Paradox just finished up their Gamescom presentation in Cologne, Germany today and have officially revealed their new grand strategy title under development. Stellaris, their new game, is being developed by their internal studio and was codenamed “Project Augustus.” Partially because of this codename, there was some hope that this would be a Roman Empire-centric title. However, given that Runemaster was “Project Nero”, Hearts of Iron IV was “Project Armstrong” and Europa Universalis IV was “Project Truman”, cooler heads suspected that, if anything, a project codenamed “Augustus” categorically could not be a Rome game (though a few Paradox devs took the opportunity to gleefully troll the community). Speculation was further fueled by a series of hints posted by Paradox on their official forums.
Unfortunately for Paradox, their big reveal was undercut by a leak from the Steam client, with images from the upcoming title’s Store page uploaded to Imgur. Today’s reveal confirmed the leak: the new title from Paradox Development Studio is Stellaris, a pausable real-time strategy game set in space, with a focus on exploration and diplomacy.
Game Director Henrik Fåhraeus (former lead for the Crusader Kings and Hearts of Iron series) spoke after a short cinematic trailer. Stellaris is an intriguing concept – the game map is always randomized, and the alien species you encounter will be random as well. The experience is designed to be original and unique with every session, with a focus on procedural storytelling. There is no easily-predictable tech tree. Technology is acquired individually, like “loot” or a trading card. The initial stages of the game are focused on discovery and exploration, with players sending out science ships and crewed by hand-picked officers and diplomats. In the late game, as players encounter larger alien empires, the diplomacy and war functionalities become more prominent, with the experience being similar to Crusader Kings or Europa Universalis. Also promised by Fåhraeus are a ship designer, visually-appealing space combat, and internal factions within your population.
The Swedish publisher and developer had quite a lengthy presentation before the Stellaris announcement – awkward and scripted, as these things always are. Probably most exciting was the announcement of the first major expansion for Cities: Skylines, titled After Dark and focusing on a newly added day/night cycle. Josh Sawyer came on stage shortly after with an update on Pillars of Eternity’s upcoming expansion and patches.
Next on the docket was Hearts of Iron IV, with a new trailer focusing on a hypothetical successful Operation Sea Lion. Following the trailer, lead designer Johan Andersson spoke a bit about the upcoming WWII strategy game (nothing we don’t already know). Probably the most entertaining part of this presentation was the spectacle of Johan – a short-ish man in what appeared to be jean shorts with a high, lilting Swedish voice – talking about blitzkrieg and coordinated assaults. This was a slightly uncomfortable trailer to watch, given the cultural context and Gamescom’s location. Going on about alternate history victories for the Germans in WWII without mentioning Nazis or Hitler isn’t a good look and reminds one of the Hearts of Iron III “Hitler narrates the tutorial” debacle.
At any rate, Stellaris represents an ambitious step for Paradox’s developers. All their previous games have been grounded in history, drawing on nationalism and alternate history fantasies to help hook players. Stellaris is entirely their own universe. Can randomized alien races on a random map be compelling nemeses? I’m optimistic (PDX hasn’t really misstepped since Hearts of Iron 3 in 2009) but we’ll just have to see.
Stellaris is expected to release sometime early next year.