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From Paradox Development Studios that brought us the well-known grand strategy games such as the Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis series comes the game Stellaris, an evolution of the grand strategy genre with space exploration as it's core. As with all grand strategy games from Paradox Development Studio, Stellaris contains a steep and harsh learning curve that players must learn in order play the game. This can be very troubling for some players especially for those beginners. In conjunction with the in-game tutorial, this beginner’s guide serves to help these players on the basic mechanics of the game and provide these players with some tips.
- 1 Choosing an Empire
- 2 User Interface
- 3 Basic Gameplay Concepts
- 4 Strengthening the Empire
- 5 Interactions with Other Empires
- 6 Late Game
- 7 Tips
- 8 References
Choosing an Empire
Your first choice in the game will be which empire to play as. You can choose from a list of preset empires which are included in the game or the create your own empire. The first preset, the United Nations of Earth, is a solid choice for a learning game.
Clicking the Random button will start you with a randomized empire, in the same vein as the AI empires that will populate the rest of the galaxy. This is done blindly (you won't know anything about your empire until you're in the game) so this option is not recommended for new players.
If you want to create an empire from scratch you'll be guided through a series of choices and enterable fields across several categories. Even if you are choosing a preset empire you should familiarize yourself with these characteristics and their effects on gameplay.
- Appearance - Choose a portrait to represent your species from among several phenotype groups. Though many choices after this will be tailored to the phenotype groups your options are not restricted by the portrait you choose (e.g., you may still choose to have Reptilian style ships with a Mammalian portrait).
- Species Name - The name, plural, and adjective form for your species, as well as a space for a biography.
- Name List - Each phenotype has a few choices for name lists, but again, your pick is not restricted by your portrait's phenotype; you can also enter a prefix for your ships.
- Traits - Mix and match positive and negative traits to give your species character. More than just flavor, these will have gameplay effects, so choose carefully.
- Ruler - Enter the name and choose the appearance of your empire's first ruler. You may also enter the titles which will apply to all your rulers (you may enter these separately for the sexes; if you have already chosen a government (below) some will be suggested for you.
- Name & Class - Name your homeworld, its star, and choose from either a random starting system or one of two presets: Sol (our real world solar system) or Deneb. You will also choose your homeworld's class, determining which types of planets your species will be able to comfortably inhabit. This is mostly a cosmetic choice, since there are no gameplay differences among the world types and each spawns in equal numbers.
- City Appearance - Choose a city portrait.
- Government & Ethics - The ethics you pick will have a major impact on gameplay, so read all the effects and choose wisely. These will define the character of your empire and open or close certain gameplay opportunities to you. You will be able to select from a handful of government types based on which ethics you have chosen. Your ethics will also determine the appearance of the room behind your leader.
- Empire Name - Choose and name and adjective for your empire.
- Flag - Design a flag for your empire using a variety of symbols and up to two colors. The primary color you choose will be the fill color for your borders on the Galaxy Map.
- Starting Weapons - Choose the first weapon type you will have available to your empire; you will eventually unlock all three types. See the Combat section below for a summary of the differences among the weapon types.
- FTL Method - This will determine how all your ships travel between systems. Warp (suggested for new players) allows you to go to any system within your range, but slowly; Hyperlanes allow you to move quickly, but only along a predetermined network of paths; Wormholes (recommended only for experienced players) allow you to move instantly, but only after a long period of preparation at stations that you must construct ahead of time.
- Ship Appearance - Choose the look of your ships; this is purely cosmetic.
- Main article: User interface
The UI of Stellaris is similar to previous PDS games--menus and sub-menus, putting a wealth of important information a click or two away. Navigating such an interface can contribute to a large portion of a grand strategy game's learning curve, but all the information is organized logically and you'll know where everything is in no time. It's recommended that you use the main article or the in-game tutorials to fully familiarize yourself with the UI, but this section will cover some of the basics. And like other PDS games, Stellaris is very generous with its tool tips--if you're not sure about a button, option, or statistic try hovering your cursor over it and you're likely to get a nice breakdown of what it is and what impact it has.
The Top Bar (from left to right) includes:
- A series of buttons leading to information screens:
- Government (empire flag) - Information about your government, Budget tab
- Contacts - Sortable list of all empires you have made contact with
- Situation Log - List of pursuable Events, Victory Condition tab
- Technology - Techs currently being researched, button for previously researched techs
- "More" button, which leads to:
- Planets and Sectors - Sortable list of all planets and any sectors in your empire
- Leaders - All the leaders in your empire by type
- Factions - List of any factions in your empire and options to deal with them
- Strategic Resources - List of any strategic resources you have access to
- Species - Sortable list of all the sapient species you have come in contact with
- Policies and Edicts - List of changeable policies and enactable edicts within your empire
- Expansion Planner - Tool to sort through colonizable planets
- Ship Designer - Tool to add the tech you've research to your ships
- Tallies of your empire's resources:
- Energy credits, Minerals, and Influence (current amount stored + monthly income)
- Monthly income of the three types of research points
- Strategic resources, Core planets, and current fleet strength/fleet capacity
- Display of current game speed and buttons to change it
The Outliner is along the right edge of the screen
- Provides lists of lots of things you might want quick access to, such as: Planets, Sectors, Fleets, Armies, Civilian Ships, Rally Points, etc.
- The gear symbol allows you to customize the order in which the lists appear
The Bottom Bar (from left to right) includes:
- Control Groups - Objects (planets, fleets, science ships, etc.) that are tied to the number keys on the keyboard
- Press the appropriate number to jump to that object
- Hold Ctrl and a number to tie the selected object to it
- Right click the tab for the Control group to untie it from that number
- System information - flag of owner, name of system, button for Galaxy Map
- Map options
- Detailed information overlay (sensor ranges, known resources outside your empire, etc.)
- If on the Galaxy Map, several more overlay options:
- Empires (default)
- Diplomatic relations
- AI attitudes
- Go to home system button
- Search function
- Chat (in multiplayer)
- Main Menu
Basic Gameplay Concepts
Being a hybrid of the 4X and grand strategy genres, Stellaris has gameplay corresponding to the classic concepts of eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate, while also adding deeper diplomacy and governance options.
- Main article: Exploration
Exploration in Stellaris will be familiar to anyone who has played a 4X game. The exploration unit in Stellaris is the science ship; you will start the game with one of them. Sending your science ship to another system will give you a basic idea of what's there, but to get the full picture you will need to command it to perform the "Survey" action. Get started by instructing your first science ship to survey the celestial bodies in your home system before moving on to neighboring star systems. You can designate an individual celestial body to be surveyed, or you can expedite the process by using the "Survey System" command on the system's star. Once a system is fully surveyed you will see all the resources available from orbit as well as any colonizable planets and the resources they may hold on their surface tiles. Furthermore, as science ships conduct their survey missions there is a chance for them to encounter anomalies that can lead to interesting events. The anomaly window will list a chance of failure that is influenced by the level of the Scientist sent to investigate it. Failing could mean the loss of your science ship and the Scientist on board, and therefore it may be advisable to let your Scientists level through surveying more systems before tackling anomalies.
The primary method for expanding your empire in Stellaris is by colonizing new planets. A colonized world will project your empire's borders, provide space for your population to grow, provide land tiles which can be harvested for resources or used for constructing special buildings, and can have a spaceport built in its orbit. Which worlds you can successfully colonize will depend on the world preference trait of your species. You should keep a sharp eye out for nearby planets suited to your species so that you can claim them before a rival empire does. You will also want to start building mining and research stations in your home system and the systems your science ships have begun to explore.
You may colonize any world that is not currently within the borders of another empire. Mining and research stations may only be built around bodies that are currently within your borders, however. Be aware that the galaxy map in Stellaris is semi-3D: stars may be above or below the plane of your empire's border and since the camera is at an angle they may actually fall on the other side of your border than the one they appear to occupy. To be certain, consult the hexagon connected to each star by a line. If the hexagon is within your borders (the hexagon will also be appropriately tinted) then so is the star and all the objects in that system. But be wary of constructing stations on the very edge of your empire: if your borders ever contract or are displaced by those of another empire then those stations will become neutral or be taken over by the other empire, respectively. Frontier outposts, though costly, can be very useful in the early game for securing resources and colonizable worlds within your borders until such time you are able to make full use of them.
Colonizing a new world requires a colony ship, which can be built at a spaceport. When colonizing a world this ship is converted into the first building you place on the surface. When prompted to place this building you will see the surface of the planet represented by tiles. Some tiles will be open and some will inaccessible due to "tile blockers;" either type may have one or more resources present. The colony ship building not only makes use of the resources on its own tile, but also provides bonuses to the tiles orthogonally adjacent to it. Therefore the ideal placement of this building is on a tile that has resources that has unblocked tiles with resources on all four sides (with food being especially important in the early days of the colony to allow for population growth). Such an ideal placement will usually not be possible, but get as close to it as you can, and make note of the types of tile blockers on your planets so you can research the appropriate technology to remove them when it becomes available.
- Main article: Economy
There are 3 resource categories in Stellaris:
The Basic resources are:
These Basic resources are essential for getting your fledgling space empire off the ground. Energy credits and Minerals are the twin backbones of your economy, necessary for constructing and maintaining buildings and starships. A surplus of Food is necessary to grow more Pops, the units on your planets which will gather surface resources and operate your buildings. Influence can be used to recruit new Leaders, build Frontier Outposts, and colonize new worlds. And collecting the Research resources will increase the rate at which you unlock new technologies in each of the respective three fields.
Energy credits, Minerals, and the three Research types can be found either on uncolonizable celestial bodies (visible from the galaxy or system views) or on the surface of colonizable ones (visible only on the Surface tab on that planet's window); Food can only be found on the surface of colonizable planets. Resources on uncolonizable objects can be harvested through either mining stations (Energy credits and minerals) or research station (the 3 research resources). Resources on the surface of planets can only be accessed if you've colonized that world, and then only if you have a Pop on the tile where the resource is found. Influence is a special resource that cannot be found on the map and must instead be generated by technologies, completed events, or diplomatic actions such as declaring rivalries or winning wars; for this reason you should use your starting stock of Influence carefully.
There are also 16 strategic resources and 2 local resources present in the game. These scarce resources are not essential to the operation of an empire and are only visible after the appropriate technology has been researched, but they can provide useful bonuses to those who control them. Local resources only effect the planet on which they're found, while Strategic resources have empire-wide effects. A single copy of a strategic resource is needed for the entire empire to have the bonus, and therefore players can trade away their extra copies with other empires.
While there are many ways besides combat to interact with other empires in Stellaris, it is still essential to know how to defend yourself. Even before encountering another empire you may come across hostile vacuum-based lifeforms or pirates.
There are four types of ships in the game (in order of size from smallest to largest: Corvettes, Destroyers, Cruisers, Battleships). The first unlocked ship type, Corvettes, are small, quick ships that will eventually excel at taking on the larger ship types once they start appearing, but in the meantime you'll be using them against your enemies' Corvettes.
Use the Ship Designer window to upgrade your ships with new weapons, armor, and utilities as you unlock them through research. These technologies will provide some way to either protect the hull of your ships or damage the hull of enemy ships--the hull value is a ship's hit points and once it hits zero the ship is destroyed. To decide which techs to research and which unlocked ones to use on a particular ship, you will have to be aware of the various defensive and offensive capabilities in Stellaris.
There are 3 types of ship defense in the game:
- Armor - Absorbs a certain amount of damage that would normally affect the hull
- Shields - Must be entirely depleted before any damage can be done to the hull/armor
- Evasive - Increases the chances of a ship avoiding incoming hits entirely
Each type of defense has a corresponding offensive capability:
- Energy weapons (lasers, etc.) - Strong against armor
- Kinetic weapons (mass drivers, etc.) - Strong against shields
- Tracking weapons (missiles, etc.) - Strong against ships with high evasive
Most defensive and offensive techs are available in several sizes: [S]mall, [M]edium, [L]arge, and e[X]tra large (the last one being found only on battleships). Each hull section of a ship will have various numbers and sizes of slots. For weapon slots, the larger ones do more damage but are less accurate--basically, big weapon slots should be used against big ships, small slots against small ships. There are also some specialized slots for weapon types that are hybrids between the categories listed above (for example, [T]orpedoes are high-damage weapons that fly like missiles but have minimal tracking and so are useful only against large targets; [P]oint defense weapons are kinetics that have high tracking and are useful against very small targets like fighters and incoming missiles). Knowing which techs to equip in which slots will depend on the techs your enemy is using--if your ships are only equipped with lasers then they will have little effect on enemy ships that favor shields instead of armor. Consult the after-battle reports for a breakdown of how much damage was done by your weapons and be ready to adapt your strategy to your enemy's.
Fleets of ships are quantified in two ways: power and composition. Power is the top number and is only a rough guideline--it does not take into account the interactions of offensive and defensive capabilities between fleets as detailed above. The bottom numbers offer a breakdown of the fleet's composition by ship type: 1 through 4 diamonds for Corvettes through Battleships, with the numeral being how many of that type are in the fleet. Clicking on one of your own fleets will bring up a detailed view of all ships within it, as well as several useful commands. You should familiarize yourself with all of these commands, but a couple very important ones are: Set Rally Point - Makes the fleet a rally point that newly constructed ships will automatically join up with; Repair Fleet - The fleet goes to the nearest spaceport to repair its ships' hull damage; and Upgrade Fleet - The fleet goes to the nearest spaceport and any ships whose class (same name) has been changed since they were built/last upgraded will convert to the new design.
- Main article: Technology
Technologies in Stellaris are divided into three discrete lines of research: Physics Research, Society Research and Engineering Research. Each operates independently of the other two, with its own leading Scientist, modifiers, and research resource. You can research one technology or project in each category at the same time. The progress and estimated time remaining for each research project is shown below the respective projects.
Rather than a conventional tech tree, Stellaris uses a system inspired by a deck of cards. When choosing a new technology to research you will be presented with three options and may pick one. The draw is not completely random, however: some techs have prerequisites and will not appear in the draw until the preceding tech is researched. Additionally, some technologies are especially rare and will be marked with a purple outline. When deciding which tech to research you should try to find a balance between what is useful at the moment and what has a reasonable time for completion based on your current research capabilities. Researching one powerful tech in the same time you could have researched several more modest techs may not prove to be worth it in the long run.
The first time you choose a Society tech in the game is an exception to the random draw: one of the three options will always be the New Worlds Initiative, which is the tech that lets you colonize planets. If not chosen at the start it will be shuffled in with the other techs as usual, so it is highly recommended that you make it your first Society research project.
At the top of the technology screen there is also a button that lets you examine the techs you have already completed research on.
- Main article: Leaders
There are 5 type of leaders in Stellaris:
The Leader screen lists all the leaders in your empire besides your ruler, who can be viewed on the Government screen. Your empire will have a limited number of slots non-ruler leaders depending on your government type. Some leader types are mandatory (for example, you cannot conduct Physics research without a Scientist assigned to that slot on the Research screen) while others are optional (fleets may exist and fight without an Admiral, but those with an Admiral will be at an advantage).
Leaders are recruited by expending some influence. The cost of the recruitment can be reduced by researching the required technologies, the enactment of certain edicts or by chance the leader has certain traits which reduce the recruitment cost. Be aware that recruiting a new leader and assigning them to a position are two separate actions: after you have chosen a leader to recruit from the choices provided (default is 3) they will be marked as "Available;" you will still need to assign them to the appropriate slot.
All leaders besides your ruler have a skill level (maximum of 5) which determines their overall performance. Performing tasks in their field will grant them experience points which will eventually cause them to level up. Leaders can also have traits (both positive and negative) which will effect their efficiency at certain tasks in their field; new traits can be gained as a result of certain tasks performed or leveling.
Strengthening the Empire
- Main article: Governance
Players start the game with an inhabited planet which acts as the empire’s capital, a level 1 spaceport with a weapon module installed, a combat fleet comprising of 3 corvettes, a construction ship and a science ship. The three scientific branches, the empire’s capital and the initial science ship have all been assigned a leader.
Gathering resources on celestial bodies
- Main article: Construction
During the start of the game, players are advised to send their science ships to survey their home system. Once this is completed, the science ships are to be sent to survey the nearby systems. As mentioned earlier in the guide, some celestial bodies contain deposits of resources such as minerals or energy credits and these deposits can only be harvested if it has been uncovered by science ships doing surveying missions and such deposits are within the empire’s border. Harvesting these resources would provide players a better start and allows players to be able to construct ships and stations without much waiting.
- Main article: Surveying
When the science ships are doing their survey on celestial bodies, there is a chance for an anomaly to be encountered. The anomaly may be investigated by science ships and the outcome of the investigation can be a success or a failure. The chance of failure diminishes for scientist with a high skill level. A special project may appear once the investigation of the anomaly is a success. Upon completion of such project, players may be granted a relatively large amount of research points, minerals or energy credits which provide a boost to players.
- Main article: Colonization
Eventually, players would need to colonize other habitable planets to acquire resources for the means to expand their empire geographically and technologically. Colonization is done by sending colony ships to habitable planets that are surveyed. The colonization process requires a colony ship and the expense of some influence. The amount of influence needed is based on the distance from the target planet and friendly territory. As of update 1.3, players are not required to research certain technologies to colonize planets with a different world type. Players may now colonize planets that have a habitability of at least 40%.
Planets project borders around them which allows for empires to occupy more systems. The size of these planets' borders are less than the size of the border projected by the empire’s capital world. Be advised that the size of a planet's border may increase as the number of population on said planet increases. Therefore, players should keep an eye out on the systems that are on the edge of the border as these systems maybe acquired through such border expansion.
A newly colonized planet will have a weak production as the planet’s surface is still covered in tile blockers (if the planet has not been terraformed) and the lack of population on the planet. As stated previously, a planet’s population will work on the resource tiles present on the planet’s surface. Therefore, it is recommended to focus on the production on food to allow the planet’s population to grow before redeveloping the planet for other purposes.
Keeping military strong
- Main article: Ship designer
As with most space 4X games, keeping a strong military presence is vital as it will deter any potential attacks. In Stellaris, this statement is true as players may encounter other space-faring empires that have hostile intent or space monsters which are hostile. Therefore, keeping a strong military presence allows for players to defend against attacks should they get themselves into war.
There are 4 types of military ships in Stellaris:
Players may use the in-game ship designer to customize these ships to create unique ships and construct them at the spaceports.
Furthermore, the game consists of military stations which players can construct by using construction ships. These military stations can carry offensive or defensive aura which can be important in a battle. There are currently 3 types of military stations that players can construct:
- Defence Platform
- Defence Station
Players are advised to construct these military stations at vital systems to defend against enemy attacks.
Buildings may be constructed on the planet’s resource tiles which can increase the production capabilities of the planet. Due to the stacking effect on resources of the buildings on the resource tiles, it is recommended to plan the construction of buildings as to increases the production capabilities of the planet.
Interactions with Other Empires
As science ships are out into the void exploring the stars, they will inevitably encounter alien life forms. The alien life forms that players can encounter are divided into 4 types:
During their first encounter with these life forms, a special project will appear which players can research it. Doing so will order the required scientific branch of the empire to put their current research projects on hold and focus on the special project. Once the project is completed, another special project may appear if the alien life forms in question are space monsters or the diplomacy screen for first contact will pop up if the alien life forms in question are space-faring empires.
There are some exceptions to this. Fallen empires will contact players automatically if their ships venture into their territory. Pre-sentient species and Pre-FTL species are encountered by science ships which are surveying celestial bodies.
- Main article: Diplomacy
After successfully establishing communications with other space-faring empires, the player may access the diplomacy screen. Players are then able to conduct diplomacy actions with these empires. Some of these diplomacy actions are listed below:
- Declaring war
- Offering trade deals
- Declaring rivalries
- Forming Federations
Majority of these diplomacy actions have a 10 year cooldown once chosen with the exception of trade deals which players can determine how long a deal lasts. The chance for a trade deal to be accepted is influenced by the trade partner's attitude towards the trader's empire and the favourability of the deal proposed.
Forming of Federations
- Main article: Alliances and federations
Besides the construction and employment of a strong military, empires can also improve their military power through the forming of federations. When an empire declares war upon a member of a federation, other members in the federation enters the war as well. However, if a member of a federation were to declare war, other members will be required to vote for whether the member can make the declaration of war (see declarations of war for more details).
Furthermore, there is a victory goal in which members of a federation occupies 60% of all the habitable planets in galaxy to win the game.
Once players reach the late stages of the game, they should have built an empire with a considerably strong fleet and a strong production on resources. By this stage players should be pursuing one of the many victory goals present in the game by default. However, the late stage of the game usually involves events that will affect the entire galaxy.
As the name implies, these events bring about catastrophic results which can affect the entire galaxy. There are several criteria that needed to be fulfilled to trigger such events. Besides that, there can only be one endgame crisis in a single game. Some examples of such endgame crisis are listed below:
- AI Rebellion
- Extra-dimensional Invaders
- Prethoryn Swarm
War in Heaven
This event is considered special as it is not considered an endgame crisis. This event involves 2 Fallen Empires which have awaken due to reasons unknown and these 2 superpowers launch a great war against one another, dragging the normal empires into the war as well. However, this event is not guaranteed to occur and the host of the game must have the Leviathan DLC.
- Keeping up with research. Remember that each additional planet increases technology cost by 10% and each population above 10 by 1%, so investments on research buildings on colonized planets is needed. Players should not expand aimlessly to small or poorly habitable planets as they will increase the technology cost. The colonizing of these small or poorly planets should be a last resort if players need extra naval capacity for their empire.
- Players should keep their military strength at its peak at all times. These should allow them to be able to tackle external threats and control over internal threats which are arising from factions or unhappiness.
- Remain curious and having fun. Players should keep their science ships busy at all times. As these ships continue to explore the unknown void, the story of the game should unfold for players to enjoy.