Advice on playstyle? AI either completely dominates due to research bonus or the player quickly wins due to bad AI decisions.

stellaris 6 - Advice on playstyle? AI either completely dominates due to research bonus or the player quickly wins due to bad AI decisions.

I keep ending up with the same trend in the games I play.Whenever I start a game on difficulties of Captain or below I end up completely overwhelming the AI from the early game onwards due to seemingly bad decisions on the AI's part, and my research progressing much faster.While if I go with a difficulty of Commodore or above I'm left completely in the dust on all fronts. I eventually catch up to everyone in the late game (or even after that…), but to do that I have to spend the entire early- and mid-game doing nothing except empire management. If I were to start a war with even the weakest empire it'd be an instant loss.

As an example; In my last game I played on Admiral difficulty. The empires around me were building one megastructure after another (most had like 5), while I hadn't even gotten the tech yet. The mid-game crisis was resolved by the empire sitting next to it, and so was most of the end-game crisis. It was only near the end of the end-game crisis that I could send some strategically significant fleets to help out.

My playstyle involves forming a defensive pact with as much neighboring empires as I can, while trying to alienate one of the other empires to later start a war with. I try to build as much diplomacy-, economy-, and, if at war, fleet-related stuff as possible. With technology I usually ignore build speed increases, and focus on either fleet ship enhancements or research, energy, mining, and food buffs.In the early-game I focus on resources and expansion. In the mid-game I focus on research. And in the late-game I focus on ship building, resources and expansion.

My game details:

Game Details
Galaxy SizeSmall (400 Stars)
Galaxy ShapeElliptical
AI Empires6
Advanced AI Starts1
Fallen Empires1
Marauder Empires1
Tech/Tradition Cost1
Habitable Worlds1.25x
Primitive CivilizationsOff
Mid-Game Start Year2225
End-Game Start Year2350
Victory Year2450
Scaling DifficultyOff
AI AggressivenessNormal
Advanced NeighborsOff
Hyperlane Density0.75x
Abandoned Gateways0x
Wormhole Pairs0.75x
Guaranteed Habitable Worlds2
Ironman ModeOn

All DLC's except Synthetic Dawn, Ancient Relics, and Necroids.

Are there settings I've overlooked or strange decisions I'm making during the game which cause this unbalance to take place? Or is not being able to catch up with AI empires during most of the game just something I have to live with when playing on a higher difficulty.

TLDR;With high difficulty I can't catch up to AI empires due to their bonusses. With low difficulty I easily win due to bad AI decisions. help

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