Utopia: Stellaris moves towards paradise

The Journey to Utopia Changes Us All

The Lagmog people climbed into space as one would expect of giant, musle-bound, crusading rabbits: with caution but curiosity. In search for their ancient enemies, the dreaded Avians known as the Qix’Lufran, they named their empire The Warren of Hope and began their galactic quest. It was no small task before them; crush the heathens and find a new utopian paradise among the stars.

They were dismayed to discover they had become boxed in by three ancient sleeping space empires; one of these was highly scientific, another hated all life and desired to be left alone, and the last viewed themselves as the keepers of holy places.

Lesser empires were encounteed, but the borders of the Warren of Hope was penned in on all sides. They briefly expanded towards the xenophic sleepers, only to be humiliated before the entire galactic community when the xenophobes forced the Warren to destroy these new colonies or be, in turn, destroyed. It was only then the Warren of Hope turned to better themselves, strengthen themselves, and plot their revenge against this new foe: The Fallen Empire of the Tebbranians.

An Expansion to Bank On

Stellaris is a Sci-Fi 4x/Grand Strategy game put out by Paradox Development Studio. These are the same people who gave us games like Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, and Hearts of Iron. Stellaris was a hallmark launch for them, going beyond the realm of their comfortable and successful historical strategy games, to make a fresh take on the well-established space strategy genre.

Utopia is the first major expansion for the game. Other add-ons were small, with little in the way of new mechanics or overhauls added. With a price take of $19.99 USD, it’s the most expensive Stellaris DLC to date. By comparison, Leviathans (at $6.99 USD) added giant creatures, enclaves, and allowed Fallen Empires to “wake up” and resume their previous galactic ambitions. The Horizon Signal DLC, which was completely free, added an interesting new story with Lovecraftian themes and challenges to the game.

Utopia is being released alongside the Banks update, which adds a great deal of free content to Stellaris. Banks makes the game feels very different, as it adds Traditions and Unity mechanics, changes the way Factions are handled, and provides a complete overhaul of the way governments and ethics are done. It also adds ways to monitor your populace’s ethics and Faction support.

With that out of the way, for this review I will be trying to focus not on what Banks adds, but if Utopia itself is worth the buy in.

Standing Tall

So what do with get with our hard earned energy credits? Utopia introduces several ways to play tall – which, in a strategy game, is defined as the ability to build a viable strategy with a limited amount of space, usually by relying on technology and resource advantages over sheer territory. I was skeptical of Utopia’s promise of tall play at first, because it is an easier thing to promise than to deliver on, but I found my poor, hemmed in space rabbits ready to contend with the sprawling empires on very even footing at times. Habitat stations and a variety of other Ascension perks allow for you to enjoy many of the perks of a large empire, while still being very small in terms of overall territory.

New perks add a host of benefits, from a substantial increase to fleet size with Galactic Force Projection to increased punching power against some of the galaxies biggest bads with Defender of the Galaxy and Galatic Contender. There are drawbacks to building tall and it may take some adjusting to the new playstyle for Stellaris veterans. However, players who don’t want to worry about constant border expanses or are just pinned down by bad luck are going to really enjoy these features.

United we Ascend

As you collect the new resource called Unity and explore your newly minted Tradition trees, you will unlock Ascension perks. As I played, each unlocking felt like a milestone for my empire. The power of some of these perks greatly can alter the scope of the game and selecting them just gets harder and harder as you progress.

The biggest concern that I would have going forward is the power of Unity. Ascension perks change everything. They are not small little things to your empire. Even the weakest and most mundane perks have far reaching consequences for the game regardless of when you take them. As such, Unity is king now. With the cost to unlock Traditions, and thus Ascension Perks, rising with every purchase, it may feel like a contest to see who can pump out the most unity. This might be a self correcting or situational problem, but I feel I won’t know until I’ve spent more time with the game to see it in various situations.

Go Big or Go Home

When I founded the Warren of Hope, I planned to aim for the Megastructures. It’s what I wanted. The idea of the Lagmog getting their hands on a Dyson sphere entertained me to no end. However, fate was not so kind; in my 26 hour playthrough I found it necessary to branch down the genetic modification Ascension path. The power of meddling with the DNA of your people, and at a massively reduced time, was far to advantageous. Maybe next time, Megastructures!

Considering my proximity to three Fallen Empires, two of which were down right rude to me, I toyed with taking Galactic Contender early on, to enjoy the extra damage against the heavy hitters. But I figured I could wait on that for a while. So, outside of my genetic modification, I took several rather less flashy perks: Consecrated worlds helped keep my pops under control early on, and One Visions encouraged pops to fall in line with the governing ethos was good. Finally, because I struggled to maintain my border on all sides, I grabbed Interstellar dominion and expanded my borders by a hefty 25%.

All the perks in Utopia are very advantageous. I strongly recommend looking over them from the start, and try to get a feel of how each will mesh with your strategy. Some require other perks as requirements or to have a particular ethics or tech researched. Planning ahead here will make your life much easier.

It is really important to remember, while Ascension Perks are very powerful, everyone gets them. So I find them a welcome addition to the game, that really mixes up the strategy and allows for some shocking surprises at any stage of the game.

Enlighten Us, Oh Great Space Gods

In the initial release of Stellaris, I was thrilled to find primitive civilizations, and to discover that they evolved down a technological path as the game progresses. These little civs, with their own Pops and Buildings, would eventually join us in the galactic theatre. (Or, you know, we attack and take them over.)

While there were many different ways to interact with primitives, and even some special events around them, one thing was a huge pain: Even if you were a benevolent, kind race who never abducted and probed a single little cockroach person, if those cockroach people were xenophobes and their planet was comfortably in your border, they were going to cause you problems. A minor issue most of the time, but sometimes difficult or unfriendly new empires would spring up, some jerk you were fighting with for a few decades promises them independence, and suddenly you have a galactic issue on your hand.

Well, that problem is solved now, if you are willing to invest the time, and possibly offend some of your own people. Indoctrination allows you to influence these primitives and brings them slowly more in line with your peoples’ way of thinking. I can not stress how helpful this is. I had three primitives in my borders, all of whom were going to be big problems in time. Fortunately I was able to seduce them to the Warren’s crusade.

Music of the Spheres

A soundtrack says a lot about what you are trying to make as a product. It helps players get and stay in the mood, and a bad sound track can be muted or simply make the game undesirable. Stellaris is very fortunate to have Andreas Waldetoft. Andreas is the Senior Music composer at Paradox and without his guidance I doubt Stellaris would have had the gripping score it does.

Five new music tracks have been added in Utopia, and honestly, they are fantastic. The music of Stellaris has been one point I keep returning to when I talk about this game. There is a clear defined theme for the music, even a person with little understanding of music, like myself, can feel the influence from classic movies.

And let all Stellaris fans who followed the Blorg Livestreams shed a tear when the track ‘In memory of Mercades Remero’ comes on.

The War in Heaven

Centuries passed for the Lagmog. Their religious fervour was replaced with a over arching desire for perfection. Bowing a knee to the Scientists of the Lozavata Regulators, time became the friend of these space warriors. The universe burnt around them. Ancient empires awoke and clashed on old battlefields. As if waiting, a menace from beyond, The Unbidden, tore their way into this reality and started devouring all life.

But the Lagmog did not care, their revenge was at hand. A series of devastating clashes with the newly awakened Yondar Fanatics left the Tebbranians vulnerable despite their technological superiority. The war was quick and the Lagmogs were left to rule over these hateful Xenophobes.

Thankfully, mandating a constant state of chemical bliss, coupled with modifying their genetic code to be more pleasant and accepting, allowed the old enemies to become sad, ignorant subjects. How the mighty have fallen.

Utopia is an astounding addition to your Stellaris game. Not a single new mechanic felt like a waste or mistake. New music, reworked events, and all the toys that come with Ascension are going to keep this great game fresh for a long time. I personally found that it even eliminated the mid game doldrums, as I never found there was a shortage of things to do or plans to plot.

Final Score 9.5/10

Review by Old Man Mordaith

Edited by Jesse Roberts

This game was received for free, for me to review, by the developer.

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