Currently habitability is the last thing you think about when you colonize a planet. First thing you think about is planet size; second one is having good districts to be able to build on. There is also considerations about if you have enough resources right now and how much planet would be a total drain on your resources.
That's it. You don't think about habitability because it doesn't matter. Amenities matter some, because unhappy pops = instability and less resources, but you can deal with this by building some holotheaters. Increased pop upkeep in customer resources matter only if you settle down on planet after planet with <20% habitability, and even in this case – it's more than manageable.
At the same time, going extra-wide and colonizing everything you can is the winning strategy. Why? Because you get pops. Pops and ability to grow/acquire them as fast as you can is the most important thing there is in 2e. More pops = more resources of every kind. Which is why settling down on everything is worth it, because even if you don't want to pay upkeep, you can just relocate new pops from established colonies to more inhabitable areas.
This is also extremely immersion-breaking. Imagine us settling down on Mars right now. Would the population of Mars colony explode in the way Stellaris colonies are exploding? No. Even after establishing colony infrastructure, population growth will be checked by lack of oxygen and water, need to devote more and more machinery to keep colonists alive and healthy. There will be population growth, but it will be really slow.
And that's the argument I am making here – lack of habitability should reduce pop growth and increase upkeep of districts and buildings. This will be make the following changes to the gameplay:
- Settling on planets with bad habitability would be a risky move. Imagine that you settle a planet with 20% habitability and get only 20% of normal pop growth on this planet. This planet will be a drain on your economy for decades.
- Terraforming becomes a lot more important. Right now you perform terraforming mostly to cut consumer good costs on "red" planets. With this change, terraforming becomes a truly crucial technology, allowing you to finally boom your population.
- Gaia worlds become even better, providing 20% more pop growth on each terraformed planet. This is powerful in 2.2.
- Habitability techs become a lot more important, since now each of those effectively provide 5-10% bonus to pop growth, gradually shifting the balance from "drain on the resources" to "seems fine to colonize".
- Machine Empires and Robot technology become stronger, and both Synthetic Ascension and Biological Ascension become more powerful in different ways. Presumably robots ignore those pop growth modifiers. This allows them to popboom in the old way – by colonizing everything which is colonizeable – and get a significant edge over puny organics who have to breathe and drink. Same goes for the synths. Empires with Biological Ascension also get to popboom in the old way by modifying their pops to be able to live on all kinds of planets.
I admit that last part is the problem, but it is to certain extent the problem we already have. On the other hand, this system discourages from just colonizing everything you can and makes a certain part of the game important again. I believe that with tweaking Machine Empires to get less from one pop and boosting Psionic Ascension to suck less compared to two other way, this system would make colonizing much more of choice and thus more interesting.
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