Stellaris

Why the next update needs to focus on internal politics

stellaris 1 - Why the next update needs to focus on internal politics
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I've been a bit underwhelmed by what's been shown of Nemesis so far. I appreciate the economy updates, and espionage is cool but not essential, but becoming the crisis and the galactic custodian/imperium is just more endgame content that most players will never reach.

Since launch, Stellaris' biggest weakness has been the lack of midgame content. The early game has the initial rush of exploration and expansion, and the endgame has the crisis threatening the existence of the galaxy. But the midgame is a grind of micromanagement and conquest with very little content, especially if you're not interested in the diplomatic features added in the previous expansion.

The obvious solution to this problem is to revamp internal politics. Government forms, leaders, and factions have received very little attention since launch, and feel bland compared to the rest of the game. Factions don't feel like interest groups vying for power; they're a tool to maximize your influence gain. Leaders don't feel like individuals with ambitions and flaws; they're stat sticks that you allocate to maximize your empire's efficiency. And government types don't feel interactive or distinct from each other; a democracy plays essentially the same as an empire.

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I've been playing a bit of Imperator: Rome since it was updated recently. I appreciate how characters in IR have personalities and agency, how the office system forces you to interact with them, and even place a suboptimal character in a particular office just to keep his family from undermining your rule. I appreciate how republics, monarchies, and tribes play differently, and incentivize you to prioritize different aspects of your country. This is the sort of gameplay I long for during the midgame slog of Stellaris.

Internal politics is a goldmine of potential content for Stellaris. Maybe the governor of a planet that's larger and more prosperous than the capital begins a campaign to move the seat of government. Maybe the ruling party in a democracy will see its popularity collapse after losing a war. Maybe the emperor's death leads to a brutal power struggle between his children.

Video games have always resonated with me most strongly when they tell an interesting story through their mechanics. Right now, the above stories aren't possible in Stellaris because the current mechanics don't allow them to exist. But if internal politics received an update on par with what's happened to economics and diplomacy in the last few expansions, then Stellaris' greatest weakness could become its greatest strength, and cement its legacy as one of the best strategy games ever made.

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