This is the third in a series of reviews looking at the evolution of Stellaris. See the previous reviews here:
Stellaris: Paradox Among the Stars
Leviathans: There Be Dragons Here!

After Leviathans, Stellaris got its first (large) expansion. Utopia focused on large engineering projects (“megastructures”), and introduced a new major mechanic in patch 1.5, which was released on April 6, 2017 (the same day as EU IV: Mandate of Heaven). Since my initial review was about a later patch, this is mostly about the expansion, but a new feature neglected in my review was introduced at this point.


As a larger expansion, Utopia introduced an all-new mechanic to the game, traditions. They were originally an expansion-only feature, but were added to the base game in patch 2.0, though you still get an expanded list of options with the expansion.

A new currency, unity, was added to purchase traditions. It has a few other uses now, but at the time was purely for this mechanic, and it is still the main thing it gets used for. Each tradition purchase costs more, so that the addition of extra buildings to generate unity will not race an empire through all the possibilities in a hurry. Purchases are selecting a tradition, and then unlocking the five bonuses within it. Each tradition grants a bonus when it selected, and a second one when the last bonus of the set is purchased.

This is basically the idea groups from March of the Eagles and Europa Universalis IV. Like EU IV you select which groups you take, and in what order. Unlike Paradox’s other games, there’s no fixed order you have to purchase the individual bonuses in, though there are mini-trees in each set restricting you to two or three choices at a time. Also, the overall tradition is a purchase in itself, instead of being unlocked by technology, so you could buy seven traditions (the maximum number you get to use, and until patch 3.1 all there are) straight off for the starting bonuses, and then go back and get the internal and finishing bonuses in each later (I doubt it is often done, but it is possible).

The reason there are seven traditions is the eighth slot in the panel for them is taken up by ascension perks. These are an extra bonus you get to pick every time a tradition is finished.

Some perks were part of an ascension path, which are only accessible with the expansion. These are generally more powerful, and can change how an empire fundamentally works, but require going through several perks to get at. As of patch 3.6, these were changed to just needing one perk, but then opened up a new tradition (this accompanied an overall increase to the number of traditions available) with its own tree.

To a very real extent, traditions aren’t needed for the game, so they wouldn’t have been a bad expansion-only feature. But, they’re still a good a good set of bonuses, and Paradox has liked the ideas mechanic ever since their introduction in EU III. With them being part of the base game, they fall under Paradox’s current model of getting the essentials of a mechanic for free and a fuller version with the expansion. Also, several other expansions have featured their own new ascension bonuses since, and this way it only takes one expansion purchase to get access to them.


In the patch, one of the ethics pair names were changed (from collectivist/individualist to authoritarian/egalitarian), as much to get names that fit the mechanics better as anything else. At the same time, the central gestalt consciousness ethic was introduced in the expansion for use with hive minds.

Hive minds are an alternate authority type with some good bonuses (faster population growth and decreased effect of empire size), and never worry about population ethics or other related mechanics. This makes them a bit less adaptable (since they can’t change ethics and the bonuses from them), and any population not part of the hive mind will get killed, driven out, or assimilated. Generally the first two, leaving the hive mind with a non-diverse population, also inhibiting the ability to colonize non-native types of planets. Authority itself was added in the patch to help better define how governments work, and when/how the leader changes.

Hive-mind populations outside of the hive can be subject to purging. Actually, nearly anyone can be, but even otherwise very accepting governments can get rid of people who are now mindless drones. New government policies dictate when you can declare this and slavery to be legal, with more detailed management happening at the species level. I haven’t really done much with either, which have extra options with the expansion, but you can play as the more brutal forms of empires with these policies.

Two new civics are available with the expansion: Ascensionists are restricted to spiritualist governments, and get greater benefits from planetary ascension buffs (added in patch 3.6 with that mechanic). Fanatic purifiers get bonuses to space combat, but can never lose the trait, must be either spiritualist or militarist, and fanatic xenophobe, and cannot engage in normal diplomacy with anyone else.

Three new origins are available with the expansion (two of them were civics until origins were invented with patch 2.6). Mechanists start with robots available, though they’re not as good as the ones available if the technology is gotten during the game. Syncretic evolution starts you with a population of a second species that evolved with the main one on your home planet, though they get the “servile” trait. And tree of life gives the homeworld agriculture at the expense of mining; colonies can also get their own, and are severely hampered without one.

Finally, three new pre-built empires are available with the expansion, to show off the new features. The Xanid Suzerainty are arid-dwelling arthopods with a population of strong, industrious servile species from syncretic evolution. The Lokken Mechanists are democratic mechanists, giving them early robots to make up for being slow breeders. And the Ix’ldar Star Collective is an arctic hive mind in the usual SF insectoid tradition. Their civics allow extra research from unemployed pops, and an extra leader.


The “big” feature of the expansion is the ability to construct some of the largest projects ever imagined. Ringworlds and Dyson spheres are the hallmarks of this feature, though there’s plenty of lesser projects as well.

Habitats are large orbital facilities meant to house large populations. They operate as small planets, with improvements available to increase the size as your empire gets experience with them. Originally, they were size-12 planets with their own set of buildings that did well for energy and research, but poorly for minerals and food. After the change to districts in patch 2.2, they went to size-4 (with improvements to ‑8; and are size-6 as of patch 3.9) with their own district types, replacing agriculture and mining with research and amenity-producing ones. In all, they’re a bit limited, but a good help for an empire forced to “grow tall” by close borders and a lack of habitable planets.

Gateways are effectively artificial wormholes, capable of instant transport across the galaxy, but with some real improvements. First, they are a one-to-many network; travel can be between any two active gateways. Second, both ends must be friendly controlled. So having one next to your home system will not allow a hostile empire to instantly move to the center of your empire, but they can allow you to shift forces to a distant frontier quickly, as long as you can hold on to the far end. Gateways are constructed in two steps: first a construction ship must prepare a site (expensive and time-consuming), and then it can be activated without the ship (also expensive and time-consuming). Ancient gateways will be randomly scattered about, which effectively have already gone through the first step. The proper tech will allow them to be re-activated… even if you don’t have the expansion, though you can’t build new ones without it.

The real megastructures all have multiple steps and require rare advanced technologies to get to. Occasionally, ruined versions of these can be found in the galaxy, while new ones can only be built with purchase of Utopia, ruined ringworlds can exist and be repaired without it. The two “regular” ones are the science nexus, which has four stages, consumes a lot of energy, and generates a lot of research as well as a boost to research speed, and the sentry array, which is similar to build, but gives a scan distance of the entire galaxy. The Dyson sphere generates insane amounts of energy (and costs a lot of unity), while the ringworld is counted as four very large planets with their own unique set of districts.

While habitats have had development problems, the rework in patch 3.9 has helped a lot, and they do their main job quite well. They are also the only representation of largely residential space colonies I can think of in a space 4X game. The bigger ones are only limited by the high requirements to be able to build them and then actually do so (this is perfectly fine). Gateways can be very handy, especially if you like playing in the larger galaxy sizes. The ability to always repair an existing ringworld and gateways is another good example of letting players get a taste of new content without any purchase, and the (occasional) existence of ruined megastructures helps with Stellaris’ goal of having a ‘lived in’ galaxy.


Stellaris’ first big expansion is a solid one that has gotten better over time, and I certainly recommend it. There’s no pressing need to get it though, and is recommended for players with at least a couple games under their belt. The base game went through some evolution, and (at the time) two new major features were included.

Since traditions are part of the base game now, this isn’t as essential a package as at launch, but what is here is still very nice. The expanded ascension perks are ones I generally don’t go for (other than chasing down megastructures…), but they are good, and I should spend more time with them. The megastructures themselves are the big star, and well worth it, though they are naturally a late-game item.

Of more general use are the extra civics and origins made available with Utopia, and that is also a good reason to get it. I haven’t done a lot with the particular ones in this package, but they’re good, and hive-minds are staple of SF.