A fascinating question that almost every developer has to answer at one point or another is "What do we do with all this empty space?" After all, you can't just cram all of your game's content into one room. With a game like Stellaris, which revolves around exploring the vast void of the cosmos, this can be an interesting conundrum. Seeing as how your average match in Stellaris can involve thousands upon thousands of planets, it was only a matter of time before the game's developer, Paradox Interactive, decided to address the issue of empty space with their latest DLC, Distant Stars.
If you are unfamiliar with Stellaris, it's basically a space-based RTS that gives you the chance to create your own empire from scratch and then lead them on a quest to conquer the stars. Like most other RTS games, combat is an integral part of Stellaris (i.e. the Apocalypse DLC), but diplomacy, exploration, and expansion is just as if not more important than your ability to destroy your enemies. The Distant Stars DLC, as the name suggests, seeks to expand the exploration aspect of the game by making it so that virtually every solar system you explore has something potentially interesting in it. In addition, Distant Stars provides an end-game for exploration fanatics in that some of the new gateways strewn about the galaxy have the potential to give your empire access to an entirely new region. Other gateways are far less exciting, serving as wormholes for instant travel across the galaxy more than anything else, but it does open up new possibilities for combat.
In theory, Distant Stars gives some much-needed attention to one of the more overlooked aspects of Stellaris. In the base game, anomalies are quaint text-based distractions for your scientists to discover while exploring the galaxy. Occasionally, anomalies would provide a temporary buff or randomly kill your scientist, but for the most part, they did nothing more than provide some small amount of resources. Generally speaking, you could more or less memorize most of the base game's anomalies after a couple of playthroughs.
With Distant Stars, every anomaly that you discover has the chance to start a long chain of adventures, or so the advertising for the DLC says. The problem lies with how anomalies are randomly generated, so while this may be true for some, for others this may not be the case. Similarly, Distant Stars adds a couple of new Leviathans (giant, powerful, neutral-ish creatures that have unique interactions) into the game, but their scarcity is somewhat disappointing.
From a practical standpoint, Distant Stars will have wildly different effects on your Stellaris playthroughs. In some, you might not even notice that the DLC is enabled. In others, you might be finding so many gateways and special anomalies that you can't hire enough scientists to explore them all. A middle ground does exist, but it is obviously far less exciting than if your game was polluted with the new content. That being said, Distant Stars does provide Stellaris' audience with plenty of things that they've been asking for (if mods are any indicator).
Solar systems with multiple stars, more incentives for exploration, more end-game tier content, these are all things that should please newcomers and veterans alike. The largest obstacle is simply finding said content. Once you do stumble upon some of the new Distant Stars content though, you may notice that it is generally a step above what is present in the base game. The new anomalies have the usual range of complexity, but this time around they are written in a more interesting way. Of course, there's nothing stopping you from skipping all of the text boxes that explain what's going on, but it seems like a bit of a disservice more than anything else. Perhaps the best example of this (outside of meeting a Leviathan or making your way through the special gateway) is the mini-quest chain that is initiated when you find a gateway. Alternatively, you can take a look at the expanded space-based lifeform interactions, which offers a little bit more depth and interactivity than before.
Unfortunately, the nature of the game itself, both in terms of its relatively slow pacing and high variance in random map generation creates a scenario where one cannot, in good conscience, necessarily recommend Distant Stars as a must-have. Some of the more hardcore fans of Stellaris likely won't mind, but for everyone else, the notion of starting a game where all the interesting new things are on the other side of the galaxy (and thus inaccessible for most of the game) can be quite off-putting. Stellaris as a whole is still an excellent game for those who dream of claiming the heavens, but Distant Stars feels too much like an afterthought by comparison.
Our Stellaris: Apocalypse review was conducted on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.
Distant Stars has some promising new content, but most of it is locked behind the high variance that come with Stellaris map generation
- Adds Varied New Content
- Encourages Exploration
- Beautiful Multi-Star Systems
- Content Accessibility Relies on RNG
- Mundane Anomlaies
- Lackluster Gateways