Review: Stellaris: Apocalypse

By Marcello Perricone 22 Feb 2018 0

Review: Stellaris: Apocalypse

Released 22 Feb 2018

Developer: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Available from:
Steam
Direct

Stellaris: Apocalypse has taught me a few things about myself. It taught me that my desire for war can be exhausting, that unity is important for a species, and that I hate pirates with a passion. More importantly, however, it taught me something I always suspected, yet never had the chance to prove until now: If you give me a super-weapon, I will blow up all the planets.

Like, literally; All of them.

Apocalypse is the long-awaited warfare focused expansion for Paradox’s sci-fi grand-strategy/4X title, accompanied by the 2.0 update that pretty much changes everything. The premium DLC brings super-weapons, Titan-class battleships, and a bunch of pirates alongside some new civics and traditions.

 

Most of these are good, some of them are passable, and one is really annoying. Let’s start with annoying. Pirates -- already a predictable pain in the ass in previous versions -- have been revamped. While they now provide a much more balanced experience, starting weak and then getting stronger, they now re-spawn throughout the whole campaign instead of appearing just once at the start.

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Aside from being a constant annoyance that is little more than a distraction, they are unfortunately rather poorly implemented at the moment. They spawn immediately after an event pop-up with no warning whatsoever, one system away from your borders. Upon spawning, they always beeline towards your territory straight away, leaving you no time to react and invariably leading to a massive feeling of unfairness and frustration.

Luckily, this is mitigated somewhat by the new starbases, which come free in the 2.0 patch. Long-ranged and resilient, these fortifications can tank small pirate fleets, in most cases buying time for a fleet to arrive -- if not straight-up killing the enemy by itself. High-level starbases can hold off whole invasion forces, providing a much needed defense tool in Stellaris’ shallow arsenal.

High-level Citadel Stations are necessary to build the two newest ship additions brought on by Apocalypse: Titan-class ships and the Colossus super weapon. The Titan is a massive long-range behemoth dwarfing even battleships and carriers, twice the size of previously all available designs. They’re armed with special area of effect modules and a long-range energy beam capable of destroying any normal ship in a single shot. Titans come in limited numbers and act as flagships to your fleets, buffing allies and de-buffing enemies at the same time.

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Colossi are not ships per se, but mobile weapon installations. (That’s no moon… -ED) Basically a huge cannon on thrusters, they require an Ascension Perk and a Situation Log Project to be built. Midway through the project you are given a choice between two of the four available super weapons, and that becomes the constructs’ default build. The other weapon types become available as Physics Research options, but with a build limit of one you must retrofit your planet-killer instead of simply building more Colossi.

With a meagre 32 fleet power, the super weapons are unable to defend themselves against enemy fleets. Like army transports, they require a constant escort to get to the frontline and must be defended while charging and firing. All four super weapons -- the globe-destroying planet-cracker, the neutron sweep that kills all organic life, the impenetrable shield that cuts a planet from the galaxy forever, and the Spiritualist exclusive conversion beam -- take roughly the same time to charge and fire, requiring a few months to neutralise a planet or superstructure.

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Both Titans and Colossi feature unique models for each ship-set (including Humanoid and Plantoid), but they are remarkably bare in terms of customisation. There is no choice of hulls available, which makes every ship looks the same. Both new additions can still have their loadouts changed, but all in all they feel extremely limited in scope -- especially the Colossus.

Aside from lacking any differing fire capability, like blowing up a star or creating a black hole, the same excessive restrictions from Utopia come back here full strength. Super-weapon use is always situational, requiring planets to always check a number of requirements to be targeted, like being owned by the enemy or be a barren/toxic/tomb world. While this is understandable, it feels needlessly restrictive in a sandbox game where you’re meant to create your own personalised empire. If I want to use a super weapon and waste a perfectly good, uncolonized Gaia World within my borders, I should damn well be able to do so! (Easy there, Tarkin -ED)

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Aside from the Colossus Project, Apocalypse also adds several Ascension Perks and new civics. The Enigmatic Engineering one is definitely the most useful, as it makes reverse-engineering of your tech impossible by stopping your ships from spawning debris after battle, as well as a bonus to sensor range. The new civics meanwhile, allow you to tailor your species upon creation as either a race of Life-Seeded, Post-Apocalyptic, or barbarian peoples, giving you a bit more flexibility before the game starts.

Finally, the last addition brought by the Expansion are the Marauders, whom replace the privateers of old. Instead of a random system with strong pirates in it, the game now spawns a random number of marauder empires that act as mercenaries, either raiding your provinces for money or hired by you to so the same to your enemies. Occasionally, there is a chance the tribes will unite under a very unoriginal 'Great Khan' figure, which will start expanding and conquering nearby territories and acts effectively as a middle-game crisis.

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In what is becoming a pattern, Stellaris: Apocalypse is a DLC with good ideas, but a disappointingly restrictive scope. There are so many things that could have been done with super-weapons and ship classes, but weren’t. Even worse, they still restrict freedom through arbitrary constraints on how players can use their hard-earned new tech, which flies in the face of the game’s original premise. It adds a Death Star super-laser, but it stops you can't blow up Alderaan; You can only go Exterminatus where the game lets you.

Ultimately, this expansion is overshadowed by the free 2.0 patch that accompanies it. While taken on its own you get some very interesting tools and a couple of fun toys, but Stellaris: Apocalypse is far from an essential purchase.

Super-weapons are hella fun, but this expansion is oddly skippable if you're not sold by its lean feature-set.

Review: Stellaris: Apocalypse

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