Stellaris

Lack of economic depth and the general state of economy building is frustrating

stellaris 2 - Lack of economic depth and the general state of economy building is frustrating
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It has been 2 years since the launch of the Le Guin and its reworked economy. This change brought great promise and healthy changes, however here we are in 2021 and a lot of those promises remained unfulfilled in my eyes. Let me share my thoughts about Stellaris economy or simply skip at the TLDR at the end of this post.

I have 1200 hours in the game and have been playing Stellaris since 1.9. I spent a whole year playing on the old tile system and even though a lot of us at that time did not want to let go, the new system promised better performance, less micromanagement, more impactful decisionmaking and better mod support.

Performance was in some ways improved after rigorous patching so that is a plus from me.

Micromanagement changed from clicking the button to upgrade on each of your buildings to checking unemployment and housing. I see little change on this front, however I am here mainly to talk about the last two promises.

Stellaris is a 4x game and in its current state it centers a lot around war. You are building up the economy the whole game and with the surplus you either build alloy foundries to have an immediate advantage or research labs (/unity buildings) to have an advantage in the later stage of the game. Everything else is just a support system for either these buildings directly or some other part of this support structure. Fundamentally this did not change. In the old system it wasn't alloys and research, but minerals and individual labs for the three research fields. It was just simpler and had less moving parts. I do not think that this gameplay loop is bad, but I hate the way it is implemented.

So how do we get those two most important resources in the game?
For alloys it is either through the alloy foundry building or an ecumenopolis district and both times it is through the metallurgist job. Every other way (for example system deposits) is either situational or gets negligible 50 years into the game and the galactic market is not a viable source either unless you stack market fee discounts.
For research it is slightly better. You obviously have researchers in research labs, science directors in research hubs, unity jobs provide small amount of society, you have ringworld segments and an entire megastructure dedicated to research. However, ringworlds and other megastructures are basically at the end of the tech tree so you have to get there somehow. You do not build unity buildings for research, you build them for unity production and science directors tie directly back to researchers so again we find ourselves in the same spot as with alloys.

So your whole economy in this game is going to revolve either around alloys or research, that means that your whole economy is going to revolve around alloy foundries and the metallurgist job or research labs and the researcher job. So in the end every empire you play is going to converge on the same type of " optimal build" on your planets in order to satisfy these two jobs no matter in what situation it finds itself in and ultimately you end up playing the same empire over and over again. Your first colony has a perfect setup to be an agri world? Well, too bad, alloys require minerals so you better build those mining districts.

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And I would like to ask why? Why do I have to follow this setup in every playthrough when the whole Le Guin update promised that this situation is not going to happen. If you look at the building interface there are icons that help you filter building by their function, suggesting that there are more options behind that menu, however most categories give you little choice. You might say that this is intentional, that all of the jobs and buildings are made for singular purpose – only the researchers research, only the enforcers reduce crime, only the miners produce minerals and only the bureaucrats increase admin. cap. However if you look at one of the most useless "resource" – the amenities tab, the game design here speaks about a different story. You have administrators, clerks, merchants, entertainers, healthcare workers, priests, robotic servants, slave servants and even luxury residences by themselves all producing amenities so you can allways fulfill the need of your populus in a unique and satisfying way. Why can't we have the same level of choice in other parts of the game? Why can't we have some level of decisionmaking present in building our economy as promised all those years ago?

And I know, we have the galactic market, but thanks to the "optimal build" phenomenon I mentioned earlier, a lot of empires converge on the same type of build which results in a demand for the same type of resource, which renders the market useless for a large part of the game if your goal is to supply a major part of your economy through it. And even though the new dev diaries promise changes on the alloy front, the main problem of the metallurgist being the sole producer of alloys remains unresolved.

But maybe in spite of the fact that there are parts of the interface specifically made for multiple options, it was always meant for the moding scene. So I went on the steam workshop and tried multiple economy overhauls during those two years and basically none of them came close to fulfilling this void. Most of them either expanded the economic system by adding more resources with similar function to motes/ crystals/ gases or even worse adding 10 situational rare resources akin to dark matter or zro. A couple of them doubled down on the whole support system I talked about, but ended up functionally changing very little or was hyperfocused on one part so you ended up with 10 buildings that dealt with food production, but still had only one option of consumer goods production. The only exception I found throughout the whole journey is AlphaAshs Alphamod. Even though I disagree with a lot of other design decisions present, I have to congratulate them, because this mod is IMO the only one on the whole workshop that did something meaningful with the economic framework we have in the game. There are multiple basic resources that are not useless, there are alternatives to secondary resource acquisition both in jobs and buildings and the whole problem with economy being directly tied to pops is also addressed. I hope there were more mods with similar philosophy (please mention them in the comments if you know about some). So in the end, even the moding promise remains unfulfilled.

In conclusion I deeply love this game and care about it, however the lack of options in one of the main mechanics suffocate the diversity and the potential it has and the system we have is highly underutilized both by the official developers and the moding community.

If you got this far, than you for the read. I am not a game developer, I am just a player so I might be completely wrong, but that is why I marked this as a discussion. I would like to know whether some of you share my feelings or think that I am delusional minority that wants fringe experiences from a game that is fundamentally about something different. Am I the only one here that thinks, that there should be a more meaningful economic system?

tl.dr: IMO the economic system introduced in Le Guin is not properly utilized due to the lack of options and production trees thus making economy of every empire feel absurdly similar. The game needs more buildings and job types to acquire both basic and advanced resources.

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