The Stellaris DLC library continues to grow as Paradox’s improves their take on a space 4X game. While it’s not quite yet the size of the studio’s other grand strategy games like Europa Universalis IV and Crusader Kings II, after five years it’s catching up. Regardless, there is still enough of it that frugal gamers may need some help picking through the options.
We’ve sent our science ships to scan each add-on for value, and how much they actually add to the game, and return with their results. So, come check out our breakdown of all of the add-ons and expansions released to date, what they’re good for, and whether they’re worth picking up.
There’s a fair few higher-priced expansions where the cost vs what you get can feel a little steep considering the feature sets can be quite lean. Since most major expansions are released alongside a free update, there’s an argument to be made that you’re subsidising all of the work that’s gone into the free patch. As far as value for money goes, though, you might be better off waiting until these are on sale – it’s your call.
Here is a list of all Stellaris DLC released so far:
- Plantoids Species Pack
- Synthetic Dawn
- Humanoids Species Pack
- Distant Stars
- Ancient Relics
- Lithoids Species Pack
- Necroids Species Pack
- Aquatics Species Pack
PLANTOID SPECIES PACK
- Adds fifteen new species portraits representing trees, bushes, flowers, and even weirder stuff that has somehow evolved to sapience
- New ship models, space stations, and city backdrops that fit a botanical theme
Is it worth it?
Species packs don’t have any effect on gameplay, so your answer is going to be entirely based on how badly you want more visual options to pick from in customising your empire. The art is well done – a couple of the plantoids are among my favourite portraits in Stellaris, and the new ships and space stations look pretty cool with their organic, leafy aesthetic.
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$8 is perhaps a bit much for a visual only DLC. You could definitely save this one for later if your budget is limited, but it’s worth noting that as of the 3.1 Lem update, past DLCs like this will be getting new content to make make the packs a bit meatier.
LEVIATHANS STORY PACK
- Populates the galaxy with Leviathans, a handful of very powerful creatures, ancient space stations, and other weird anomalies that present major challenges for your empire to overcome… with significant rewards if you overcome them.
- Enclaves are non-planet-bound civilizations that can be interacted with to find out more about the Leviathans, trade for resources, or give a boost to your culture.
- The War in Heaven: A potential endgame event chain in which two Fallen Empires might “awaken” and go to war, dragging the whole galaxy onto one side or another. (It’s basically Babylon 5)
Is it worth it?
The Leviathans are definitely cool (at least until you’ve defeated each one multiple times), as are the unique and potentially game-changing rewards you can get from some of them. Enclaves also add another layer to the galaxy and help it feel more populated and diverse.
But the War in Heaven is the real flagship feature here, and has led to some of the most exciting endgame scenarios I’ve seen in Stellaris. For that feature alone, I could easily place this on the “must own” list. Read our Leviathans review for more.
- Ascension Perks give powerful bonuses to your empire, including the option to follow a Biological (gene manipulation), Synthetic (turn everyone into robots), or Psionic (harness the power of an alternate dimension with your mind) Ascension Paths, which radically transforms your species in the mid and late game
- Enables the construction of Megastructures like Ring Worlds or the Dyson Spheres, which harness the energy of an entire sun
- Play as a Hive Mind, a radical departure from a typical empire where the entire society acts as one unit, not having to worry about factions or happiness
Is it worth it?
Ascension Perks are definitely a feature that has become such a core part of Stellaris in my mind, I would have a hard time playing without it. Completing an Ascension Path feels like taking a Prestige Class in an RPG, and particularly the Synthetic and Psionic paths create some really interesting situations.
Hive Minds are interesting conceptually, but I typically find them less exciting to play than a normal empire since factions and managing pop happiness are some of the only things to do in Stellaris’ already lacking internal politics layer.
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Still, I’m glad they’re in there for when I just want to roleplay an all-consuming swarm. It’s a must own, but I’d recommend grabbing it on sale.
- Play as a Machine Empire, a hive mind of interconnected robots who overthrew their organic creators
- Organic empires that oppress their cybernetic servants may trigger a new AI uprising that divides their empire in a civil war between organics and machines – and you get to choose which side to play!
- New portraits for synthetic empires
- New advisor voices for each of the main ethics, as well as one for machines and one for hive minds
Is it worth it?
Synthetic Dawn is probably the best value for your money of all the Stellaris DLC released so far. Machine Empires run into some of the same issues as Hive Minds (no factions or happiness, thereby removing internal politics as an entire layer of the game) with the added hitch that all their pops are built manually, which adds a lot of micromanagement. Robots are also mostly immortal, which severely changes the flow of the game when it comes to leader’s experience and its bonuses.
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That said, they can be a lot of fun to play, and a tremendous amount of work has gone into making them feel immersive (including rewriting all the flavor text for the entire tech tree and a ridiculous number of events).
The new AI uprising, while I’ve had trouble getting it to trigger even when I want it to, is an interesting and challenging mid-game shake-up with lots of narrative flourish. And the new advisor voices are nice, though they’re not all even in quality – the Militarist voice in particular kind of seems half-baked. It’s an easy buy if you’re into playing a machine race, but not strictly necessary otherwise.
HUMANOIDS SPECIES PACK
- Ten new humanoid portraits including space dwarves, space orcs, and more
- A new humanoid ship set and cityscapes inspired by the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek
- Three new adviser voice sets
Is it worth it?:
I echo my advice for the Plantoids pack here – it’s entirely based on how much you like the look of the new ships and portraits. There are fewer new portraits in this one, but instead you get three new adviser voice sets, so it kind of evens out.
I really like the look of the Humanoid ships, myself, but some of the portraits are a bit goofy in context. As part of the upcoming 3.1 patch, this pack will also be getting a new origin that lets you play as a race of cast-off clone troopers.
- Titans are super-huge capital ships that can take down even a battleship with little effort
- The Colossus allows you to remove entire planets from the galaxy (or clear them of all higher lifeforms)
- Marauder empires can now spawn, raiding nearby systems while selling their services as mercenaries and hired generals to those with the resources. But beware – if a certain event triggers, they can unify under a Great Khan and set out to conquer all that stands before them
- Unity ambitions give you something to spend Unity on once you’ve finished all the Tradition trees
- Three new Ascension Perks that allow you to build planet-destroying Colossi, prevent your tech from being reverse-engineered by your enemies, and abduct pops from besieged worlds during wartime
- Three new special civics that let you play as a life-seeded race that begins on a Gaia world, a post-apocalyptic civilisation that can inhabit Tomb worlds, or as slaving barbarians that can abduct pops
Is it worth it?
We’ve had limited time to play with Apocalypse and haven’t delved deep into all of its features, like Titans and Colossi, just yet. It also came along with a massive free patch that reworked huge parts of the game, so it’s easy for the paid stuff to get lost. The biggest factor that makes me want to recommend it is the Marauders. Like fallen empires, space nomads, enclaves, and leviathans before them, they further flesh out Stellaris’ growing patchwork of asymmetrical space-faring entities that help the galaxy feel diverse and alive in a way most 4X games just never will.
The Great Khan events are an exciting and much-needed extra shake-up in the mid-game, and having somewhere to dump Unity in the late game provides a reason not to just demolish all of your temples and monuments once you’ve finished your Tradition trees.
- Adds in a lot more anomalies for you to encounter while exploring
- Adds the ‘L-Cluster’ as a mid-game quest that can trigger varied results
- Adds a lot more character to systems, with several ‘unique’ system types to explore and exploit
- The strategic advantage offered by the L-Gates themselves is also pretty useful
Is it worth it?
This pack does a good job at buffing the exploration side of the game, which often peters out before anything else interesting steps up to fill the void. The L-Cluster itself provides an entertaining mid-game challenge provided you work for it (and depending on which event triggers), but otherwise this is a fairly low-frills pack. Your game will definitely be better off having it in your library, but it’s not game changing and you don’t necessarily need to rush into buying it.
- New ‘Corporate’ culture allows you to play as business-themed empires with unique civics and mechanics focused on making money
- You can now turn a planet into Coruscant
- There is now Galactic Slave market
- NPC Caravaneer Fleets will roam the galaxy and try and drain you of money for shiny things
- New Ascension Perks, Megastructures and other bits and bobs to round things out
Is it worth it?
The big $20 expansions have so far been a bit hit and miss with regards to how much value you get for the price, but MegaCorps is easily worth the price of the admission. The accompanying free patch rewrites parts of the game completely (as did the 2.0 update), and the premium features of this expansion are a nice add-on on top of that. The ‘Corporate’ culture alone offers an entirely unique, new way to play the game, assuming you like the idea of making money.
- Additional science events and mechanics themed around Archaeology
- Elegantly implemented new side-quests that build on existing mechanics
- Worthwhile new ‘loot’ and new planet types
- Excellent new music
Is it worth it?
We were definitely pleasantly surprised by Ancient Relics. The smaller ‘Story Packs’ can sometimes feel a bit superfluous, or lack the weight needed to truly refresh the experience, but this DLC is an excellent addition for Science-loving players. The new Archaeology systems are refreshingly light on micro-management, and can net you anything from resources, ships, to unique relics that provide powerful bonuses. We’d recommended getting this and Distant Stars together to really enhance the science & exploration areas of the game.
LITHOIDS SPECIES PACK
- You can now play as sentient rocks, with 15 different portraits to add flavour
- For the first time in a species pack, Lithoids come with their own unique mechanics – they eat minerals for food, and can live in almost any environment
- New ship models for Lithoids, as well as other visual niceties to flesh out the species
- Rock bois
Is it worth it?
As we’ve said above, species packs are almost always down to personal taste. Do you want to be a rock boi? If yes, then you know what to do. The inclusion of unique mechanics for Lithoids does make this pack slightly more appealing than, say, the Humanoid or Plantoid packs however. With lithoids having different mechanics for sustenance (like Synthetics) and different colonisation requirements, they definitely open up different play-styles based around mass-colonisation.
Again, it’s down to you if that sounds appealing or not, but it’s something new, at least.
- Extra Federation types on top of what comes with the free patch
- The Galactic Community interface, where you can compete in the Senate
- New ‘Origins’ for changing up the starting conditions of your custom species
- New mega structures to build
Is it worth it?
Federations itself is another ‘lean’ expansion, especially when compared to the free 2.6 ‘Verne’ patch that came with it, but between them they have a lot to offer. A lot of the diplomacy re-work content is free, but the premium Galactic Community stuff is actually quite engaging and worthwhile. The more you put into it, the more you can out of it.
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The origins stuff as well is a great addition for those looking to spice up their custom species. These all add unique gameplay rules or scenarios to enhance both the early game and the overall ‘flavour’ of your empire, and makes for a more rich story-telling environment. At full price its still a bit of an ask given you don’t get much, but the work that’s gone into the free patch definitely deserves some recognition and reward.
Necroids Species Pack
- A new origin – Necrophage
- Three new Civis: Death Cult, Reanimated Armies & Memorialists
- Cosmetic additions themed around the Necroids, so new ship sets, name lists, building sprites etc.
- New portraits
IS IT WORTH IT?
This is only the fourth ‘Species’ DLC released for the game to date. These packs are always about just adding toys with which to build a custom species with. The Necrophage origin offers players a powerful primary species which consumes other pops.
As far as the new civics go: Death cults enable powerful edicts via sacrificing pops, reanimated armies allows the deployment of undead armies and memorialists will erect monuments to the galaxy’s past.
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If you like the sound of the theme, then you’ll like find this pack a worthy addition to your toolbox but since there aren’t any other generalist features included in this DLC then it’s another all-or-nothing question. You either want it, or you don’t.
- A revamped endgame where you can become the crisis and destroy the galaxy yourself
- Alternatively, get voted in as guardian of the galaxy to save creation…
- … before going all Emperor Palpatine and declaring a galaxy-spanning Empire instead
- Espionage operations that tie-in with the free intel rework
- New ship sets and music
Is it worth it?
Despite being another lean pack in terms of features, this is probably one of the most worthy DLCs to date. After four years, Stellaris finally has an endgame worthy of the name, and the duality between destroying the galaxy, or saving it (to then rule it) makes playing through to the end that much more satisfying.
It’s worth noting that the new headline feature generally only target the endgame – if you don’t think you’ll get that far, this pack probably isn’t for you. The new espionage operations – we build on top of the new intel system introduced in the free patch – are neat but you can live without them. The new visual content is cool, but not defining.
Acquatics Species Pack
- 15 new aquatic portraits
- One aquatic-themed robotic portrait
- Water-themed ship set
- Two new origins – Here Be Dragons and Ocean Paradise
- Anglers Civic
- Hydrocentric ascension perk
- Aquatic species trait
- Aquatic advisor, inspired by high seas adventure fiction
- 4 aquatic name lists
Is it worth it?
Like most species packs, it depends how badly you’ve wanted to play as water dwellers. Outside of that your mileage will definitely vary, although the Here Be Dragons origin is one of the most original and unique starts to come to the game in a while. You won’t come away completely empty handed if you buy this pack without nessecarily buying into the theme.
ARE THE STellaris NOVA and GALAXY EDITIONs WORTH IT?
The Nova Edition is only really worth it if you were going to buy the soundtrack anyway – $10 is a fair price just for that, and Andreas Waldetoft’s excellent score is definitely worth chipping in for. The only thing it adds to the game itself is an extra insectoid portrait. It happens to be my favourite of the insectoid portraits, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth $10 by itself.
The Galaxy Edition is just a bunch of collectables and visible bragging rights, which I don’t find all that compelling. I’d only consider going for it if you want to throw some extra cash in Paradox’s general direction.