My love-hate relationship with Stellaris

stellaris 4 - My love-hate relationship with Stellaris

I've a bit of a love-hate relationship with Stellaris. I really like the early game and parts of the mid-game – but I can never force myself through the lategame because it just becomes a chore; usually just starting a new game. Stellaris reminds me a lot of EU4 world conquest runs: At the end, it's just too boring to bother. Speaking of EU4: While Stellaris offers a whole galaxy to play with, it still feels a lot smaller and less diverse than planet earth on EU4.

Now, obviously, these are just my opinions. I'll just openly speak out on certain frustrating factors or issues I've noticed over the years of playing (I always play on max difficulty, small/medium galaxy):

Decline in hard choices and exploration: This is just the core issue with Stellaris. The longer the game goes, the fewer hard choices are made and the fewer new things are discovered. If this was balanced and paced better, the endgame wouldn't be such a chore.

Early Game VS Late Game: Early game is exciting, and full of interesting choices: How far can I expand before I'm locked into my borders? What are the best systems to grab? What research should I do first (between equally useful options)? How do I keep my neighbors from tearing me apart? How do I invest my limited resources? What can I sell to get more alloys? Etc.

Once I'm locked into my borders (what I like to call 'Mid-Game'), I just focus on building up – with far less choices: How can I speed up my tech? What neighbor should I attack first? This is also the point where handling colonies becomes more annoying than interesting: I'm not really making choices, I'm just fixing problems and checking boxes for the most part.

And once Late-Game hits (when I hit Megastructures), it's just a chore: At this point, most AI opponents are a joke anyways, and my only concern is to get enough Alloys to build Megastructures everywhere. It's usually the point where I give up on administrating my empire and just build Ringworlds to transfer everyone on them – while I'm picking the same 5-6 repeatable techs again and again. It's just a waiting game.

Technology feels very same-y: We have a whole galaxy with different species and ideologies… but everyone is researching the same tech? The game would be so much more exciting if each empire would contribute different types of tech; making conquest (or diplomacy) much more interesting than just to gain systems. If I knew there was an empire on the other side of the galaxy with specific research trees that I wanted, I would have a clear goal to works towards, rather than just 'increasing the amount of research and clicking a button'.

Having more technological options, perhaps dependent on ideology, starting planet, random occurrences, diplomatic situations, etc; would probably make each game feel different and add more elements of discovery even in the late game.

Repeatable Tech feels boring: It's just increasing a number. Why do I even have to pick them, at this point? Just let me select a field (like "Improve Shields") and just gradually increase the number, instead of having me pick the same tech two dozen times.

Instead, how about a few more technologies, to last far into the late game? Repeatable tech shows up too early. I'm sure there could be more to it than just an average of ~120 years before everyone runs out of ideas for new technologies.

Galactic Market: I've made an experiment a few months back, by playing the game without using the market… and I must say, it was quite the interesting experience. I almost feel like the Galactic Market is a band-aid to resolve a problem with the game itself (or help out beginners): Resource imbalance shouldn't just be fixed by a magic market but via diplomacy, conquest of key resources, etc. How does that even work, to begin with – if I haven't even met other empires yet?

Perhaps there shouldn't be a galactic market (or an option to disable it)… or perhaps, this should be another part of the game that develops over time. The game starts out without one, but via diplomacy and treaties, the universe develops multiple markets to trade in. This could also be used to sanction players or AI, by excluding them – and resources should actually reflect (somewhat) what can be found in the galaxy (no endless exotic resources!). Meanwhile, a black market as gives empires with have no other access to a galactic market a way out… for a price.

Habitats: It would be great to have an option to disable Habitats altogether. They seem to be a major source of lag late-game, and the AI just spams them everywhere. I ended up modifying the game files to reduce their AI weight.

The AI Doesn't hold up… at all: No surprise here, but the AI always falls behind. This just shouldn't be the case, especially not in a game where the AI is responsible for the challenge and engagement of the game.

Even simple things during wars aren't working: The AI still suicides fleets into no-win scenarios, basically destroying themselves before I even get started. They abandon important choke-points just to conquer a few stray systems, leaving with their whole fleet instead of sending a ship or two. They follow a weak fleet around in circles for decades, while another fleet just conquers their planets, etc. It's just silly, and I regularly manage to win against empires that have a superior or overwhelming fleet, just because of things like that. One jumping comes into play, the AI falls apart even more — but by that point, their fleets are usually made out of paper anyways.

AI Personalities: Maybe I just don't pay enough attention to it, but besides a few numbers being different, all AI empires feel the same on the diplomatic menu. Yeah, they hate me, or love me, or are indifferent… and then? This one is more for flavor than anything else, but how about some more personality behind them.

  • Fortifying a station near the border of a militaristic, paranoid empire could cause a diplomatic conflict (with them demanding to remove the station).
  • Building a Science Nexus could attract the attention of more scientifically-minded empires, perhaps with them even requesting to do some research inside that thing (like CERN).
  • Starting a war with a pathetic empire (just to remove them) gets another, much bigger empire's attention – meddling with my affairs because of my honor-less behavior.
  • Using a whole species as chemical batteries could get me into trouble by their former allies, or other empires that despise that kind of thing.
  • Removing certain blockers could bring in the Green Peace empire to set sanctions on me.
  • And so on…

Jump Drives: While I like the idea, I find them far too powerful (especially for human players). Maybe jump drives shouldn't allow us to jump into a foreign system; maybe there should be some kind of Buoy/Jump Beacon that has to be placed in them during war (that can be destroyed). Maybe only capital ships can jump. Perhaps there should be a huge delay to a jump (with malus), giving the AI a chance to catch a fleet preparing for it. Or there could just be an option to restrict the functionality of Jump Drives.

I would almost say that removing the Jump Drives, and instead being forced to work with Jump Gates, would be much more interesting; It would force me to plan ahead. Instead, I just place Jump Gates to cover large distances, instead of placing them to access key points.

More Sector Buildings: Sectors feel very bland at this point. The only real 'choice' is if I want a station in them, or not. Everything else (resources, planets) aren't a choice, I'll probably just build and colonize them anyways. How about another set of buildings that can be freely placed in sectors?

  • Additional defensive structures (with a radius), like: Minefields, small defense platforms, slow bubbles, etc
  • Other utility: sensor jammers (fog of war to hide fleets in), jump drive jammers, fleet decoys, navigation buoyes, etc.

There should be a mechanic to limit the placements, of course (perhaps, very high upkeep costs) – so that it's not another thing we just do in every sector.

More Pocket Areas: So far, there are only very few pocket areas to discover (usually just the L-Gate or something cut-off by a Fallen Empire). This could be an easy way to add more to the lategame, as technology improves, better detection and improved ways to travel could reveal such pocket areas.

AI shouldn't do Excavation Sites: It kind of feels like a waste. If I knew the excavation could be done by myself, I would have more of a reason to conquer certain systems. Maybe even with the twist that the AI empire has the 'end result' and we just get the scraps? Either way, the AI doesn't get any satisfaction for it anyways – leave that to the human player.


Or perhaps just add something similar to a Research Agreement, where two or more empires collaborate on a dig site.

New / Generated Excavation Sites: While it already happens to a degree, there should be more of this: Reveal excavation sites after certain technologies have been researched, or after large wars when taking over alien planets, etc. How is it, that I can conquer a planet from a different species… but there's nothing interesting to do with it? Why can't I look into the foreign empire's culture, research their history, and so on? It would add a lot more flavor to the usually bland conquests. A planet would become more than just 'another entry on the list' if each one had something more to explore.

Improved scanning, repeated surveillance: On our own planet, we spent hundreds / thousands of years discovering things about it, nature, our past, etc. In Stellaris, surveying a whole star system, takes a few in-game months and we know everything about it. You could argue that the 'tech' is so advanced, that it's possible – alright, then could I get a downgrade for that tech please? Let us research improved surveillance technology; the first sweep should just be on the surface, and after that we get the chance to search for more while our sensors improve gradually.

Less Information, more discovery: Exotic resources are shown even before my empire knows that they exist. Don't. Make me search for them, don't let me know what system I should get decades ahead of time. Even if I research the new exotic material, let me search and scan for it.

The same should be true for borders, foreign planets, stations, etc: Why do we get all that information straight away? If I have a chat with Russia, do they instantly transmit me the coordinates of all their military bases, and their fleet power? I doubt it. If we had more of a fog of war, a lack of information, then a whole new area of gameplay could be added: Scouting. Before a war (or other diplomatic engagements), we would have to try and figure out what we're dealing with. This would make conflicts much more uncertain.

In addition to all that: Don't reveal an empire just because I spoke with it. It's likely I wasn't even close to their borders to begin with, why would they give me coordinates? That's what trading is for (or a black market for information).

Megastructures, one of each: Maybe it's different for other players, but I always find myself covering my whole empire with Megastructures. Especially now that we can build 3 at a time. There is no decision making anymore – do I get a Ringworld, a Mega-Shipyard, a Matter-Decompressor? Why not everything? Let's add an Sentry Array and a Strategic Coordination Center just for fun. I don't need them, but why not complete the set while I'm at it? My point is: Megastructures should probably be harder to get – in a way that really makes me work for each one; and not just build a few Alloy Foundries.

Megastructures shouldn't just get researched either: This is a prime opportunity to spread the knowledge of these structures/technologies to different empires. Each empire could only get the tech for one or two, and you have to engage in diplomacy, espionage or war to get the means to research them. Hell, maybe each Megastructure requires two or three different base technologies, and empires have to work together (or conquer) to get all base technologies required to even research a specific megastructure – like a big puzzle. Example: The Matter Decompressor could require the material tech to even build it, the technology to decompress the matter and another technology to even be able to build and anchor it around a black hole.

Also, add more options: How about a Megastructure to increase the resource maximum? How about a Mega-Station for defense? Or perhaps a Mega-'bomb' to destroy a whole system, altering the lanes at the cost of the system itself? Why not give certain Megastructures an ability to do something with or further configure? I'm sure my Science Nexus could hold a few extra scientists! Or the Sentry Array could listen in on the communication of a far away sector.

Dangerous Activities & AI Interference: There should be more diplomatic (or other) interference by the other empires. If I'm researching Jump-Gates, someone should show up and tell me it's a bad idea. If I'm building a world-cracker, empires should try to stop me. Where are the sanctions towards me? Where are the talking heads insulting or rivaling me? Why the hell do I still have access to the galactic market to build my Colossus?!

Imagine if a country on earth would just start building a Sentry Array to spy on every other country. I think most other countries would have something to say to that. This stuff should have heavy diplomatic implications — instead of nothing.

Espionage Systems: This would be fantastic. Give us more diplomatic options. Maybe a new species that can shape-shift (or traits for such a thing?). Let us steal technological ideas, gain system information, fetch war plans, reduce stability, or perhaps even bribe or assassinate certain leaders. Maybe I'm just spoiled from EU4.

More Diplomacy: Let us have different diplomatic stances for each neighbor. Add more diplomatic interactions, like border disputes (instead of just having a number), embargo's, etc. Have the AI actually make use of favors; so far, I've never experienced the AI really taking advantage of open favors. Add more ways than just war to get a system or to open borders; perhaps treaties can be worked out, allowing specific lanes to be used? Or multiple states of "open borders" where only civilian ships can pass through? Maybe the option to have interactions even throughout war, asking for help, offering different peace deals, or condemning certain actions? So far, diplomacy feels incredibly bland and it's mostly just a numbers game to get an empire's opinion to a specific value.

Traditions & Ascensions: Once again, it feels very same-y. There is only a choice at the start of the game, with the first two traditions and ascensions; the rest usually is just 'fill out everything else'. Add more choice. Don't allow for every tradition to be picked, let us choose between two or three opposing traditions. Add tradition combination bonuses (similar to EU4). Add more Ascension Perks and make them good enough to have us think about it.

The best way I can describe Ascension Perks is this: If I only had half of the slots available, I would have a hard time picking everything I wanted and would be forced to actually make a choice. As it is now, I can easily pick everything I want each game and have room to spare. There is no choice, besides the order I pick them.

Perhaps even go a step further: Connect far more technologies (and whole trees) to Traditions and Ascensions. Maybe I would even pick Enigmatic Engineering if it was connected to a whole branch of tech I wanted; but no, I have my Sentry Array instead.

Traits: More traits, please. Or just more traits that can only be unlocked later on with technology (or traditions, ascendancy or situations), to change into.

Fleet Templates: Maybe I'm too dumb to figure this out, but can't we just get fleet templates (like in EU4), where we can create a template and have it auto-constructed? I'm not sure if the weird tool we're given can do that, but as far as I can tell it only allows to manage existing fleets; not build templates for new ones, or copy them!

Improved Outliner: (Yeah I use Tinyoutliner, but in general): Order problems on top (civilian ships with no orders, planets with unemployment or low stability, etc), add Megastructures as an option.

National Goals: Similar to EU4, this would give specific goals to reach (that can be picked). It would also add an extra layer in terms of espionage: Now an AI empire could discover your empire goal, and depending on it, act accordingly.

Yeah, sorry if that was a bit of a long rant. Overall I think Stellaris has a fantastic foundation, but it just seems to do little with it. Many features feel half-done or lack any real choices to be made later on – they are just there. I know that many of the above points are improved or outright fixed by Mods, but that's no reason for the un-modded game to not improve.

And obviously, it's just me fantasizing about a completely different game, I know, I know. But it's the kind of game I always wish I would be playing, when starting another round of Stellaris.

And yes, I wrote this while blobbing and waiting for the endgame crisis to pop up.

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