Stellaris was met with some pretty positive attitudes, a 4x game focusing more on thepcsimulation and strategy side of affairs. Controlling a nation/planet, you will slowly explore the stars, colonising planets you are accustomed to and mining those you find to have valuable resources. Diplomacy, War and treaties will fill the game after a few minutes, plunging deep into politics as you strive to win the galaxy over. With the introduction of a new Expansion Pack, Leviathans, it seeks to add more to the mid-game with new trading enclaves and nigh-invincible aliens. The end-game comes with a new crisis as two warring Fallen Empires fight one another.
However, Leviathans releases alongside a free update, Heinlein (1.3) which contains a good portion of the improvements to the game as a whole. UI, AI and general gameplay is improved with the update, leading into the expansions new content and as such this article will delve into both sides of the coin.
The free update comes in several parts, each with a welcoming change to the game. Starting off with addressing community feedback, improving graphics and portraits, sound and music updates with new Leviathan tracks, Ship re-balancing, Automated mechanics, rally points, planners, habitability changes and tweaks to Federations and alliances.
A lot of what Heinlein introduces can become hidden against what Leviathan introduces, however the improvements to UI are almost immediately prevalent. You can now select from a drop down menu to see new menus centred on your planets and sectors, the new planner which details all known planets and other pieces of information. The rebalancing side of things will only be shown if you’ve played quite a bit before the update, with research trees having a shift, weapons being weaker and shielding becoming a far off dream for some.
The AI for ships and diplomacy has also been improved, with Ships going for flanking attacks and catching you off guard when you might be sending your fleet into their space. Bait and switch, hiding and reclamation tactics are all implemented beautifully, making the other Empires feel more akin to players, rather than dumb bots.
One of the first things you’ll notice with Leviathans is the “Guardians”, a new almost docile alien race that travels across the galaxy map destroying anything it gets close to. With an almost impenetrable defence, these aliens will tear you apart if you go against them with small fleets. While fighting them might not be the best idea, you are given opportunities to investigate them, leading down a long road in the anomaly section.
Enclaves seem very dependent on the random generation, either becoming lost within empires or being destroyed by passing fleets before you get to meet them. These stations will be up for trading Energy Credits and minerals, which is a welcome addition when you’re a war monger with no allies.
Alongside the Unbidden, there is a new galactic crisis in the form of “War in Heaven” where 2 of the Fallen Empires on your map will go to war with one another. In a small twist on normal Fallen Empires, you can actually choose to side with one or the other, against the other Fallen who normally wish to eradicate your race.
Overall thoughts and feelings
If you aren’t one for DLCs for Expansions packs, then the Heinlein update itself should be more than enough to get you back into Stellaris. The updates to all of its systems are amazing, streamlining the process in which you build your empire and control it. The visuals are much better, with portraits looking cleaner, energy weapons looking dazzling against the star backdrop on top of improved sound design. There are still bugs and glitches here and there, mostly the destroyed ships on the galactic map, but nothing game breaking, you can also be confident that future updates will solve any issues you have.
Leviathans itself seems to be a good addition to the game, adding new content for all parts of the game, however it does rely on the random generation to give you a good look of the new mechanics. The power of the “Guardians” can be off putting, as a lot of the empires will be stronger then you, alongside Pirates and hostile space aliens. The addition of the final crisis is also great for those whose Empire and alliances overpower anything left in the galaxy.
Leviathans gets a 7/10, it adds a good amount of content to the game but relies too heavily on how you play to show its full potential. The majority of features are included in the Heinlein update itself, slightly overshadowing the expansion. The expansion adds a simple idea to the campaign, whilst not really giving each enough context or relevance, simply adding more content to the game but lacking delivery. It continues to add more species and crisis, without a real diplomatic solution to them or a feel of banding together with other races to protect each other. You can’t really ask for help or demand help from other Empires, other than making them vassals or entering into an alliance, leaving a lot of people who hate your empire being destroyed by the game itself.