In Stellaris, especially before ambitions but even now, traditions don't really feel like a choice. Of course in the early game you will have to prioritize which traditions to get first, but eventually you will get all or all but one traditions. Traditions could feel like something that impacts how your society is developing, and how it is different (or similar) to other empires.
Most of the (fundamental) differences between empires come decided from the start in the form of traits, ethics and civics. From those three traits is the one that changes the most, because of migration and gene-modding, and the other two remain almost the same most of the time. Then some ascension perks (not most of them) give some interesting roleplay and gameplay turns to your empire, but other than that your empire doesn't feel like a society which is in constant change, that evolves over time and in which new dilemmas and ideologies are born. Most comes predetermined from the start.
I think we could somewhat fix that problem by having branched traditions. There's no need to replace the existing traditions: Expansion, domination, prosperity, harmony, supremacy, discovery and discovery (though this could be done). Instead we could expand them to have mutually exclusive branches, like many trees in other videogames (for example hoi4's focus trees, or any rpg's skill tree). Those branches would represent different solutions or perspectives towards a problem or dilemma whose origin is related to the tradition.
For example when you adopt the expansion tradition (which is for many people the first tradition they adopt) it is because you are colonizing other worlds, making your empire an increasingly bigger interstellar civilization, in which new world start becoming comparable to your homeworld. This creates a new dilemma: How defendant should the new colonies be with respect to the homeworld? Should they have they own local governments and make decisions, or should a central government administer all colonies? The two solutions to this dilemma: Centralization and decentralization would be represented by each one of the expansion tradition branches. Centralization would give you more control over planets and a greater admin cap, while decentralization will take it away from you but in exchange would give you reduced penalties for going over your admin cap and bonuses to stability or resource production.
The prosperity tree is centered around economic development, but economic development comes with its own dilemma: Should we respect and adapt to the natural environment of planets, or should we transform then to suit our needs? Should we build around nature or on top of it? Is there an intrinsic value to nature making it worth preserving? The two solutions would be Ecologist/Adapter and Industrialist/Transformer. Adaptists could gain bonuses from planetary features, and have incentive to make planet's production varied and self-sustainable, while transformists would have bonuses for specialization of planets and to build ecumenopolis.
The harmony tradition is about a common goal, but what should that common goal be. Should we always strive for growth (economical and demographical) or should we conform with what we have and strive to maintain and perfect it? Can we reach total happiness or are we condemned to get used to our successes and wanting more? The solutions would be growth and conformity/stability. Growth would give bonuses to pop growth, build time, build cost and resource production (and maybe research), but as your economy grows you would have to give increasing resources to your pops for making them a little happier, and making 100% happiness impossible. Conformity would increase pop happiness (making 100% possible) and give bonuses to stability and defensive capabilities, but in exchange pop growth would be greatly reduced.
Supremacy is about war. But why are why fighting for? For our own expansion and to make others submit to our rule or to spread our ideals around the galaxy and liberate the people's of other planets from oppression and ignorance? Branches would be Conquest and Liberation.
All of this different "solutions" could be some sort of new ethics, that weren't available from the start because they wouldn't make sense for a primitive, single-planet, civilization. They may be integrated into the ethics system (ethics points would have to be increased in some point mid-game) and behave in the same way, or they could be their own new system, with a new name. It would be necessary to take a stance in all of them, just as with ethics and empire could be neutral in the adaptist-transformist spectrum.
But wait a second, the xenophile-xenophobe spectrum is something that would make sense for a civilization that doesn't even know if there are other lifeforms in the universe. xenophobe and xenophile could be the ethics derived from the diplomacy tradition. (individualist-collectivist could make a return to fill in the gap)
Sorry if my English is not perfect, its not my native language. This are just my own imperfect ideas, so I would appreciate any comments and discussion.
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