Pax Stellaris: The grand-strategy 4X game has been elevated to new heights thanks to Federations and 2.6 'Verne'23 Mar 2020 3
If you’ve been holding off on getting into Stellaris because there just wasn’t enough under the table and over the table diplomacy, I think this might be your time to jump in thanks to the recently released Federations expansion. Inter-Empire relations have gone from a near binary “can I take him in a fight?” to a much more involved give-and-take, push and shove, in both the Galactic Community and any federation that you join.
Paradox is aggressive about communicating in the community, and part of that is their frequent releases of developer diaries in the lead up to a significant expansion release. Federations was no different and I would argue an example of some of their most complete coverage in terms of thought, expressed reasoning as to why changes have occurred, and maybe even putting too many things out in public before release. Regardless, aficionados have been following the development of Federations since last year and have a metric tonne of content to sift through if they want to see and know everything.
There’s no way I can run down every single change, so I’m just going to try and hit the high points.
The first thing that’s going to pop into your face when you create a new species for your game (and you’re absolutely going to create a new species for your game) is that there is a whole new step: Origins.
They replace some of the Civics with broader, more interesting and specific initial set ups. For instance, the traditional start with extra people and extra districts is now Prosperous Unification. The Mechanist and Syncretic Evolution Civics from Utopia are now individual Origins, which leave you more slots for interesting and differentiating Civics later in creation. If you have Federations, you can start as a Scion, already the vassal of a Fallen Empire once things get rolling.
My favorite new Origin is Doomsday, which is specific to Federations, starting you on a planet that is absolutely going to explode in 46 years. Get moving. The potential for absolute mayhem starting a multiplayer game where everyone has the Doomsday Origin sounds incredible.
With a total of 18 new origins (a small number of which are free), each of which giving you a different set up and a new experience, things are going to get interesting really quickly. Some Origins require you to have other expansions as well, especially if they were based on Civics that were originally introduced in a past expansion.
Since Civics had some of their content moved out, obviously there had to be some changes that percolated down. The design differentiation between what is now a Origin and what is a Civic is a move to differentiate background with mechanical impact from ongoing institutions with mechanical impact. Origins represent a 'one-shot' change in the situation of a given Empire while Civics represent a relatively fundamental part of “how they do things” in an ongoing way.
New Toys (Premium)
There are two magnificently huge, over-the-top, completely egregious additions to your fleet in Federations. Battleships, Titans, the planet-cracking Colossus? Children’s toys.
No, you need something a little bit bigger. Something to terrify your neighbors and reassure the guys on your side that they’re partnered with the angels. You need absolutely monstrous power, the likes of which shake the pillars of the galaxy and require most of the galaxy to be turned into manufacturing goods in order to build them.
You need the Juggernaut and the Mega Shipyard.
If you thought the Colossus really just wasn’t enough like the Death Star, Paradox has a deal for you!
It’s not enough just to carry a couple of X-class weapons and six hangar bays. Especially with the changes to hangers to make carrier play actually reasonable. No, on top of that the Juggernaut counts as having two shipyards, letting you push military resupply right up and into the front lines, a murder monster of the first order. Sure, you’ll need to build a custom assembly yard on a Citadel, but at least you can use the same platform to build the Colossus! You only get one of these bad boys to throw around at any given time but do you really need more?*
The Juggernaut might not be your cup of tea. Maybe you want to truly be the master of logistics on the battlefield. The true general knows that their soldiers travel on their belly, and in Stellaris that means getting troops to the front-line in a hurry. Not armies, sadly, but spaceships.
Enter the Mega Shipyard, a new megastructure that you can construct in three stages just like the others. It’s just that this one, when fully constructed, has 30 shipyards, 100% build speed, and +100 starting ship XP – plus all of the inevitable other ship construction bonuses that you’ve picked up from research along the way, right?
Imagine building 30 ships at a time and then rolling them out wherever you need to go. Odds are good you’ve already established Gateway tech by this point so that newly printed fleet is headed right out to the fringes and into the teeth of the enemy.
As long as you’re not playing Scrooge McDuck in a money bin full of alloy, you’re golden. Feeding this kind of monstrosity is going to be harder than the war you wage as a result of having it at your command.
This is it. The big kahuna. The thing you’ve really been waiting for. The first major overhaul (and some would say first actual evidence) of a broad diplomatic system in Stellaris. And, brother, let me tell you that Paradox did not hold back on the diplomacy. The amount that has changed makes it hard to talk about the parts individually, because they all relate to one another in a way it’s very difficult to tease apart.
If you’ve played EU4, you know what to do with a Diplomat. You use them to talk to other organizations in order to improve or diminish your reputation with them so that you can engage in some sort of inter-nation activity.
That’s exactly the same here. Envoys are technically part of your Leader cadre but you don’t have to hire them or fire them, you have a set number based on your species set up, what kind of Empire you have, your position in your Federation if you have one, Galactic Community resolutions, and so on. Basically, you’ll have somewhere between two and five, generally on the low side, and you can send them to other Empires, the GC, or your federation as your representative in order to change their opinion of you or allow certain kinds of interaction.
You can no longer Rival other Empires unless they think poorly of you – and they don’t generally start thinking that badly of you. One of your early acts is going to be to send an Envoy to either schmooze or really tick off your first neighbor, because either you’re going to want to start getting trade deals with them or Rival them for the Influence advantage. Several of the diplomatic deals require you to have either a certain level of reputation with the target or an Envoy dealing with them in order to make the change.
The only place you will find your Envoys is by hovering over the icon at the top of the screen which will show you who they are and what they’re doing at any given time. There probably ought to be a specific Envoy/diplomacy tab on the left – but there isn’t.
Galactic Community (Free/Premium)
The Galactic Community is like the UN in space, which if you know anything about the real UN effectively just means that it’s a place for space civilizations to screw each other over while making polite noises.
Once enough Empires know that one another exist, the GC springs into being and gives you the option of being part of it or opting out. If you decide to go your own way, you don’t get any of the benefits of GC resolutions which start pretty minor but snowball over time quite aggressively and can make a real difference by mid game. On the other hand, you can’t be sanctioned by the GC if you’re not part of it and that can make a serious difference if you happen to want to kill and eat all of your neighbors, destroy all organic life, or just be space North Korea. We're not going to judge how you play.
Once you’re in, you have a Diplomatic Weight which represents how much you can influence the policies of the galaxy as a whole. Assigning an Envoy to the GC increases your diplomatic weight, as you have someone with a monocle standing around telling everyone how great you are.
All of the members of the GC have the ability to call resolutions to be voted on one at a time during every session and they generally take Influence to bring to the floor. Whichever resolution has the most declared interest, either voting for or against, is the next one up from the queue. If you want to delay a certain resolution, you can certainly feign disinterest and abstain from the vote while declaring your intentions on another one so that it comes up first. Playing this kind of subtle political game is frankly the best part of the GC.
Pass the right resolutions and you can change what about your Empire gives you diplomatic weight, whether or not there is a central Galactic Council with veto and emergency powers – and whether you’re on it, and even set a Galactic Focus in case something insane like invaders from beyond the realm of space and time invading, assuming you can convince anyone it’s actually happening.
You can trade with Empires for Favors, which represent the ability to “borrow” some of their diplomatic weight to go along with whatever vote you are casting in the GC at any given time. Careful use of Favor gathering can let you sway otherwise very unpopular votes your way. This is going to be a mechanic that a lot of people overlook for a very long time but those that find it and understand it will get a lot of pleasure out of it.
When the name is on the tin, you know it’s going to be good.
Federations are really the meat and potatoes of the expansion and it shows. Where the GC has resolutions and periodic votes, your federation has accumulated XP from Cohesion, a measure of how consistent they are with the set up of the federation as a whole. If you’re in a Galactic Union, you’re going to get extra Cohesion from everyone sharing the same Ethics. If you’re in a Hegemony, you’re going to get extra Cohesion from the leader having a really big stick to swing. Bring in a new member and Cohesion will temporarily decrease.
The more Cohesion you have, the more XP you gain, and as you gain XP for the federation, you unlock more modifiers for the members as well as additional ones for the leader. You also unlock the ability to pass Laws which change the terms of how the federation functions.
This is another call back to a similar kind of architecture in CK2 where you can create and maintain legal structures which allow different activities. However, in Stellaris, you can choose to have the method of selecting the federation leader be a bloody duel to the death in the arena or the submission of a really good thesis paper on why your Empire is awesome, along with a whole swath of other options.
Want to change the number of votes to push things through the federation from a unanimous consent to a mere plurality? You can do that. Want to increase the amount of fleet points that have to be allocated to the federation for the leader to use? You can do that. Want to make that duel to the death happen every couple of years instead of every 10, or maybe you wanted to only happen every 50 years? You can do that.
How have you found Stellaris post-Federations and 2.6? Let us know in the comments!