Stellaris: The Tale of the Continuity of Vhemm

c. Derega16 @DeviantArt

So as an aside from some of my usual tabletop posts, I’m going to give you all a post on some of my recent PC gaming experiences. Recently, I just finished playing my first full game Stellaris, and as it’s been a long time since I’ve played a campaign from start to finish on a 4x game, I feel the overwhelming need to share some of my experiences here.

Initial steps– creating a race

Honestly the least strange-looking reptiloid portrait in the game

It had, admittedly, been a very long time since I had last played a 4x game from start to finish. While I had played Civilization II religiously as a kid, I had only taken a few brief steps into Civilization V before being distracted by other things. The main reason why I decided to pick up on Stellaris was that I had botched my playthrough of Disco Elysium by running into a situation that was causing the rest of the game to become unplayable; rather that go back several days’ worth of saves, I decided to play something else in the meantime and allow my frustration to calm down.

In creating my species, I went for a reptilioid species named the Vhemmians (the Continuity of Vhemm, to use their government’s full title). I decided they would be a nomadic and spiritualist people who gravitated towards arid worlds, and for the most part a peaceful race. Going in, I resolved to try to be as peaceful and cooperative with others where possible, and to win via technological, cultural and economic advancement rather than through conquest and war. Of course, I had no idea how long those ambitions of mine would last, or how realistic they would be in the long term.

As an added twist, of course, I had a gateway in the Vhemmians’ home system. Unable to use it for centuries, I found myself both wary of it and whatever lay behind it, and intrigued by the possibilities. Of course, it wouldn’t become relevant until much later in the game, and when I activated it, instead of leading to another galaxy or dimension like I had initially speculated….it just led to another open gateway at the opposite end of the galaxy. Oh. Well…

An age of exploration

The first half of my game was admittedly quite fun, as a huge amount of it revolved around exploring the galaxy, surveying new worlds, and examining all of the intriguing anomalies I ran into. My society quickly became focused on exploration, technological advancement, and settling new worlds, although that last part proved problematic initially– it took me a while, for instance, to figure out how to manage population sprawl through the use of administrative centers, and given that all of the worlds I first ran into had climates unsuitable for my species, a lot of my colony worlds had a really rough start– one colony even had to be put on emergency benefits, given how close their society came to collapsing.

Little by little, I began to encounter other races as well, particularly my southernmost neighbours, the Jakly– a race of honourable slug-warriors– and my northernmost neighbours, the Cynur– a race of hegemonistic birds, who destroyed one of my ships upon making first contact with me and had icy relations with me from then on. I also discovered two primitive races, the Yibrak and the fungoid Nivlac, the latter of whom I uplifted and made into a protectorate, the former of whom I observed remotely before finally uplifting later in the game.

Of course, I also quickly became obsessed with grabbing all of the resources– mostly minerals, at first, but later research bonuses as well, and then alloys, and then finally things like motes and rare crystals. Which, of course, is all par for the course with a 4x game.

I’ll say this now, the initial half of the game, with me exploring the wide, strange galaxy, was incredibly fun. It was also quite tense in its own right, as there was a period where myself and the Cynur were racing to grab up all of the systems lying between our borders. Some of the anomalies– like a foray into a mirror universe that resulted in a duplicate science vessel spawning, or the investigation of various ancient ruins– were engaging, fascinating, and every once in a while rewarded me with a new technology or some other tangible reward. To say nothing of the random events– like hostile pirate fleets or mysterious signals– that I would often have to investigate. I found myself, ultimately, quite disappointed when my borders stretched out, and there was no more unexplored space to investigate.

Just one of the many exploration events I encountered in game.

An Age of Cold War

After this period of expansion was over, I found myself part of a larger galactic community, with diplomatic relations with races I had never even encountered before. With nowhere else to expand outward, I focused on expanding inward, building up my society, founding more colonies within my space…and most importantly of all, building up my fleet; with the Cynur to the north of me, I found myself watching warily in case war broke out, and as the Cynur were ahead of me militarily and technologically, I feared what would happen if they decided to start getting aggressive. As practice, I started a few brief conflicts with an empire on the other side of an active wormhole from me, and little by little learned more of how fleet combat worked, what ship builds were the most effective, and how the AI reacted. Of course, the advice from the internet on ship builds was also incredible helpful.

Little by little, small wars broke out across the galaxy, with smaller empires being subsumed by their larger neighbours. The Continuity of Vhemm maintained its neutrality all throughout, resorting to open-handed diplomacy where possible, and eagerly signing economic, research and migration treaties with the rest of the galactic community. That was, with everyone except for the two Fallen Empires– a pair of hyper-advanced races who, as the name implied, were the proud remnants of historical empires. Of these, one, the Tumbatur, were fiercely isolationist; the other, the Havarigga, were friendly…until I rebuffed their request to give them a sample of my population for study. There will be more on them later.

Finally, at long last, I managed to found a Federation (the “Coalescence of Stars”) between myself and the Jakly, which proved to be a highly successful alliance. Little by little, after we reached tier 1, the Jakly invited their own southerly neighbours, the Vat’nat’ka, into the federation as well. This proved to be less than ideal, however: the Vat’nat’ka constantly wanted to go to war with another neighbouring race (which I constantly vetoed), and their relations with me soured to the point where they kept trying to kick me out of the federation. Meanwhile, I was courting another empire, the Savix’Qast, and, prior to the Federation’s forming, had even intervened on their behalf when they were invaded. Unfortunately, every time I tried to invite someone new into the Federation, the Jakly or the Vat’nat’ka kept vetoing it, much to my frustration.

The Crisis cometh…and goeth

I had heard early on, as I neared the 2500s, that I would eventually have to deal with a Crisis– an apocalyptic, galaxy invasion by one of three possible extragalactic forces. As such, for a long time I started building up my fleet, building up large numbers of battleships, researching weapons, building star fortresses…all the while anxiously waiting the day the crisis would come and fearing that I wouldn’t be ready.

And wouldn’t you know it, when the Crisis came, I wasn’t ready.

In the 2420s, a it looked like a galaxy-wide threat was becoming increasingly likely, as one of the two Fallen Empires in the game, the insidiousy Havarigga Forerunners, suddenly had a shift in ethics, becoming “Arbitrators” and “Benevolent,” and with a new diplomacy option where I can essentially become a vassal to them in the name of galactic peace. Furthermore, I had gained a new “containment’ casus belli against them. All in all, I was bracing myself for a possible war against a Fallen Empire, a war I was not confident my Federation would win.

And then the Unbidden showed up.

(Artist unknown)

The moment their portal emerged in Cynur space, I sent a few corvette fleets up to harass/slow their advance while I attempted to upgrade all of my battleships where possible: all of my non-Fed ships were using a combination of giga cannons and neutron chargers, and while that is apparently a good combo, apparently the ideal combo vs unbidden is giga cannon + kinetic artillery. Fortunately/unfortunately, I had a lot of battleships to upgrade, so my hope was that my northern neighbours would last long enough that all of my battleship fleets would be ready by the time the Unbidden reached my border forts.

Instead, however, the Havarigga suddenly federated with another Empire that had warp gates, and then suddenly warped a massive fleet through one of my own gates near the border of the embattled empire. To make a long story short, the Havarigga forces cut right through the Unbidden fleets and took out their portal. They were eventually overwhelmed and destroyed by the sheer number of Unbidden ships still in our universe, but by that time all of my own battleships were fully upgraded, and a second wave, consisting of my own fleets and those of the Federation, swooped in, started defeating individual Unbidden fleets and finally eradicated them from our galaxy. (As an aside, massed fleet battles are FUN to watch!)

So, the crisis ended as soon as it began, but I was left in a position where the Havarigga– who were already in the lead– have climbed even more massively into the lead. And we’re still in the 2420s.

Betraying my ideals, and toppling gods

Eventually I finally realized that in order to win the game, I would have to conquer the Fallen Empires. To this end, I again put as much emphasis on military buildup, creating an armada vast enough to take on the Havarigga and eventually win (and, of course, researching weapons that would be able to counter their vast technological advantage). Of course, the Vhemm had been enjoying a policy of pursuing only defensive wars for the longest time, so to do this, I would not only be betraying my race’s main philosophies, but also severely angering my political factions in the process. I also had to do some pretty heinous things for the war preparation as well, including murdering poor VLUUR in order to gain access to chain lightning weapons.

When my fellow federation members vetoed my proposal to declare war on the Havarigga, I finally abandoned the crumbling Coalescence, and waged war on the Havarigga. To my absolute surprise, I was able to decisively crush their fleets in open battle, and counter their rapid movements and possible counter attacks thanks to the network of gateways I had built at that point. It wasn’t until I started attacking their home systems that my fleets started to take substantial casualties from their impressive system defenses; eventually, I accepted a plea for peace from them, and for 25 years, we were given time to lick our wounds. I was happy with the results, however, as I had conquered most of the Havarigga empire. Only their core worlds, and their homeworld, remained untouched, along with a few isolated systems behind the borders of another Fallen Empire.

Once those 25 years elapsed, round 2 began: this time around, though, my forces suffered much more heavy casualties, and while I managed to conquer the remaining Havarigga systems, my ship losses were staggering. It all came to a head when I tried to invade the Havarigga homeworld, Ilex, and discovered that they had a massive amount of army power on the ground. The battle of Ilex quickly turned into a Vietnam-esque affair, as I was forced to recruit armies from all across my empire and throw them into the growing meat grinder. In the end, I finally conquered Ilex…just as my war exhaustion reached 100% and I was forced to sue for peace. The cost was staggering, but I had done it: I had conquered a Fallen Empire.

Wrapping things up

From sea to shining sea fathomless void

In the final years of the game, I watched as the Coalescence of Stars collapsed, as the Jakly and the Vat’nat’ka decided they really didn’t like each other, either. I quickly re-founded it, buddying up with the Jakly again, and this time, together, we invited in two other empires, the Savix’Qast and the Kyril. Our combined Federation ended up stretching from one end of the galaxy as well, promising an era of peace and galactic prosperity. Well, in theory. There were still a few minor wars to declare first.

First, I still had to deal with the other remaining fallen empire, the Tumbatur, who had been aggressively territorial from day one. This time, my fellow members of the Coalescence all agreed with my war proposal, and as one, we swept in, crushed the Tumbatur fleets and conquered their planets (and in an act of magnanimity, I ceded a lot of former Tumbatur territory, including their home system, to the Jakly). After that, however, the Jakly kept insisting on war with the Vat’nat’ka. At first I kept refusing, but, seeing that this was actually damaging my relations with the Jakly, I finally relented. Once again, our forces swept in, and, in two successive wars, brough the Vat’nat’ka to heel as well.

And thus, in the end, the Continuity of Vhemm and her allies ruled a massive amount of the galaxy, which was connected by a vast array of gateways, and had toppled the Fallen Empires to ensure their own preeminence in the galaxy. Our technology was unrivalled, our economy was the strongest, our military was without match, and we held the most diplomatic clout in the galactic community (and indeed, thanks to some later DLC trickery, even became one of the three races sitting at the head of the galactic council). And thus, I won, having won a…not quite so bloodless game.

Some other thoughts:

-It is INCREDIBLY annoying to have to upgrade/modify entire fleets of battleships all at once when you have to take on a new foe. This is especially true when you’re in the middle of a crisis

-I was constantly bombarded with messages about low colony automation…and I never bothered to look up how this was significant, or what I could do to solve this

-Empire sprawl was my mortal enemy for much of the game, often with me forcing to build a lot of administrative centers and make a lot of bureaucrat jobs just to keep up.

-I had one or two production and supply crisis during the game, but in the end my resource supply was roaring; I had one or two worlds dedicated to the production of administration or unity, with everything else being devoted either to food, amenities, and especially alloys. The rarer stuff, like crystals and motes, I found myself having to buy from the market quite often (and the market was incredibly useful for this).

-I was amazed at how multicultural my empire became thanks to open migration treaties. By the end, a lot of my top scientists, admirals, governors and envoys were aliens, and at the very end so was my race’s elected leader.

-The fact that my race was spiritualist proved to be EXTREMELY effective for morale and unity, and I needed to do very little to keep my empire happy. Of course, in my next game, I may dabble with a more secular species instead.

-Near the end, I finally acquired some DLCS, and built a massive fleet dockyard megastructure, as well as a Titan and a Colossus…far too late for it to have any real impact. Hopefully in my next game I’ll be able to use these (though then again, my next game may also feature things like leviathans, pirate hordes and enhanced federation features).

So that was my first full game of Stellaris. I love this game, and love how it captures, on a macro level, the “space politics” of such franchises as Star Trek, Star Wars, Mass Effect etc. However, given how long an average campaign takes, I may take a break until my next game….and hopefully I won’t have to kill VLUUR. (Unless I actively decide to play as hegemonistic, warlike jerks, that is).

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