In my experience of playing the game for about ~80 hours, I've found that it's probably the overall best modern Paradox game there is by lightyears. But there's one incredibly glaring issue with Stellaris – how wars function.
Something I've encountered in basically every game – and I will assume most other players have encountered to some extent – is the wonky warscore. The situation of winning every battle, taking plenty of systems, while enduring basically no losses, but having the war screen tell you you're just as militarily exhausted as your enemy. In some situations I've experienced, I've even been statistically losing the war despite that fundamentally not being the reality.
I'd trace the root of this issue to the bizarre warscore mechanic, though there are others I'll get into. I'm going to lay out the problems with war exhaustion, how to fix them individually, and then my idea for a revamped warscore system to disentangle war exhaustion so totally from overall warscore.
Fixing War Exhaustion
Ticking war exhaustion – 'attrition' – as it stands makes no sense; if I've taken the fight to my enemy, and my fleets having been bearing down on them since day one, while not a single one of their ships has ever entered my systems, why on earth are we both getting the same level of ticking attrition?
This should be improved by having a very low level of baseline ticking war exhaustion, while having war exhaustion generally be increased by planetary bombardment, destruction of starbases which facilitate trade, and damage to infrastructure (I'll get to battles later).
Tied to this, war exhaustion needs to be realized in a mechanical sense; right now it's an abstract number seen only in the conflict screen. But when war exhaustion is typically used to represent the overall toll of the conflict on your nation, why does it feel so distant? If the idea is that war expenditure and losses of life have pushed my empire to the breaking point, why am I still making 100 energy credits a month?
Thus, I'd tie war exhaustion to an economic effect – have high war exhaustion lead to a reduction in production efficiency for energy credits, minerals, food, everything. Then it can actually feel tied in to the rest of the game in a holistic sense, rather than an abstract number.
Also, like virtually every other Paradox game, I think there should be a mechanic to manually reduce your warscore – perhaps by a propaganda effort – by spending credits or influence. This can just be an edict. Obviously however, this should not be able to counteract the effects of overwhelming economic destruction, such as if most of your planets are occupied – this is more intended to mitigate the ticking war exhaustion of the winning belligerent, or to facilitate a Stalingrad-style turnaround for the losing belligerent.
However even with these fixes, there's still one major peculiarity – in pretty much every other Paradox game, war exhaustion is a factor of the overall warscore, not the be all and end all of the entire conflict. This is not the case in Stellaris – insofar as I can tell warscore and war exhaustion are inseperable. I'll get into the specific problems with the way warscore is calculated later.
With these issues in mind, I would suggest the creation of a bicameral warscore system, made up dually of war exhaustion and military fortune (not good at names). War Exhaustion would represent the toll of the conflict on your Empire's population and economy, while Military Fortune is affected by the actual space and ground battles, as well the capture and loss of star systems.
Both sides' War Exhaustion and Military Fortunes would be added up to make the overall Warscore, which would decide who actually wins and when the AI is willing to cave.
Wars could also be improved with a more comprehensive wargoals system; if my neighbour has declared war on me three times and lost all three times, surely I'd want to be able to disarm them, or make them pay reparations, rather than just having a single, forced, humiliate option. The game needs more war goals, and the ability to add them mid-conflict. This is the way it functions in EU4, Vicky2, and virtually other Paradox game, so it seems like a strange omission. You should also be able to seperately peace out individual enemies in certain situations.
There is also a glaring lack of a mechanic which seems to be a rather obvious inclusion. Why can't you capture your enemy's spaceships? This has been a mainstay of naval conflict (and the space combat in Stellaris is clearly inspired by naval conflict) since Antiquity, but as far as I can tell there's no military doctrine, traits, or tactics I can employ to focus on capturing my enemy's ships instead of just blowing them up. Perhaps there could be a component, like 'boarding pods' you could add on to your ships to facilitate this.
I do get the feeling that Stellaris is trying to make a distinctive break from other Paradox games which are typically overwhelmingly focused on wars – this is refreshing, and its part of what makes Stellaris such a good game, the focus on the events and internal mechanics. But still, the sorry state of war functionality right now makes a major game mechanic in fact very frustrating to endure.
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