Review: Stellaris: Leviathans23 Nov 2016 0
Review: Stellaris: Leviathans
Released 20 Oct 2016
Stellaris is a game of two halves, with an unfortunate tendency to sag in the middle. The opening provides a thrilling 4x rush, so addictive that I've restarted the game several times just to enjoy it over. The end is a magnificent translation of grand strategy into space opera. In theory these two game styles ought to segue seamlessly, but the truth of Stellaris is that the transition is bumpy and often boring. What it needs, more than anything, is a way to smooth that passage.
Leviathans, is labelled as a "story pack" which hints at the narrative heft necessary to bridge that gap. Unfortunately it's just a quick way of differentiating it from a full-size expansion. Instead of a smooth middle, most of what it provides is a heftier endgame. Which is great, but not what was most urgently required.
The one aspect it does provide to tide people through the mid-game is the concept of Enclaves. These are traders and artisans who will help you perform various functions, depending on their type. You might be able to swap minerals for energy, for example, or buy star charts of unexplored regions. Earn their trust and they'll offer additional services or, alternatively, you can attack them and plunder their workshops.
What they principally provide is flexibility. Different ways of leveraging what you have to achieve your goals. In the mid-game morass that offers you shortcuts toward your aims and provides additional interest among the micromanagement. They're also the center of some new storylines that will help keep you engaged with the unique narrative that's unfolding around your decisions. They're useful anchors, but not enough by themselves to keep things ticking over.
They will also sometimes give you helpful information about the other feature of Leviathans you're likely to encounter sooner rather than later, Guardians. These are immense alien beings which act as blockers to your expansion and exploration, at least until you get build a fleet big and powerful enough to take one down. Which is likely to take a while: Guardians are tough. Regrettably they have the opposite effect to enclave: they're annoying blockers rather than enablers, stretching things out when they need compressing.
Make it through the turgid stretches and you may be rewarded with the final addition in the DLC, a War in Heaven. This is an end-game event which sees two Fallen Empires - huge, ancient and usually apathetic civilizations - wake up and engage in conflict. It's just as good as the existing end game scenarios, as everyone else gets caught in the middle, like a swarm of stinging insects crushed between two vast rocks. Indeed Fallen Empires are generally more active an interesting now, thanks to the free patch update released alongside Leviathans.
Ironically and usefully, this patch offers more of what was needed to help the game along than the DLC does. It lets players automate a bunch of annoying chores like exploration and movement. It makes the UI smoother and more helpful. It gives you a little more control over the frustrating management of sectors, areas of your empire you're forced to hive off to AI control.
Leviathans itself is for hardcore fans of the game only. Casual players may never even notice it's there. But then again, the patch is good enough to maybe turn some of the less dedicated into full-time fans. Grab the update, see if it changes your mind about Stellaris, then reconsider Leviathans in the light of what you've learned. At worst you'll get to enjoy those excellent opening hours one more time.