The space 4X genre is one of my favorites (4X stands for "Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate"). As a kid I played games like Galactic Civilizations II, and later on I was always eager to jump into games like Endless Space, Distant Worlds, and StarDrive. But of them all, Stellaris is probably my favorite.
In Stellaris your goal is relatively simple: Develop your spacefaring civilization in any way you deem fit. You can stick to one star system and pour all of your resources into a hyper-advanced ecumenopolis, or you can choose to be more expansionary, sending scouts to nearby stars and colonizing outwards. You can be a warring civilization or a peaceful one, you can choose the direction of your society's research, you can prioritize certain resources over others, you can engage in diplomacy and market manipulation, and you can build spy networks to snoop on AI opponents. And there is much more beyond that.
Here I want to spin for you a tale about a playthrough I had about a year ago. Some of the details are fuzzy now, but most of the major plot points are clear to me even today.
It had been some time since I had last played Stellaris, and so I chose to play as the "human" race. Imagine your average "Terran" civilization a la the UNSC from the Halo games and you'll get some idea of what I was playing as. I started slowly, re-acquainting myself with the controls. Soon, however, I had developed my home planet to a decent extent and was expanding rapidly across the southwestern portion of the galaxy.
Eventually I ran into aliens. Directly to the southeast of me was rather violent civilization who would prove to be my first adversary. These early first contact wars proved beneficial to the extent that it forced me to build up a decent fleet. At the start of this conflict I experienced heavy losses, and at one point the enemy fleet nearly reached my home system. Luckily, I managed to spend money on a mercenary fleet who occupied them long enough for me to regroup and eliminate their forces.
Still, I wasn't powerful enough to turn that victory into a counterattack leading to the conquering of their worlds. So the war ended in an uneasy stalemate. Though it wouldn't be until the late game that we'd fight again, both of us ended up building heavily fortified border systems that proved crucial in the intervening centuries.
Meanwhile, the rest of the galaxy had revealed itself to me at a consistent pace. To the north of my civilization were two highly advanced races that made me and my rival to the southeast appear quaint in comparison. Luckily, I was able to use my diplomatic envoys to keep them relatively happy with me, and was even able to form a federation with one of them. This kept me safe from my violent neighbor, as they wouldn't risk angering my powerful ally.
It was at that point that we received news of two ancient empires awakening on the opposite side of the galaxy. Their fleets massively overpowered the combined might of most of the other civilizations in the game, though luckily enough they never went on the offensive against our side of the galaxy. (They did however decimate and subjugate an unfortunate civilization on their end of the galaxy.)
I took this time (probably a century of in-game time) to build up the small patch of systems I controlled in the southwestern quadrant of the galaxy. I poured resources into heavily fortified space stations designed to defend my empire at key choke points. I developed my most productive worlds as far as I could take them, and soon my economy was booming.
This allowed me to build massive fleets—nothing in comparison to some of the more advanced races in the galaxy, but enough to prevent aggressors from risking an invasion of my territory. By this point in the game, the civilization I had fought against during the aforementioned first contact war had stagnated, and was nowhere near as powerful as me. However, like me, they were allied with a powerful federation, and so I couldn't risk wiping them out. Still, they proved to be a decent buffer against the more ominous ancient empires existing on the opposite side of the map.
The late game was approaching rapidly. In Stellaris, there are certain "endgame calamities" that occur at this point. These are chosen at random, and are usually catastrophic in nature. The calamity chosen for this playthrough was an extragalactic invasion—think the Reapers from Mass Effect. We received advance warning of which systems these creatures would be arriving in, and to my dismay I found that one of these was a system that I controlled on the western edge of my empire.
Luckily, this system was not directly connected to my core systems. So I made a determination: I would essentially give up the four or five systems connected to the one about to be invaded, and mount a resistance at one of the key chokepoints that connected those systems to the core of my empire.
I underestimated just how strong the invaders would be. To put it in perspective, the strength of their initial fleets (encompassing a mere fraction of their forces) neared three hundred thousand, whereas my strongest fleet—the one patrolling my home system—was around eighty thousand in strength. In other words, the secondary fleet I had stationed at my outer chokepoint to meet the enemy stood no chance. Its power level was only around thirty thousand, and even though it was boosted by a star fortress built to guard that system, there was little chance of victory.
So I made a difficult decision. I re-called that fleet, along with all of my fleets stationed outside my home system, and sent them to guard my starting planet. Meanwhile, all of the other civilizations in the galaxy announced their intention to form an alliance and band together to repel the invaders. Unfortunately, with the way that space travel works in Stellaris, I knew it would take some time for their reinforcements to arrive. The extragalactic invaders arrived in a system that wasn't easily accessible except through my own territory. In other words, there was no easy way for my allies to get there without first traveling through the eastern end of my empire.
In short, this meant that I had to survive long enough for reinforcements to arrive from the east, while the extragalactic invaders ravaged my planets from the west. Between these converging forces was my home system, which I was furiously reinforcing as I watched systems fall like dominoes to the invading fleet.
The rapidity with which they defeated my defensive emplacements was mind-boggling to watch—within seconds my structures would fall and the invaders would be warping to the next system. All the while I watched with trepidation as the fleet composed of ships from every civilization in the galaxy moved methodically towards my home planet. By my calculations, it would come down to the wire as to whether I'd be able to survive this.
I did what I could to buy my home planet time. The system it existed within bristled with defensive fortifications, of which there were three primary layers. The first and last layers consisted of a field of star bases that seemed to sprawl almost continuously from the edge of the system all the way to my home planet. Between these I placed the entirety of my fleet. The idea was for my fleet to reinforce the first layer of defensive space stations, while the last layer could in turn reinforce my fleet. I hoped that the combined firepower of these three layers would be enough to slow the extragalactic fleets. Looking to the east, I noticed that my allies were almost here, spearheaded by powerful ships controlled by the two ancient empires.
The extragalactic invaders sped through the system neighboring my home system (which had formidable defenses of its own), and warped with uncanny alacrity towards my starting planet. They arrived already immersed within my first layer of defenses, and immediately came under fire. My space stations fought valiantly, doing a decent amount of damage to the first invading fleet. Unfortunately, that fleet was soon followed by a second, and then a third. Within ten or so seconds, my first layer of defenses had been turned to ash.
Behind that first layer were all of my fleets, positioned in a defensive formation in front of my last line of defense. My fleets opened fire on the approaching enemy, whose combined strength reached nearly a million. My fleets, combined with my remaining defensive structures, combined to equal maybe two hundred thousand.
With its opening salvo, my ships managed to deal a decent chunk of damage. However, the enemy's return fire in turn destroyed over half of my forces. They fired again, and my fleet was nearly wiped out. Then they began eating into my final layer of defensives, which, to their credit, did enough damage to destroy much of the enemy's first invading fleet and half of its second. The remaining attackers, however, quickly burned though my defense. My space stations were like balloons against their assault, popping after being poked by the slightest amount of enemy fire.
As my final stations fell, I looked towards the star system bordering my home system to the east. On its leftmost edge, I could see the galactic alliance's massive fleet warping in unison towards my home planet. It was composed of innumerable ships, its combined power enough to rival the full strength of the invaders. Thanks to my last line of defense, the extragalactic forces had been weakened just enough to tip the scales in our favor.
Spearheaded by ships controlled by the galaxy's two ancient empires, the allied fleet hurdled towards the invaders. For a moment, the two sides appeared to stalemate. But the numbers made it clear—the enemy was outgunned. Slowly but surely, their forces were whittled away. Within a few minutes, the enemy was pushed towards the western edge of my home system. Soon after, most of the invading fleet had been destroyed.
Although they sustained significant losses, the galactic alliance's fleet emerged mostly intact. They stationed a few ships to keep an eye on my system (thankfully they did not use this as an opportunity to conquer me themselves), and then moved the bulk of their forces towards the systems where the enemy initially invaded. It wasn't long before the remnants of the extragalactic invaders had been beaten back for good.
In the aftermath, I was able to rebuild my empire and take up a position of strength within the southwestern portion of the galaxy. We eventually become the leaders of a powerful federation, and I was able to personally oversee the defeat of the aliens who had harassed me at the start of the game. At this point, the playthrough was essentially over. My empire held a secure position within the galaxy, and our power rivaled if not surpassed that of the ancient empires that proved crucial in repelling the extragalactic invaders. There would be more to this story as I attempted to expand and eliminate some of the extant belligerents in the galaxy, but that will be a tale for another time.
Until then, I'm glad to have been able to write this and share it with you. It's one of those stories that can really only happens within the 4X genre, and it's one of the many reasons I appreciate games like Stellaris. Have you played Stellaris, and if so, do you have similar stories to share? If so, I'd love to hear about them in the comments below. Beyond that, thank you for reading, and have a wonderful day!
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