Science ships can be sent to unexplored systems to survey. The yellow lines indicate the order in which the planets are being inspected.
Later on in the game, I was notified that some of my citizens had gotten fed up with our pacifist lifestyle and had commandeered some civilian spacecraft, outfitting them with weapons and declaring themselves “pirates”. This put me on the alert, scanning the systems where I had a presence (i.e. an active ship). Fortunately, they popped up in a system adjacent to my home system, and in a system where I had installed a remote research station which, thankfully, was armed. The platform managed to hold off the pirate ships until I could jump my corvettes in to assist, and together we removed the outlaws from this reality. Sadly, only one ship out of the four made it, but it limped back home for repairs and was back up to fighting strength in a matter of months.
In previous Paradox games, we’re dealing with history; there’s little ambiguity when it comes to the places you occupy and the neighbors you’ll meet. The same goes for Civilization games. In Stellaris, nothing is taken for granted.
When I ran into my first roaming NPC, the system didn’t tell me anything about them. It labeled them something like “alpha alien”, and told me that I needed to devote one of my researchers to studying these Alphas before we could figure out what to do about them. This took time, and time away from other research that the citizen was assigned, but when it completed I learned about the “space whales”, passive NPCs who roamed the galaxy like intergalactic jellyfish. Beta aliens were a different story: they were assholes, and I had to stay away from them.
Space whales are random NPCs you encounter. They are non-hostile.
On one survey mission to a nearby system, my science ship warped in and went straight to red alert. There were several unidentified NPCs hanging around there, forcing me to spend research time trying to understand them. In the end, it turned out to be a true First Contact situation: this was another empire, only a few systems away from the current boundaries of my own. Normally in 4x games meeting another empire only feels like a downer: you realize you can’t expand in that direction any further without really laying into them militarily. In Stellaris, finding your first spacefaring empire feels like an actual, monumental discovery, like “Holy crap! Aliens!” I even felt this way when I encountered my second empire. We’re all peaceful races, pretty much similarly aligned in philosophy, so I’m thinking we’ll get along fine. Until we don’t. Because this is a 4x game, and that’s how they tend to roll.
My empire in the Zha’Kira Patch. Being in the nebula reduces movement by 30%, but that can’t be helped.
And if you look at the galaxy map to see where our little triumvirate is located, you’ll notice — we’re still very small fish in an extremely massive pond. There’s 24 other empires out there, eight of which are more technologically advanced than we are, and not all of them will be peaceful. This is emergent gameplay.
My and my two new friends huddling up in the upper quad of the galaxy.
The Slow Boil
4x games are not, by their nature, fast moving. You can pause and make decisions; you’re expected to pause and make decisions, partly because decisions have consequences, but also because you have a lot of plates a-spinnin’ and you need to at least know what’s out there even if you don’t have a focused plan for each and every element at all times.
On occasion, you find research projects in space. This one was…less than productive. Sorry about the small size.
In most 4x games, this stresses me out because I know I could run into hostile NPCs or aggressive empires at any time. I always feel that I should be spending all of my resources on offense and defense, turning my home base into a veritable fortress before I even start thinking about moving outside my home range.
Not so with Stellaris. I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the most accessible grand strategy/4x games I’ve tried whose name doesn’t start with Civilization. In that, I think that people who like the idea of trying a 4x/grand strategy game, but who are intimidated by the small fonts needed to convey so much information or the idea that one needs to keep track of each and every unit on the board at all times, would find Stellaris to be both a great and immersive experience in a true 4x/grand strategy game vein.