Beginner's guide

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This article is for the PC version of Stellaris only.

Welcome to Stellaris, a unique blend of 4X elements within a complex grand strategy game. This guide is meant to complement the in-game extensive tutorial tips system and get first-time or beginner players into the game with an idea of what to do.

Empire selection

Before starting a game, players should create their empire, selecting a species, their ethos, traits and government type. After defining the flag symbol and name of the empire, the world type preference, FTL travel type and initial weaponry need to be chosen. Alternatively, players can make use of the randomization feature or select one of the preset empires.

The Beginning

Players start the game with a home planet, a spaceport, a small fleet, a construction ship and a science ship. There is also a brief history of the empire based on choices during species creation. Besides marveling at the majesty of the universe, there are several things to look at before unpausing the game:

Exploration

Main article: Exploration

The most important thing at the start is to start “surveying” the home system and then surrounding systems with the initial science ship. Surveying, as the name implies, gathers information on celestial bodies. At the start, the most crucial goal is to discover galactic "resources" that can be harvested by a construction ship building mining or research space stations. Surveying is also the prerequisite for expansion because colonists cannot land on unsurveyed planets and frontier outposts cannot be built at unsurveyed stars. Science ships conducting surveys often encounter anomalies that can trigger interesting events.

Pops and the early economy

The homeworld is the only source of income at the start. Take a look at it by clicking on it. The most interesting tab here is "surface", showing the pops working on various tiles generating resources. These resources are Energy Credits.png energy, used mostly for maintenance, Minerals.png minerals, used for building nearly everything, and Food.png food, a local resource used to feed a planet's pops, with any excess food increasing population growth. One can start by constructing a couple buildings for the couple pops working on tiles without building. One can also start enslaving pops working on minerals and food if slavery tolerance is chosen during design.

Research

Main article: Technology

As in most space 4X games, research is essential to achieve the ambitions of a space-faring empire. Research in Stellaris depends on accumulating research "points" of three types: Physics Research Physics Research, Society Research Society Research and Engineering Research Engineering Research just like other resources. These resources are used in the research screen. There are three "research teams" corresponding to the three research areas, and clicking on them will bring up several technologies to pursue in those areas.

These choices are generated from a card deck system, meaning that a random set of technologies is generated each time a choice must be made. An exception at the start is the tech for building colony ships, which should always show up under society research.

Despite what the UI may suggest initially, unused "research points" are not wasted but instead accumulated. The choice of research subjects can be delayed, though it is rarely useful to do that at the start.

Leaders and influence

Main article: Leaders

Each empire is helped run by a small number of elites, so called "leaders". These include the scientist commanding the starting science ship, scientists leading research teams, and the homeworld's governor. The ruler of the empire is less visible, and is accessed through the government UI by clicking on the empire's icon on the top left of the screen. Leaders are an important aspect of Stellaris, increasing efficiency in many areas. It takes Influence.png influence to hire each leader. Leaders can gain experience over time, adding skill levels and traits that can further increase their efficiency.

Influence.png influence is an important empire resource not generated from planets (an exception is a fully upgraded capital) that is relatively scarce. Besides hiring leaders, influence is used for enacting edicts, expanding the borders and a variety of other governmental functions such as upgrading the system of government later in the game. As such, it is advisable to conserve influence and plan its use wisely. It might be thought of as "political capital" spent to achieve important priorities. You can increase influence by building a Frontier Outpost and expanding your empire, but each Outpost drains more in influence per turn than it provides. The most effective action you can take to increase your influence is to comply with the Mandates which emerge after each election -- accomplish the mandate and you will increase your influence points significantly.

Building a strong early game economy

Main article: Governance

Whatever the ultimate goal, a player needs a strong economy to support it. At the start of the game, this is mostly about maximizing Minerals.png minerals gain while keeping Energy Credits.png energy in the green.

Gathering space resources

Main article: Construction

The faster way to increase income is by harvesting space resources discovered through surveying. These resources are indicated by the respective resource icon along with a number indicating yield, and can be easily recognized both in the system and galactic view. Only resources in the colored area within the borders can be harvested. Therefore, a useful strategy throughout the game is to grab high-resource systems through frontier outposts which have the added benefit of cordoning off planets desired for later colonizaion. Since frontier outposts cost a great deal of Influence.png influence to build and maintain, they should be used sparingly.

Colonizing

Main article: Colonization

Sooner or later, colonizing becomes necessary. This is done by researching the corresponding societal technology, building a colony ship and sending it to an eligible planet. Initially, only Gaia planets, or those that match your empire's Homeworld (Arid, Tropical, etc.) may be colonized without additional research, but it is almost guaranteed that there are a number of habitable planets in nearby systems.

One word of caution for early colonization; new colonies pay off slowly. Colony ships cost a significant quantity of Minerals.png minerals to produce, and an equally large amount of Energy Credits.png energy to maintain, both before colonization and for a full year after colonization is complete. At the end of the colonization process your shiny new planet will have production not much better than a single mining or research station. This will not change until the planet gets more pops. Growing more pops can take a while and even then you will likely need to invest in buildings to create any substantial production.

The best indirect benefit of colony worlds, is that they establish your ownership of the space around them at no additional Influence.png influence cost and they are perceived to be less aggressive to your neighbors, unlike frontier outposts which are both expensive and perceived to be aggressive.

Silent border expansion

It is also possible that there may be resource-rich systems that get acquired as your empire gains power and its borders quietly expand. Because you are not notified when new systems are acquired as part of this silent border expansion, you should frequently patrol critical border sections to look for new colonization and exploitation opportunities.

Planetary development

Despite their initial weakness, fully-developed planets can pay serious dividends. For instance, your Homeworld will continue to be your economic powerhouse for decades. Because planetary production is generated by the pops working various planetary tiles, a healthy amount of Food.png food production will speed up development. This is especially true if you want to grab additional nearby systems, since each pop slightly increases the reach of the a planet's borders. Although tiles often have some base level of resource production that a pop can access, buildings can greatly enhance individual pop productivity. Typically, the more advanced the building, the greater its production output becomes.

Interacting with other species

It won't be long before a great variety of alien lifeforms are discovered. These may be one of several forms of "space monsters" or alien space-faring empires. With some notable exceptions such as the immensely powerful fallen empires, aliens will initially be shrouded in mystery, requiring a special research project to develop means for possible peaceful interaction. The main types of aliens encountered:

Space monsters

Space monsters are special gigantic lifeforms inhabiting certain systems, some even mastering FTL travel. Although possessing the ability to defend themselves, they are usually non-aggressive at the start. Interaction with them mostly involves research or combat. Upon finishing the associated research on space monsters, there appears a message and perhaps an event chain tailored to the empire's ethos.

Space faring empires

Main article: Diplomacy

A Stellaris empire is not alone in the quest for the stars, and it will compete or collaborate with various AI-controlled empires throughout the journey. AI empires are chosen from predefined races or randomly generated. As would be expected, each empire may choose to peacefully coexist, befriend and trade, or downright conquer a particular other empire. Stellaris provides some basic diplomatic actions for the various approaches to xeno-relations. For friendly interactions, embassies provide a monthly boost to relations value, which will help enabling further possibilities such as trade and alliances. On the other hand, if no friendly interaction is desired or possible, rivalries can be declared. Although rivalries provide other benefits like relationship bonus with empires having mutual rivals, it is primarily good for boosting Influence.png influence in the early game. Embassies and rivalries are limited to 3 each unless modified by other factors.

For successful diplomacy, one should understand that AI reception wildly differs based on their chosen ethos and a related personality that describes their goals and general tendencies. For instance, it is harder to have friendly interactions with a xenophobic empire. An empire's strategy should respect these differences and adapt accordingly, for instance by starting military research and building up earlier if near a threatening empire.

Depending on game settings, you may also encounter some AI empires that have an "advanced start". This means that they will likely already possess several colonies and extra resources at the start of the game, making them much stronger than the player. This makes things more interesting for the player seeking to catch up and outpace these empires.

Fallen empires

Main article: Fallen empire

Fallen empires have a glorious history of great power and knowledge, but for unknown reasons have broken apart, turned inward, fallen into decay or apathy, or otherwise declined to a static condition. Whatever their past history and their current focus or beliefs, they tend to be isolationist and react unfavorably when their interests or beliefs are infringed by upstart empires. Their territories and their fleets may be only a fraction of their former extent, but they remain overwhelmingly powerful against the player. Any players that they notice are advised not to provoke them.

Primitives/Pre-sentients

Main article: Pre-FTL species

Finally, players will also likely find much weaker AI "empires". These may range from pre-sentient races ripe for uplift using genetic technology to sentient races in various stages of development from the stone age through early space exploration. While they may be easily subdued by conquerors, observing and interacting peacefully with them is usually expensive but enjoyable and offers long-term rewards. Each such known species and its world appears in the Contact UI (hotkey F3) when the filter is set to include "Pre-FTL."

Early threat and war

Main article: Warfare

Space is dark and full of terrors. Foes abound, so a strong military is advisable even if planning for a peaceful game. The two main branches of the armed forces seen in the game are the space navy and the army. The army rarely sees action except against rebels or in a war that is either going very well or very badly for the navy. The navy is the primary defense of every empire, and consists of ships built at spaceports.

Early game enemies

While the homeworld spaceport provides a reasonable amount of defense, exploration of other star systems will soon run into enemies that it takes a fleet or warships to deal with. Space monsters, for example, often inhabit desirable systems and have to be cleared out before these systems can be exploited. Another early foe is space pirates, spawning from events to attack fragile mining/research bases.

By far the most dangerous early game opponents are AI controlled rival empires with hostile attitudes. Fanatic Purifiers, for instance, can never be reasoned with and will try to annihilate other empires whenever they feel prepared to seize an opportunity. Players with more peaceful policies may find that aggression is necessary for their civilization to expand and take its proper place among the stars. These early game wars among essentially single-system empires can be very risky because the outcome can be decided by a single battle with the victor ready to bombard the loser into submission.

Players that are new to 4X games would be well-advised to take a more passive or submissive approach to the first few games. This will provide them with an opportunity to explore the economic, social and political aspects of the game system, which are critical to funding more aggressive or expansionist empires.

Keeping your military strong

There are four components to naval strength: numbers, technology, design strategy, and leadership.

Construction of a large fleet of warships will depend on the economy, mainly a large stock and income of minerals. These ships cost both energy and minerals to maintain, and can be a severe financial burden especially during war, when you cannot park your fleet in a spaceport.

There are important factors that opposing strength estimates of opposing fleets given by the game do not take into account. The power of the fleet depends very much on keeping up-to-date with military technologies, because even one level of difference between opposing weapon or defense systems can prove decisive in battle.

Even with similar levels of technologies and fleet size, effectiveness of weapons varies greatly with the nature of the opposing defenses. There is great advantage in facing the enemy with weapons, defenses and tactics well-suited to countering the enemy's weapons and exploiting the weak points of the enemy defenses. Investigation of the enemy's technologies and ship design that takes advantage of this information can win wars.

Finally, admirals can provide a huge combat bonus for your fleets. It is advisable to have at least one hired for your main battle fleet when you go to war, and even better if the admiral has earned levels of skill from experience.

Alliances

Main article: Alliances and federations

Besides building a strong navy, the empire can also improve its military position through diplomacy. An early game alliance will easily double the forces facing a potential enemy. Allies will likely be reluctant to vote for war and to extend their full strength if they receive no promise of spoils from the peace. Similar considerations apply to a federation, except that the Federation president has sole control over declarations of war while in office.

The next steps and game goals

Chances are that players can get through an enjoyable early game without thinking much about goals. Like other Paradox games, Stellaris offers a great variety of play styles and the opportunity to create unique experiences. Players may strive towards victory goals predefined by the game or the player, try for specific achievements, role-play leaders of a civilization, or simply enjoy the story as it unfolds.

Progressing through the early game, the number of strategic options presented to a player increase greatly. However, there are some general things that are likely to be worth continuing:

  • Keeping up with research. Remember that each additional planet increases tech cost by 10% and each pop above 10 by 1%, so invest on research buildings on colonized planets and do not expand aimlessly to small or poorly habitable planets.
  • Keeping the military or forming alliances to maintain strength against external threats and control over internal threats arising from factions or unhappiness.
  • Maintain a watchful eye on your borders to ensure you are aware of the opportunities and challenges that will arise as a result of silent border expansion.
  • Remaining curious and having fun. Science ships should be kept busy all the time. They are the best avenue for expanding the scope of the story as whatever they discover usually opens up new opportunities.

References