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From Paradox Development Studios, known for the Crusader Kings, Hearts of Iron, and Europa Universalis series of grand strategy games, comes Stellaris, an evolution of the grand strategy genre with space exploration as its core premise. As with all grand strategy games from Paradox, Stellaris features a large number of mechanics and systems, which can feel overwhelming for those new to Paradox games or grand strategy in general. In conjunction with the in-game tutorial, this beginner’s guide serves to help new players on the basic mechanics of the game and provide them with some tips as they venture out into the great unknown.
- 1 Choosing an empire
- 2 User Interface
- 3 Basic gameplay concepts
- 4 The Early Game
- 5 Interactions with Other Empires
- 6 Late Game
- 7 Tips
- 8 References
Choosing an empire
Before the game begins, players are instructed to select or create an empire to play as. By default, a small list of preset empires are available, each of which represents a common (real life or science fiction) stereotype that players can also encounter in-game. The characteristics of preset empires indicate their preferred strategies such as peaceful expansion, technological superiority, and endless conquest to name a few.
For new players, it is strongly recommended to use or create an empire using the warp FTL method, since this eliminates the extra micro involved with building and maintaining Wormhole Generators and the additional route planning required by hyperspace empires. Another important restriction new players should be aware of is that Pacifist empires cannot outright annex planets without changing their ethics, and should not be chosen lightly if the player is considering expansion by military conquest.
Finally, the Random button will generate an empire in the same manner as most AI empires in-game. Players will not be able to see the results until a game is created, however, and the relative inflexibility of certain combinations can lead to particularly difficult games.
Creating a new empire involves selecting all of the component characteristics of an empire by hand, resulting in a fully fledged custom civilization that can be saved and played alongside the existing preset empires. Players are recommended to create a few empires of their own to get familiar with how each major part of an empire - traits, ethics, homeworld, government, civics, and starting tech - affects their gameplay. For example, xenophilic empires will always be more inclined towards constructive diplomacy and trade relative to other ethics, while the combination of Militarist, Spiritualist, and Xenophobe generally implies some degree of inevitable confrontation with other empires.
The following section will skim through each section of the empire creation process. Species Traits, Government & Ethics and Ships are the three sections that will impact gameplay the most and should be the sections the player puts the most time into consideration (after cosmetics). In all sections below, players are free to mix and match categories of names, cities, and other cosmetic effects that do not match their species classification -- in other words, players are free to create a reptilian race with mammalian names who adopt avian architecture and pilot fungoid ships.
- Appearance: Portraits from the base game, DLC, and mods are available here to be chosen as the visual depiction of the empire species.
- Species Name: The name, plural, and adjective form for the empire species to be referred to by the in-game text. The game can suggest adjectives for the species once the singular form of its name has been entered. A space for custom biography is also available for flavor.
- Name List: The default prefix and name list for ships, leaders, and fleets. Players can freely rename most of these in-game.
- Traits: Traits are effectively passive effects exhibited by the empire species that can help or hinder their contributions to the empire. With the exception of habitability, all traits selected on this screen affect the empire species only. Players have 2 points to spend on positive and negative traits, with positive traits spending points and negative traits awarding them. No more than five traits may be selected, and players are not allowed to select traits that cancel each other out (e.g. no fair picking up both Communal and Solitary). Traits can be modified in-game through research of relevant technologies, and via Utopia DLC's Ascension Perks.
- Ruler - Enter the name and choose the appearance of your empire's first ruler. You may also enter the title(s) which will apply to all your rulers (different titles for different sexes are available); if you have already selected a government (below), a title will be suggested for you.
Since there exist multiple viable paths to healthy empire development and mistakes are not punished too harshly, new players are free (and encouraged!) to experiment with the available traits. Nevertheless, there are a few general guidelines players should consider when selecting traits. Firstly, traits that benefit all populations such as Communal are easier to fully leverage than specific traits such as Natural Physicists, which only benefit populations working a tile with physics on it. Although players generally begin the game with one species alone, this distinction will become important later if players choose to build robots and/or permit alien species to live in their empire. Resilient and other traits related to army damage are relatively underwhelming due to the mechanics of planetary sieges and ground invasions; individual power differences can be overcome with superior numbers. Fleeting is a potentially dangerous trait since it places an increased drain on influence as players must continually replace leaders who have died. However, this trait is readily countered with cheaper leader recruitment civics and other early-game options such as the Mind & Body tradition.
- Name & Class: This page covers the characteristics of the empire's civilization and home system. Two preset star systems are available for a more controlled starting resource distribution: Sol (the human home system) or Deneb. The nine planet types are split into three categories - wet, dry, and frozen - and are mostly cosmetic due to the equally random distribution of them throughout the galaxy. However, the player's home planet determines the base habitability of the empire species' populations on other planets - e.g. a species whose homeworld is a Continental planet would have a reasonable habitability score on an Ocean planet and an unacceptable one on a Tundra planet.
- City Appearance: This page affects the style of architecture on your empire's homeworld and colonized planets, and is purely cosmetic.
- Government & Ethics: This page determines the empire's starting ethics set, government type, and civics, all of which impact gameplay immensely. Ethics determine basic attitudes of the governing power, which then determines the available types of authority. Authority determines the duration which a ruler (NPC leader) is permitted to lead the empire, and how the empire decides on a new ruler once they depart. Civics are the personal touches that differentiate otherwise similar empires (e.g. the British versus the French, as opposed to Communist China), and the available choices are determined by the empire's ethics and authority.
- Ethics (also called ethos) are split into four axes of thought and provide base bonuses to the player empire while also influencing base attitudes with AI empires in many cases as well. Empires with matching ethics are far more likely to succeed in mutual cooperation from initial contact (vis-a-vis Humans and Vulcans in Star Trek). Unless the player decides on the Hive Mind ethic, the player must allocate three points along the four ethics axes. Hence, the player must decide on either a set of three blue ethics or a blue ethic and a more extreme orange Fanatical ethic. The four ethics axes are as follows:
- The Egalitarian- Authoritarian axis governs attitudes towards how power is distributed and its effect on average citizens, i.e. freedom versus control. Egalitarian empires enjoy lowered consumer goods costs and more influence from satisfied factions, while authoritarian empires spend less influence to resettle pops between planets and experience less unrest from enslaved pops. Having an ethic on this axis also restricts the type of authority the empire may exhibit.
- The Xenophobe- Xenophile axis governs attitudes towards alien species, spanning between isolationism and proactive coexistence. Xenophiles naturally have higher opinions among other species and spend less influence in negotiations with them, whereas xenophobes have larger borders and gain more influence from rivalries with other empires.
- The Militarist- Pacifist axis governs attitudes towards how the civilization views the concept of war, viewing it as either military tradition or unnecessary violence. Militarist empires enjoy bonuses to army damage and the fire rates of their naval ships, whereas pacifist empires can directly control more planets without the need for sectors in addition to increased unity generation to help adopt traditions.
- The Materialist- Spiritualist axis governs attitudes towards epistemology[], translating in-game as values concerning consciousness, unity of belief, and scientific knowledge. Materialist empires have beliefs rooted in technology and material value of objects, which translates to faster technology research and reduced robot maintenance costs. Spiritualists, meanwhile, are more religious and believe that their purpose is to attain a higher level of existence, and consequently, their citizens are less likely to rebel and adopt different individual ethics.
- Finally, the central Hive Mind ethic leads to a completely different style of gameplay and will not be covered here, although it is arguably a novice-friendly ethic to choose.
- Authority is the archetype of government that the empire exercises. Its primary purpose is to determine how flexible the leadership is to change, i.e. how often a player can take advantage of a powerful ruler or must cope with a weak one.
- Civics are the principles and ideas the empire's government was founded on, and provide bonuses that permit players to tailor their empires to an ideal strategy. Possibilities range from general bonuses such as Idealistic Foundation for additional happiness, to specific bonuses such as Slaver Guilds, which increases the productivity of enslaved pops gathering food and minerals.
- Ethics (also called ethos) are split into four axes of thought and provide base bonuses to the player empire while also influencing base attitudes with AI empires in many cases as well. Empires with matching ethics are far more likely to succeed in mutual cooperation from initial contact (vis-a-vis Humans and Vulcans in Star Trek). Unless the player decides on the Hive Mind ethic, the player must allocate three points along the four ethics axes. Hence, the player must decide on either a set of three blue ethics or a blue ethic and a more extreme orange Fanatical ethic. The four ethics axes are as follows:
- Empire Name: The empire's name and adjective used by the in-game text. If the player's species name and government type have been decided on, the game will suggest names with those factors in mind.
- Flag: Empire flags consist of a primary color, secondary color, background design, and sigil. While all are purely cosmetic, the primary color also determines the color of the empire's territory in the Galaxy view, as well as model decorations such as engine trails.
Just like with species traits, new players are encouraged to experiment somewhat with what they like with respect to ethics, government and civics to reshape their empire as they desire. There are, however, a few noteworthy points to keep in mind. In regards to ethics, Spiritualist has a hidden advantage in Psionic Theory, which permits research into specific psionic technologies starting from the mid-game; these serve to compensate against Materialist's general tech advantage. Additionally, Authoritarian empires cannot use democratic authority in their government, while Egalitarians cannot use imperial or dictatorial authority. Both Fanatic versions of these ethics are banned from using oligarchic authority as well, leaving Fanatic Authoritarian empires only imperial or dictatorial authority and Fanatic Egalitarian empires only democratic. For players who wish to experiment with slavery, an Authoritarian and/or Xenophobe ethic is recommended.
As for authority, democratic authority introduces more micro in regards to leader management - with its 10-year election cycles and mandates, rulers will constantly be reassigned to different posts in the empire and priorities will shift to satisfy mandates for regular influence bonuses. For those who wish to experience some leader flexibility but do not like the mandate gameplay, the oligarchic and dictatorial authorities are suitable middle grounds, with longer election cycles and leaders being elected on agendas that provide various passive boosts to the empire.
Finally, considering the large number of available civics in Stellaris, new players are advised to begin with one or two generalist bonuses that do not have restrictions, particularly regarding resource bonuses and unrest mitigation. This is especially true if the player intends to experiment with different forms of government in-game, as this eliminates the fear of voiding potentially valuable civic bonuses. Initial expansion is bounded by minerals income, and to a lesser degree population growth/ energy/ influence. Adopting the relevant civics ( Mining Guilds for minerals) will help players push forward in the early-game and compensate for inevitable losses.
- Starting Weapons: The three base weapon types offer different advantages to the empire. Ballistic weapons grant Mass Drivers that provides higher overall DPD (damage per day) with limited range, Energy weapons provide Lasers with improved armor penetration but poorer shield performance, and Missile weapons possess superior range but are both slow and vulnerable to point defense.
- FTL Method: This option determines the FTL method of travel for all of the empire's ships (or at least until jump drives become available). Warp is relatively slow and suffers from cooldown after travel, leaving ships vulnerable. However, this is the suggested FTL method for new players because it permits ships to travel freely to any star within warp range, making initial exploration simple and fleet mobility a trivial logistic issue. Hyperdrives provide very fast travel along fixed networks that are visible only to hyperdrive empires and those who have researched how to map them. However, these empires are vulnerable to being blocked by various hostile entities at chokepoints, depending on the galaxy layout. Wormholes provide constant-time travel over vast ranges, but require stations to be built and maintained in order to do so. This additional building requirement adds an additional layer of logistics for relevant empires.
- Ship Appearance: The appearance of ships are again cosmetic and serves to finish the look of the empire. Some of the lighting effects on the ships are determined by the empire's primary color in the Flag section.
Ballistic or energy weapons are usually recommended for newer players unless they intend to rush for full fleet capacity as their opening, in which case missiles are the more effective choice. Whatever the starting weapon selection, specializing in only one type is not particularly recommended, as diversifying the fleet's weaponry will allow it to effectively combat different builds of ships. Additional weapon types and upgrades are available for research and should be fully unlocked by the mid-game at the latest. Note that the FTL setting can be overwritten by restricting the empire's starting FTL type in game setup. An alternative novice player suggestion would be to restrict all empires to either warp or hyperspace travel, which equalizes all empires until jump drive availability.
- Main article: User interface
Stellaris' interface, also called graphical user interface (GUI or simply UI), serves to inform the player of all of the game's happenings and events. This section will briefly describe the interface and the more critical components of it.
The UI of Stellaris is similar to previous PDS games: mainly menus and sub-menus containing any relevant information and actions pertaining to the objects the player selects. Navigating such an interface can appear daunting at first, but all the information is organized logically and players will become intimately familiar with the UI after a few minutes of play. It is strongly recommended that the player uses the in-game tutorials to fully familiarize themselves with the UI, although this section will serve as a brief overview for those seeking a quicker briefing. Like other PDS games, nearly everything in Stellaris has a tooltip with it - if something is unclear for the player, hovering over the button (or icon, statistic, etc.) will explain in detail what it is, what it does, and why it is like that.
In the top left corner of the screen is the empire's emblem; clicking on it will take the player to the Government screen, from which they can view how the empire is doing economically and culturally, as well as reform its government entirely. Next to that is the Contacts menu, which will store all empires, Fallen Empires, primitive species and everything else the player can communicate with in-game. The menu also displays other empires' opinion scores, their ethics, and what galactic organizations they are associated with. Next is the Situation Log, which includes all side missions and special projects the player's empire can undertake. The icon glows orange when there are updates to be viewed. Next, the Research menu displays what the empire's three research scientists are currently working on. From here, the player can check the progress their scientists have made on their current projects and assign them new ones once they are finished. The final menu is actually a drop-down containing all other menus in-game. An in-depth discussion is reserved for the main article, but important menus for players to be familiar with include Planets and Sectors, Policies and Edicts, Factions, Traditions, and Ship Designer.
Further along the top of the screen are the player's currently available resources, as well as how much of a resource the player gains or loses each month. These resources are, from left to right, Energy Credits, Minerals, Food, Influence, and Unity. Beside them are the three types of research: Physics, Society and Engineering. Since research is not a banked resource, it suffices to show only the amount of research gained each month in each field. Further along are the empire's strategic resources, core sector systems and fleet size, all of which are displayed as amount used over amount available.
In the top right corner is the game clock, displayed as a date starting with January 1, 2200. The game begins with time paused, and the player may press the Spacebar (by default) or click the pause button to start or stop advancing time. The game has four unpaused speeds - Slow, Normal, Fast, and Fastest - which can be switched between using the plus and minus buttons off to the side. The clock's pause button should not be confused with the pause button for the music player, which lies just below.
Along the bottom of the upper bar, notifications will appear alerting the player to different events occurring across the galaxy. Most will disappear over time, but the player can also right click on these notifications to dismiss them manually.
To the right of the screen is the Outliner, through which the player can interact with almost all of the empire's major assets. Planets shows the colonized planets in the empire's core sector. Military Fleets shows the number of ships in each fleet as well as the fleet's estimated power level. Civilian Ships lists all of the empire's science, construction, and colony vessels. Rally Points lists the places ships can be set to travel to by default. Finally, Factions display the empire's factions, their happiness scores, and the number of pops affiliated with them. Left clicking on any of these items will either select it or bring up a menu to interact with it.
Along the bottom lies the system name, a button to zoom out to the galaxy map, and a number of buttons used outside of the main gameplay loop, such as system settings, help, and chat for multiplayer games.
Finally, in the lower left corner is hotkey bindings for various items in the Outliner. Although the game can be played almost entirely with just a mouse, players may also assign items to a hotkey (typically a number key) and then press that hotkey to select the corresponding item.
Basic gameplay concepts
Being a hybrid of the 4X and grand strategy genres, Stellaris' gameplay revolves around the classic 4X concepts (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) while also providing deeper diplomacy and governance options. This section will serve as a primer for players new to these concepts and acquaint seasoned strategy game players with Stellaris' mechanics.
- Main article: Exploration
Space is vast and mysterious, and it is only natural to want to explore it and discover its secrets. In Stellaris, players use science ships to do this, and all players begin with one staffed by a scientist. Although players can see the number of planets in any system they've uncovered as well as potentially habitable ones, it is the job of the science ship to survey celestial bodies, identify exploitable resources and enable colonization, as well as to analyze any anomalies found during their surveys.
Since the player's home system begins unsurveyed, a wise first action is to task the science vessel with surveying it. After surveying the player's home system, the player should then follow up with all systems inside their borders (this can be hard to determine initially since the map is 3D but the territory marker is 2D; stars that project a hexagon inside an empire's borders belong to that empire). Another idea that can be executed during the home system survey is to split the starting three-corvette fleet into individual ships in Evasive Mode and use them to scout for colonizable systems and hostile entities. While the science ship is toggled to Evasive Mode by default, losing an early corvette is much easier to recover from compared to a science ship and the scientist on it. Players should also consider making a second science ship as soon as they have the resources for it, and seek to maintain 2-3 science ships across all stages of the game. Later in the game, when all nearby systems have been surveyed, one of these ships can be sent back to the home system to perform Assist Research once the appropriate technology is unlocked.
During their surveys, science ships have a chance of encountering an anomaly. Anomalies often trigger interesting events when analyzed, however, there is also a chance of failure (presented in the anomaly's pop-up window) that can result in the ship being destroyed and/or the scientist being killed. This chance is mostly determined by the relative level of the scientist compared to the anomaly plus other modifiers and traits. Since anomalies do not disappear until they have been analyzed, leaving a high-level anomaly alone until the scientist has gained a few levels is a perfectly fine strategy. Logistics involving anomalies can be fiddly at times; they are not analyzed automatically, although a ship already surveying a system can investigate an anomaly it just found and then continue with its survey without the need for extra input. Some anomalies also spawn special projects that require a scientist's presence, sometimes of a certain level. Science ships do not do these projects on their own, and should players wish to undertake these projects, they should do so before the ship leaves the system, or assign another science ship to follow up.
For players who enjoy exploring the galaxy and conducting research, To Boldly Go in the Discovery traditions tree is an excellent early game choice for discovering and successfully analyzing anomalies.
As the player explores the galaxy, they will almost certainly uncover systems rich in resources that unfortunately lie outside of their empire's borders. Since players are not allowed to exploit systems they do not own, the simplest way to fix this is to expand their territory and lay claim to more star systems. There are two main ways to accomplish this task: through colonizing planets and constructing frontier outposts.
Colonizing a planet takes a fair amount of resources to do, but is the more permanent (and in the long term, less expensive) method of claiming a system and growing an empire's borders. Each planet in the galaxy has a climate determining the habitability of an empire's species and a size corresponding to the number of tiles on that planet (hence the maximum number of pops it can support). Planets can also occasionally have modifiers on them that can affect the colonists and their productivity. Each tile on the planet can contain resource deposits, and some may be occupied by tile blockers, which must be cleared before the tile can be worked by a pop. Colonized planets can also support a spaceport, used to build, upgrade and maintain the empire's ships.
To colonize a planet, empires must first construct a colony ship at an existing spaceport. Colony ships cost 350 minerals to build by default and typically take a year to build. Once built, the colony ship then needs to fly to a habitable planet, land, and then take another year establishing a foothold on the planet. From the time colony ship finishes construction until the new colony is operational, the ship has a maintenance cost of 8 energy per month. Selecting a planet to colonize also costs at least 30 influence, with the final cost increasing with distance from already colonized planets and frontier outposts.
The last consideration to be made for a new colony is where its capital should be on the planet surface. At first, the capital will just be the colony ship itself, but it will eventually be eligible for an upgrade after 5 pops have settled on the planet. The upgraded capital will then start to provide bonuses to deposits of energy, food, and minerals on the tiles above, below, and next to the capital building. The capital itself produces energy and unity, so the ideal spot for a capital would be on an energy deposit, surrounded on all sides by non-research resources.
Colonization is expensive on multiple fronts and thus players should plan ahead on when and where to expand their empire. After habitability, planets with a size of at least 18 are typically very good colony candidates, although strategic considerations should also be taken into account -- e.g. resource richness and proximity to other empires. Since spaceports have strong defenses in the early game, warmongering players could set up a colony near a prospective enemy's borders, construct a spaceport, and then use it as a forward base for their operations.
Although on average only a third of the available planets will be suitable for colonization (at least 40% habitability for the empire's main species), to maintain game-balance all empires in the galaxy begin with a number of habitable planets within if not near their borders. While this ensures that no empire gets doomed out of the gate with their spawn location, if multiple empires with similar homeworlds spawn in the same cluster as each other, losing the opening "land grab" can severely hamper an empire's midgame performance. Scouting early and building the first colony ship in a timely manner will usually suffice to keep players from losing out too much in this respect (unless, of course, they plan to take planets by force).
As a closing note, it helps to remember that the galaxy map in Stellaris is 3D. Stars may geometrically lie above or below the plane of an empire's border and may not actually belong to that empire even though it appears to. To help determine ownership, each star projects a hexagon onto the plane empire borders are drawn on. If a star's hexagon lies within the empire's borders, then the star and all the objects in that system belong to that empire. Ownership of star systems can change throughout the game, as empires' borders can expand or contract as the game progresses.
Many of the resource banks in the game are in star systems that do not have any colonizable planets in them. If such a system lies outside the borders of an empire wishing to exploit these resources, then instead of sending a colony ship to the system, they may instead use a construction ship to build a frontier outpost to lay claim to the nearby star systems. Frontier outposts can also be used as a short-term alternative to colonization, or to safeguard a potentially colonizable world from other empires.
Frontier outposts cost 200 minerals and at least 30 influence to build, similar to colonization. Once built, the outpost requires 3 energy and 1 influence per month to maintain. This upkeep cost means that players should refrain from constructing large numbers of outposts, lest they run the risk of exhausting an important resource for empire management. The starting influence income for default empires normally allows for the placement of one or two frontier outposts without encountering resource issues.
Frontier outposts work best when they can capture as many stars as possible in their borders; for example, placing an outpost near the center of a star cluster is considered a good use of resources. Systems with multiple mineral, energy, and research deposits are also especially appealing locations. Players are likely to find at least one mineral rich system lying outside of their borders, an excellent location for a first outpost.
Frontier outposts can also be used tactically against rival empires. Building an outpost to capture systems that other parties would be interested in exploiting or colonizing is a great way to disrupt their expansion and limit their options economically. If the player plans to do this, the outpost must be built preemptively; if another empire lands a colony ship in the system before the outpost finishes, or if the colony's borders reach the system the outpost is being built in, the build order gets canceled and the construction ship gets evicted.
For players who enjoy the prospect of colonizing multiple worlds over the course of the game, traditions from the Expansion tree will prove useful. The tree contains traditions to ease the economic and time burdens incurred by colonization and construction of frontier outposts. Notably, Reach for the Stars and Galactic Ambition both decrease the influence costs incurred by distant colonies and outposts, and decrease monthly maintenance costs. The Prosperity tree also contains Trans-Stellar Corporations, allowing empires to spend energy on colony ships as opposed to minerals (with a slight drawback in that the ethics of the new colony are randomized, but the consequences of that is beyond the scope of this guide).
- Main article: Economy
Resources in Stellaris come in three different categories:
Basic resources are global assets shared throughout the empire and can be viewed at the top of the screen at all times. With the exception of research, all resources have an upper limit on how much the empire can have of that resource at a time. The amount of resource will be displayed in yellow if it is at capacity, and any further gains to that resource are usually forfeit until the level comes down. There are 8 basic resources in the game:
- Energy credits are the currency of choice in the galaxy and are used to power buildings, maintain ships, establish colonies, clear out tile blockers, negotiate deals and more. Energy production can be increased by constructing power plants and setting up mining stations.
- Minerals are used primarily to build things - ships, armies, buildings, spaceports, construction ship stations, and just about everything the empire needs to grow and prosper are paid for in minerals. The empire also uses them as bargaining chips in trade deals and to maintain standards of living for its pops. Minerals can be obtained more quickly by building mining networks and mining stations.
- Food is used to feed populations and maintain population growth across the empire. Unlike other resources, whose capacities are determined mostly by tech research and traditions, the empire's food storage capacity is determined by its stockpiling policy. Food surpluses are used to accelerate population growth, while an exhausted food bank will cause shortages, resulting in undesirable effects on the empire's populace overall. Food can be gathered on planet tiles and grown in hydroponic farms.
- Influence is a currency representing the ruler's political clout, and in its most basic sense is used to get the empire's citizens to do things. Appointing new Leaders, colonizing planets, building and maintaining frontier outposts, reforming the empire's government, endorsing political candidates in elections, resettling pops, and enacting edicts are all done with influence. Influence gain per month can be increased by declaring rivalries and researching technologies, while block amounts of influence can be acquired by finishing events, investigating anomalies, achieving particular war goals, and fulfilling mandates of democratic leaders.
- Unity represents the cultural progress of the empire as a whole, and is spent on empire traditions. Unity is generated at a flat rate with capital buildings and monuments, but production can also be scaled with certain ethics, civics, and unique buildings. When unity reaches capacity, the empire gets to select a tradition to adopt, with the unity requirement going up for each subsequent tradition. With the Utopia DLC, this eventually leads to the empire acquiring Ascension Perks that ultimately define its endgame goals.
- The three branches of research - Physics, Society, and Engineering - are each separate resources that are used to research technology for the empire. Raw science output can be increased by constructing science labs and research stations, and sometimes blocks of research can be earned as rewards for analyzing anomalies, scanning debris, and completing projects.
In addition to these basic resources, there are also various strategic resources scattered across the galaxy. After researching the technology to identify and locate these resources, empires may acquire them to receive valuable bonuses. Standard strategic resources, such as Teldar crystals, provide empire-wide benefits for having at least one of that resource. Since there are no benefits for having more than one of a single strategic resource, any spares can be traded with other empires accordingly. Local strategic resources, such as Betharian stone, are specific only to the planet the resource is on. Typically, this allows the planet to construct a special building utilizing the resource, providing multiple benefits to the planet's output and/or its pops.
Energy, minerals and all three flavors of research can be found on uncolonizable celestial bodies and on the surface of colonizable ones, while food can only be found on the surface of colonizable planets. Resources on uncolonizable objects can be harvested through mining stations (for energy credits and minerals) or research stations (for research). Meanwhile, resources on the surface of planets can only be accessed if the empire has colonized the planet and has a pop working the tile.
In the latter case, if the player decides to improve a tile by placing a building on it, unless the building generates the same resource as the tile it is on, the resource on the tile is suppressed in favor of the building's resource. To avoid this, the player should aim to construct buildings on tiles that generate the same resource as the building. For example, building a power plant on an energy deposit is an excellent idea, whereas building it on top of a food supply, without a good reason, is usually not.
Most of the player's early game decisions will be limited by their mineral income first, so players should strive to maximize their minerals per month as quickly as possible, while also aiming to acquire a modest reserve of energy in the meantime. In doing this, players will have ample resources available to expand, place buildings, build ships, and construct stations. Easing this income burden early on will allow players to take on multiple empire goals at once, which in turn strengthens their presence in the galaxy overall. Alternatively, players looking to build tall (i.e. fewer colonies with more pops across them) might consider prioritizing research and unity, as the cost of technologies and traditions scales directly with the number of colonies they have.
Systems containing 3+ minerals and/or energy deposits should be prioritized when it comes to placing mining stations, due to their relative increased cost compared to base level mining networks and power plants on planets. To offset these costs, adopting the Prosperity or Discovery tradition trees reduce the mineral cost of mining and research stations by 33% respectively, which will help ease up the general mineral bind of the early game. The player is advised to tread carefully when placing stations near the edge of their borders, as should they recede to where they no longer claim the system the stations are in, they run the risk of shutting down or even falling into the hands of another empire.
Once the basic needs of the empire are met, the next goal for the player is to increase their overall production across all basic resources. Some players will find this task is easily handled by specializing their planets in one or two specific resources each. Since food is shared across all the empire's planets, the demand for it is often handled by simply installing and upgrading hydroponic farms on the appropriate tiles. Energy and minerals have two special categories of buildings - energy grids and mineral processing plants - which are planet uniques that provide a percent bonus to their respective outputs on that planet. Players are also encouraged to research the appropriate Physics and Engineering techs where available to raise the storage caps on both of these resources, as well as unlock upgrades for their harvesting stations.
Players should strive to keep their research incomes as balanced as possible across all three fields to ensure no tech research lags behind the others. To achieve this goal, players may construct science labs on planets, specializing them later on to make up for any deficiencies. Society is the most common science resource found on buildings, so upgrades for science labs to physics labs or engineering facilities should be slightly more common than biolabs. Later in the game, the player may decide to specialize in one of the fields to rush appealing technologies for their empire, but for the early and midgame, a balanced load across all fields will keep options open for the late game.
Unity generation can be maximized by ensuring the appropriate buildings are on each planet in the empire. This will help counteract the higher tradition costs incurred for holding multiple colonies. Capital buildings, unity buildings, and a number of planetary uniques all generate unity for the empire, and energy grids can also generate unity with the Pursuit of Profit Prosperity tradition. Finally, influence is not generated by planets at all, but monthly income can be increased by researching specific techs (usually Society), rivaling other empires, and keeping factions' happiness ratings above 60%. Democratic empires can also gain regular influence bonuses by satisfying their leader's mandate by the start of the next election cycle.
Regardless of what the player's ultimate plan is for a game, it is vital that they maintain a capable fleet of combat ships to guard their territory or to attack their opponents'. Even in the early stages of the game, the player's empire may find itself under attack from space pirates or hostile aliens; thus having a respectable military presence is of major importance throughout the campaign.
There are four types of ships in the game: corvettes, destroyers, cruisers, battleships from smallest to largest. Each empire starts the game with a fleet of three corvettes outfitted with their choice of starting weaponry, along with a spaceport for constructing more of them. Researching the appropriate Engineering technologies will unlock blueprints for building destroyers, cruisers, and battleships in that order. The Ship Designer menu (F10 by default) allows players to custom build each classification of ship using techs they have unlocked over the course of the game. Each classification of ship takes up 1, 2, 4 and 8 fleet size respectively, and players should be mindful not to exceed their empire's maximum fleet capacity if they wish to avoid increased maintenance costs.
For each ship design, the player must first decide on which section(s) to use for the ship's hull. Each section provides a number of weapon slots, used for attacking enemy ships, and utility slots, used for defensive systems and power. These slots typically come in one of four sizes - Small, Medium, Large, and eXtra large - although there are also some special types of slots used for Torpedoes, Point-defense modules, Hangars for drones and other strike craft, and Auxiliary systems. Each ship contains space for four subsystems - one each for an FTL module, combat computer, thrusters, and sensors.
Each ship runs on energy (not to be confused with the resource energy credits in this context) supplied to it by reactors placed in the ship's utility slots. Almost every module that is not armor or a reactor drains the ship's total available energy, which must be at least 0 in order for the design to be viable. In general, components in larger slots deal more damage, have longer ranges, absorb more damage and/or supply more energy, but also consume more energy, cost more minerals to build, and are less accurate. Players will often build ships with small weapons to fight smaller ships (since small weapons are harder to avoid) and large weapons to fight larger ships.
The three weapon types in Stellaris are specialized in their own ways, with each one having its own set of strengths and weaknesses:
- Energy weapons (lasers, lances, plasma throwers) have the best armor penetration modifiers out of all the weapon types, but have a fairly short range and, with the exception of disruptors, do little damage to shielded targets.
- Kinetic weapons (mass drivers, artillery, autocannons) are excellent at destroying shields and can roll for higher damage than other weapon types, but are the most inaccurate of the three types.
- Explosive weapons (missiles, torpedoes, swarmers) are very accurate and track enemy ships, meaning their damage is almost unavoidable, but they must travel to hit their target and therefore they can be shot down by strike craft and point-defense.
There are also four defensive statistics associated with each ship:
- Shields prevent hull damage from being done to the ship. They can only absorb a limited amount of damage before needing to recharge.
- Evasion shows the probability that the ship avoids all damage from a single shot of an enemy weapon.
- Armor decreases the amount of damage done to the ship's hull after the shields are depleted.
- Hull points signify how much actual damage the ship can take before being destroyed.
If the builds of the enemy ships are known, it is fairly simple to construct ship plans to hard counter them. For example, if the enemy is using an outfit of battleships with heavy armor and missiles, then an equivalently powerful fleet of destroyers with point-defense modules and lasers will probably make short work of them.
When viewing a fleet in-game, players can see the fleet's estimated power, as well as its composition below it (with one diamond representing corvettes, two for destroyers, and so on). It is important to remember that the fleet's power is an estimation of their strength only; a less "powerful" fleet equipped appropriately is entirely capable of contending with more powerful fleets in battle.
Selecting a fleet - whether it be directly or through the Outliner - will bring up a detailed view of all ships within it, and allow the player to issue commands, as they might do with civilian ships. While learning the basics of fleet logistics is not too difficult, some of the more important tasks for the player to be familiar with include splitting and merging, repairing, upgrading, and setting rally points.
- Main article: Technology
Technologies in Stellaris are divided into three different branches of study: Physics, Society and Engineering. Each branch is headed by a scientist and each one can work on technology research in tandem with the other two branches. Each technology has a field associated with it as well, indicated by the colored icon beneath the technology's numerical progress. If a scientist has a trait whose icon matches the technology's, then that tech is researched 10% faster, as it is in the scientist's field of expertise. The screen also provides useful information regarding what is unlocked by each technology, research speed modifiers for each branch, and a timer projecting how much more time is needed until research is complete.
Rather than a conventional tech tree, Stellaris uses a deck system for determining what technologies are available for research. When selecting a new technology to research, the game randomly selects three technologies the player has met the prerequisites for, and the player may pick any one of them as their new project. The number of techs presented at any given time can be increased by certain techs and Civics (namely Self-Aware Logic and Technocracy). If a player is unsure of what they have researched in the past, the Researched button at the top of the Technology window will list all of the techs the player has completed research on.
There are five major categories of technology in Stellaris, beyond the typical separations by branch.
- Starting technologies are technologies that the empire begins the game with, and includes base level buildings, ship components, spaceports, and ships.
- Acquired technologies are technologies the empire has some understanding of from events or debris analysis but needs to continue research on to fully comprehend it. Acquired techs are surrounded by an orange border and are listed below the standard deal of technologies given to the player when they select a new project.
- Rare technologies are given a purple banner and are very uncommon compared to other technologies available to the player at the time.
- Dangerous technologies are given a red banner and are projects that could bring about an endgame crisis (more about that later).
- Repeatable technologies are given a golden border around the tech's picture and are technologies that can be researched multiple times by an empire for a flat bonus to something each time it is completed.
When researching technology, it is important for the player to balance efficiency with usefulness. While some players may be excited to research a high-end tech earlier than usual, it may be wiser to pass on the opportunity and research some cheaper, more short-term useful techs for the empire instead.
Some special projects in the galaxy may also require one of the empire's research scientists to break from their normal duties and research something else. A common example is the empire's Society leader investigating an alien species. During this time, research points for that branch will instead go towards the special project instead of the standard technology research.
Finally, players should not worry themselves with maintaining perfect uptime when it comes to ensuring research scientists are always researching something. If a branch is not actively researching anything, then any points accumulated for that branch are placed in a pool instead of going to waste. When that branch has a new project, those pooled points are gradually credited towards that project, accelerating its progress. This system allows players to manage their research without needing to pause the game every time a project is completed.
- Main article: Traditions
As the player empire gains unity throughout the game, they will be regularly prompted to select a tradition to adopt for their empire. The tradition tree is split into seven different branches, each of which contains a subtree of five traditions. Adopting a single branch and all of the traditions within it rewards the player with a finisher bonus on top of the adopted tradition, as well as an Ascension Perk slot if the Utopia DLC is installed.
Traditions are typically adopted to define and/or reinforce an empire's playstyle - e.g. a Fanatic Pacifist empire will probably not take too many traditions from the Domination tree. In the early stages of the game, however, there are a myriad of good options available to the player, regardless of where they plan to take their empire later on.
- Expansion traditions aim to get new colonies fully operational in less time than usual, meaning that the first few traditions will appeal to most empires, including those looking to build tall as opposed to wide.
- Domination traditions almost entirely focus on subjugating other, weaker empires, and is arguably the most specialized branch of the seven. Unless the empire is setting out for a domination-type victory, making vassals out of the other empires in the galaxy, most of the traditions in this branch (outside of possibly Colonial Viceroys) can be safely ignored.
- Prosperity traditions seek to help the empire's economy. Adopting this branch decreases the cost of new mining stations by a third, which makes this a very potent first tradition for many empires.
- Harmony traditions contain many quality of life buffs that can help offset the negative traits of the empire's primary species. The tree's adoption bonus and Mind and Body are both excellent counterbalances to the Solitary and Fleeting traits respectively.
- Diplomacy traditions unsurprisingly aim to make cooperation with other empires easier, but even bloodthirstier empires should consider the habitability-boosting Dynamic Ecomorphism, available early on in the tree, to provide more options for expansion later in the game.
- Discovery traditions all help to bolster the empire's science division, and To Boldly Go is an excellent choice for those who enjoy exploring and taking advantage of anomalies in the systems they survey. Afterwards, Planetary Survey Corps will provide a nice boost to early game research as the empire continues to survey systems.
- Supremacy traditions primarily focus on the empire's military strength, but its adoption bonus - a sizable boost to the empire's border range - will make the tree appealing to any empire with appealing systems lying just outside their borders.
- Main article: Leaders
Leading an empire to interstellar glory is not a one-person job. Empires must assemble their top minds, commanders, and politicians to stand a chance in becoming the ultimate force in the galaxy.
All leaders have a skill level, ranging from one to five stars, which signifies how experienced the leader is in their role. As they perform their duties, leaders will gradually accrue experience points, ultimately resulting in them gaining a skill level. Leaders also have individual traits (both positive and negative) that determine their aptitudes and abilities. New traits can be gained from events and through leveling up.
The Leader screen lists all the non-ruler leaders in the player's empire. To recruit a leader, empires must spend influence to add them to the roster. The base cost of recruiting any leader is 50 influence, which can be modified through leader traits, technologies, and other modifiers. When recruiting a leader, the player may select from one of three candidates (the size of this pool can be increased through civics and technology). After recruiting a leader, they are added to the empire's leader roster and marked as "Available." The player must then assign them to a relevant position in the empire for them to start doing their job.
Empires can only manage so many leaders at a given time. Empires may only have ten leaders hired at any given time, not counting the empire's ruler. This number can be increased through relevant civics, technologies, and civics, but if an empire must make room for new hires, leaders can be dismissed by clicking the "X" on their portrait.
There are five types of leaders in Stellaris:
- The empire's ruler oversees all of the empire's operations, and are regularly changed out depending on the empire's authority structure. Although there is no way for rulers to gain experience, civics like Philosopher King can grant them extra levels. Each level provides an empire-wide influence discount to edicts and a boost to unity per month.
- Governors are in charge of individual planets and sectors, managing their citizens, enacting planetwide edicts, and providing various bonuses to the planet or sector overall. Experienced governors quell unrest on the planet, as well as clear blockers and construct buildings faster.
- Scientists conduct research for the empire, command science ships, and execute special projects. Higher level scientists conduct research faster and have higher success rates when investigating anomalies.
- Admirals command the empire's fleets, granting the ships they manage a boost to fire rate, which increases by level.
- Generals lead the empire's armies, boosting their damage and health while also decreasing their upkeep costs.
The Early Game
Once players are familiar with the different systems in Stellaris and how they interact with one another, it's time to begin thinking strategically and planning the empire's future. Creating and honing a strong early game routine will make games all the more enjoyable, knowing that the empire will be off to a good start economically, socially, and militaristically. In this section, we discuss a few general guidelines new players should adhere to as they begin their journey into the stars.
Before we begin, let us quickly go over the empire's starting assets when loading a new game. The player can expect to have:
- A decently sized but procedurally generated homeworld with 100% habitability and eight pops working random tiles. These tiles will have appropriate level 1 buildings on them, including a Planetary Administration
- A level 1 spaceport orbiting the empire's homeworld, outfitted with whatever the empire's starting weapon type is
- Three corvettes, each equipped with the empire's starting weapon and FTL drive
- A construction ship and a science ship, the latter coming with a free scientist at the helm and both using the empire's preferred FTL method
- Three more scientists - one for each branch of the empire's research efforts
- A governor supervising the homeworld's operations and citizens, and
- A reserve of 100 energy credits, 200 minerals, 100 food, and 100 influence.
Gathering resources on celestial bodies
- Main article: Construction
During the start of the game, players are advised to send their science ships to survey their home system. Once this is completed, the science ships are to be sent to survey the nearby systems. As mentioned earlier in the guide, some celestial bodies contain deposits of resources such as minerals or energy credits and these deposits can only be harvested if it has been uncovered by science ships doing surveying missions and such deposits are within the empire’s border. Harvesting these resources would provide players a better start and allows players to be able to construct ships and stations without much waiting.
- Main article: Surveying
When the science ships are doing their survey on celestial bodies, there is a chance for an anomaly to be encountered. The anomaly may be investigated by science ships and the outcome of the investigation can be a success or a failure. The chance of failure diminishes for a scientist with a high skill level. A special project may appear once the investigation of the anomaly is a success. Upon completion of such project, players may be granted a relatively large amount of research points, minerals or energy credits which provide a boost to players.
- Main article: Colonization
Eventually, players would need to colonize other habitable planets to acquire resources for the means to expand their empire geographically and technologically. Colonization is done by sending colony ships to habitable planets that are surveyed. The colonization process requires a colony ship and the expense of some influence. The amount of influence needed is based on the distance from the target planet and friendly territory. As of update 1.3, players are not required to research certain technologies to colonize planets with a different world type. Players may now colonize planets that have a habitability of at least 40%.
Planets project borders around them which allows for empires to occupy more systems. The size of these planets' borders is less than the size of the border projected by the empire’s capital world. Be advised that the size of a planet's border may increase as the number of population on said planet increases. Therefore, players should keep an eye out on the systems that are on the edge of the border as these systems may be acquired through such border expansion.
A newly colonized planet will have a weak production as the planet’s surface is still covered in tile blockers (if the planet has not been terraformed) and the lack of population on the planet. As stated previously, a planet’s population will work on the resource tiles present on the planet’s surface. Therefore, it is recommended to focus on food production to allow the planet’s population to grow before redeveloping the planet for other purposes.
Keeping military strong
- Main article: Ship designer
As with most space 4X games, keeping a strong military presence is vital as it will deter potential attacks. In Stellaris, this statement is true as players may encounter other space-faring empires that have hostile intent or space monsters which are hostile. Therefore, keeping a strong military presence allows for players to defend against attacks should they get themselves into war.
There are 4 types of military ships in Stellaris:
Players may use the in-game ship designer to customize and create unique ship designs and construct them at the spaceports.
Furthermore, the player may construct military stations by using construction ships. These military stations can carry offensive or defensive auras which can be important in a battle. There are currently 3 types of military stations that players can construct:
- Defense Platform
- Defense Station
Players are advised to construct these military stations in vital systems to defend against enemy attacks.
Interactions with Other Empires
As science ships are out into the void exploring the stars, they will inevitably encounter alien life forms. The alien life forms that players can encounter are divided into 4 types:
During their first encounter with these life forms, a special project will appear which players can research it. Doing so will order the required scientific branch of the empire to put their current research projects on hold and focus on the special project. Once the project is completed, another special project may appear if the alien life forms in question are space monsters or the diplomacy screen for first contact will pop up if the alien life forms in question are space-faring empires.
There are some exceptions to this. Fallen empires will contact players automatically if their ships venture into their territory. Pre-sentient species and Pre-FTL species are encountered by science ships which are surveying celestial bodies.
- Main article: Diplomacy
After successfully establishing communications with other space-faring empires, the player may access the diplomacy screen. Players are then able to conduct diplomacy actions with these empires. Some of these diplomacy actions are listed below:
- Declaring war
- Offering trade deals
- Declaring rivalries
- Forming Federations
Majority of these diplomacy actions have a 10-year cooldown once chosen with the exception of trade deals which players can determine how long a deal lasts. The chance for a trade deal to be accepted is influenced by the trade partner's attitude towards the trader's empire and the favourability of the deal proposed.
Forming of Federations
- Main article: Alliances and federations
Besides the construction and employment of a strong military, empires can also improve their military power through the forming of federations. When an empire declares war upon a member of a federation, other members in the federation enter the war as well. However, if a member of a federation were to declare war, other members will be required to vote for whether the member can make the declaration of war (see declarations of war for more details).
Furthermore, there is a victory goal in which members of a federation occupy 60% of all the habitable planets in the galaxy to win the game.
Once players reach the late stages of the game, they should have built an empire with a considerably strong fleet and a strong production of resources. By this stage, players should be pursuing one of the many victory goals present in the game by default. However, the late stage of the game usually involves events that will affect the entire galaxy.
To win Stellaris you must meet the conditions for victory. See here for victory conditions.
As the name implies, an endgame crisis brings about catastrophic results which can affect the entire galaxy. There are several criteria that needed to be fulfilled to trigger such events. Besides that, there can only be one endgame crisis in a single game. Some examples of such endgame crisis are listed below:
- The Contingency (replaced old AI crisis in 1.8, AI rebellion became a midgame event for meatsacks with rebelling droids/synthetics)
- Extra-dimensional Invaders
- Prethoryn Swarm
War in Heaven
This event is considered special as it is not considered an endgame crisis. This event involves 2 Fallen Empires which have awoken due to reasons unknown and these 2 superpowers launch a great war against one another, dragging the normal empires into the war as well. However, this event is not guaranteed to occur and the host of the game must have the Leviathans DLC.
The Utopia DLC comes with several long-term goals starting in by the middle-game for players to work their empire towards. There are three (mutually-exclusive) species ascension paths as well as the ability to construct mega-structures, representing different destinies of the empire and what kind of mark they leave upon the galaxy's history.
- Keeping up with research. Remember that each additional planet increases technology cost by 10% and each population above 10 by 1%, so investments on research buildings on colonized planets is needed. Players should not expand aimlessly to small or poorly habitable planets as they will increase the technology cost. The colonizing of these small or poorly habitable planets should be a last resort if players need extra naval capacity for their empire.
- Players should keep their military strength at its peak at all times. These should allow them to be able to tackle external threats and control over internal threats which are arising from factions or unhappiness.
- Remain curious and having fun. Players should keep their science ships busy at all times. As these ships continue to explore the unknown void, the story of the game should unfold for players to enjoy.