Well, here we go again. If you are the type that practices such occasions, and the family and I sure are, the Holiday season is upon us. Now your pal, Old Man Mordaith, has been running ragged the last month and I told the wife I needed a bit of space before we buckled down for seasonal festivities. Being a kind and understanding sort, she agreed, and off to space I went, specifically the nearest space casino.
Today we are going to be gabbing about the latest DLC from the space game that keeps on giving, Stellaris. The name of that DLC is MegaCorp, and I tell you, there is only the slightest bit of irony that this commerce-driven comet ride comes out in one of the most commercialized times of the year. Irony? Or just good business. The DLC launches on the 6th of December, for the low low price of 22.79 Canadian monopoly monies. (Old Man Mordaith Inc, is not responsible for an individuals concept of low low prices. Low low prices are subjective and differ from person to person. If you have an adverse reaction to this brand of low low prices, please consult a physician or loan shark.)
Gotta know when to hold em.’
So, where was I? Oh yes. Telling you about that fateful day in a remote system that the Old Man met the fiscally minded space conglomerate known as Liberatus Megacorpus. They came from a world were a few good-natured mercenary corporations managed to overthrow the corrupt rulers and broke the chains of the slavers. They were proud warriors of a race known as the Si’Dar, but by the end of this tale, they will have members of almost every intelligent species known among their ranks. And even a few new ones.
But what was the benevolent warlord of Fellsharoon doing in a Caravaneer run space casino? Well – Gambling apparently. You see, the Caravaneers are a space-faring group of nomads, and there are a few different types of them. They range from pushy used car salesmen types to the super creepy worshipers of money. But they all work together, and as soon as gentle creatures started leaving the ground to traverse the void, they were there, with fantastic deals. In addition to being the galactic door to door salespersons, who drop by to almost every empire you could think of, peddling their trinkets, they also have a home base. Here people can play the slots, open sacred fiscally charged reliquaries, and of course, buy the CaravanCoinZ to spend on fabulous prizes.
I asked the warlord of the Liberatus Megacorpus what he expected to find here, amid the ringing bells, bright lights, and strange merchants. He looked at me square in the eye and said he already had seen it. Inside one of the reliquaries. A sense of pride and accomplishment. It was that feeling that kept him coming back here, even as the universe burned. As for me? Well, they signed me on for contract janitor work. Pushing a space mop can let you see some shady things behind the scenes.
Mechanic wise, the Caravaneers are a really great addition to the early game. I always found it a bit lonely, but in the 5 or so different runs of MegaCorp I ventured on, I’d say about 4 of them the Caravaneers found me and I could instantly start interacting. They show up, offer goods, show you where their base is. Then you can buy your CaravanCoinZ and start playing the slots or opening up some Relequries.
The entire thing is a not so subtle jab at the monetization practices of some other video game companies. CaravanCoinZ meant as a laugh at ‘Premium Currency,’ and Reliquaries a slight at loot boxes. Honestly, my empire opened our first one and got a sense of pride and accomplishment, very much worth those energy credits I spent to get CaravanCoinz.
As I mentioned, I think they are a fantastic addition to the early game. Different galaxy map generation will improve or lessen your chances of meeting them. And when they come into your territory, there is a chance for random events. These are nice, flavorful, and all tinged with the taste of commerce! The boost they will offer you can mean a considerable shot in the arm for your empire early on, or some useful abilities to save for a rainy day if your trade starts to dry up.
Franchising opportunities now available
So, the Old Man had been taken in by the Slick(TM) words of the Liberatus Megacorpus. Their board of directors all harden ex-military, but their goals were a bit vague. They wanted to be the galaxies chief importer and exporter of what they called the most precious of commodities. Freedom. They believed in freedom, a strong military presence, and embracing your fellow creatures hand in tendril across the stars. Noble ambitions, but we may as well named them Nero Inc, with all the horror and ineptitude that followed.
So, if it wasn’t clear by now, Liberatus Megacorpus made use of new titular mechanics of this here DLC, the MegaCorp government type. In tandem with the release of the Le Guin update, which changes drastically some of the core elements of the game (extensive patch notes here), MegaCorp has allowed a significant shake-up in playstyles. A very symbiotic one, with a sizeable economic focus, playing a MegaCorp is a different kettle of space fish than I was expecting. It is one thing to say ‘Oh yes, you will be allowed to play a business nation’ in the game. It is an entirely different thing to present it in a way that doesn’t feel like a reskin of another already existing mechanic.
As a MegaCorp you build small and tall. You want to make contact with other species as soon as possible. You will find yourself sending gifts, bribes, fruit baskets and what not to convince others to start commercial pacts with you, thus opening the doors to setting branch offices on their planets. And boy howdy, let me tell you that branch offices are the heart and soul of any space-faring corporation. Liberatus Megacorpus, for example, struggled to field a fleet for an extended period. Despite being economically powerful, they lagged on tech research due to mismanagement of their administrative cap, and only had a small naval capacity. I was streaming this experience, and one of my kind viewers pointed out that I had 18 branch offices. I facepalmed and knew precisely what they meant.
You set up branch offices on other peoples planets. To do so, you usually need a commercial pact. The exception to this is if you have a criminal heritage civic, then you can be sneaky and profit off the crime you spread. But with the standard offices, you thrive off the host empires prosperity. Each branch office allows building slots beyond the initial office at 25, 50, 75 and 100 population. These buildings grant a bonus to you the builder, and the host empire as well, the building in question I was looking for was the Mercenary Liason Office. It provided experience and jobs to the host empire planet and their armies, but at the same time increased my naval capacity by 10. Not that much right? But lets spread that out across 10 of our 18 branch offices. In the space year that it took to build them my Naval cap jumped by 100 points. And with our substantial income of alloys, we were quickly able to start fielding larger fleets. Very important for the dark times and wars that would follow.
The Liason Office and naval capacity is just one example at the malleable nature of the MegaCorp government style. You can, with manipulation of your branch offices, adapt for many situations. The new economy system allows you to focus or diversify your production and have either strategy be viable. For myself, as a more diplomatic minded player, who loves working with others and bolstering them, this empire style is a dream come true. It would have been easy to make a few extra civics and unique buildings, but they created a system that feels very apart from the other existing government types. So, massive bonus points from the Old Man to Paradox for blasting past my expectations.
Money City Maniacs
Exporting and importing freedom wasn’t easy. The CEO and board sure had their lofty goals, but the people were, how shall we say, unhappy. There was this free-floating dream of rebuilding the ancient ringworld of the Cyberex, but there were more pressing matters. Like when the Great Khan arrived at the doorstep of Liberatus Megacorpus. The board bent the knee, and for decades the economy was stifled. Unable to engage diplomatically with other nations, there was the constant fear of the branch offices being shut down or worse, taken over by rival companies.
But did we mention that the company CEO likes to gamble? He had already exhausted the reliquaries of the Caravaneers, and playing the slots were not scratching that exciting itch. He winked at the rest of us and said ‘You see defeat? I see opportunity.’ So, in what seemed to be a bit over a few decades, the Great Khan was murdered, and they crowned a new Khan, and the Khanate stood firm. It was during this shift that Liberatus MegaCorpus was free of their bondage. But that isn’t the end of the story.
While the fleets of the New Khanate were mighty, there was no contesting the economic might of our corporation. Countless ships were nothing compared to the technological marvels, and business doublespeak that the CEO threw at the newly appointed Khan. And it was only a few months after Liberation Day(TM) that the Khanate signed an agreement to become the companies first subsidiary. And while the massive influx of credits was a huge boon, so too was the massive Khanate fleets that were now forced to fight in our wars.
This unexpected upswing in fortune entered us into a new era of power and prosperity for our corporation. The Subsidiary Wars were fast and brutal. These wars allowed us to start laying the groundwork for the dream of the Ecumenopolis, a massive city planet that could become the hub of all trade. But there was a big problem; we lacked the people to power our ambitions – we needed more citizens. And our CEO had an unconventional plan for that.
This little section of our tale is a good segway into talking about the new ascension perks. While there are three I am going to talk about, two are in tight competition for ‘fan favourite’. Honestly, the most important one is probably the most practical yet also the less sexy of them. Universal Transactions make doing business more affordable. Eliminates influence cost for commercial pacts makes businesses more profitable. That is it. Powerful in its own right, and a must consider for any MegaCorp. Just not, you know, flashy.
More unique are the other two ascension perks. One allows for the construction of a massive city-planet called an Ecumenopolis. These are thematically wonderful, have been desired by the fanbase for some time, and also provide a great alternative to ringworlds. The final perk we want to talk about is Xenocompatability. Captain Kirk would be proud as you can now take your friendship with alien life to the next level. This perk increases population growth and starts the creation of mixed-race aliens on planets with more than one pop type. The results are hilarious, disturbing, and sometimes rather powerful.
Had the DLC only offered the Universal Transactions perk, I would have been a bit underwhelmed. But the originality that the other two offer allow a great many opportunities to players, not just from a mechanical perspective, but from a roleplaying one as well. So consider me more than content with the quality of the new ascension perks. And of course, Liberatus Megacorpus approved as well. With the adoption of Xenocompatability, the population swelled, our newly formed forge and agri-worlds were starting to fill up. But it wasn’t enough for our increasingly agitated CEO. He wanted more, bigger, better, and now.
Go big or go home!
We saw the ruins of the giant structures floating in space. Created by long-dead races or still maintained by the fallen empires. Our CEO wanted them. Very very badly. But he didn’t want the science nexus that sat in the borders of a nearby MegaChurch. He even only halfheartedly was seeking to repair the astonishing ringworld in our borders. No, he wanted something new. With more guns. With more freedom!
It was this path that the new MegaCorp DLC allowed him to start self-actualizing. He wasn’t interested in the fabled Mega-Art installation, he claimed that social unity was boring and that we already had enough amenities to make people happy. He dismissed the proposal of the Interstellar Assembly because if the other empires didn’t like us already, they probably hated freedom. He was interested briefly in the matter decompressor, as he hated being reliant on the galactic market for our crippling debt of minerals. But it was hard to argue with the dream of more ships, starbases and defensive platforms that were delivering a fresh piping hot load of liberation to the galaxy. He started dreaming and talking about the Strategic Command Center like it was already built, but we needed to unlock the secrets first.
It was taking a bit longer than expected to do that. Throwing our empires administration further into the garbage, our leader started making plans on developing the empire’s technology. What happened next we can’t be sure if it was a cold calculated and cruel business move, or merely the ignorance and arrogance of a leader who never had his feet firmly on the ground. We mentioned he liked to gamble? Right? There was one mystery left in the galaxy. One great gamble he could pull a lever on. He spent the credits he earned from his now too frequent casino visits to learn secrets from the curators. He had our scientist focus on understanding it. And when the time came, our foolish CEO ordered the L-Gate in our very under-defended empire to be opened.
The Grey Tempest started pouring out of the gates across the galaxy. Entire empires, both our allies and our enemies were being devoured. While we had an L-Gate in our borders, most of the action was outside our territory. And we were several meaty allies away from the horrible nanites destroying the universe. So, it was business as usual. Actually, business was booming. As millions died, planets burned, and empires fell, the refugees of dozens of world fled to our safe borders. Our empty farm worlds, suddenly filled with thankful employees. Our forge worlds were desperately trying to keep up with the galaxies demand for more alloys, in the wake of the constant need for more ships. And our insane leader even settled a new planet and fashioned it into a Tech-World, to help realize his dreams.
While the Grey Tempest is not new to this DLC, it’s arrival did spur on our empires most significant period of development. And we started chasing the technology to let us get the new megastructures. That is right, megacorporations deserve megastructures, and there are four new ones in this premium package. When the DLC announcement dropped, I was not expecting these additions. Unexpected? Yes. Unwelcome? Hell no. Again you have the less sexy Matter Decompressor. It is essentially a Dyson Sphere for minerals rather than energy. It is good, don’t get me wrong, but it lacks that fire, that punch. That, you know, thing!
Those who have caught my twitch streams know that there are three things I love doing with my games; diplomacy, a focus on unity generation, and building a great defensive wall with my Bastion class citadels. And the other three new Megastructures check all those boxes. The Art Installation produces massive amounts of unity and empire-wide increase in amenities. The Interstellar assembly increases the immigration draw and overall diplomatic standing with other empires. But the one I like the most is the Strategic Coordination Center.
It is a massive military complex, and while the sizable boost to naval capacity is great, for me I am just looking at the increased star base capacity and how many additional defence platforms you can build. Any empire that focuses on the development and improvement of starbases is going to now be allowed to make citadels whose size will stand to rival some of the greatest fleets in the galaxy. And that is how it should be. I want to see multiple fleets needing to work together to take out a massive void fortress.
So if you can’t tell, not only were the Megastructures a surprise for me, but the implementation of them has me happy. I think that the Interstellar Assembly could use some punching up. This building could have increased numbers, or the ability to send an envoy to another empire to build trust at the cost of influence. Just spit-balling, but they may be saving something like that for the fabled diplomacy/espionage update.
Liberty for all! (Some terms and conditions apply.)
So the galaxy burned and it was a race against time. The CEO was too focused on his dreams, our old trading partners started vanishing and with them our profits. Once profitable branch offices evacuated at the last minute to wring the last ounce of credits from them, only to be reopened elsewhere to grateful galactic citizens in desperate need of our services. Most blind and ignorant to our role in the entire travesty.
Our leadership made desperate plans. We began construction of massive citadel class bastions to hold our borders; we started amassing larger and larger fleets to contend with the nanite horror. Our economy started to struggle, the weight of the refugees began piling up. Massive unemployment, a housing crisis, and an increasingly disgruntled populace. We needed solutions fast. There were some dark grumblings in a xenophobic faction of the shadow government that we should start selling refugees on the market as slaves and that it was for the greater good. But that is when our CEO, in a rare moment of clarity, had an idea.
So, the slave market. Yep, you can tell this is a Paradox game we are hitting all the cheery topics! So the galactic market is a new feature that comes with Le Guin, but the slave market is a paid feature of MegaCorp. It is easy to use, normally pretty fast turn around, and automated. You put a slave pop up on the market, it calculates how much it is worth, and you wait for a buyer. Fortunately for our horrible empire, you can be egalitarian and still sell on it, if you are selling robots with no rights. We quickly fixed our unemployment issues by clearing out the robots we had desperately made earlier to help on the forge and agri-worlds. Earning 1000 credits a pop, we were able to float our government a bit more.
I like the slave market quite a bit, and I hope that it will have alterations so that AI controlled empire will make use of it more, and not as quickly. You will get a notification if a member of your founder species has gone up for sale, and damn it. I was never quick enough to nab them. This problem is likely a matter of a simple retooling of AI, and I have great confidence it is going to be dealt with soon.
Both the new Le Guin market and the slave market are going to be huge aspects of any multiplayer game. In fact, the entire DLC is going to change a great deal about multiplayer. Many are going to find that a megacorporation makes a powerful ally, and they can wheel and deal and focus on making money. All the while still leading a path to victory and profit.
As if we haven’t talked about profits enough, the amazing defacto theme song of MegaCorp ‘March of Profits’ by Meyer is one of the four very welcome soundtrack additions. Four songs, about 16 minutes of music, and did I mention the new voice packs. That is right, three new voice packs for your advisor to take on. All three are really charming in their own way. I feel the voice acting was fantastic. There had been a bit of concern based on what I had seen on the Stellaris PDX streams when they were showing them off, but as explained then, the audio was just wonky. So, I will try to refrain from gushing again over the audio aspects of this DLC, but I can hardly help it. The audio is just damn good and evocative of big capitalism, and the people that fight against it.
The Price is Right!
They didn’t make it. Our corporation put up a good fight in the end, but by the time half the galaxy had fallen, the Grey Tempest must have realized an honest effort was being made to thwart them. Had our MegaCorp had another 20 years even, they may have been able to pull it off, but my work-cation to space ended with five massive Grey Tempest fleets pouring into Liberatus Megacorpus territory, laying waste to our newly formed tech-world for our refugees, and then the rest was history. That is how our galaxy ended. A galaxy destroyed not really by the nanites. But by avarice.
Well, this fall sure has been a banner month for Paradox DLC. My review for Holy Fury was full of nothing but praise, and honestly, this one is as well. Again, borrowing from my own Holy Fury review, price wise this is one of the best content per dollar packages you are going to get for Stellaris. Paradox has hit a stride in getting the balance between paid and free content, and how to price the paid features. I will echo a statement I made back in the Apocolypse DLC, which also was accompanied by a patched that changed many core elements of the game. Other companies would have taken Le Guin, and the MegaCorp DLC, bundled it all up in a package, slapped Stellaris II on the box and charged 50 bucks for it – or more. But Paradox didn’t, and as a consumer, I am glad they haven’t fallen prey to the galactic practices they mocked with the Caravaneers.
Paradox is setting a bar high for 2019, and I will be looking back at this pricing and content of this DLC and hoping that it becomes the standard and not some marketing blip. This DLC gets a resounding 10/10 and a wholehearted recommendation from me. Everyone involved in this project should be given a trip to a resort planet for their efforts. Every DLC, Stellaris takes another step closer to being a game that will encompass all aspects of the space-faring sci-fi genre, where you can indeed make any empire you want. Good job, gang.
Final Score: 10/10
Review by: Joshua Smith (Old Man Mordaith)