Stellaris is a lot of fun, espeicially with the new Overlord DLC. but starting a new empire as a beginner can be overwhelming. Stellaris is a very fluid game that can take many directions, but these basic steps should apply to almost any early game of Stellaris. Sticking to some basics makes your first couple of games a little easier. You can also read a 2022 review here.
Stellaris basics are exploring quickly with at least two Science Ships. Claiming systems using Influence and construction ships. Colonizing planets. Playing nice at first. Emphasizing technology and economy in the beginning. Build up your military slowly until hostiles are uncovered.
Stellaris Exploration And Controlling Chokepoints
Exploration is done with science ships manned by a science officer. Since the early part of the game is best described as a race against other empires you need to expand quickly before one of your neighbors cuts you off and hems you into a small sector of space. For that reason, it makes sense to build a second science ship as soon as you can, even at the expense of building a mining station that can give a boost to some badly needed resources.
Since the early game is essentially a race you will also need to block off large sections of space for the use of your empire and to stop any aggressive expansionism into territory close to your home system. Claiming a system at a chokepoint is usually enough. A chokepoint might be of little value when it comes to resources, but it can be vital to protecting your empire.
A chokepoint is simply a system that everyone must pass through to get to a cluster of systems on the other side of it. Controlling those is vital to both defensive positions, launching points for wars and halting aggressive expansion from opponents.
Once again, having another science ship will double the systems you can explore at one time, enabling you to discover resource rich areas and chokepoints quickly. Build another one as soon as you can.
Expanding Your Empire In Stellaris
You expand your empire’s borders using construction ships and Influence. Once a system has been fully explored by a science ship a construction ship can be sent to the system to build an outpost (starbase), provided you have enough Influence on hand to build it. The farther away from your borders you build it the more it costs you in influence, plus you run the risk of someone claiming the vacant sectors between it and the rest of your empire. This isolates the system from the rest of your empire and increases administrative costs, so generally speaking “leapfrogging” systems is not a good idea unless no one is close by. The two most obvious exceptions to this are systems that can be used as chokepoints and resource rich sectors. Once you ‘ve built an outpost that system is yours and can essentially only be taken from you by force.
One great option for expanding while preventing your opponent from grabbing all those resource rich systems is to expand along chokepoints, which I mentioned earlier, even if those systems themselves are of little value to you in resources. Even if your opponent manages to leapfrog over one of your chokepoints it will cost him extra influence points, thereby slowing down his overall expansion. The counter to this, if you have the influence, is to claim chunks of territory. In other words, claim groups of systems that are within two “jumps” of each other, making it too costly in Influence for another empire to use leapfrogging.
Once you have control of a system you can colonize it if it has at least one habitable planet. When you first colonize a planet, you’ll get 2 pops at the most as colonists. Although it’s good to build districts they shouldn’t be built until you have enough pops on hand to work them. If you don’t have enough pops at the colony the districts simply sit around and are idle, it would be a better to invest resources into something else.
Related Article: Is Stellaris the best space strategy game ever? Read my entirely subjective article about space strategy games and why I like the ones I like.
Get The Expansion Tradition
Also, almost all experienced players recommend getting the Expansion Tradition tree started first. By adopting this tradition tree, you can reduce the cost of influence for a starbase by 10% allowing you to stake your claims in space a little more rapidly and cheaply. Another big bonus this tradition tree provides is one additional colonist for your newly founded colonies. There are other benefits to this tradition tree, but these are the two most immediate ones available.
Adding the Interstellar Dominion Ascension Perk is a big help too, giving you a 20% reduction in starbase Influence cost.
Always colonize worlds with the highest habitability rating first. The higher the percentage the closer they are to your home world conditions, which means less penalties for things like population upkeep. Planets with 50% or less are not good candidates at first. Unless you have a good reason to colonize them don’t until you can terraform them or establish a migration treaty with another empire whose race is be better suited for the planet.
Use Diplomacy To Play Nice
Avoid war at first by “playing nice” through diplomacy with other empires. One drawback to “playing nice” is that if you’re everyone’s friend you can’t declare a rivalry, which gives a big gain in influence. With a low supply of influence your early expansion will be slowed down.
As a beginner it pays to “lie low” for a while and not stir up any trouble. Keep a small fleet handy with a lot of reserves built up in alloys. A stockpile of alloys will allow you to build up a fleet of ships if needed. Otherwise, build your fleet up slowly, just be sure not to incur economic penalties for having too large of a fleet. Keep good relations with your neighbors, even if you have to pay tribute every now and then. Doing so will prevent you from becoming a target by one of your neighbors due to your relatively low military strength.
Focus On Building Up Your Economy And Technology
I always focus on building up my economy quickly. In the early game I don’t worry too much about alloys since I’m building very few ships. Instead, I focus on the three basics of energy, minerals, and food. I stick to a simple approach. I build mining stations wherever I can and keep an eye on the output of those resources. When it’s time to construct a building or district I’ll usually take a look at which one has the lowest production and build accordingly, taking advantage of a planet’s designation if I can.
If I don’t have any critical shortages, I’ll usually focus on increasing energy credits. By having a surplus in those I can buy what I need at the Internal or Galactic Market if a sudden crisis occurs, for a small fee of course.
I’ve recently shifted my approach in research and technology. I now like to focus on increasing research outputs at first instead of researching something for an immediate gain, unless I consider it truly important (sometimes you don’t get the same options when it’s time to choose new research). I really should have taken this approach all along. It makes sense to increase the overall output as soon as you can, it has exponential effects later in the game.
There are three areas of research, Physics, Society and Engineering. Increasing energy credits from technicians by 20% and increasing the output from researchers by 20% are good early game choices.
The initial assignments of scientists to their category of research will be done for you but as the game goes on you will need to replace researchers. Match their specialties to the category of research you are assigning them to. The easiest way to match categories of research is by the color of the category (Physics is blue for example) with the Scientist’s expertise.
Military Build Up
By military build up I mean ships, not armies. Ships are what win wars and at the start Corvettes are the backbone of your fleets.. I usually construct a few ships whenever I have excess materials and don’t go into full-fledged production until war is imminent. On the other hand, you can’t totally neglect your military or one of the AI empires will view you as an easy target and declare war on you.
Stellaris Game Set Up
One thing to keep in mind is setting up a game of Stellaris before playing the game. The first steps are to decide on your overall strategy and either create or choose a pre-made empire to fulfill that with and decide what type of galaxy you want to play the game in. You can also decide how many AI opponents you want to play the game against. The easiest empire to learn the game with is one of the human empires and typically four AI opponents is a good number to start with. For a detailed look at how to set up the game as a beginner read my Best Starting Settings For Stellaris page.
At the start of the game, you’ll be presented with your Origin. This gives some background “flavor” to the game but doesn’t really have too much impact, especially at the start of the game. Once you click “Begin!” the game starts in paused mode.
Before unpausing the game at the start there are a few “housekeeping” chores that need to be taken care of. There will be three research alerts at the top of the screen. Clicking on one of them will bring up the technology screen so you can assign a research item to each researcher. It’s best to assign something prior to unpausing the game or research time will be lost.
I also like to chart my science ship’s course and order my construction ship to start building something if I have enough resources. I’m sure there are a few more things that could be done before unpausing but I’m not a “min-maxer” type of player, I play the game just to have fun until I get to higher levels of difficulty.
There are several menus along the side and top of the screen but at the start of the game the menu to pay attention to is the top one. You’ll especially want to pay attention to the first three resources of energy credits, minerals and food. The other most important one is Influence. You use Influence to build Outposts (Starbases) to expand your territory.
Early Planetary Management In Stellaris
In the early game don’t clear tile blockers until you need to, the resources you use can be invested in other things that are needed more. The only reason to clear a tile is when you need the space. Use the same line of reasoning for buildings and districts, don’t build them until you have the pops available to work them. It’s even a good idea to forgo building mineral and energy buildings and districts when you have the option to get those resources through mining stations instead. Mining stations don’t need any pops to work them.
Also, as part of planetary management, aim for a modest surplus in energy, food and minerals during the early game. This will enable you to build up adequate stockpiles in case something unexpected happens and you need to tap in on your reserves to get through the spike.
Once the basic necessities are in good supply focus on consumer goods, then alloys. Consumer goods will keep your subjects happy. After all, who isn’t happy when they can easily get that new TV or Playstation.
Alloys will allow you to build those big fleets you need to “enlighten” your neighbors to a better way of life. Speak softly but carry a big stick?
A Third Science Ship
If you have the Ancient Relics DLC then having a third science ship makes sense. This is because the benefits of completing the excavation of a dig site can get you a significant game perk but doing that takes a lot of time, so tying up one of your two science ships you’re using for exploration is not a good idea, it’s better to have a third science ship dedicated to excavating the archaeological sites you run into.
Use the Internal Market
Make liberal use of the Internal Market when you have an excess of a resource until the Galactic Market is established. There is no reason to let excess resources go to waste due to a lack of storage space, sell them at the Internal or Galactic Market instead. If that produces an excess of energy credits use them to buy consumer goods or alloys.
End Game Crisis
Stellaris has an end game crisis that usually involves invaders arriving to destroy your galaxy. if you’d like to be The Crisis, this page tells you how to do it.