Okay, so that's 20 hours in two days. Yikes. (Especially when you consider that my "20 hours" are more like 22). I lost a lot of sleep playing Stellaris today. I just got to a point where I kept telling myself I'd quit after doing "just one more thing," but of course it's never just one.
I discovered that the end game is pretty slow, both in its pace and in the sense that it brought my computer to a crawl. As a result, I didn't really get to enjoy the inevitable point where you're a godlike advanced civilization, capable of striding the stars and reshaping the very stars themselves.
Or maybe I was just really tired and cranky when I go to that point. I mean, having to run the simulation at a slower speed than the absolute fastest isn't the end of the world. It may get a little uneventful when you're in a position of safety, at the center of an alliance that spans half the galaxy and so utterly unassailable that no one dares make a move against you, but even then things are only uneventful until they aren't (my imperialist ally ran out of targets to bully, but it seems like my democratic ally simply can't stop meddling with a particular region of space that's home to about four nations of the same species, all of which tend to drift away from democracy enough to make periodic interventions necessary).
I'm having trouble pinning down my overall opinion of Stellaris. I think a big part of it is that my perception of the game is colored b my knowledge of how other Paradox games evolve over time. They tend to get a lot of very influential DLC, some of which can change the entire complexion of the game (my most recent Crusader Kings II save file, the one where I tried to play the whole 800 years, fell victim to one of these DLCs). And that makes me wonder how future DLC will change Stellaris, and perhaps, more pertinently, how I want it to.
For example, the whole system of alliances and Federations could use a serious overhaul. As it stands now, being in a Federation has two main effects - it makes you a military powerhouse and it drags you into an endless series of wars. I can't help feeling that this betrays something about Stellaris' priorities that I don't really like - it is at heart a wargame, and though it gives you more room to roleplay than your typical strategy game, it still strongly favors the path of violent conquest.
I guess the game I really want to play is Stellaris after it has gotten a half-dozen expansions that make Federations more interesting, internal divisions more deadly, and uplifting aliens more complex and satisfying. Right now, it's like a butterfly in a cocoon. The early game was genuinely amazing, the mid-game was busy, if occasionally frustrating, and the late game simply didn't work. But there are a dozen obvious places to bolt on new mechanics that might help Stellaris deliver the promise of its epic scope.
Which means, unusually for a strategy game, I'm ready to move on. Oh, I could easily play it for another 60 hours, but since I know that expansions are inevitable, I can also afford to wait awhile. Besides, Stellaris was my 98th game and I'm really eager to get to the triple digits.