amount of Ascension Perks or unlocking a new technology first. However, once unlocked, these perks allow for some truly groundbreaking bonuses. For example, in one game, I successfully converted my entire species into fully synthetic automatons. They no longer required food, allowing me to convert my former farms into industrial and research buildings. Other possible ascension perks include increasing your naval cap by 200, forcing your species to evolve, achieving psionic ascension and tapping into the mysterious shroud, or gaining a bonus against the horrific hostile species of the endgame crises.
One particular set of ascension perks worth noting are the abilities to build Habitats and Megastructures. The base game never really allowed players to build 'tall' empires (a popular strategy game term for empires that are small but greatly developed). This was due to the limitation of colonizable planets for your species. Habitats, however, allow players to build spaceborne habitats that can house a number of population and be upgraded similar to planetoid colonies. Similarily, Ring Worlds, allow players to convert a dead system into a habitable ring-shaped station that can be upgraded four times for further benefit. Additional Megastructures include a galaxy-spanning radar dish, a highly advanced research station, and the ever popular theoretical Dyson Sphere, which encapsulates a star and draws on its infinite power.
Other changes included in Utopia are allowing the player to abandon ethics and embrace a hive-minded society, similar to the Zerg of Starcraft or the Borg of Star Trek, and giving the player the option to attempt to indoctrinate pre-FTL societies to their ethics. As with all Paradox games, the expansion was released alongside a free update, codenamed Banks. The free update included some radical changes to the standard Stellaris gameplay.
Firstly, the controversial Collectivist/Individualist scale of ethics has been changed to an Authoritarian/Egalitarian scale. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the faction system which has been completely reworked. Instead of factions simply representing dissatisfied populations, factions now have ethics and goals. If a player achieves the faction's goals, they are satisfied. However, troublesome factions can be suppressed and beneficial factions can be encouraged, allowing you to shift your ethics over time. The factions also sport snazzy names that reflect their particular goals; for example, my peaceful, materialist empire randomly spawned the aggressive imperialist faction "The Knights of the Void" who pushed a more aggressive stance in galactic politics. Touches like this greatly improve the roleplaying aspect of the game and allow you to further tweak your species progress.
Another change is how government works. Instead of a static government type representing your entire authority, there is now a scale of five (running from democracy to empire) that is further augmented by two (later three) civics. These civics allow the player to further customize their species. Owners of Utopia also gain access to some advanced civics. These include Mechanist, which spawns your empire with some droids and the ability to build more, and the rather interesting Syncretic Evolution, which spawns your species with a strong-but-dumb randomly generated slave race. As well, consumer goods are now a factor. A small portion of your produced minerals is subtracted to provide for the consumer needs of your populations. Of course, this depends on the living standards of each species.
With so much added, it can feel like you are relearning the game. However, relearning a game has never been so fun. Despite this, the confusing line between free content and expansion content can still feel weighted towards free content, similar to the previous Leviathans expansion. This has been alleviated this time around, due to the masses changes introduced by Ascension Perks and the notable customization potential of setting the rights of each resident species.
As this is an expansion, the game does not alter the basic graphics of the game. However, some changes were made to empire coloration. Firstly, warp trails and accents of ships now match the coloration of their empire. This is a great touch that helps distinguish between various group's ships. Second, empires spawning with the same flag colors now appears with slightly different shades depending on who spawned first. This is a welcome addition but unfortunately does not go as far as it should. Despite slightly different shades, I still often found myself zooming in and double checking where exactly borders were. Otherwise, the overall graphic changes were a nice touch.
There were no notable changes to the audio.
Utopia completely revolutionizes how species grow in Stellaris. Previously, ethics and species traits were relatively static and unchangeable (with the exception of some late game technology). However, Utopia makes each species feel like a living, breathing, and ever-evolving group. Like one would expect, species grow and change over time, sometimes for the work and sometimes for the better. In addition, Megastructures are a hell of a lot of fun to play around with and offer some amazing new benefits. Unlike the previous expansions, the weight of content seems to be in favor of the expansion instead of the free content. There were a few missed opportunities here, but I'm sure that future planned expansions will explore some new ideas. Utopia is an absolute must for fans of Stellaris and a welcome addition to the epic sci-fi strategy game.
|+ Ascension perks allow players to further customize empires.||– The changes to graphics are limited.|
|+ Megastructures are fun to build and deploy.||– No additional music or sound.|
|+ Free content reworks a large amount of gameplay for the better.|