After five months of release and numerous free content updates, Stellaris has released its first non-cosmetic DLC: Leviathans. This new ‘story pack’ adds a variety of features to Stellaris’ mid/late game and can be purchased on Steam or from Paradox’s website for $10 USD.

The biggest new addition comes in the form of the Leviathans. These massive, planet sized space creatures roam the outskirts of the galaxy and present new mysteries and opportunities for your empire. In one session, I encountered a colossal jellyfish (known as the Specter) floating on the outskirts of my territory. The creature was not happy with my obtrusive wormhole stations in its territory, so it made short work of them and every ship I had stationed in there. Eventually, the Specter’s constant presence forced me to abandon any colonial ambitions I had in that part of the galaxy. Later, I would learn from an enclave of scientists that the Specter could be defeated only by luring it close to a star that matches its color. This new addition to the game adds a lot more flavor to Stellaris‘ wildlife, the mystery and danger of the Leviathans offers exciting new challenges for your empire. The fact that these Leviathans have exploitable weaknesses makes them feel like boss battles for late-game empires. They can even be used tactically: there were a few occasions in which I lured enemy fleets into the domain of the Specter only to watch them get destroyed by the creature.

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A Leviathan floats through space

The second major part of the DLC expands on Fallen Empires. These ancient, highly advanced civilizations were released with the original version of Stellaris, but they are being deeply expanded upon in Leviathans. These empires can now ‘awaken’ if they, or other Fallen Empires have lost enough star systems. Awakened Empires will begin to wreak havoc throughout the galaxy, using their hyper-advanced technology and Titan class ships to conquer any unfortunate civilizations in its path. Fallen Empires can also fight among themselves creating a ‘War in Heaven’ scenario in which every civilization in the galaxy has to choose a side or risk being obliterated as collateral damage. The new Fallen Empire mechanics are interesting and add much needed personality to these previously bleak entities. Disappointingly, the most recent patch has completely neutered Fallen Empires for those who don’t have the DLC.

The final part of Leviathans are the enclaves. These are groups of aliens dedicated to trading, scientific advancement, or cultural enrichment. Traders will exchange minerals for energy and vice versa, scientists will accept payment for help with technological growth, and the cultural enclaves will accept commissions for works of art. This addition, while nice, doesn’t add much to the game. Aside from the scientific enclaves that will tell you the secret to killing the Leviathans, they act as minor entities in an expansive galaxy. Furthermore, they are prone to glitches in which they disappear completely from the map.

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Leviathans is an enjoyable DLC at a fair price, the Fallen Empire and Leviathan mechanics add some much needed meat to Stellaris. However, it doesn’t address its biggest flaw: the lack of victory conditions. At the time of writing this review, Stellaris has three victory conditions:

  1. Conquest: Control all existing empires
  2. Domination: Conquer/control 40% of all colonizable planets
  3. Federation: Control 60% of all colonizable planets as a federation

None of these victory conditions promote a fun late-game environment. Usually, a late game catastrophe occurs and the player either resolves it or is consumed by it. If the player is successful in resolving that catastrophe, they undoubtedly have the power to conquer the rest of the galaxy without competition: so begins a painfully boring 5 hour slog, conquering individual empires and fighting easy wars until they can meet one of those three uninventive requirements. Paradox’s grand strategy team is used to making games that don’t need victory conditions since they usually end at a specific historical date. However, Stellaris differs from its predecessors because it is as much of a 4x game as it is a grand strategy. The cornerstone of a re-playable 4x game is usually its robust set of victory conditions. For example, the Economic and Diplomatic victories of Endless Space or Civilizations add a ton of excitement to its late-game, and either of these conditions can be met through different methods of play. Additionally, victory conditions would eliminate the boring slog that is Stellaris’ current late game, instead turning it into a race for non-linear goals that can be halted or contested by other members of the galaxy.

Leviathans fails to address Stellaris’ fatal flaw in regards to victory conditions, but it works well as a content pack. The price is fair, the Leviathans are an interesting and dangerous new elements that adds a boss-like challenge to the game, and Fallen Empires are fleshed out nicely with the War in Heaven mechanic. Even though Leviathans may not be what Stellaris needs right now, it aptly accomplishes what it set out to do.