Stellaris Needs Asymmetrical Balance

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Orange1861

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One thing about Stellaris that I feel is holding it back is that it is an unbalanced game. Between the power of Scion starts, ringworld starts, machine empires or just the usual Synth Technocracy, there isn't really that many competitive play styles. This is a shame since Stellaris has dozens of different ones in the game that contain so much potential but aren't playable since a Life Seeded Xenophilic Beacon of Liberty or a Tomb World Militarist Warrior Culture cannot ever compete with a Technocracy with the Scion Origin.

Now, I know that many in the community are skeptical about balancing, mainly since it tends to dull strong strategies and reduce diversity of playstyles which is why I want to talk about balancing itself.

An important thing about balancing to keep in mind that there are two types of balancing, symmetrical and asymmetrical.

Symmetrical balancing focuses on making sure that all players have the same options, think of Chess where players start with the same pieces and moves. This type of balancing makes sure that every start is similar to each other and without much variety. For example, a symmetrical way of balancing the Scion origin would be to remove the OP fleet and gifts from the Fallen Empires. This is pretty boring and I think this type of balancing doesn't fit Stellaris well, although some games do it pretty well like Eu4.

On the other hand, asymmetrical balancing is about giving players different ways of winning a game, with games like Starcraft being a good example. This type of balancing makes sure that all players have different paths but all competitive to achieving victory. For example, a asymmetrical way of balancing the Scion origin would be continue having the Scion receive OP gifts but the Fallen Empire also meddles like crazy, let's say a Materialist one will try to tax you like crazy when you get big or a Militarist one will force you into repeated wars and use you to get rid of countries that they don't like. Here, their intrusion can be make winning just as difficult as a normal game, but in a completely different way.

We can see here is that instead of equalizing strengths, this type of balancing adds downsides to strengths, which makes games more fun since starts aren't about picking how you want to be overpowered, but rather selecting the strengths that you want to use to overcome your weaknesses. Additionally, this can give so many bland parts of the game so much more flavor and interest (remember how a third of Civics don't really do anything like Covee system).

I do admit that asymmetric balancing is more difficult than leaving the game alone and that it takes more time to make the whole game not only look different but feel different, but I firmly believe that this type of mindset is the best way to improve Stellaris and add more features.
 

Tech Noir Synth

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Gotta keep in mind that Stellaris is simply a glorified spreadsheet with some little purifier Reptilians and Genocidal Starfish sprinkled inbetween the lines.

There exists some Asymmetry in the way the empires are set up. For example Hiveminds start with faster growth, have more space on planets for their pops, have a way to create lots of worker jobs but they don't have the same efficiency in terms of research production or alloy production (do the math for how many minerals a regular empire needs for 1 researcher job vs how much a Hivemind needs). They also need a bunch of Drones working the Maintenance Drone job, which produces nothing but amenities, whereas Entertainers also produce Unity and multiple times the amount of amenities. As the game goes on, regular empires become more and more efficient thanks to stuff like specialist and now even artisan bonus output, but they also have to use more building slots etc. Now, we have even more asymmetry since Machine empires turn Energy into research.

In my opinion, I am fine with this kind of asymmetry. The jobs have different names, the numbers are a little different, thats all there is to it. Sadly Hiveminds and Gestalts in general are locked out from some of the greatest events, like Horizon Signal. A big part of their unique-ness is simply having less events which is sad. For Hiveminds especially, I don't get why they are locked out from the species self-adaption event which non-Gestalts get, they are supposed to be very adaptable, yet the Drones are somehow incapable of doing it? Also why is the Nivlac event locked from Hiveminds, while DA and RS Machine empires can get them?

In the end, there are still some problems in practice. As we all know, non-Gestalts are supposed to be more efficient while Hives start with a faster growth. But why do non-Gestalts end up with Synthethic Evolution, the best pops in the game with a total 25% ressource production bonus to any ressource +5% from Ruler and then somehow they also get the highest pop growth in the game by using super fast Synth production while being able to add Organics or Lithoid as additional growth? Thats a huge flaw in the balance. It has been that way since around 2.2.6. Also why ever choose anything other than Synth Ascension since it outclasses the other two? Robots are mandatory pop having highest pop growth possible, shouldn't there be a choice for non-Robot users?

2.6.3 finally nerfs the Synthethic path somewhat. But there is still a power discrepancy between Materialists and Spiritualists - also because of the way the game is build. Who cares about unity, you need science to get anywhere in the game. Thanks to the admin cap changes, you almost don't have to build any unity buildings at all and still get traditions at a reasonable pace.

Changes like locking some of the Megastructures behind research, instead of unlocking them via Ascension perk was another wrong choice in my opinion. This just increases the amount of science you need, it penalizes Spiritualists and helps Materialists.

Also why are the unity ambitions locked behind Tech? Why does this Technology grant +1 Ascension perk? Thats just a huge middlefinger for Spiritualists. Materialists usually have more science, so now they get rewarded with an earlier Ascension perk so Spiritualists don't have that advantage. Most AP need research aswell, like Mega Engineering, Arcology Project, Colossus etc. And thanks to unlocking Unity ambitions earlier, Materialists will still do better since often times its simply better to select a unity ambition than another tradition. At that point you should already have your core 4-5 AP, thats all you need really.
 
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Orange1861

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But there is still a power discrepancy between Materialists and Spiritualists - also because of the way the game is build. Who cares about unity, you need science to get anywhere in the game. Thanks to the admin cap changes, you almost don't have to build any unity buildings at all and still get traditions at a reasonable pace.

Changes like locking some of the Megastructures behind research, instead of unlocking them via Ascension perk was another wrong choice in my opinion. This just increases the amount of science you need, it penalizes Spiritualists and helps Materialists.

Also why are the unity ambitions locked behind Tech? Why does this Technology grant +1 Ascension perk? Thats just a huge middlefinger for Spiritualists. Materialists usually have more science, so now they get rewarded with an earlier Ascension perk so Spiritualists don't have that advantage. Most AP need research aswell, like Mega Engineering, Arcology Project, Colossus etc. And thanks to unlocking Unity ambitions earlier, Materialists will still do better since often times its simply better to select a unity ambition than another tradition. At that point you should already have your core 4-5 AP, thats all you need really.

Yeah, Spiritualists have been weakening for a long time in Stellaris. The only thing they have going for them is Psionics, which is still outmatched from Synths and it doesn't help that they are decisively overshined in almost every way from materialist focused empires. The gradual decline of Spiritualist strength has come from the relatively symmetric game development style.
 

jmj281

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I'd agree asymmetry is better in strategy games. In a way where each selection presents various bonuses, drawbacks and, well, trade-offs. So I might be good at X but weak at Y, or vice versa, for picking option 1 vs option 2.

In the context of Stellaris I think part of the problem there is most of the game appears to revolve around a very limited number of things. That is, there is a complex resource system, traits, civics/ethics, governments, origins, traditions, techs, policies, war mechanics, the list goes on.... Unfortunately, most of this stuff can be reduced down to at best a couple of resources (3, to be exact) and ideal actions. In other words, there aren't enough fundamental ways to win the game. Incidentally, everything ends up funneled toward a couple, simplified goals.
 

Willy Waggler

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I don't think origins are in need to be balanced at all. On the contrary i think they should open them up to gestalt empires:).
 

RoverStorm

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I'm hesitant to declare asymmetry to universally be better than symmetric balance, but I'm tempted to.

Asymmetric gameplay has so many inherent advantages. The most obvious being if you don't like ONE playstyle, having RADICALLY different playstyles available is the solution. It lets players find their favorite way to play, and if they're all balanced with eachother, you don't feel like your specific playstyle isn't neglected or punished.

I struggle to name games with symmetric balance that I prefer over asymmetric balanced games. Those that I do it's usually because the focus isn't on progression but on sheer, responding (as in trying to choose how to react based on your opponent) competitiveness. Stellaris is simply the completely wrong game, right down to the engine, to pull THAT off.


My only concern is if Paradox.....even WANTS balance. So far 2.6.3 has not exactly filled me with confidence in unprejudiced balance decisions.

Compare: "Well we decided from internal testing Trade League was too powerful, so we nerfed it"
With: "We didn't want to limit the making or choosing of Origins, so they not designed to be balanced"

WHAT on EARTH am I supposed to take away from these statements?!? Why use the "it's for balance" excuse to nerf ONE thing that was considered moderately powerful because of a separate reason, but NOT for the BLATANTLY overpowered thing?

I've tried to come up with justifications as to how both statements are true but most are complicated. According to Occam's Razor (the simplest solution is usually the correct one), they (or a shot-caller dev) just liked Scion and Shattered Ring, and they didn't like Trade Builds being competitive.
 
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Honon

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I agree. Its even worse in EU4. I played Albania in a multiplayer game last week and the Ottoman player conquered me within the first year of the game. The EU Devs needs better balance in the game so that Albania players can beat ottoman players in multiplayer. Honestly, I also believe that paradox's design decisions in HOI4, Imperator Rome, and EU4 has eroded my confidence that Paradox is willing to make unprejudiced balance decisions. I mean why should I be weaker than the America or Germany player in Hearts of Iron just because I chose to play Romania or Belgium.
 
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RoverStorm

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I agree. Its even worse in EU4. I played Albania in a multiplayer game last week and the Ottoman player conquered me within the first year of the game. The EU Devs needs better balance in the game so that Albania players can beat ottoman players in multiplayer. Honestly, I also believe that paradox's design decisions in HOI4, Imperator Rome, and EU4 has eroded my confidence that Paradox is willing to make unprejudiced balance decisions. I mean why should I be weaker than the America or Germany player in Hearts of Iron just because I chose to play Romania or Belgium.
Uh....slightly different situation between a game that is "historically accurate until you unpause", and a game that until now has had everyone start on equal grounds.

No I actually don't think Luxemburg should be able to win against Nazi Germany in Hoi4 (or more accurately, single-handedly hold them off).

I DO expect Stellaris, which (until Life Seeded was added) had the express point of everyone starting on the same foot differing only by mostly balanced options, to actually those different gameplay options to be balanced.

This is one of Stellaris's biggest selling points to new players as well. I tell people that Stellaris is made by Paradox and they immediately assume it's an EU or CK2, where you are basically thrown into a "game in progress", with every tool and toy available before you even unpause and some empires being pre-blobbed and already bullying them.

Then I tell them Stellaris has everyone start on roughly equal ground and slowly develop their toys over the course of the game, and suddenly they're a lot more interested.

Honestly, I also believe that paradox's design decisions in HOI4, Imperator Rome, and EU4 has eroded my confidence that Paradox is willing to make unprejudiced balance decisions.
I can only pray we've seen the last of Mana systemsfor the rest of my life.

EDIT: To clarify, I think the point of influence's existance is fine. Again, I always say this, I don't want early game to be a nightmarish rush to expand in the most optimal way possible, making sure to build that next starbase the DAY the previous one finishes and such. Influence is a "slow down, you all start at the same strength, so you get to expand at the same rate." Exactly what influence SHOULD be.

That said I DO think they are beginning to abuse influence. The GC comes to mind...
 
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Orange1861

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I'm hesitant to declare asymmetry to universally be better than symmetric balance, but I'm tempted to.

Asymmetric gameplay has so many inherent advantages. The most obvious being if you don't like ONE playstyle, having RADICALLY different playstyles available is the solution. It lets players find their favorite way to play, and if they're all balanced with eachother, you don't feel like your specific playstyle isn't neglected or punished.

I struggle to name games with symmetric balance that I prefer over asymmetric balanced games. Those that I do it's usually because the focus isn't on progression but on sheer, responding (as in trying to choose how to react based on your opponent) competitiveness. Stellaris is simply the completely wrong game, right down to the engine, to pull THAT off.

The key strength of symmetric balancing is that it's easier to develop and allows game developers to focus their content developers on creating new content rather than enhancing existing ones. This works pretty well in simpler games and sometimes works pretty well in more complicated games, but Stellaris's problem is that it was very clearly designed to not be symmetrically balanced with its vast number of races, techs and the style of its traditions. Additionally, with symmetric balancing doesn't fit the space genre well, which prioritizes creativity and diversity in mechanics over a system of features designed to help out one specific type of play.

Right now, my biggest concern that Paradox has this tendency of throwing features together without any real balancing which substantially worsened the quality of the symmetrically balanced Eu4 and the effect seems to be hitting Stellaris now with the main conversation of the forums focusing on balancing. Now, I'm not saying that the Devs are destroying the game or anything, they've done a great job with stability and performance in this patch, but putting that same level of effort into asymmetrical balancing will turn the game from a semi sandbox game into a strategic masterpiece.
 

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I would absolutely like to see better balance between ethics, ascensions, etc. And I think Paradox is starting to make some steps in that direction with the synth nerfs in the beta patch.

However, I would not like to see Origins balanced. I see Origins as scenarios with varied difficulty levels, and I'm fine with some of them being easy mode (Ringworld, Scion) and others being hard mode (Doomsday, Life-Seeded). Just like picking a country with a good or bad start in EU. It's only really an issue in multiplayer, where rules against certain Origins need to be set down ahead of time. In single player, if you want an easier win, more power to you. Maybe relative difficulties of Origins could be spelled out better on their selection screens (the way Doomsday currently is), but otherwise I'm happy with their current state.
 

Orange1861

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I would absolutely like to see better balance between ethics, ascensions, etc. And I think Paradox is starting to make some steps in that direction with the synth nerfs in the beta patch.

However, I would not like to see Origins balanced. I see Origins as scenarios with varied difficulty levels, and I'm fine with some of them being easy mode (Ringworld, Scion) and others being hard mode (Doomsday, Life-Seeded). Just like picking a country with a good or bad start in EU. It's only really an issue in multiplayer, where rules against certain Origins need to be set down ahead of time. In single player, if you want an easier win, more power to you. Maybe relative difficulties of Origins could be spelled out better on their selection screens (the way Doomsday currently is), but otherwise I'm happy with their current state.

I wouldn't be opposed to that, I think if Origins were portrayed more as different difficulty scenarios, then I feel that there would be much less backlash regarding their non-existent balancing. The problem is that the balancing in this game has been neglected for a while and the poorly defined Origins, defined both as difficulty scenarios and a primary part of the game with AI nations having them, are the most obvious place for the community to argue about.

Now that being said, I think the main focus has got to be on balancing the game. There's far too many useless/ignored civics and other aspects of the game due to this. I do like how Paradox started with the Synth Nerfs, but I'm also a bit worried that they might go the route of Symmetric balancing (make all civics and races feel the same) which is not only broadly unpopular but the reason why I started this thread to discuss what kind of balancing and where it needs to be done.
 

Xentropy

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I don't think there's too much risk of a shift toward symmetric balance. All of their changes over the past year or so have been better-differentiating Gestalts from non-Gestalts, different Gestalts from each other, etc. Not just different building names that do the same thing, but different intended playstyles and strengths and weaknesses altogether. Even their attempts at balancing better have been carefully chosen to maintain asymmetry. They just haven't done a very good job of it thus far, and what changes there have been have been too slow in coming.

For example, I'd like to see hives that have vastly more population than bots, but with lower per-job output. A cursory look at the current design makes it seem like that's what's supposed to happen, but the implementation leads to synths having greater population anyway because robot building is just so flat-out OP. Really robots in general being "too powerful to avoid" are the root cause of quite a few "different" imbalances people bring up the most: Spiritualist, hive, bio and psy ascensions, and so on.

I fully agree that asymmetrical balance is the way to go here, I just disagree that it's not already the developers' intentions. The issue is with implementation, which needs significant work. I'm hoping to see a series of patches in the near future with as much focus on balance changes as the recent focuses on performance and AI.
 

RoverStorm

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the synth nerfs in the beta patch.
I only have very early testing, but apparently the change to use alloy may, MAY be a buff actually.

On paper, this looks like the 6 minerals now requires another pop to make 2 alloys out of the same 6 minerals they previously used.

Except funny thing, you can boost the amount of alloys you get from the same number of minerals. Meaning the number of minerals used per alloy goes down, so the same number of pops can support more roboticists. Or so says the reports.

Machine Empires have very few tools to boost alloy output. And on top of this they have extra alloy costs that a normal empire doesn't have. Machine Empires can't get above 70-75 stability, instead of Specialist output modifiers from civics and egalitarian they only have the production focus policy (which is a massive trade off in the early game), and only Rogue Servitors get the Ministry of Production. And of course they don't get slavery bonuses applied to alloy output.

Because a NORMAL empire that goes heavy on synths doesn't have those restrictions, they can get a significantly higher alloy output. This means that the ACTUAL cost of roboticists may have DECREASED.

It's still VERY early in 2.6.3's life cycle, and I only have two games of data to base this suspicion on, but it's something to keep an eye on.
 
Last edited:

Alspego

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If something is bad (from a "competitive" perspective), it should be at least interesting. A good example is CK2: Many "bad" character traits lead to unique options and interesting stories due to the interaction with other traits.
 

Ezumiyr

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On the other hand, asymmetrical balancing is about giving players different ways of winning a game
The thing is that Stellaris isn't about winning.
It is about reaching goals, and hopefully be part of an emergent story-telling at both the scales of an empire and the galaxy.
Stellaris doesn't need asymmetrical balance. It just needs even more asymmetry so no matter what playstyles you opted for, you have interesting stuff to do, and that stuff will have an influence on your internal politics or on the galaxy.

We already have it to some extent. Some empires focus heavily on ascensions, others on the diplomatic game to form huge developped federations, others just conquer everything.

But none of the empires on the map needs to be able to "win". They just need to be able to survive in some way, and do their own thing while interacting with the rest of the galaxy, and manage their own planets in a meaningful way (that is not repeatedly building the same stuff as almost everyone else on almost all your planets).
 

HugsAndSnuggles

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The victory score is a tacked-on element to satisfy people that demand a victory condition. It doesn't "contradict" anything.
Roleplay is a tacked-on element; game follows a certain ruleset, part of which was comparable starting conditions and progression for normal empires.
 

BlackUmbrellas

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Roleplay is a tacked-on element; game follows a certain ruleset, part of which was comparable starting conditions and progression for normal empires.
Oh, I see the issue.

You've actually misunderstood what "not every empire needs to be able to 'win'" means.

The only victory condition in the game is having the biggest score by a particular date. It's arbitrary and highly artificial, especially considering most games "end" long before the set end-date. Thus, "not every empire needs to win" more means that there's no real difference between having the biggest score by the endgame and... not having the biggest score. Who cares if some other empire in the galaxy is twice as big as your empire and has a bigger score, you shaped the galaxy at critical moments and have completed your own internal goal of building a ringworld to house all the uplifted races of the galaxy.

If you've survived to the endgame date, you've "won" as much as any other empire. You don't have to be the biggest, you just need to have made it past the Crisis and other dangers. If the game presented more internal gameplay mechanics to occupy your time instead of funneling you towards Endless War, the game would be improved as a result.
 

Tech Noir Synth

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WHAT on EARTH am I supposed to take away from these statements?!? Why use the "it's for balance" excuse to nerf ONE thing that was considered moderately powerful because of a separate reason, but NOT for the BLATANTLY overpowered thing?

I've tried to come up with justifications as to how both statements are true but most are complicated. According to Occam's Razor (the simplest solution is usually the correct one), they (or a shot-caller dev) just liked Scion and Shattered Ring, and they didn't like Trade Builds being competitive.

Honestly its hard to not come to this conclusion. Take a look at the patch history starting at 2.2 (thats around the time when I got into Stellaris). First, Machine empires and Synths were doing poorly, also being plagued by lots of bugs with Synth Ascension sadly. Fast forward to around 2.2.5 and probably the biggest buffs this game has ever seen to date for Machine Empires, so players were conquering Fallen Empires 60 years into the game. Later on they were tuned back somewhat. But Synths and Machine empires became super strong at around 2.2.6 and 2.2.7.

And of course players were only beginning to realize that Synths actually having 30% ressource output to everything also affects alloys etc. And it took some time to realize that Synths can grow at 12.2 speed plus adding organics, do some Xeno-Compatibility and immigration shenanigans for like 15 organic pop growth ontop of this while turning all those disgusting half-breed xenos into Synths.

Then 2.3 came along, habitability changes nerfed everything but Robots and Machine empires, making Synth Ascension path, which was already the best, practically mandatory to ever have a chance to compete and eventually overcome the now stupidly overpowered Machine empires. Which still had 5.5 starting growth thanks to 4.0 base growth and civics and traits, or just selecting DA and getting Cyborgs. Also Paradox decided to let Cyborgs live on Machine worlds for some reason, a huge buff for the #1 overpowered empire, Driven Assimilator at that time. But wait, that was not enough. Paradox decided to add the Cybrex War Forge for 50% pop assembly speed which can be used on cooldown for 150 influence. #
And don't forget the Contingency core increases Robot pop growth speed by 100%!
As a passive effect.

Meanwhile, the Prethoryn scourge relic grants you 30 society research.... as a passive effect.

So, either extreme Robot/Machine/Materialist bias OR Paradox did changes with closing their eyes and not thinking at all about these implications, while also strangely only giving the biggest and best bonuses to Robot/Machine/Materialist empires.

Oh and somewhere inbetween the cost for breaching the Shroud was reduced from 50000 society to 10000 or something? Don't quote me on that.
By the way the vast majority of players agree that Shroud Roulette has some effects which should be increased in strength, especially since they are not even much better than what Synthethics can get most of the time. Or players should be given a choice between all of the covenants at once, not a random choice to choose one.