I think I'm approaching the endgame of Stellaris. I wanted to write one post summarizing the events in my late-midgame, from roughly 2350-2450, and then I'll probably have a last post describing how the galaxy ends. Whee!
During the interval, I'd been repairing and refitting my fleets in expectation of a fresh strike. I was stationed at Gorfis Starhold, the former capital of my foes, which they had thoughtfully outfitted perfectly for the purpose, with plentiful Shipyards and Crew Quarters.
For actually declaring war, I still had a ton of Claims that I could draw on, but I decided to go with a different Casus Belli. There were two interesting options: one to Vassalize them, which would turn them into a dependent state of mine; and one to make them a Tributary, which would retain their independence but force them to pay me a yearly tithe. I decided that the latter option sounded more interesting. I demanded they pay me tribute, they said "No!", I said "All right then, I'm declaring War!", then they said "But why???"
The second war did not go as smoothly as the first. Right off the bat, I had forgotten that the Foundation of Majj had guaranteed the independence of Gorf, and as a result my declaration of war brought Majj into the fold. Majj had been my research buddies early in the game, and we still had mutual positive relations; but they had grown up from the scrawny nerds they used to be and were now throwing their weight around, with a muscular fleet and a sprawling empire of their own.
I had a very specific outcome in mind for the war: I wanted the one system I had neglected to fully conquer last time, which would make my borders contiguous again; and I wanted to conquer a sector with an uncolonized Savanna world, which the war weariness clock had run out on last time. I'd thought that I would hit them fast and claim those, then either force them to accept the tributary status or just call for a Status Quo ending and walk away. But, because Majj was on their side, their weariness wasn't just affected by the pitiful remnants of Gorf, but the entire resources of Majj as well. So, even though I accomplished my primary objectives with lightning speed, the war itself dragged on for many more years.
The individual encounters were much less effective as well. In the first Gorf war, I would set up enormous battles where I would annihilate their fleets. Now, I would enter into big battles against Majj where we would fight, I would lose a lot of ships, and, just as soon as I'd taken down their shields and armor and start hitting their hulls, they would emergency-warp out. I was the "victor" in all of those battles, but was slowly losing the war, as I was taking more attrition and my populace getting more fed up with the fight.
(I am curious why the battles went so differently this time around. Part of it might have been that Gorf was more desperate when defending their home planets and didn't have a safe place to retreat to, while Majj didn't have as much skin in the game and was fine with abandoning their allies' space. Or Majj might have had better tech on their ships that let them make quicker jumps. Or maybe the storms during the first war interfered with Gorf's ability to jump. Or maybe my split-fleet approach worked against me in the second war, if they could start spinning up their drives once the first fleet engaged, focus-fire them down, then complete the jump once the second fleet arrived.)
Even though I was the attacker in this war, it felt like I was playing defense most of the time. Gorf was MIA after the first month or two, either defending its few remaining planets in the far north or just gone altogether. Majj, though, was very much still in the game, and would send huge (20k-ish) fleets in from the north or the west. I was back in a situation where my combined fleets were more than strong enough, but individually too weak to take them on. So I would usually keep fleets as sentries in the north and west; when one spotted the enemy, it would slowly fall back, letting undefended systems fall while the other fleet would race in to reinforce. Then we would fight, take losses, and their ships would escape. I would try to pick up a few more systems to bring up my war score until the next fleet arrived and repeat it all over again.
I ended up claiming and taking a few more Gorf planets than I had planned, mostly to try and drive their weariness up. At one point I struck into Majj territory to the west, which felt good but didn't seem to have a huge impact. I made a huge tactical error and attacked a Majj starbase; there wasn't any fleet in the system and I'd gotten used to Outposts of 200-some Hull, so I'd completely forgotten to inspect the value of the Starbase, which turned out to be significantly higher than that of my expeditionary Fleet, not even counting the various defenses they had active. This time I took advantage of the emergency FTL escape. The transport ship that had been following the fleet and hoping to invade the planet then needed to play hide-and-seek to avoid some pursuing fleets.
I eventually realized that time wasn't on my side for forcing a peace through War Weariness: My fleets were too far back from our shipyards, their armor and hull were getting progressively more damaged, and we were in worse shape than the numbers indicated. Instead, I focused on getting them to accept a Status Quo peace. It was hovering between -10 and -5 for quite a while, mostly based on the Relative Fleet Strength, which actually benefited the Majj/Gorf alliance. I invested in reinforcements to push my own numbers higher, then used fresh ships to take on small Majj fleets. These were smaller engagements and not tactically significant, but did eventually nudge the Relative Fleet Strength needle in my direction. Eventually their Acceptance moved from -1 to +1 and I signed the treaty. Just in time, too, as a major Majj fleet was looking poised to potentially reconquer some planets.
The outcome of the war was pretty funny. Less than a month after hostilities ceased, Gorf agreed to become a vassal of Majj. I thought it was pretty striking that I hadn't gotten what I wanted through my aggression, and instead, Majj got it by defense. I wasn't expecting that, but it's actually really cool, and is something I may keep in mind for future games: a US-style force projection oriented around defending other nations but leading to significant influence and benefits.
The other interesting thing was that I had conquered a lot of systems, and I think maybe also a colony, that I hadn't actually claimed. When the war ended, all of those systems became a new nation called... hm, I think the Gorf Enclave or something? So, the Gorf Serene Foundation is now a vassal of Majj, and the Gorf Enclave is a vassal of Earth. It is kind of cool to have a vassal. They vote with me in the Galactic Community, keep their borders open to me, and also provide a helpful buffer between me and Majj, which keeps our border friction low. They do seem to have some autonomy, and we've signed a migration treaty, but for the most part they're a mini-me, which is kind of fun. They're way less stuck-up than Gorf, too: they inherited my Ethics, meaning that they are Fanatical Egalitarians and Xenophiles, polar opposites to Gorf Serene Foundation's xenophobic isolationists.
That was the last war, but lots of other stuff has happened since. In no particular order:
I've researched the technology for Gateways, and have been slowly connecting my empire with them. I'd initially thought it would be useful for military purposes, but actually, it's biggest impact so far has been in dealing with Piracy. My entire empire's trade flows all the way to Earth, and the last hop, in Barnard's Star, has had nearly uncontrollable piracy for a while, especially since my Ecumenopolis got off the ground and started generating tons and tons of trade value. I kept a Fleet permanently stationed in Barnard's Star, and had every starbase in range building Hangar Bays to try and tamp it down, but the Piracy still kept ticking up, and if I ever left the system it would get overrun immediately. Once I had the tech, I made a gateway in Sol and another in Gorfis. They take a long time to construct, but once you do: Bam! Instant transportation between the two, and there are no pirates in hyperspace. Basically, the entirety of trade from former Gorf planets could now directly beam into my capital instead of traveling through shipping lanes, and piracy is now a thing of the past.
I've since been slowly rolling out more Gateways, but even now don't have a complete network up. In addition to taking a lot of time and Alloys, they also require 100 Influence each to build, so you need to wait some time to get more. I was running especially low on Influence because I was also running the Mastery of Nature Decision on all of my freshly-conquered Gorf planets, and that also costs 100 Influence each. Since I'm not in an active military conflict, I decided that improving the planets would take priority.
I do really love how well the gateways work, though. I was expecting to need to manually travel through each one, but the path-finding algorithm automatically takes them into account: if I start with, say, a fleet in Sirius, and need to go to Jarvis, I can just right-click on Jarvis, and it will route the fleet back to Sol and then through the gateway to Gorfis and on to Jarvis. Very cool!
I'm glad that I took two bites to swallow up Gorf, as the integration process is slow and can be painful. As noted in my previous post, there's a "Recently Conquered" happiness malus on all pops of the new planets, which raises Crime and lowers Stability. For me there has also been massive unemployment and some housing shortages on those planets, though I'm not totally sure why. I think it may be because Gorf was running a Civic (or maybe a Decision?) that gave extra housing or jobs to Energy, Mine and Farm districts and less to City districts, so their builds were out of whack from mine. I also noticed that most of their buildings were un-upgraded when I took over, so maybe they get downgraded during combat. Anyways, my previous strategy was "ship all the troublemakers off to Fen Habbanis III and give them good jobs there", but this time I had a big enough glut on Fen Habbanis that I couldn't intake people fast enough without running out of housing there. So I selectively resettled from the least-stable planets and tried to just endure the troubles that remained. Much later, I would belatedly realize that I should have instead resettled people onto Mars and other core planets of mine that still had capacity to grow. Ah, well!
Once those planets were integrated, though, everything was awesome. I'm now getting a ton of raw materials, most significantly Minerals, from those planets, in addition to energy and processed goods and tons of research. I'm the most powerful non-Fallen empire in the Galaxy, by probably a 2:1 ratio to my nearest rival. It does add a lot of real-world overhead, though. I have 20 colonies to monitor, along with starbases and fleets and such, so it takes a lot more time to click through all of my planets and check who's running low on jobs or housing. But it's also satisfying, and I'm getting a lot of pleasure out of ensuring I have an efficient, well-run empire. The game does allow you to delegate day-to-day management of Sectors to Governors, and I might decide to do that if I get much larger, but for now it's (barely) manageable.
I mentioned before that I wish I had specialized more in my planets. Since then I've started to retrofit some of my older colonies to be more specialized: for example, Earth had a couple of Farm districts that were pretty useless, so I turned some of them into City districts so I could fully work all of my upgraded buildings. Alpha Centauri belatedly became an Energy specialist, so now I've gotten rid of the few Mines it had and turned them into Generator Districts. Lots of Gorf's planets were a mess; the districts are easy to fix, but it's tougher to figure out what to do with a bunch of low-level Civilian Industries and Commercial Districts and Science Labs. I usually end up building out the planet, then once it's near the max, figure out which older buildings to replace. This leads to some short-term pain with specialist unemployment, but if I space it out it isn't too difficult.
My Ecumenopolis is incredibly handy; I think the game would be a lot harder if I didn't have it, and I'm curious now whether you get one each game, or if I just lucked out by getting that Ancient Empire quest chain. It's not just useful, but it also makes decision-making a lot easier: whenever there's unemployment or a housing shortage, just move people there. It's now upto about 230 pops on one planet, more than twice the next-biggest, and still has tons of space left to expand. Crime has started to be a bit of a problem, but so far I've been able to manage it by occasionally building an Entertainment District; if amenities aren't enough to curb it, I might eventually put in some precinct houses. As it is, I've filled almost every available building slot with Research buildings, since the planet still has the +10% research bonus from being a former Relic World. Other than that, it has a Galactic Stock Exchange (further boosting already-insane Trade Value), Genetic Lab, Research Institute, and the essential Ministry of Production. After building enough City districts to work all my Buildings, I'm now just cranking out Alloy districts, which conveniently boost both housing and jobs by +10 each. The game will end before I hit my cap, but I think I could easily fit at least 400 pops on the planet.
The other cool and unique planet is a Resort World. The description initially didn't sound that exciting to me, but after the two Gorf Wars and the much larger empire, the empire-wide boost seemed worthwhile: you give up the ability to build any Districts or most Buildings, but in exchange you get a 25% boost to Amenities on all other planets, and an empire-wide boost to your Immigration Pull. I'd been hoping to turn Mars into a Resort, but it has to be a size 15 or higher planet. Fortunately, the one uncolonized Savanna planet in northern Gorf space was exactly size 15, so once it finally got colonized I flipped the switch. I followed an exploit I'd read about online: You can't build any Districts after making it a Resort, and any existing Districts must be destroyed, but if you queue up a bunch of District build orders and then make it a Resort, they will finish getting built. So my Resort is now a size 25 planet and doing really well on its own right, besides buffing the rest of the empire.
Maybe my favorite single thing in the game after the war has been joining the Galactic Federation. I'd been curious about Federations for a while. There's a single Federation in my game, which was founded by the Glebsig Foundation and the Iztran Harmonious Commonality. Those two nations happen to have the highest natural Opinion of me, thanks to our shared Xenophilia and generally compatible ethics. As usual, the biggest obstacle was our distance, as they are based in the southeast of the galaxy while I'm in the southwest. They extended Associate status to me, which I tentatively accepted. I wasn't sure if I'd be giving up too much sovereignty in joining a supernational group. After doing some Googling, I decided that joining would pretty much entirely be upside for me: many of the coolest features are locked behind the Federations DLC, which I don't have enabled, but one standard buff that jumped out at me was a 25% damage bonus when fighting Crisis ships. I'm expecting to see Crisis ships in the next few decades, and a boost like that is too good to pass up.
Unfortunately, by the time I decided to join they had launched a war against the nation between us, the Rax'Thalac Theocracy. I'm not sure if this war actually lasted longer than the Gorf wars, but it felt like it went on forever. In the meantime, I boosted my approval with the members. I got nervous when I saw that they had also extended Associate status to Majj, who were rapidly becoming my frenemy. The instant the Rax'Thalac war ended, I send a petition to Iztran, who were my biggest boosters, and asked for them to let me join. They did! I was a little surprised to see that the Glebsig Associated Planets, my vassal, automatically joined as well; Glebsig gets a separate vote in the Federation, which may be useful in the future.
When I joined, the Federation was just a touchy-feely debating society with no real teeth. It has been around for a long time and has reached the maximum Level of 5, which provides great benefits like the aforementioned 25% buff in damage to Crisis ships; but its Centralization is still nonexistent, which means that there is no Federation Fleet. I dumped 4 of my 5 Envoys into the Federation to quickly bring its Cohesion up to 100, at which point they all cheerfully agreed to increase our Centralization level to Low. Unfortunately, you need to wait a decade or so between Cohesion increases, so we'll be stuck here for a while, even though most people do want an increase. Oddly enough, people are resistant to a 10% Fleet contribution at this level, but most people would support a 20% contribution, and are even more enthusiastic about a 30% one, both of which are locked behind higher Centralizations. Weird!
I was mildly miffed to see our Federation expand some more, with the Federation welcoming in their defeated former enemy Rax'Thalac Theocracy with open arms. It feels a lot like the Klingons joining the Federation in Star Trek, which is cool, I guess. And at least Majj isn't a member yet. (I didn't vote against the addition because a failed vote would have hurt our Cohesion, but I think they had the numbers to get in anyways.)
But that does raise an interesting question about the future in general. One of the things I love about Paradox games is that they get away from the mindset of "the game is a failure if you don't conquer everybody and crush all in your path." Now that I'm part of a multilateral consensus, it's even more clear that my goal isn't to rule everyone. And, if I understand the game right, in the not-too-distant future we'll be facing a grave threat to the existence of the entire galaxy. Given that, maybe I shouldn't be so stingy with my precious research, and share knowledge with my fellow empires, and welcome Majj with open arms. The more of us that are working together, the better prepared we will be to face the threats that lie ahead... which feels like a much more useful reflection of the real world we all inhabit than the power fantasies I'm more used to experiencing in my video games!