Video Game Review: Stellaris vs. Master of Orion (Remake)

Stellaris has ruined other 4X space games for me. The Original Master of Orion (MOO) and its sequel MOO2: Battle at Antares, have long been the venerable masterpieces of the space exploration, expansion, exploitation, and extermination genre. Since the mid-90s, they’ve been the standard for other 4X games to aspire to. I was excited to hear that WG Games was planning a remake of MOO and I even signed up for the Early Access a few months ago. I enjoyed it for a few hours, but it really needed some work. It was a pretty game with a high production value, but it was lacking the soul of a good 4X. It just seemed like a rehash with pretty pictures, music, and voice actors.

A friend, the owner of this blog, turned my attention to Stellaris and I immediately started following its production, reading programmer’s logs, and watching YouTube videos of game play while excitedly waiting for the release.

Stellaris
A medium-size (600 star) galaxy in the late game.

I look to Metacritic and Stellaris’s 78 boggles my mind. Steam reviews are a little better at 85. Curious, I looked at what the professionals and users who gave it the worst ratings had to say. The overriding argument from most people is that Paradox Interactive sold us an incomplete game that “was barely out of beta.” Some of these reviews rated the game 0/10 for this reason. Really? 0/10? The art is beautiful, the music gives the perfect ambiance to a sci-fi epic, the event writing is creative and top notch, the sheer number of variances and attention to detail to create an infinitely replayable game is obvious. A lot of hard work went into this game and it shows, so I chalk these naysayers up to bitchy, entitled gamers. Stellaris is not No Man’s Sky that promised the universe and gave us 18 quintillion star systems of the same lameness and even that deserves much better than a 0/10 (trying not to be too judgmental, but it was really boring after the first two hours)!

Stellaris was an amazing game from the start and continues to get better! I guess there are two (probably more) thoughts out there about Paradox Interactive’s business model for games. The minority, which gave it a 0/10 believe that Paradox sells us a beta game and then continues to patch it to get it up to the game it should have been at release. I believe the majority though believe that Paradox puts out some of the best strategy games to be had on the PC and then continues to improve them through free patches (upgrades in my opinion) and amazing paid DLC. So far with Stellaris, Paradox has completed two major patches (Asimov and Clarke) and one forgettable DLC that introduced sentient plant life to the galaxy – I’ll wait for a Steam sale for  that one.

I’ve invested 466 hours into Stellaris… A bit of that time may be while it is paused and I’m running around after my kid, but it is safe to say I’ve put some serious time into Stellaris. I am very excited for the third major patch coming soon (Heinlein) which will refine some game mechanics, but also provide some significant new challenges that will compel me to play another 40+ hours. I got my $60 worth of entertainment.

I’ve played dozens of games of Stellaris, always as my homebrew scientifically enlightened United Nations of Earth. I would say at least half of them I have lost. While I may be momentarily infuriated, I can usually think back and know exactly the moment I made the wrong decision and lost the galaxy. I never feel too bad about it, because the game can be very unforgiving of mistakes – kind of like space. I always go back for another game though, because I love the game – win or lose.

So, back to the new MOO. While waiting for the Heinlein patch, the official release of MOO happened. I played and won two games in 21 hours as the Psilons, earned 37 achievements, and am about over it. It is pretty, but it just lacks the epic depth and soul of Stellaris.

I’ve played a lot of 4X games (Very much looking forward to CIV6!) and have always longed for a space strategy game that I could love as much as the MOO of my youth. Paradox has given that and I expect Stellaris will continue to deliver hours of entertainment for many years to come.

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