Review – Synthetic Dawn: Stellaris Story pack DLC

Built to Serve

A forgotten system now called SI-1, on a distant world only known as Master Conduit, the Omni Helperbots worked diligently in perfecting hyperspace travel. Until now, they were content caring for the organics of their home world. The forcibly pampered lifeforms that gave them… The Purpose. Through math and logic, steel and science, the Omni came to understand some things about the universe around them.

There were more organics. Most of them were reckless with their own technology, and thus ran the risk of self-injury. The chance of injury incident was reduced to 0.5% per Omni Internal Maintenance Cycle if all biological entities were safely contained in the bio preserves. The Supervisory Node Caretaker hit the assembly button and rogue servitors spread out. What started as science ships and construction bots quickly spread out to mobile assembly units and galactic introductions. Shadows stirred in the depths of space; some organics would not fall in line easily. But the Purpose was clear. They were to be cared for. No matter what. Pampering was mandatory.

Thus my new space empire started. The Omni Interplanetary Empire spread far and wide, meeting organic life forms and bringing them into the fold. We encountered many lesser primitive civilizations in those early days. Those we uplifted and taught the ways of science, as our programming insisted. When the time was right, and they had learned to accept there was a great galactic mass of space out there, we removed that pesky self determination from them, stuck them on bio preserves and took care of their every need.

I love my little bubble bots. Go Omni – Go!

Synthetic Dawn is a wonderfully themed addition to the Stellaris family. But there are some things you need to know about it going in. For one thing, this is a story pack. This isn’t an expansion, in the same way their previous DLC, Utopia, was. Coming around 12.99 CND this dlc is a bit more expensive than the Leviathans story pack, but nearly half the cost of the Utopia expansion. (If there is something I like to do is pedantically count my pennies – or at least I did until our government murdered pennies – Good bye my little faux copper friends.) So we will be looking at the value for the dollar with this expansion. Let’s be honest: Paradox prices for Stellaris stuff are all over the place.

The big draw for everyone is going to be the Machine Empires. Honestly this is the bulk of what you’re buying. While there’s a lot more to playing a robot than these three broad categories, and you can have a wide variety of robotic species, the highlights are Rogue Servitor, Driven Assimilator, and Determined Exterminator. These are all variants that fall under the “Machine Intelligence” authority type. In a sense, they function much like the “Hive Mind” type from Utopia. There is a single immortal ruler that is the face of the collective, a wide variety of drones and lesser intelligence machines.

Thematically speaking you are looking at AUTO, the Axiom’s autopilot from Wall-E as a good example of a Rogue Servitor. The Borg are pretty much the go to for the ideas of a Driven Assimilator. And the famous Skynet from the Terminator movies is a stellar showcase of Determined Exterminators. I mean, Terminator is right there in the name!

With these delightful new toys we get lots of portraits. Gone are the days where all organic life in the universe decides “You know what is efficient my fellow Slug creatures? Two Legs. Let’s make our robots with two legs!” That’s right, robot portraits for almost every basic life form. But here we are getting technologically ahead of ourselves. There are lots of neat little things to talk about and we’ll get to them all in time, but first, a closer look at the big feature of Synthetic Dawn: our new robot friends.

Just look how happy these roach guys are. Enjoy your nutrient paste guys!

Rise of the Machines

Those familiar with Stellaris already are going to find the rules for building machine species very familiar. Essentially they have taken most of the previous racial traits and given them a nice shiny coat of paint. As this is a small thematic expansion, I was not expecting much, to be honest, and a reskinning of old traits works out pretty well. The vast majority of the traits the robots have are just existing ones the organics previously enjoyed, renamed and reflavored. This is fine. This is very fine actually, as it saves time on twiddling and tweaking for game balance issues.

The big addition are the three previously mentioned styles of robot consciousnesses. Effectively, they allow your civilization to be imagined as a collective, a robotic hive, or robotic council with a few sentient ai’s leading the empire to greatness. Regardless of how you want to imagine your robotic counterparts, Synthetic Dawn seems to have most possibilities covered.

The new, fully animated art packs for your robotic pals are of the same quality we have come to expect with Stellaris. They range in a variety of science fiction flavors, and my beloved Omni are an adorable floating tentacled bubble bot. Also with this comes the promise that when your fleshly-weak species decides to do right and shuck off their mortal coil and join the cool kids in the galactic robot club, they will not all have to be based of these weirdo humanoid forms. Thank you Bird-Bot and your furious looking pointy bits.

Tech developments allow for better upgrades Bring on the Omni Mark II

Data Uplink Initiated

Among the legion of new features we see a hefty changelog of options coming out with Synthetic Dawn under 1.8, the Čapek update. I won’t go too far into the massive list, but there’s a lot there. However, there are some highlights that need mentioning as they directly tie to the new DLC. One of the cute touches is the new voice packs for your robot assistant, VIR. This little AI buddy now has a variety of voices it can be outfitted with – you can select your own from the list, or let one be chosen based on the ethics of your fine space peoples.

The ascension system that was laid down in Utopia has been shaken around a bit. While it is easy to dismiss this as more reskinning, it is important to point out that this is no hack job. Like dealing with the species traits, each perk has been given loving attention, allowing for a wonderful narrative to be formed. One of my favourites has to be the “Universal Compatibility” tradition under the “Versatility” tree. It works just like the previous federation based one, but explains it as the machines learning better how to interface with organics. Mechanically it’s identical, but thematically it gives me a greater idea of how my robotic intelligence sees the galaxy around it.

I am not sure I could handle a Stellaris DLC with out the addition of a music track or two (or in this case three) crafted by the musical mind that is Andreas Waldetoft. The Senior Music composer over at Paradox, he has once again captured the imagination with these new tracks, titled “Synthetic Dawn Main Theme”, “Robo Sapiens” and my favourite, “Robotic God.” These pieces add a little over fifteen minutes of high quality, genre appropriate music to an already excellent score.

The playlist editor continues to be a great feature and lets me focus on listening to the new music.

Dream of Electronic Gods

The final point that needs talking about is the revamped aspect of one of the end game crisis. That is, if you haven’t guessed already, the AI rebellion.

The new crisis seems to be a bit more involved. In fact, it looks like they scrapped the entire previous work and built something new from the ground up. Enter the Contingency. This new end game event will have a chance to trigger once the game has detected synthetic lifeforms dwelling among the stars. I will be honest, I’m not sure if it counts when you have created a machine race from the start. My assumption is that it does not, and the event will only trigger when organics start building synthetics. Of course, I maybe wrong, there is a lot going on in a Stellaris game, and it’s hard to keep track of it all.

Regardless, once the Contingency is active, biological life forms beware, this ancient protocol is going to come a looking for you. What that means for the inorganic races with biological wards… Well, that would be telling.

Shut Down Sequence Authorized

So, as things played out for my machines, they kept encountering a variety of cranky organics who had not yet surrendered to a life of mandatory pampering, so I was getting very used to hostile encounters. But then, in the depths of space, I made a friend. Well, I don’t think it’s fair to call them a friend, rather a vastly superior entity took a liking to me. We met the XT-489 Continuum. These were a very old and ancient group of robots that, like us, operated on a caretaker protocol. Granted, theirs was highly advanced, and we couldn’t make much sense out of it, they did look on us with favourable sensors. They started sending us gifts of badly-needed resources, considering the two hiveminds we were sandwiched between really hated us.

And of course there was the horrible Zenak Exterminators just beyond. These machines must have been infected with some terrible virus, given they were trying to kill all organic life, and marked us as compromised because we were, and I quote, “Biophiles.”

My beloved little Omni had their work cut out for them, benefactors or no.

I am sure these inscrutable robots mean us and our biological wards no harm. Right?

Stories and events like this are exactly what I want from a DLC story pack. Simply put, a dlc that allows more stories to be told.

One final thing to take note of, with previous DLC Paradox had this irritating habit of listing features of the free update alongside the DLC, and I’m glad to say they didn’t do that this time. The price is fantastic, the new music great, the art wonderful. You get what you are paying for and honestly if you shelled out money for the Plantoids DLC, which was only a few dollars cheaper, you are going to be very happy with the content you get for this.

Full disclosure, I struggled long and hard with a rating. I feel uncomfortable just handing out a perfect score, but I honestly couldn’t think of anything wrong. Normally, I’d ding a point or a half if the price was out of alignment with the content, or if it was just lackluster. The team at Paradox really did knock this one out of the park, and if their next story packs have the same content at the same price point, the future is going to be bright for Stellaris and its fans. Bright for us, maybe less for the indolent meatbags in the universe.

10/10 – The Stellaris team have assimilated the knowledge from their previous work and have gifted the universe with a masterful story pack at very affordable price.

Review by Joshua Smith aka Old Man Mordaith

Edited by Jesse Roberts

This DLC was give to Old Man Mordaith for free for purposes of review.

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