Review: Stellaris: Distant Stars29 May 2018 0
Review: Stellaris: Distant Stars
Released 22 May 2018
Three months to the day after the superweapon-toting expansion Apocalypse, the team at Paradox Interactive is back again with another Stellaris DLC. The Distant Stars story pack takes a cue from 2016’s Leviathans: It sprinkles the game with new experiences instead of adding a boatload of new mechanics.
As with every Paradox DLC, the update accompanies a free patch that fixes bugs and adds a few things, improving the game for everyone, not just those who decide to pay for the add-ons. As is often the case, the free features slightly obscure the paid offering, so let’s address the space elephant in the room: is Distant Stars worth it?
The headline feature in this story pack is the L-Cluster: a group of star systems located just outside the galactic rim and only accessible through special L-Gates. These systems all contain an abundance of unique resources that can’t be found anywhere else, giving you flat percentage bonuses to resources and technologies.
The gates themselves all connect to the one in the cluster’s ‘Terminal Egress’ system, but they’re locked in a looping maintenance mode and must be unlocked via exploration and research. Opening a gate usually happens around mid-game and it grants your empire access to the L-Cluster, leading to a few different outcomes ranging from nothing happening to something terrible happening.
The L-Cluster is a novel gimmick, but its existence outside the galaxy offers a very obvious tactical advantage to the first empire who controls it. All L-Gates lead only to the cluster gate, while the cluster gate leads to all L-Gates, creating an interesting scenario for anyone controlling this secluded collection of star systems that’s unreachable by normal travel and has instant access to far corners of the galaxy.
The rest of the additions are fairly minor yet can have considerable impact on gameplay. Distant Stars includes new unique systems, making good use of the free patch’s addition of multi-star systems, and it also adds three new Leviathan entities: two aggressive, and one neutral. These offer very little in terms of ‘new’ experiences and like most of Stellaris’ interactions, it boils down to either attacking them or avoiding them.
The biggest addition to the DLC, without a doubt, are the new anomalies. Distant Stars greatly expands the pool of anomaly occurrences, nearly doubling the amount found in the base game and again capitalising on a feature from the free patch -- the inability to fail investigations. You can still fail special projects, mind you, but anomalies always succeed (though they take longer to complete according to their level).
The extra anomalies make up the meat of the expansion, and they add some interesting diversion from the usual drag of post-early game. It mostly involves pressing the ‘Research Anomaly’ button and waiting for something to happen, with very few plots requiring a choice to be made by the player. Stellaris still as a problem with play agency across several areas, and this DLC doesn’t really do anything to help with that. (But hey, more stuff! -ED)
Still, one of Stellaris’ main strengths has always been its writing, and the new anomalies continue that trend. It’s a shame these are one-off occurrences instead of awesome multi-step plots, but their constant presence makes the infamous lull between events a bit more bearable.
While the anomalies and the L-Cluster both add interesting new gameplay experiences, I’m slightly disappointed that it is basically just more of the same. All new additions are just 30,000 fleet power enemies or higher who can only be dealt with by amassing a huge fleet and wiping them out; you cannot parlay, study, capture, negotiate, ally, trade, or recruit them -- the one and only interaction available to players is killing them. In a game meant to be the ultimate grand strategy sci-fi title, it is thoroughly disappointing how little impact the player can have in the game world outside combat.
Ultimately, Distant Stars is an interesting expansion that expands the game’s content without pushing any boundaries. It doesn’t increase the game’s scope but given how bare the current mid-game is and the sheer number of new anomalies added in the DLC, it is hard to pass this up.