I am very happy with the direction the Cherryh update seems to be taking. So far, it seems all changes revealed through developer diaries are exactly what I’ve wanted ever since Stellaris came out, as if Wiz was reading my mind. Let me explain why.
Unlike most people (judging from what I read online), I prefer to play on small maps with very few habitable planets. This is because I really don’t like to manage an empire with dozens of planets on a huge galaxy – such games feel like a chore to me, the planets are like nameless cogs in an inhuman imperial machinery, and the performance inevitably crawls to a standstill, making the game annoying to play, in my opinion. I like smaller maps because I can truly remember where everything is, keep track of my A.I. opponents, role-play, and have my colonies MATTER to me role playing-wise. Each colony is important because I have so few of them, and since there are so few of them I can micromanage them without being overwhelmed. They feel like real worlds instead of "just another place I colonized because I had to". I also don’t like to play too aggressively; I prefer to build “tall” empires instead of “wide” ones, at least in the first two stages of the game. The best games for me are ones where my empire is the enforcer of a “balance of power”, constantly helping the weaker empires against those which are getting too strong. I often return captured systems to their former owners, wage wars to prevent genocides, etc. I usually play with hyperlanes as the only FTL method available since I like the idea of chokepoints and static defences.
Unfortunately, Stellaris as it currently functions does not lend itself easily to my style of gameplay. It doesn’t let me build meaningful defences in border systems and defence stations in general are mostly useless as anything but speedbumps. It forces me to expand very quickly or die when I am inevitably attacked, because more ships in Stellaris equal bigger doomstacks, which equals certain defeat, except in rare circumstances where you get extremely lucky and build your fleet precisely right to counter your enemy's weapons. It doesn’t let me negotiate properly, because wars on a small galaxy map are almost always of the “winner takes (almost) all” type. Having just a few colonies means that losing a single war equals game over (or cheat time) because you can never recover from defeat. This is extremely frustrating to me because I enjoy playing a technologically superior empire that is able to fend off larger, quantity-oriented opponents. This is impossible in the game as it is currently designed.
Everything announced to be in the Cherryh update is exactly what I need to enjoy my game:
(1) Only one FTL method: great, because I only play with hyperlanes anyway and they provide strategic depth.
(2) Borders rework: awesome; the current exploration and expansion is too fast, too rush-oriented. The new system will not penalize me for taking my time, explore with science vessels, claim important system and not worry about some absurd “border extrusion” parameters. Even better, this makes wars for uninhabited systems possible, thus making warfare and diplomacy much more interesting.
(3) Starbases/battlestations: yes, yes, and yes! Finally I’ll be able to fortify my key boder systems and have a chance at stopping superior opponents by forcing them to fight in systems where I have an advantage. This will be even more meaningful thanks to galactic terrain, leveraging natural phenomena to neutralize enemy strong suits.
(4) Sublight travel between jumpoints: finally! It felt so counter-intuitive that a fleet jumps to the system and can immediately jump again, not having to travel at sublight speed to the arrow pointing to the next system. Gameplay-wise, this made catching enemy fleets incredibly annoying; worse, it made a lot of battles happen at the fringes of star systems where your fleet jumps on top of the enemy fleet, forcing a close-quarters battle; this kind of makes certain types of weapons less effective (since it makes weapon range irrelevant).
(5) Peace negotiations rework, claims: finally, a sensible way to have limited wars, not just huge conflict with many planets changing owner. This is what I’d love to do: fight, take a few uninhabited systems to weaken an enemy, peace out and continue building up my empire without having to deal with occupied populations and whatnot.
(6) (unannounced, but implied): Fleet size caps: Jesus Christ, yes, at last! I so, so hate the need to have all my forces combined in just one fleet and the resulting doomstack battles. I would love to be forced to have multiple fleets with different commanders, responsible for different theatres and fronts. This would make the game so much more strategically interesting, and actually far less manageable since you wouldn’t be forced to constantly move your entire fleet from one front to the other because you can’t afford to split your fleet in two parts (because it would be wiped out by the enemy doomstack).
Keep up the good work, devs. It appears that this “Stellaris 2.0” will be a game I’ll enjoy much more than the current versions. All these changes make sense and will improve Stellaris as a STRATEGY game. What do you think?