Stellaris DLC Buying Guide

By T.J. Hafer 07 Dec 2018 8

While Paradox’s take on space 4X has a fairly unimposing DLC list 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

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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.

Humanoids Species Pack - $7.99

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Highlights:

  • Ten new humanoid portraits including space dwarves, space orcs, and more.
  • A new humanoid ship set and cityscapes inspired by the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek.
  • Three new adviser voice sets.

Is it worth it?:

I echo my advice for the Plantoids pack here - it's entirely based on how much you like the look of the new ships and portraits. There are fewer new portraits in this one, but instead you get three new adviser voice sets, so it kind of evens out. I really like the look of the Humanoid ships, myself, but some of the portraits are a bit goofy in context.

Apocalypse - $19.99 [Read our review]

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Highlights:
  • Titans are super-huge capital ships that can take down even a battleship with little effort.
  • The Colossus allows you to remove entire planets from the galaxy (or clear them of all higher lifeforms).
  • Marauder empires can now spawn, raiding nearby systems while selling their services as mercenaries and hired generals to those with the resources. But beware - if a certain event triggers, they can unify under a Great Khan and set out to conquer all that stands before them.
  • Unity ambitions give you something to spend Unity on once you've finished all the Tradition trees.
  • Three new Ascension Perks that allow you to build planet-destroying Colossi, prevent your tech from being reverse-engineered by your enemies, and abduct pops from besieged worlds during wartime.
  • Three new special civis that let you play as a life-seeded race that begins on a Gaia world, a post-apocalyptic civilization that can inhabit Tomb worlds, or as slaving barbarians that can abduct pops without the perk.
Is it worth it?

I've had limited time to play with Apocalypse and haven't delved deep into all of its features, like Titans and Colossi, just yet. It also came along with a massive free patch that reworked huge parts of the game, so it's easy for the paid stuff to get lost. The biggest factor that makes me want to recommend it is the Marauders. Like fallen empires, space nomads, enclaves, and leviathans before them, they further flesh out Stellaris' growing patchwork of asymmetrical spacefaring entities that help the galaxy feel diverse and alive in a way most 4X games just never will.

The Great Khan events are an exciting and much-needed extra shake-up in the midgame, and having somewhere to dump Unity in the late game provides a reason not to just demolish all of your temples and monuments once you've finished your Tradition trees.

Distant Stars - $9.99 (Review)

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Highlights:

  • Adds in a lot more anomolies for you to encounter while exploring.
  • Adds the 'L-Cluster' as a mid-game quest that can trigger varied results.
  • Adds a lot more character to systems, with several 'unique' system types to explore and exploit.
  • The strategic advantage offered by the L-Gates themselves is also pretty useful.

Is it worth it?

This pack does a good job at buffing the exploration side of the game, which often peters out before anything else interesting steps up to fill the void. The L-Cluster itself provides an entertaining mid-game challenge provided you work for it (and depending on which event triggers), but otherwise this is a fairly low-frills pack. Your game will definitely be better off having it in your library, but it's not game changing and you don't necessarily need to rush into buying it.

MegaCorps - $19.99 (Review)

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Highlights:

  • New 'Corporate' culture allows you to play as business-themed empires with unique civics and mechanics focused on making money.
  • You can now turn a planet into Coruscant.
  • There is now Galactic Slave market.
  • NPC Caravaneer Fleets will roam the galaxy and try and drain you of money for shiny things.
  • New Ascension Perks, Megastructures and other bits and bobs to round things out.

Is it worth it?

The big 20$ expansions have so far been a bit hit and miss with regards to how much value you get for the price, but MegaCorps is easily worth the price of the admission. The accompanying free patch rewrites the game completely (as did the 2.0 update), and the premium features of this expansion are a nice add-on on top of that. The 'Corporate' culture alone offers an entirely unique, new way to play the game, assuming you like the idea of making money.

The Breakdown

In order from most essential to least…

  1. Utopia*
  2. Apocalypse*
  3. Leviathans
  4. Synthetic Dawn (Bump this one up if you really like the idea of playing killer robots)
  5. MegaCorps

* = Both of these are $20-tiered expansions which feels a little steep considering the feature sets are quite lean. There's an argument to be made that you're subsidising all of the work that's gone into the free patch, but as a 'Value for Money' PSA, might be worth waiting until these are on sale.

NB. 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 collectables 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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