The Leviathan awakes tomorrow

Quendan 2016-10-20

Stellaris: Leviathans and the 1.3 patch titled ‘Heinlein’ will hit the virtual shelves tomorrow. Paradox had announced their story pack back in September. For the developers, a ‘story pack’ is paid content classed between a feature pack and a full-blown expansion. Leviathans is priced at $9.99 and brings, among other features, space dragons and traders to the game. The full changelog for both the story pack and the Heinlein-patch have been released on Paradox’s forums earlier this week. Should you be excited for it and pick up the DLC, or just stick with the patch? Let’s have a look.

First off, Leviathans brings Guardians, Enclaves, and The War in Heaven into the game. On top of that, buyers get cute race portraits for alien races, and new music.

  • Guardians, the namesake leviathans of space, are only hinted at in the devblogs. Paradox has already revealed a space dragon that gives access to a hoard (+30 energy, +30 minerals), an infinity machine and a mystical being that lives inside a star. They are supposed to be mid-game challenges for your empire and it seems like they are going to be the key suppliers of the story events in this DLC. While you will be able to interact with some of those giants, some will require a fleet. At this point, I am curious to see how the guardians and their loot will be balanced against other mid-game content, and how the AI will deal with them.
  • Enclaves. They are new stationary factions are called Traders, Artists and Curators. Traders allow you to exchange energy and minerals, and vice versa, and sell strategic resources. Artists allow you to commission artworks or hold festivals on planets, while curators assist in research and can sell star charts. Additionally, you will be able to go to war with them and loot their bases for fun and profit. Depending on whether there are limits to what you can trade, traders will offer interesting gameplay options to specialised economies, such as mega corp government that focus on mineral production and run negative energy balances, or vice versa. It remains to be seen what the feature set of the artisans will be. At the moment it looks like they will be providing pop happiness modifiers. Since happiness was severely nerfed in June’s ‘Asimov’-patch, I have my doubts about their usefulness. Curators seem to be the most interesting new faction, which provides access to new technologies, star charts and insights into guardians. As I play ‘tall’ empires myself and prefer to foster technology-focussed empires, I am curious to see how I can leverage them.
  • The War in Heaven is the feature I am most psyched about. Here, two Awakened Empires (more on that later) of opposing ethos have a chance of going to war with each other and actively recruiting lesser empires. Players and AI will have to choose to align themselves with one of those empires, or withstand as a coalition of unaligned empires. With the new vassal mechanic for Awakened Empires, this gives the possibility of altering the shape of the galaxy significantly ahead of Stellaris’ endgame crises. I found the mid-game of Stellaris rather stale and something you get through before snowballing other empires. With this feature, Stellaris might well become much more enjoyable.

The ‘Heinlein’-patch brings a bunch of quality of life improvements, changes ship balance and diplomacy, reworks Fallen Empires and tweaks the universe ever so slightly.

  • Quality of life is always a sticking point for Paradox games. They essentially produce games that, at their base, are very technical. UI design and usability concerns do not always take center stage. Mere hours after picking up Stellaris, I was already becoming annoyed that I could not have fleets rally around my capital planet, for example. Lots of my, and I am sure, many other players’, grievances are addressed with this patch. You will now be able to destine fleets and planets as rally points, and research a tech that allows for automatic exploration. On the UI end, you will now have access to an expansion-planner tab that allows you to see, which planets are available for colonisation and which resource deposits can still be harvested. This is especially important, since the universe of Stellaris will change quite a bit with the patch.
  • Universe changes. Planetary colonisation tech will be abandoned, since new planet classes (Alpine and Savannah) are introduced. This comes with the introduction of ‘climate zones’, so that players can classify their race’s planets as dry/wet/cold. Tundra races, for example, will have 80% habitability on tundra planets and an automatic 60% on ice and alpine. This should allow for quicker colonisation in the early game, since tech gating is now no longer a thing. At the same time, there will be a lot less habitable planets in the universe. Nonetheless, you will now be able to tweak the galaxy creation. Similarly, there will be new technologies to terraform tomb world and create Gaia worlds that have 100% habitability for all races – another boon for tech-focussed empires. On the universe end, strategic resources will be reworked – they will spawn less often, but will always give a global effect to your empire. Depending on whether resources scale, this gives you all the more reasons to engage in trading with other empires to get access to their resources. Additionally, space creatures now spawn to set regions of space and have a home system that you can conquer for some loot in the early- and mid-game.
  • The ship balance changes are almost too numerous to describe in detail. In short, a new tracking stat is introduced that works similarly to EVE Online: big guns have a hard time hitting small, nimble ships. On top of that, Paradox introduces an extra large weapon mount and give point defense cannons and torpedoes their own slots, and scale the effects armor has, while increasing base armor of larger ships. At least in theory, this will encourage more diversified fleet comps with torpedo corvettes trying to take out cruisers under the screen of point-defense destroyers, while battleships bring their extra large tachyon lances and (new) giga cannons to bear on the enemy capitals. Together with renaming the bowhead slots in the ship assembly menu to their intended uses (rather than something arcane like ‘Tidebreaker bowhead’) this might hopefully make the process for creating fleet compositions more intuitive.
  • The diplomacy changes tackle the area of Stellaris that was lacking the most gameplay potential. Playing a federation building pacifist was plainly not a way to win the game (as in achieving a victory condition). This has now changed. Alliances are now strict precursors to federations, while federations get their own victory conditions. A new method for building trust with other empires called ‘federation association’ will be introduced. This is a non-aggression-pact with the entire federation. On top of that, outgoing xenophiles (or empires losing planets to war) now have a war goal for conquering planets where the majority of pops correspond to the empire’s founder species, even if they cannot normally go to war over that. Both changes allow for a more nuanced diplomatical gameplay that was sorely lacking up to this patch.
  • Fallen Empires can now awaken and build titans. Awakened Empires have the goal to shape the galaxy according to their will. When certain trigger conditions are met (such as a player defeating a Fallen Empire, or an individual empire growing too strong), the game lifts Fallen Empire restrictions on ship building and colonization, and pits them against the lesser empires around them. Also, Fallen empires will now be able to build giant, one could say EVE-inspired, death machines called ‘Titans’. On top of that, Paradox will introduce more ship designs for Fallen Empires that go beyond tachyon-lance-only ships. Also, Paradox have reworked Fallen Empires personalities so that you will now no longer be attacked for, for example, researching sentient AI. Instead, their personalities are now more distinct and will interact with you by way of requests and demands, little missions that influence your diplomacy with them, rather than outright declarations of war.

Paradox continue to deliver on their games with subsequent patches and content packs. The stress clearly lies on the ‘Heinlein’ patch, with the story-pack offering up additional possibilities, rather than integral gameplay elements. Personally, I enjoy how Paradox continues to care for their games through their life cycle and will likely pick up the story pack and subsequent DLCs.

Are you going to start up a fresh game on the new patch, and what do you think about the DLC? Let us know in the comments below.

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Comments

  • Ryan

    I’m definitely picking this up when it drops tomorrow, and it is a strong competitor for my attention alongside Civ VI. The changes all look good, and I’m excited to see where Paradox takes the game next.

    October 20, 2016 at 7:08 AM
  • Rhivre

    Sounds like some interesting developments in the game, I know Ryan has been looking forward to this for a while

    October 20, 2016 at 2:50 PM