So I "finished" my first 2.3 campaign tonight and wanted to share some thoughts.
Some general info:
800 Stars, ~25 AI Empires + Marauder and Fallen Empires
Normal hyperlane density and habitable worlds, 2x Crisis
Grand Admiral with scaling difficulty to help the AI compete later on without letting them go nuts at the start.
No mods (gotta nab at least a few of the new achievements) whatsoever.
The game lasted until the early 26th century, though I only pushed through because I was still missing Does not compute (do not do this with a colossus).
I have heard some conflicting reports about 2.3 performance. In my case, the mid-game was definitely better, and I noticed some slight improvement in the late game, but watching fleets move or megastructures build in the late game was still only slightly more entertaining than watching paint dry. The endgame should be the most interesting phase of the game, the culmination of every choice we made – it being a slideshow under any circumstance the game regularly provides is not acceptable, period.
At this time, lag remains the true endgame crisis. The current "moar pops" meta becomes a curse as pop growth keeps increasing and each pop increases the strain on game performance.
Initially, the AI appeared to be even more braindead than in 2.2. Notably, I saw hiveminds in the early game with very few pops (which, if played properly, should be impossible since hiveminds get extra pop-growth and most of my custom hive minds have rapid breeders). Turned out that for some reason, the AI refused to colonize planets inside their territory even if their founding species was suitable for it.
Later on, the AI was somewhat capable. A notable feat I've never seen in 2.2 was that the AI was able to end the War in Heaven mostly without my intervention – I had remained neutral and conquered the Xenophile AE because it was right next to me, but the other AE was on the other side of the Galaxy where I had no means to project power. Almost all other AIs joined the League and eventually fought the Xenophobe AE to a stalemate.
The AI also managed to survive the Contingency and actually defeated the Berserk Caretakers (though I did fight those in one war just to avoid border gore), though at the same time, the Contigency didn't really spread all that much (is it always so slow?) and I don't think the Caretakers (I've never seen them awaken before, so I don't know if how they acted in previous patches) were very competent, either. The AI did repair the Ringworld Segments it conquered, but I didn't stick around to see if they actually used them effectively (2.2 AI would, for example, just spam city districts).
Overall, the AI appears to favor having more, but smaller fleets (about 20k in the endgame) over fewer, but properly filled out fleets. Machine Intelligences appear to be doing exceptionally well and their fleets, like in 2.2, remained among the most formidable I've seen (about 40k per fleet).
The AI also built Habitats but didn't always colonize them. Additionally, it lacks the ability to demolish mining or research stations to replace them with appropriate Habitats. Either the AI needs to get this ability, or it needs to build them less frequently.
The AI also appeared to be less enthusiastic about Xeno-Compatibility. I'll still probably use a mod to disable it in the future, since the Perk doesn't add enough proper functionality for all the
abominations hybrids (and thus, lag) it creates.
Megastructure / Habitat / Arcology changes
Habitats are now much more useful, though sadly, they don't really help in the production of Zro or Dark Matter the same way they do with Motes / Gases / Crystals, since there is no special building for them.
Galactic Wonders now gates the three most powerful megastructures. Thanks to the huge buff, even a partial Dyson Sphere can solve any energy problems, same with the Matter Decompressor for Minerals (though most of the time, I find that the real problem isn't a lack of minerals and more the lack of processing facilities). Part of me does wish we could more than one of these two, even if it would be redundant. The other megastructures usually have some reason for being empire unique (two Fleet Hqs or Space U.Ns are already stretching things) or have some bonus that let's them scale (Science Nexus boosts all research), while the Dyson Sphere and Matter Decompressor have flat bonuses. But again, two of these would probably end up redundant.
Ringworlds are amazing now, with the addition of the new science districts and the fact that they no longer bloat your empire. I'm a little sad that the energy district (which made perfect sense) was replaced by trade, but trade also generates energy and the Dyson Sphere takes care of any other energy needs, so it's not a huge loss, either. I would appreciate greater Ringworld versatility – matter replication has sadly gone the way of the dodo with 2.2 (why though? It could be FE tech), but maybe a processing district similar too, but less specialized than what we have with Ecumenopolei.
Speaking of Arcologies, that perk is a lot less mandatory now. For one, Arcology districts are no longer stupidly cheap, but relic worlds can also be restored even without the associated perk. Arcology project is now actually a choice rather than a no-brainer – Gestalts rejoice!
We still do not have sufficient tools to actually manage our growing empire with all the micromanaging introduced by 2.2. Overpopulation can now be a thing, but manual resettling gets tedious when you have list of several dozen planets. An automatic pop migration mod is pretty much mandatory at the moment. Population controls punish players by costing influence (which quickly adds up if you just took over a bunch of planets), reducing stability and reducing available pops in the future for when you finally build that Ecumenopolis or Ringworld. Also, Egalitarians don't like it if you prevent them from breeding without regard for living space.
As a result, there isn't all that much fun in taking over the galaxy, unless you just crack / neutron sweep every single enemy world to prevent the class-30 singularity known as lag.
Sterilization is salvation.
We need ways to manage pop growth on an empire wide scale, and to manage it dynamically. And again, growing pops means slowing the game. Though I guess you could just collect the Infinity Stones and snap your fingers every once in a while.
For the late game, I'd also like the ability to essentially do what the Fallen Empires did and either update Utopian Abundance or create a Hedonist job. Unemployed pops who have this "job" would not show up as unemployed and just generate unity or something. This would be particulary useful on conquered FE worlds, since FE buildings don't actually provide any jobs and the pops are just needed to keep those building slots unlocked.
I still do not trust sectors. I will not give sectors my resources hoping that they will do something useful with them. I'd also prefer less arbitrary restrictions on how sectors are drawn.
The way I see it, the game requires several mods in order to be played comfortably. Most notably Automatic Pop Migration. I'll experiment with disabling Xeno Compatibility as well. The Infinity Stones Mods could provide another lag-management tool, provided one is willing to make the necessary sacrifices.
I'll also experiment with reducing the amount of habitable planets to slow pop growth at all stages, though this will not affect the construction of Habitats and Ringworlds in the late game.
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