Diplomacy/espionage should be more like researching other Empires

stellaris 3 - Diplomacy/espionage should be more like researching other Empires

Imagine you start a new Stellaris game. You start to expand, research and build. Very soon you meet your first galaxy neighbors. You try to establish communications, but instead of you getting everything you should need to know about them, they just refuse to communicate with you. You continue attempts to hail them, but to no avail. And suddenly you start getting reports about your starbases being taken and your ships being destroyed. First Contact War happens.

But you are good player, and you were somewhat prepared for conflict. You manage to slow them down, refit economy to producing alloys and start pushing back. As you destroy their fleets, you start getting prisoners of war. They still refuse to communicate, but now your researchers and military analysts can work with actual data and not just caught hyperspace transmissions. In a few months, you know much more about your enemy. Guess what? You had Fanatic Purifier all this time right nearby and did not know it. You also almost lost game because you weren't prepared for the conflict which, as you now understand, was inevitable.

Okay, game continues! You contain Purifier by taking anything but remote barely inhabited colony, and continue to expand. You meet your next neighbor, who turns out to be Fanatic Pacifist. Great stuff! You conclude a Non-Aggression Pact, but build up a starbase nearby just in case he changes ethics and decide to do a Liberation war on you. Game continues. You meet a few other neighbors, start communicating with them too…

And then you receive message: your starbase was blown without a single shot, "Pacifist" fleets are moving toward your capital, and your fleet doesn't hail responses. What happened? It turns out that your neighbor was Fanatic Militarist all this time, but he spent a lot of resources to fool your diplomats and install spying network in your state, which destroyed chokepoint starbase and mind-controlled your admiral into inaction. Now you have another war happening, and you are not in best position to handle it.

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Sci-fi is full of examples when First Contact goes wrong, and First Contact wars. It is also full of examples when one space nation successfully deceives another one, hiding it's true nature and actions. In Stellaris, once you establish communications with other empire, you know all the most important things you should know about it – ethics, how powerful it is compared to you, and it's total diplomacy information. This is stupid and allows human player to plan and prepare his response immediately. Instead, other empires should be a complete mysteries from the beginning. Diplomacy and espionage should be interrelated and aimed at giving player more information about AI. The less information player have, the more he is in dark about what could and what should be done.

This also provides a new dimension to research/military build-up. To succeed, you need not only to have fleet and tech advantage – you should also be able to know where to strike (you know geography of your rival empire, but no idea of where starbases and colonies are), if you can survive the attempt (instead of Equivalent you get ???, which could destroy you if you pick wrong target), if rival has allies (secret defensive pacts and alliances are thing IRL history). AI can get all around this by being omniscient as usual, but that's acceptable (pity the AI, he barely have two artificial neurons to rub together).

If you combine this with more aggressive and pushy AI (like Starnet, maybe somewhat tame), this could really end in much more interesting playthoughs. If you can teach AI how to deceive the player by giving him false information, this also could end in much more tense game.

The downsides? You won't get to have nice overview anymore. Instead, Galaxy is blurred, hidden from you and full with lying bastards waiting for their espionage projects to be complete so they can incite rebellions on your alloy-producing colonies and strike first.

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