Paradox Studios, Stocks and Flows, and the Challenge of Contextualization in Stellaris

“As of writing this sentence I have put a combined 2,000 hours into Europa Universalis III, IV, Crusader Kings II, and Victoria II, all of which were developed by the Swedish studio, Paradox. For the uninitiated, Paradox almost exclusively makes incredibly in-depth grand strategy games which place the player in command a nation’s political, economic, military, religious, and social affairs in a wide variety of time periods. If you’re the type of person who loves the Total Wars and Civilizations but you think the AI is too weak and they lack long-term strategic depth, then I cannot urge you more strongly to try a Paradox game.

The company’s latest (assuming you arbitrary ignore Hearts of Iron IV) and arguably riskiest outing yet is Stellaris. Though at first glance Stellaris may appear no different than any other recent space-based 4X venture on Steam, its developer’s pedigree implies a different take on the genre. Indeed, the game’s Steam page calls Stellaris an “evolution of the grand strategy genre with space exploration at its core.” Meaning Stellaris is not merely a space game with more strategic elements than usual, rather it’s intended to be a grand strategy game in the mold of Paradox’s previous endeavors that happens to take place in space.

Imagine the complexity of engaging in dynastic feuds in Crusader Kings, or directing colonial expansion in Europa Universalis, or plotting to start international wars to stimulate your country’s weapons manufacturing industry in Victoria… brought to outer space.

The mind boggles at the possibilities. How will warfare work with spaceships? How will immigration work between alien species? What are the cultural dynamics of intergalactic federations? If an enemy species really pisses me off, can I use the genophage on them? This is an unbelievably cool idea, I am thrilled that a studio as competent as Paradox has decided to take it on, and I am incredibly excited to see where it goes.

But I’m also kind of worried that Stellaris cannot possibly live up to that promise. Not because of any inherent weakness on Paradox’s part, but because the task of capturing the essence of what makes the other Paradox games fun enough for me to invest over 2,000 hours into them, and transferring it into Stellaris’s setting, might be too great of a challenge for any developer.

The problem is one of context. Namely, all of the other beloved Paradox games have a context based in history while Stellaris does not…”

 

Paradox Studios, Stocks and Flows, and the Challenge of Contextualization in Stellaris

 

 

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