I decided to put my latest campaign on hold while awaiting Nemesis's release and pick up Endless Space 2, another space-based 4x with ship design, planet colonization and management, and unique species. It is fantastic, and it regularly goes on sale for $10. If you like stellaris, I highly recommend you give it a try.
It's actually very similar. You have your empire, with it's own unique traits and quirks. You explore different systems along hyperlanes/space roads. You find anomalies on planets, which give various benefits. And obviously, you colonize planets and fight for control of important systems.
There are a number of differences however, ES2 is a more "traditional" 4x after all. The game is turn based, rather than stellaris's days/months/years format, and you can directly select the tech you want rather than select from a handful of cards pulled at random.
One of the biggest differences is how ES2 handles politics. Each tech you research, each building constructed, each quest decision can and will influence how your population votes (if they're allowed to!). There are six major parties, many of which have analogs to stellaris ethics.
Militarists, Pacifists, and religious have direct ethics analogs, them being Militarist, Pacifist, and Spiritualist.
Industrialists and scientists are mixed in Stellaris, with the best analog being Materialist.
There isn't a direct comparison between the games for Ecologists, but in certain cases spiritualists can act like them.
In ES2 when these parties are voted into a majority of your senate, you get access to certain laws, some of which are forced on you. Scientists and Industrialists can increase their respective resource output (science and production respectively), at the cost of happiness. Pacifists have a forced law that lets you instantly end a cold war with another empire, for example.
I think stellaris could benefit from this system, especially democratic or oligarchic government types. Each citizen pop could get a vote, and it would vote depending on it's ethics, for a party/faction. An authoritarian pop would vote for the authoritarian faction, the spiritualist one for the spiritualist faction, et cetera.
Each party could have an agenda, with say, a pacifist faction pledging to keep below x fleet strength, or a militarist one pledging to conquer a system off a neighboring rival. Faction, and thus ethic, popularity would not only be effected by what buildings you build, a military academy would increase militarist ethic attraction, but by how well the goals of the factions are met. Pacifist ethic attraction would be increased as long as the pacifist majority keeps their goals, or it would decrease, pushing other factions into popularity.
Tech would play a role too, where if you focus megastructures and build many of them, the materialist faction may be quite popular.
If no faction could achieve a majority, say a 33%/33%/33% split, coalitions would form between similar factions. Egalitarian Xenophiles could end up ruling your empire, giving more species citizen rights (and thus, votes). Similar to ES2, ruling factions should force certain law changes. Egalitarians take a majority, slavery is abolished. Authoritarians take power, only the founder species/longest residents get citizenship.
If a planet is a large majority one ethic, and they feel their political needs aren't being respected, they would turn militant. Say you have a planet of nearly pure militarists. It's the shipyard of your empire, the army training center, and main command post. If the pacifists are elected and start to downsize the military, the pops on the planet will be pretty unhappy. If they're unhappy for too long, they may rebel, taking other planets with them, and pushing you to civil war.
Outside factors should also effect ethics attraction. If you're a multispecial empire with plenty of jobs and housing then xenophilic and egalitarian attraction should increase, if you're multispecial but don't have enough jobs/housing, then xenophobic and authoritarian attraction would be on the rise. Two of your neighbors are imperialists and purifiers, then your population may be increasingly militaristic and xenophobic. And just the opposite, if you're in a federation and have been at peace for a while, then pacifist, egalitarian, and xenophilic attraction will be increased. If you're waging war, and that war keeps dragging on, depleting resources, losing ships, etc, then pacifists may start to gain relevancy and force you into a period of peace.
If you've been at peace for a while, and you're running low on resources, or your pops just aren't happy, they may become militaristic, fighting for resources your neighbors have.
This all works well in a democracy, where pops vote for factions. But what about Autocratic empires, or dictatorial ones? Autocratic empires will still have a ruling party, but they aren't dislodged by elections. In my ideal situation You'd have a ruling party, and a non-ruling large minority party. If they are sufficiently weak, either through legal restrictions or through them just being unpopular, then they are little more than yes-men that give the illusion of a choice of parties. If they go stronger, either by being armed by an outside empire, or by having an overwhelming number of pops on their side, they may demand to become the ruling party, putting you into civil war if you deny it. An Authoritarian ruling party could adopt certain positions of the Militarist minority party, and if they adopt enough of them, the parties could swap and the Militarists could peacefully become the ruling party.
Dictatorial governments could work similarly, but with a specific leader being in control, and the factions would influence how they behave. Authoritarians would fight to strengthen the dictator's powers, while egalitarians would fight to weaken them. The dictator could use the spiritualist faction to keep pops happy and docile, or they could use the materialist faction to research tech that would keep them in power, or tech that would increase their military power.
If egalitarians are popular, then the ruling party or dictator would be forced with the choice of either oppressing them either through military force, nervestapling, or slavery; bowing to their whims and passing some pro-democracy laws; or by ignoring them and risking insurrection or outright rebellion. Oppression would draw the ire of democratic empires, potentially leading to sanctions from the galactic senate, or outright war in the name of liberation. But if you're not careful, giving in to them could snowball into more and more egalitarian support, effectively forcing you to be a democracy.
Authoritarians would be the opposite, wanting to reduce your empire's democracy. They'd push for restricting voting rights, increasing term length, and even outright abolishing senate elections altogether. If things are going well, authoritarians should be a minority party, but if things get rough and you lose a war or two, you may be on the way to turning into a xenophobic dictatorship.
Internal politics is something Stellaris desperately needs. Currently you pick the faction that aligns with your ethics, and just do what they want, making them happy and giving you influence. With this system how you play, what you research, and what other empires do has a big impact on your internal stability. If your population becomes too polarized they will resort to terrorism, insurrection, and outright rebellion to gain control. Large, multi species empires that can't walk the tight balance between their population's goals will crumble and fracture, as well as those overcrowded planets with high unemployment either defecting to a new empire, or outright becoming independent, trying their luck elsewhere.
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