Stellaris

The 2.6 changes to empire sprawl/admin capacity turned a flawed system into an outright bad system

stellaris 5 - The 2.6 changes to empire sprawl/admin capacity turned a flawed system into an outright bad system
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When Paradox put out the dev diary last year announcing changes to empire sprawl, administrative capacity, and the addition of bureaucrats, I was left scratching my head. Not only did these changes seem unnecessary and irrelevant to a diplomacy-focused patch, but they reeked of bad game design. But, Paradox assured us that this was still in early development and there would be more to come, so I held my breath. Unfortunately, my concerns wound up being right. After playing the new update for the past week, I've come to dislike this new system, and hopefully I can convince players and any lurking devs why it's bad and needs major changes.

The fun of any strategy game is based on offering players meaningful choices. A good system in a strategy game will make the player decide between multiple exclusive options, which will then affect the state of the game in a significant way. Stellaris has lots of good systems, such as the ethics system, which forces you to define your empire's strengths and implicit weaknesses. Likewise, the previous admin cap system presented players with a clear and meaningful choice: Stay under the cap and build tall, or go over the cap and build wide; and you could not build wide while staying under the cap. That's not to say the previous system was perfect or particularly balanced, but it did give players a meaningful choice between two exclusive and at least semi-viable outcomes.

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The new system not only fails to provide a meaningful choice, but also adds unnecessary busy work to a game that is overly micro-intensive as it is. This is because there is no reason not to build wide, as you can just add more bureaucrats once you approach the limit. Thus, you play the game as normal until your empire sprawl exceeds your administrative capacity, find somewhere to build a new administrative office, and then continue on until you have to build another one. There is no choice here. The system is railroading you into a loop of building wide, throwing down another administrative office, and then building wide some more.

There are other gripes I have about this new system as well, such as the excessive amount of sprawl derived from pops and districts, and the confusion between administrators and bureaucrats (their job outputs really should be flipped, if anything) but the core problem is the deprivation of player choice. I don't know what Paradox is planning to do next with this system, but Grekulf has indicated that this will be expanded in an upcoming major update. My hope is that any changes are based on the principles of good game design and come sooner rather than later.

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