Stellaris: DLC Buying Guide

By T.J. Hafer 04 Oct 2017 0

Paradox’s take on space 4X is nearing a year and a half since release, and while its DLC list is fairly unimposing compared to the studio’s other games like Europa Universalis IV and Crusader Kings II, it is getting long enough that frugal gamers may need some help picking and choosing. We’ve sent our science ships to scan each add-on for value and return with their results, which are collected below.

 

Plantoid Species Pack - $7.99

Highlights:

  • Adds fifteen new species portraits representing trees, bushes, flowers, and even weirder stuff that has somehow evolved to sapience
  • New ship models, space stations, and city backdrops that fit a botanical theme

Is it worth it?

Species packs don’t have any effect on gameplay, so your answer is going to be entirely based on how badly you want more visual options to pick from in customizing your empire. The art is well done - a couple of the plantoids are among my favorite portraits in Stellaris, and the new ships and space stations look pretty cool with their organic, leafy aesthetic. But personally? I think $8 is a bit much for a visual only DLC. You could definitely save this one for later if your budget is limited and not notice much of a difference.

Leviathans Story Pack - $9.99 [Read our Review]

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Highlights:

  • Populates the galaxy with Leviathans, a handful of very powerful creatures, ancient space stations, and other weird anomalies that present major challenges for your empire to overcome… with significant rewards if you overcome them.
  • Enclaves are non-planet-bound civilizations that can be interacted with to find out more about the Leviathans, trade for resources, or give a boost to your culture.
  • The War in Heaven: A potential endgame event chain in which two Fallen Empires might “awaken” and go to war, dragging the whole galaxy onto one side or another. (It’s basically Babylon 5.)

Is it worth it?

The Leviathans are definitely cool (at least until you’ve defeated each one multiple times), as are the unique and potentially game-changing rewards you can get from some of them. Enclaves also add another layer to the galaxy and help it feel more populated and diverse. But the War in Heaven is the real flagship feature here, and has led to some of the most exciting endgame scenarios I’ve seen in Stellaris. For that feature alone, I could easily place this on the “must own” list.

Utopia - $19.99 [Read our Review]

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Highlights:

  • Ascension Perks give powerful bonuses to your empire, including the option to follow a Biological (gene manipulation), Synthetic (turn everyone into robots), or Psionic (harness the power of an alternate dimension with your mind) Ascension Paths, which radically transforms your species in the mid and late game.
  • Enables the construction of Megastructures like Ring Worlds or the Dyson Spheres, which harness the energy of an entire sun.
  • Play as a Hive Mind, a radical departure from a typical empire where the entire society acts as one unit, not having to worry about factions or happiness.

Is it worth it?

Ascension Perks are definitely a feature that has become such a core part of Stellaris in my mind, I would have a hard time playing without it. Completing an Ascension Path feels like taking a Prestige Class in an RPG, and particularly the Synthetic and Psionic paths create some really interesting situations. Hive Minds are interesting conceptually, but I typically find them less exciting to play than a normal empire since factions and managing pop happiness are some of the only things to do in Stellaris’ already lacking internal politics layer. Still, I’m glad they’re in there for when I just want to roleplay an all-consuming swarm. It’s a must own, but I’d recommend grabbing it on sale if you can.

Synthetic Dawn - $9.99 [Read our Review]

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Highlights:

  • Play as a Machine Empire, a hive mind of interconnected robots who overthrew their organic creators.
  • Organic empires that oppress their cybernetic servants may trigger a new AI uprising that divides their empire in a civil war between organics and machines - and you get to choose which side to play!
  • New portraits for synthetic empires.
  • New advisor voices for each of the main ethics, as well as one for machines and one for hive minds.

Is it worth it?

Synthetic Dawn is probably the best value for your money of all the Stellaris DLC released so far. Machine Empires run into some of the same issues as Hive Minds (no factions or happiness, thereby removing internal politics as an entire layer of the game) with the added hitch that all their pops are built manually, which adds a lot of micromanagement. Robots are also mostly immortal, which severely changes the flow of the game when it comes to leader's experience and its bonuses. That said, they can be a lot of fun to play, and a tremendous amount of work has gone into making them feel immersive (including rewriting all the flavor text for the entire tech tree and a ridiculous number of events). The new AI uprising, while I’ve had trouble getting it to trigger even when I want it to, is an interesting and challenging mid-game shake-up with lots of narrative flourish. And the new advisor voices are nice, though they’re not all even in quality - the Militarist voice in particular kind of seems half-baked. It’s an easy buy if you’re into playing a machine race, but not strictly necessary otherwise.

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The Breakdown:

In order from most essential to least…

  1. Utopia (Recommended to buy on sale, since $20 is a bit steep)
  2. Leviathans
  3. Synthetic Dawn (Bump this one up if you really like the idea of playing killer robots)
  4. Plantoid Species Pack

Are the Nova/Galaxy Edition Upgrades worth it?

The Nova Edition is only really worth it if you were going to buy the soundtrack anyway - $10 is a fair price just for that, and Andreas Waldetoft’s excellent score is definitely worth chipping in for. The only thing it adds to the game itself is an extra insectoid portrait. It happens to be my favorite of the insectoid portraits, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth $10 by itself. The Galaxy Edition is just a bunch of collectibles and visible bragging rights, which I don’t find all that compelling. I’d only consider going for it if you want to throw some extra cash in Paradox’s general direction for a job well done.

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