Stellaris: Utopia

Game review by
Jeff Haynes, Common Sense Media
Stellaris: Utopia Game Poster Image
Civics takes to the stars in deep space strategy expansion.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Still focuses on exploration, scientific accomplishments, countered by warfare, xenophobia. Boosted focus on civilization unity helps drive enhancements.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Players control entire civilization, can choose to be good or evil. Slavery is an option for some empires, can turn some species into servants, combat fodder, food.

Ease of Play

Simple controls hide deep complexity; tutorial helps but doesn't fully explain best ways to create civilization; random play elements can either save, doom game session, causing frustration.

Violence

Conflict breaks out between ships, but little shown apart from ship explosions, debris. Text descriptions of violence

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Stellaris: Utopia is a downloadable expansion pack to 2016's strategy game, Stellaris. The title is a 4X strategy game, meaning that players will focus on exploring, expanding, exploiting, and exterminating to accomplish their goals as a space-faring empire. While combat frequently breaks out between empires, visuals aren't graphic and result in ships exploding in vessel debris. Text descriptions cover more attacks or violent situations that arise for colonists, but these are still mild explanations of effects you never see. Players should be aware that this is still a challenging game; even though there are more tutorials and methods to help with play, this expansion adds further complexity to an already deep game, so you should be willing to deal with frustration because some play and victory conditions will be significantly out of your control.

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What's it about?

STELLARIS: UTOPIA is the first expansion pack for Stellaris, a space-faring game where players take command of a species as it tries to expand its control of the galaxy. The expansion brings in a number of updates, such as a new resource called Unity (based on governing and monuments to your culture), which can be spent on acquiring Traditions. Traditions are societal goals that provide boosts to your planets and allow you to gain massive advances in tech for your species. Utopia also includes things like Megastructures, gigantic solar system-changing platforms like the ability to create ring worlds, which can provide loads of space for your population. There's also a hefty focus on political adjustments and tweaks, such as setting the rights of cultures and species within your borders and dealing with the ethics of rival factions within your government. If that's not appealing, you can always play as a hive mind and simply bend the population to your will outright. The choice is up to you, but will your choices lead your people to a utopia among the stars?

Is it any good?

This expansion adds more complexity to the deep strategy game, making it a richer, more challenging, and more partisan universe than before. For example, if you gain a new alien planet (whether by conquest or border expansion) with an alien species different from yours, you can now decide things like whether you're going to grant them full citizenship, enslave them, or purge them outright. That may sound extreme, but that's because there's a new focus on civics in Utopia: More political factions and causes arise, forcing you to appease their interests to ensure your society works. Keeping your people happy and your government running boosts the new resource, Unity, which can be redeemed in one of seven Tradition trees, all of which strengthen your civilization. What's more, fully completing a Tradition tree gives a significant boost with an Ascension Perk, giving your empire a status boost. These can even unlock new megastructures like ring worlds or Dyson structures to enhance the population bonuses or power output for your empire. While they take a ton of resources and time, the rewards from these massive structures are immeasurable.

All the new features are great, but they come with an added cost of complexity. While some new features reduce the need to immediately restart your game if you're surrounded by other empires, there are still a lot of times that you'll start over because of a lack of resources or a random event that devastates your fledgling empire at the beginning. Couple that with trying to juggle all the resources and Unity, and you'll spend a lot of time getting up to speed on the changes, even if you've been playing for a while. Plus, there are some adjustments that don't feel fully fleshed out. For instance, if you choose to play as an insect hive mind that treats other species as livestock, why would you care about diplomacy as a Tradition? Shouldn't this tactic change if you choose to be a plague on the galaxy? Similarly, shouldn't the resource of Unity turn to Fear if you choose to be an oppressive regime or threat to your neighbors? These feel either like missed opportunities or features that don't go far enough in capturing all the play styles available to gamers. But for space emperors interested in giving their political and territorial ambitions a boost, Utopia could be just what they're looking for.

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 the idea of utopia. Is it possible for a civilization ever to get to a point where everything works perfectly for everyone in society, or is that a fantasy? Would it be possible if humanity were spread across the galaxy?

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