The Beauty of Stellaris’ Ethics System

Stellaris is a 4x game developed by Paradox Interactive, the creators of Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis 4. Explore the galaxy as a race of your own creation as you manage a vast space empire.

From a design standpoint, Stellaris’ race customization system is impressive. In the creation screen, you are given dozens of important choices ranging from racial traits to planetary preference, and even the aesthetic look of your alien. To a newcomer, it would be difficult to understand the implications of these choices in gameplay terms. Luckily, Ethics, the most central and important feature of the race creation system, is also the easiest to understand. A race’s Ethics represents the beliefs and guiding philosophies of their empire. It not only shapes the way your empire interacts with others, but affects everything from the technology you research to the laws you can enact.

Choosing your race’s ethics is simple; you are allocated three points that can each be spent on one ethos, or you can spend two points to “upgrade” an ethos to its fanatic variant.  There are 8 choices: Militarist, Pacifist, Collectivist, Individualist, Materialist, Spiritualist, Xenophile, and Xenophobe. Each ethos has its opposite; for example: you cannot choose to be both a pacifist and a militarist at the same time. This is also reflected in how your empire interacts with others, for instance; a spiritualist empire will react negatively to a materialist.

When it comes to ease of access for new players, the Ethics choices are representative of real world philosophies, something everyone can relate to. Without having started a single game of Stellaris, a new player could easily understand the playstyle of a fanatic pacifist. Perhaps you want to design an empire of space communists but have no idea how to play the game? Fanatic collectivist would certainly be your choice. Feel like dominating the galaxy as a conclave of racist galactic slaver penguins? The clear choice is xenophobic.

The race creator is one of Stellaris’ highlights: it lends to a feeling of personal connection towards your empire, and helps to add replay value. The ease of access helps new players into a deep and rewarding game. Hopefully more games will take inspiration from it.

Published by Shawn Courtney - Contributor

History major at the University of Western Ontario. I love all things grand strategy.