It’s been a while since I was last gripped by a game for 5 hours straight. Over multiple days.
Stellaris is a non-Paradox game developed by Paradox. This is important because of my history with this developer. Much like with EVE, I had heard a lot about Crusader Kings 2, all sorts of crazy stories, and bought it thinking that I’d like to play the game that generated them. Nope, I played about 3 hours before uninstalling it. So when a friend of mine recommended Stellaris recently, I was skeptical. So skeptical that I ended up installing Galactic Civilization 2 (free download) and Galactic Civilization 3 (don’t even know where this came from) in order to scratch the itch that Civ 6 had left. Then, finally, a recent 60% sale on Stellaris pushed me over the edge.
I have been falling ever since.
I’m about 30 hours into my sort of beginner tutorial playthrough and I’m trying to decide whether to start over or not. There have been some noob mistakes on my part, and some additional jankiness with the game that I am coming to terms with. I was in a recent war, for example, and was prevented from claiming total victory because… an ally was occupying the last planet instead of me. This enemy civilization had zero unoccupied planets and yet they “forced” me into a truce… that still resulted in me claiming all their shit. Except that last planet, with was taken over by my ally a few in-game months later. I don’t even know if it matters – the internet is awash in outdated information on the game – but it still bothered me.
Regardless, I am more excited about a game than I have been in quite some time. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s because Stellaris is a new puzzle for me to figure out, or if I’m excited about a new “survival-ish” experience of exploring and uncovering resources, or something else altogether.
Either way, I’m looking forward to figuring it out.
I have already uninstalled Civilization 6.
I have gone over this before, but my history with the Civ series is deeply rooted in the past. My first experience was with Civ 2, which I played for hundreds of hours on the Super Nintendo, of all places. The very next Civ game I played was Alpha Centauri, which blew my teenage mind and honestly affected my intellectual trajectory almost by itself. Remember the real-world quotes that pop up once you complete a Wonder or research a specific Technology? They were so cool that I started writing them down, which led to collecting cool quotes wherever I found them, which led to reading the books in which they were quoted, all in service of finding more cool quotes.
After Alpha Centauri though? Nothing. Well… nothing until Civ: Beyond Earth, but we don’t talk about that one. FPS games satisfied my itch for immediate stimulation, and MMOs gave me long-term goals to work towards. Spelled out that way, my prior criticism of Civ 5 makes sense:
I did a sort of beginner’s match in Civ 5 and just started a second game on normal difficulty/Civ spread. With things approaching 1000 AD, I am sort of wondering when the fun starts. The problem from my perspective is that I don’t seem to actually be making any decisions very often. I’m perfectly fine playing the “long game” in strategy titles, but I’m not particularly fine with spam-clicking Next Turn for 200 years. Moving a War Chariot around looking for Barbarians isn’t exactly cutting it.
There are a lot of subtle changes in Civ 6 that I enjoyed. The city districting system, for example, really grew on me. For one thing, it really made you think about where to place your cities strategically – you really cared about the terrain and what you’d be giving up for a district. For another, the fact that Wonders take up a tile all on their own means you can’t have just one uber-city with 37 Wonders piling up. There had never been a scenario in prior Civs where I unlocked access to a Wonder via Research and then was literally unable to build them. “Can’t build the Pyramids without access to a desert? I guess that makes sense. Wonder if there are any desert tiles around…”
Another feature I enjoyed was how Civics was on its own sort of research path, and the whole “policy card” thing. If you were gearing up for a war with your neighbors, you can make unit production faster, or focus on Trade Route bonuses, and so on. There was granularity there, with the design bonus of, again, preventing uber-cities that were good at everything.
Fundamentally though, a Civ game is a Civ game, and that’s where it lost me.
The whole “Just one more turn” byline exists because nothing ever happens in a turn. Or even over a couple. The most fun I have playing Civ games occurs immediately after world creation. You have reasons to move your scouts around, and the possibilities for city expansion are wide open. Things can still surprise you. There are barbarians at the gates, and hunting down their camps is a big deal.
Then, at some point, you hit the ADs and the game becomes clicking End Turn 10 times in a row. If you are shooting for a Science or Culture win condition, you literally have no reason to engage with other civilizations at all. Just sit around, wait for your cities to gain another population, wait for the Workshop to be completed so it can add X more Production to finish your Y project Z turns faster in the future.
Domination and Religious victories give you more things to do, of course. But that’s just the thing: the only way Civ becomes fun for me is with more moment-to-moment choices. In which case, why am I not playing a moment-to-moment game? Civ 6 is a terrible war game, compared with say, the Total War series. When you look at the Science and Culture victories though, again, it’s a whole lot of pressing End Turn and inevitably winning 300 turns later.
It’s entirely possible (and likely) that I’m missing the whole point with the Civ games. I mean, I did pound out something north of 33 hours in Civ 6 within a week, which is more than a part-time job. Obviously there are some components of the base game that I enjoy.
But that’s all there is for me: components. If you love the whole Civ package, that’s fantastic, I can see what all the fuss is about. I just… don’t. There is a gradient between instant gratification and the Zen-like abandonment of all earthly pleasures, and I find the spaces between payoffs in Civ games about 20 turns too far apart. There are options for shorter games, I think, but that’s not necessarily what I want either. Strategic density is more what I’m looking for.
And that’s something I’m going to have to find somewhere else.
“I need to delete some games to free up space on my SSD. Let’s look at Steam.”
“Oh, here’s Civ 6. I tried it for about 10 minutes a few weeks ago, and it didn’t grip me. Why would I want to have to relearn everything from Civ 5? Besides, there are a lot of other, similar games I could be playing instead. This can go.”
“Whoops, I double-clicked on it instead.”
“Whoops, it’s 2am.”
“Whoops, it’s 2am every day this week.”
“I can’t wait for the weekend, so I catch up on my sleep.”
“Sweet, now I can play for 10 hours straight instead of just 5…”
[Fade to Black]