I'm hoping the silence on diplomacy is simply because PDX don't want people to get confused as to what the paid/free features are when Federations drops.
I think too much of the time the NPC empires just exist. Even empires that should act differently… don't. Pacifists don't try to mediate or intervene. Megacorps don't try to disrupt trade or buy their way through obstacles. The only one that tries to 'achieve' anything are the genocidal empires. Not a lot of room to play with diplomatic actions, wants and needs etc.
In my mind diplomatic actions and other avenues for victory are hand-in-hand, and I imagine this in two parts:
At the start of the game choose some goals for your Empire and as the game unfolds allow you to choose some more goals or perhaps more niche forms of your current goals – you might for example in one game discover a ruined megastructure and decide you want to be the galaxy's master voidbuilders. You can see (most of) another empire's goals. Some, like "Cleanse all Xenos" could potentially be hidden…
Copy (in concept) Civilization 6's leader agendas (short term goals). Cozy up to a particular empire by helping them achieve whatever their goals are (e.g. Take a Planet). Bribe (I'll give you 5000 Energy to go to war now), threaten (I'm going to support the independence of the other nation) and mediate. Some of this would make leaders characters in their own right. Bonus – this makes an espionage system far more natural if you're treating other empires leaders as characters already. Trust and reputation for certain leaders and empire types might be more dependent on what you've done for them rather than what just builds up. Democratic empires might gain & lose trust slower (until they suddenly change ethics), but Kings and Emperors might be more quickly brought on-side if you help their legacy (e.g. help in a war for no part in the claims).
And if you wanted a sandbox again; turn Victory Points off (or really high like 400 points). AI Agendas would still work, but victory would be based on Score again.
*Some other sample ideas for victory goals, some of which could spawn short term agendas *
Have a federation spanning 33/50% of the galaxy (25 / 60 victory points) – AI Agenda could be to invite a new associate and if you're suitable they would be keen to invite you.
Complete Ascension (10 victory points)
(After having been vassalized) Vassalize your old overlords (5 victory points)
Be in a federation for 20 years (8 victory points)
(Post Apocalyptic:) Turn your homeworld/all worlds to Gaia Planets (5 / 10 victory points)
Crisis MVP (50 VP)
Completing the Worm Chain (5 VP)
Avenge Bubbles (2 VP)
Control 10/25/50/66% of the galactic economic value (5/10/40/80 VP)
Control 6 relics (10 VP)
Be the Scientific Leader of the Galaxy (50 VP for being double the next empire, scaling up)
Control every wormhole in the galaxy (15 VP)
(Nomadic Trait) Have your pops in every other non-genocidal empire (10 VP)
(Pacifist:) Have positive relations with all neighbours (10 VP)
(Pacifist:) Launch no offensive operations (war, (and fingers crossed; no offensive espionage actions)) for 2/5/10+ years (1/3/15)
(Pacifist:) No wars in the Galaxy (1 VP per 5 years after midgame)
(Subversive Cult Megacorp:) Turn 10/20/50% of all other empires majority-spiritualist (10/20/50 VP)
(Agrarian Idyll) Have food export deals accounting for 10/30/50% of the galaxy's needs (10/30/50 VP)
(Inward Perfection) Be Superior to all other empires. No use of the market in 5 years. Have 0 Unemployment & Crime. Run no deficits. Good living standards. (35 VP)
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