Stellaris gets off to a slow start. That's not a complaint, by the way. When I say "slow" I mean gloriously slow. You are a tiny speck in a gigantic galaxy. You send your science ship out to an adjacent star and it is so tentative, like dipping your toe in a pool to test its temperature. But you survive, and your ships gradually go farther and farther afield, finding a universe that is mostly empty, but with life in unexpected places.
I think I could play an entire game that was nothing but the early hours of Stellaris. I love finding and researching anomalies. They're nothing too spectacular, from a visual or gameplay perspective, but they are all interesting little glimpses into a wider, weirder world. I'm honestly considering running a huge map with minimal npcs just so I can explore as many stars as possible without having all these empires in the way.
As far as the strategic component of the game is concerned, these things are always tough to judge from the early game. Scientific research is based on resources you find around various planets and I kind of got hosed on my start for having the right resources nearby (I managed to ally with a nearby alien civilization and they are something like 12-15 technologies ahead of me), but I expect that as I get used to the game's mechanics, I'll be able to turn things around. I'm optimistic, though. There's a lot of complexity here, so much so that it would probably take dozens of hours just to work out a theory about the proper build order.
It's a little weird, playing a Paradox strategy game where you're not immediately thrust into a life-and-death power struggle with a dozen neighbors of varying degrees of hostility, but I kind of like it. In any other 4X game, if I met a rival empire less than an hour into the game which had a 300% tech lead on me, I would immediately restart, because it would only be a matter of time before they came after me. In Stellaris, these advanced aliens are Peaceful Traders whose ideology maps closely to my own, so they've become my best friends and protectors. Despite the symmetrical start, this is not a game that cares for balance, which is a breathtaking change of pace.
I don't know what will happen as I continue to expand and explore. I've only encountered one alien species so far, but there are dozens more out there. Eventually, the galaxy will become filled up and the nature of the game will shift to a more familiar cutthroat military and diplomacy rhythm. Will I be able to handle it? I don't know, but for now I'm enjoying the ride.