A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Stellaris is a downloadable strategy title that focuses on space colonization and conquest. This 4X title (so named because of the need to explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate to succeed in the game) takes to the stars; instead of taking the role of a specific character, players essentially oversee a species (either premade or custom-created) as they expand from their individual galaxy to spreading across the universe. Although there are some deaths or conflicts explained in text, violence is barely shown. In fact, conflicts between ship armadas result in explosions and vessel debris, but that's all that's shown. While the game has simple controls, this hides an incredibly deep game that's very complex. The title's random elements and events only serve to further complicate play, making it easy to succeed or fail without your direct influence on the game. This can be extremely frustrating, and while the game does come with a tutorial and links to its online manual, there's no guarantee that you'll fully understand what you need to do to win without multiple play attempts. Parents should also be aware that up to 32 players can play a match against each other online, without any moderation.
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What's it about?
STELLARIS is a space based 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) strategy game set in the year 2200. The player is essentially the administrator of a species taking its first steps towards space exploration. You start off on a home planet with a construction vessel that can build fortifications or resource stations, a science vessel that can explore neighboring galaxies and perform research on newly discovered anomalies, and a tiny fleet of battle-ready ships. From these slight beginnings, it's up to you to expand the boundaries of your young empire, making your mark on the cosmos. Eventually, you'll encounter other alien species, and it'll be your decision to be diplomatic, sharing star maps or trading goods, or attempt to conquer your rivals.
Is it any good?
This massive space-strategy game can easily keep you playing for hours, so long as you're willing to put in time to learn its secrets and can deal with some frustrating random moments. Stellaris manages to take the large scale of 4X games (which frequently require you to think multiple steps ahead to be successful) and expands it significantly. Sure, there's exploring new star systems, establishing your empire, and keeping your citizens on your home world and colonized (or terraformed) planets happy and productive. You'll also have to fulfill political mandates from elected leaders and determine how peaceful or aggressive you'll be toward other cultures. To a degree, many of these elements are similar to older titles, but Stellaris manages to reinvigorate the genre with random events based on the mystery of space. Whether it's scientific discoveries of extinct alien cultures, rogue science cults within your own empire, or advanced robot uprisings that threaten to destroy all organic life in the universe, a vast number of events can crop up at any time, requiring your attention and changing the direction of your game immeasurably. You'll be surprised by just how many times you'll tell yourself that you're just going to play for one or two more minutes, just to see what the next random moment will be. Couple this with the ability to tailor just about every aspect of play, from the universe size to the number of species you encounter, and you'll be guaranteed that no two games will ever play the same way.
While the random elements are a huge advantage to reducing boredom, it can also be a double-edged sword, because it's possible to get completely overwhelmed by events out of your control. You can start a game and find yourself almost immediately surrounded by rival civilizations, each of which is potentially larger and more advanced than you. Or perhaps you're extremely resource-strapped, making your expansion moves incredibly difficult to accomplish. You can even have so many negative random events happen that your species is doomed shortly after it begins. That's frustrating and will force you to restart the game repeatedly before you find a decent starting position. Similarly, the tutorial is rather sparse, so even if you're trying to get instructions from the game, you'll need to put in dozens of hours before you'll really understand how some of the resources you have or develop seem incredibly abundant one minute, and vastly depleted the next. It's confusing and requires some dedication (and multiple playthroughs) to start figuring everything out. But these issues aside, Stellaris has immense, deep play for strategy fans that will keep them reaching for the stars and new solar systems for hundreds of hours.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about setting media-consumption time limits. These games are famous for luring gamers to keep playing for "just one more turn," so how do you strike the balance between time played and time away from your progress?
Talk about strategy in video games. While this one is set in space, can you apply tactics used in this title to real life? Are there some things that simply aren’t possible?
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