Diplomacy in this game is kinda bland. It's been an issue since release and they actually stripped it down a little since then (primarily the removal of embassies). I haven't talked to a player yet who doesn't want an overhaul so here is my (updated) 2 cents on the concept.
As it is, there are 2 different forms of interaction with other nations: war and co-operation. Chances are you will be forced to war (the game purposefully spawns opposing ethics as far as I'm aware), if you find someone to co-operate it comes down to accepting or rejecting agreements (chances are you will accept). This isn't too deep and kinda lets down the other aspects of the game.
Diplomacy As A Currency
So nations IRL and even in fantasy aren't just in a binary state of vassal or not, we see a variety of different agreements between states. We also see diplomacy used as a currency, so why not treat it as one. Move diplomacy to the trade menu. What if I want to commission another nation's scientists instead of allowing them to benefit off of my own as well? What if I want to demand tribute in return for joining a non-ally's war? What if I agree to give up my claims in a nation in return for a guarantee? What if I won't agree to peace until I'm able to force them to give me alloy as reparations? This could all be possible if diplomacy was broken down and put into the trade menu, I feel like this would make the game more dynamic.
New Peace Deal System
Why should I have to choose peace deals from a short and uninteresting list? I should be able to use war to force trade options instead of just from a few uninteresting Casus Belli. As it is, I cant be an evil trade corporation using war to force a communist nation to allow me to build McDonalds in Sankt Petersburg and honestly if i'm not doing that what am I doing? Instead of the system we have (choose a CB, either win or lose or white peace) we should have a system where I can demand things from the trade menu including the aforementioned diplomatic options in return for peace. A higher warscore means the "peace" trade option would carry more and more weight. This way you could customize your peace.
Sphere Of Influence
Why can't my nation force influence another? In Vic 2 there is an amazing (and applicable) system known as a Sphere of Influence, this system allows a nation to exploit another's production through diplomatic means (without explicit permission) as well as control a number of their diplomatic options. I'd like to see a simpler and less micromanage-y version of this system added to Stellaris. If a significantly more powerful nation neighbours a smaller, weaker empire and they are non-antagonistic the weaker nation will slowly gain trust for the larger nation. Trust can now be used in the trade menu to force trade agreements, the more trust you have the more you can force however trust is reduced after using this option. This is only available to nations of greater than relative power.
New Diplomacy Options And Reworked Vassals
Vassals in paradox games has always been all or nothing and generally you have little control over their powers. With the suggestions above it allows a more dynamic system. "Make Vassal" would no longer be an option. Instead, you can get make treaties and deals with other empires that decide their rights under you, for example "join offensive wars" or "force military access". This means that you can customize your vassals and it would be deeper than a yes or no. If the trade menu was used even the length of vassalization could be agreed on. A number of diplomatic options would have to be added, off the top of my head I would add "Join defensive wars", "join offensive wars", "give fleetpower" "annul treaties" and "give sector". Annexation of vassals would instead of being a single click of "annex" would be a series of deals getting them to give sectors to you over a number of years (generally using trust to force them).
What does this mean for the game? It would make diplomatic more modular as well as interesting. It would also allow more interesting wars that mean more than just annexation. I think this is the ideal system for stellaris' diplomacy, personally. Thoughts?
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