Stellaris: To Le Guin and Beyond! [Part 2]

By Alexander Williams 05 Oct 2018 0

We have moved aggressively through the discussion of the upcoming extensive overall of Stellaris with the new Le Guin update, but we are far from done. The rework of planets is a huge undertaking that we broke down for you in the first article, and now we're going to break down the other major grouping of changes.

Having troubled ourselves by gazing at the means of production, now we must lift our eyes to more lofty and abstract concerns – the rarefied heights of economics, the organization of good governance, and the lifeblood of all empires whether they be machines of war or machines of peace: Trade.

Market Forces

The Le Guin diaries exposed how the economic system is going to change, mainly under the hood. For modders this is a huge deal because being able to add new kinds of resource and change the way that resources are consumed is one of those things that they want to do all the time.

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The overall impact is a lot broader. With the current design, economically it's quite difficult to differentiate the core civics between empires. Hiveminds and machine consciousnesses were added relatively recently, which help prove that diversity is certainly possible. My suspicion is that in implementing those kinds of divergent playstyles, the developers realized that they wanted to do more and were limited by the hardcoded economic architecture.

This isn't going to make a big difference for 'middle-of-the-road play' but what it will do is enable Paradox to really expand out the borders of what empire traits and civics can do and affect. This new flexibility is the groundwork on which the planet rework was erected. The shift from tile-based-resources to resources as an abstract associated with traits of the planet made Infrastructure, Districts, etc. possible.

The Galactic Market is a lot more straightforward to talk about because it isn't changing a set of mechanics but rather adding a mechanic and it's a system with which most 4X players are already experienced.

Energy Credits are still going to be the basic unit of exchange and everything else can be bought and sold – though for the rare resources, you're going to have to buy them from another empire through the market.

Unusually, the interface to this market is going to let you set both the maximum buy price and the minimum sell price, letting you treat the market as a proper trade market. Automated buying and selling will be integrated with the game interface. This opens up an entirely new avenue of play for running an economically-focused government, trading resources on the market for those you can't farm or mine.

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It also opens up the possibility of "warfare by other means," which is always a great option.

The Galactic Market itself won't exist from the beginning of the game but will be established by the first empire that discovers more than half of the rest of the empires, and they get the opportunity to create a special Starbase that anyone who knows the location of can use. The whole thing will respond to supply and demand, providing another opportunity for people to engage with each other indirectly. Trader Enclaves are going to become suppliers of rare resources and special governors.

And yes, there will be a slave market – to be fully revealed later.

The Galactic Market is one of those things that should have been part of the game from the beginning. With the presence of rare resources which give certain advantages, it seemed obvious that there should be a way to auction those off to the highest bidder, but the only way to manipulate them was to trade them through diplomacy. The Galactic Market is going allow for an additional level of gameplay when it comes to deciding whether you want to build wide and harvest all the resources that you can (and more than you can use) or whether you want to build tall and use the market to supplement the acquisition of what you couldn't otherwise get.

Players will look at their diplomatic options a lot more aggressively. After all, you want to protect the guy who is providing half of the food for your empire in exchange for the output of your slave colonies. There will be reasons to be interested in the well-being of other empires while looking to undercut and diminish them based on issues of trade. 

Let's burn sectors to the ground

Sectors are turning into something more reminiscent of states in EU4. Now that we have the galactic map procedural generation system which creates maps which contain topologically dense areas alongside chokepoints, we have terrain that makes a difference to maneuver. Le Guin will make use of that diversity to define areas which will be referred to as sectors.

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As the Diary says, "this of course means that there is no longer any core sector limit, and anything that you used to give a bonus to core sector planets has either been changed into a different bonus or removed altogether."

While it's not stated directly, you will not manually be creating sectors – they will exist as a side effect of galactic terrain. Here is an adjustment to the core mechanics which is very much intended to reduce micromanagement while increasing the interaction between neighboring empires. With the claim system, you'll probably want to go ahead and put claims on an entire cluster if you can afford to when you begin colonizing any part of it. With planets and planetary control functioning more like the fleet size limiters, we'll start to see more flexible decision-making.

Internal Politics

Factions have been a very questionable part of Stellaris ever since they were introduced because the interface for dealing with them is complicated and the effects that they provide beyond just being pleased are limited. They just don't drive a lot of interesting interactions. I'm very pleased to see that they are getting some attention as part of Le Guin.

Factions will provide some use all the time. Now, everybody gives you a little bit of influence gain and it's worth keeping them around even if they aren't utterly thrilled with you because as long as they're not absolutely sick of you, they won't be starting up hideous unrest.

Trade Value and Trade Routes

This is entirely new ground, not a reworking of mechanics which already exist in the game.

Trade Value is just the general economic energy of your empire. Pops generate TV in the same way that they used to just generate Energy Credits, and different strata of pops, pops with different jobs, generate different amounts of TV. TV can also be found in orbital deposits. These are best imagined as some sort of trade good like gemstones, pretty rocks, a really good science fiction author – that kind of thing.

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To actually exploit TV you need an upgraded Starbase within collection range. Once the TV has been picked up, you set up a trade route so that the TV can flow to your capital system. TV moves through trade routes, jump paths between Starbases to your home world.

Trade routes accumulate piracy, and piracy degrades the efficiency of the route. The more piracy that the route has accumulated, the less trade value makes it to your home world to get turned into energy credits. Starbases have a base level of trade value that they will always have make it through their system and any system under their protection. You can have that protection extend further by building various defensive modules like my favorite, the Hangar Bay (which finally has a real use).

If escort fighters aren't enough, you can take part of your military fleet and tell them to patrol the route between two Starbases and actively eliminate pirates, because those pirates aren't just going to show up randomly on the sides of your empire in dusty corners anymore but instead are going to actually spawn if the piracy level along a route reaches a threshold. Devoting part of your fleet to pirate busting operations is going to make sure that all of that sweet, sweet money makes it all the way to your wallet.

While they speak specifically about a special map mode to show trade and the presence of piracy, I'm hoping that small commercial ships make it onto the game map itself to indicate trade activity along trade routes, because that would be a great thing to see.

Gestalt minds (hiveminds, machine consciousnesses), at least as of DD 127, don't get access to trade value or trade routes – a decision I don't actually support. There's nothing about Gestalt consciousnesses which says that they don't engage in trade or move materials around. I strongly suspect that is actually going to be changed before release.

If anything, it reminds me a bit of trade routes in EU4, if you needed to set them up manually and couldn't share them. But that's the far future. The devs have stated that they're not ready to talk about how trading and trade agreements with other empires will work yet, so expect to see that coming down the pipe.

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We also recently had a very brief glance under the hood at two more changes, neither of which are particularly game-busting. Decisions, which all EU4 players should be very familiar with, are replacing Planetary Edicts, and the devastation from orbital bombardment is reworked to be compatible with the move from planetary tiles to the new District system.

Decisions open the door for a lot of conditionally dependent things that you can do on planets. We may see empire-wide edicts turn into empire-wide decisions in much the same way. The changes at the player level aren't all that big, but under the hood this looks like another engine change for greater flexibility in implementing future things.

Fundamentals

Much like how 2.0 fundamentally change the game in terms of warfare and control, Le Guin is going to represent a similar shift in terms of economy and development.

Everything that touches on managing planets will be completely upended. The Galactic Market will make it easier to interact with other empires without having to establish diplomatic trade and will empower trade-focused empires. Sectors are going to push more aggressively on conquest, giving you a reason to take an entire stellar cluster to administrate and reducing the amount of micromanagement that goes into setting up and managing sectors. Trade value and trade routes are going to make managing the economy of your empire internally a lot more interesting.

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If I were to be looking for a common thread between all of these announced changes, I would say they by and large are looking to improve the mid-game, historically Stellaris’ (and a lot of games like this, to be fair) weakest segment.

And they say they are not done hitting us with new changes for Le Guin. Next week's Dev Diary promises to be about a rework of Traditions, which seems fairly hot on the heels of the last one. I, for one, will be tuning in.

I hope that you'll be joining me.

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