It doesn’t take a Vulcan scientist to realize Stellaris is heavily influenced by the Star Trek franchise. Indeed, its latest DLC, Lithoids, introduces rock-based lifeforms that resemble some of the oddest creatures met in Star Trek, including the infamous Horta. Aesthetics is where much of the comparisons end though, and in the spirit of a balanced game, the new lithoids might be a little overpowered.
Stellaris’ gameplay relies on expanding your galactic empire through colonizing planets and securing vital resources. With food being an unnecessary resource for lithoids, consuming minerals instead, it means balancing different resources is much easier compared to other lifeforms. It does mean securing vastly more mineral deposits, but with the new addition of districts that can increase mineral production and the abundance of minerals to mine across the galaxy, gathering enough minerals is pretty straightforward.
On top of that, lithoids are able to colonize any habitable planet. That means they don’t get the same negative effects that other species get on a planet that’s unsuitable for them. This allows for rapid expansion as the player isn’t prohibited by the planet’s climate, allowing for quicker population growth, availability of more resources and, if managed correctly, more research points.
While it’s true that lithoids start with a 20% penalty on population growth, which at the start stunts the growth of your planets, this doesn’t affect the early game too much as it’s more important to secure resources in the galaxy. This allows the player to secure as many planets as they can quickly, then as the game develops, the population on the planets will grow stronger and stronger. This is why, to some extent, lithoids are overpowered lifeforms, they give the player the best possible start to ensure galactic dominance.
This has the potential to interfere with the balance of the overall gameplay as, with most strategy games, there’s a delicacy in the formulas that the players must abide by; the more ingredients you throw into the formula, the more likely the game becomes unbalanced. Introducing new species types is fantastic for broadening the choice in a game like Stellaris, but whether it enhances the gameplay is another matter. Currently, it remains clear that the lithoids have some advantages over other lifeforms that dramatically enhance their ability to colonize the galaxy, which, while fun for a casual playthrough, provides little challenge for those that want to witness Stellaris at its finest.
Stellaris still provides the closest experience possible to the Star Trek universe, with its careful diplomacy and ruthless galactic warfare. But Paradox needs to be careful with each DLC it introduces as upsetting the balance becomes increasingly easy with each installment. Later this year, the big DLC, Federations, will be available, with federations already overpowered. With lithoids and further enhancements to federations, there’s a possibility for the game to become so unhinged that it ruins much of the roleplay aspect that makes Stellaris so enjoyable.