Let me preface this by saying that I love Stellaris to death, and the purpose of this post is simply to inspire a discussion within the community in order to provide valuable feedback to the game developers regarding the most underdeveloped system in the game and how it can be improved.
The post-launch development of Stellaris has seen entire chunks of the game reworked, leading to a far better player experience. Space combat has had major balance reworks and new additions, which goes hand in hand with the 2.0 hyperlane rework. Coming into 2.9, we will be having our second – although minor – economic rework, which plays into a satisfying loop of growth of your empire. And last but certainly not least we've had Interactions between empires overhauled, with the addition of features like Envoys, Favors, Federations, The Galactic Community, and upcoming 2.9 features including sabotage. Almost every part of the game has grown and improved… excluding a very important but often overlooked system: Internal Politics.
Section 1: What do we have now
Internal Politics in Stellaris can be divided up into three core components: Leaders, Governments, and Factions.
Leaders are the characters within a Stellaris Empire, who strictly adhere to their selected role. A scientist cannot become Governor through a change of interest, and vice versa. Leaders possess skill levels and traits, which almost always adhere to Economic/Military stat bonuses. In economic systems that allow for elections, four characters will try to take the throne in order to sit still and provide an economic/military stat bonus to the whole empire.
Governments are divided up into authorities, which determine the way the rulers of the empire are elected. Unless you specifically seek out to, the authority of an empire will never change. What authorities amount to is a simple question: do you want your stat bonuses to be randomized or consistent? Who is allowed to rule your nation is irrelevant, as there are no consequences for anybody getting elected – as characters, other than those who are leaders of a faction – have no beliefs and are just stat bonus bubbles. There are also Civics, which are a step in the right direction. Although most of them are simply stat bonuses and discounts, some change the way your society operates, like the Death Cult civic. They are also static, so unless you specifically want them to – no matter how far your society has shifted from them – they will never be in any way changed nor negated. The only thing that sways your hand in any way are your government ethics – they represent the general predisposition of the government towards a certain ideology. Even if you are Fanatic Xenophile and Authoritarian and a Crazy Genocidal Populist gets into office, their existence will not influence your decisions in any way – because the only thing that really matters are the Ethics, which sit still until you tell them to. See a pattern?
Factions are simply a way you earn influence. If your omnipotent god hand sets laws or performs actions that please a faction, you may gain more influence depending on the number of pops that follow it. There is usually one faction per Ethic, with the exception of Xenophobic factions: "I'm scared" and "I'm angry" respectively. Other than passive influence, factions serve very little functional purpose. You can try to endorse a faction to sway your populace to its ethics and change your ethics by spending a high amount of influence on a popular faction. So, even if someone is in power for a hundred years, your Ethics will stay rigid until you let the empire ethics represent your government.
Section 2: The Problems
The biggest problem is that Internal Politics really just doesn't matter. It feels like there is a clear disconnect between your governors and your government, which is a problem. Non-Gestalt empires are comprised of individuals who have goals and agendas, who fight for power, for what they believe – But all they receive is a stat modifier seat while the god hand still gets to decide everything regardless of what goes on in the empire. This makes said Non-Gestalt empires feel exactly like Hive Minds; It feels like it's a bunch of drones hooked up to a mainframe that you're controlling directly. Which is absolutely fine – but that's the kind of gameplay we have hive minds for.
Leaders can barely be considered characters. You don't know who they are, what they want, and what they're advocating for. You can't even see the Ethic of a given person – so when (if you even care enough) you put your support behind someone in elections, it's not because of what they believe aligns with your goal for the empire, it's because their stats are better.
The relationship of the player and their empire is like that of an overprotective parent who doesn't let their child play video games due to satanic influences. Nothing can or will happen if your divine hand does not allow it – that is, of course, with rare exceptions — like revolts which throw you into a huge, large-scale civil war… But if a civil war is the only way your internal politics can't be interesting, then there's plenty to rethink.
Section 3: The Solutions
Even if you agree with the problems, you probably won't agree with the solutions to this issue. That's absolutely fine, which is why I marked this as a discussion post. But in this section, I will propose a rework meant to address this issue.
The simplest way – at least short term – to increase the depth of internal politics massively is to make Elections Matter. When a new leader comes around, they will propose legislation which you will not be able to change for the duration of their term (or at least x years after their term has started). Additionally, changing laws could now require influence to incentivize trying to elect leaders that fit your plan for the empire better instead of doing them yourself. The election chances should also massively sway due to specific circumstances – upon receiving refugees, the xenophobic faction could start fearmongering campaign about refugees from xenophobic empires being xenophobic – as an example. That event could increase xenophobic ethics attraction for your native species, shift some pops to the ethic directly through the event and make one of the candidates promised legislation be to lower the refugee species from citizenship to residence. So long as the events are impactful but not game-breaking, they could lead to very interesting stories. What if you're trying to make the empire more xenophobic in order to enslave the natives of a planet, but the public debate heavily centers around materialism vs spiritualism, and the two opposing candidates go head to head? These things would and should happen in a system where people are able to choose their leader. Additionally, two changes could be made to correlate your government ethics to your actual government. Endorsing a faction would no longer shift your ethics, but Every time someone is elected, your empire ethics shift to fit your new leader's ethic. This means that if you're a
I think these changes could be the first step to improving internal politics. Do you agree? Do you think that there are better ways to make internal politics more interesting? Do you think there are any other issues with the way internal politics work now?
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