Stellaris was certainly one of the more underrated titles of last year. Underplayed also applies, as a space 4X title doesn’t seem like the most accessible, per se. But, as much as I played Stellaris back near its release, those hours tapered off as the year went on, zeroing out in a matter of months. Going back to any grand strategy game after a long time is always a risk, and with Stellaris: Utopia, the game’s first true expansion, it was worse than I thought …
It’s even more addicting.
Fittingly, a game of Stellaris: Utopia feels even more like a black hole, drawing you in faster the closer you get and the longer you stay in it. But this isn’t merely an empty abyss; it’s a vast expanse populated with even more to explore and conquer, and Utopia adds enough substantial changes at all stages of gameplay to be a worthwhile successor.
Your Civic Duty
You’ll notice one of the major changes Utopia brings to Stellaris before you even get into a game, because it won’t let you start a game with your previous civilizations. The problem? They don’t have any set Civics. “What are Civics,” you ask? They’re the first addition to Stellaris.
Utopia adds a significant amount of depth to choosing the government of your civilization. Civics will let you choose two philosophies by which your government operates, but they are closely tied to your choice of Ethics and Authority type as well. You’ll have to coordinate these desires to get the best bonus for your style of play. This is a lot better than simply picking what amounts to your alignment and running with it.
And that this bit of bonus content comes into play immediately is a great sign for the expansion. Now, the addition of Civics is included in the free “Banks” update releasing simultaneously with Utopia, but the paid expansion offers three unique Civic choices, and, as we’ll see, the expansion makes a lot of the new, free content even better.
The free update, Banks, includes a new resource that lets you build Traditions in your empire. You can devote your empire to Supremacy and earn bonuses to for your ships, for example. But these are little more than icing on the cake without the Utopia expansion, which gives you a much stronger bonus for completing any five Traditions in one category.
Called Ascension Perks, these bonuses are difficult to earn and have huge payoffs, including creating new victory conditions by achieving enough perks in the same thread. That being said, I still find Stellaris to be more of a space-simulation than a traditional 4X game with win conditions and the like, and Ascension Perks don’t provide a clear pathway to an end-game anymore than the base game does.
This also brings up a good talking point about Utopia, and that’s whether or not the best parts of it can be equally enjoyed in the free “Banks” update. Sure it’s good that Stellaris devs aren’t locking all the best content behind a paywall, but does that mean Utopia isn’t worth it by itself. In many ways, there is merit to this argument. One of my favorite changes is the complete rework of Stellaris’ faction system that treats factions merely as sects in your government who want to work with you to achieve certain goals, rather than stirring rebellions that you’ll have to sink Influence into or grant independence. But, this feature is completely free, and I would be able to enjoy its spoils even if I didn’t own the Utopia update.
But, then there are Megastructures, which are entirely are exclusive to the Utopia update, and it gives late game Stellaris a whole new layer, from huge buildings around planets to orbital habitats that work like mini-planets.
Also Read: Official Review For Stellaris
Megastructures, in particular, are the best example of Utopia’s layering of the new content throughout different stages of the game. Civics will change your early game, Traditions and Ascension Perks will show up in mid-game, and Megastructures come into play in the late game. Too many expansions will either blow everything they have as soon as you launch the game, or hide all their new content away until have you’ve become a legendary master of the base game. That’s not so with Utopia, and it presents perhaps the strongest case for Utopia’s existence.
Utopia has given me plenty of reason to go back out into the far reaches of space, so much so that I now fear for the prosperity of my social life. With so many enticing updates rolled into Utopia and the Banks update, there’s even more to make me say “let me just do one more thing,” until it’s 4 a.m. and I’m out of luck. Thanks Paradox.