A Stellaris ground combat and army rework features in dev diary #99, which reveals further detail about Paradox’s grand plan when it comes to revamping all aspects of war for the Cherryh 2.0 update.

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Featured image – a xenomorph army – by Marek Okon.

Stellaris Ground Combat & Army Rework

Ground combat in Stellaris has thus far failed to particularly rouse passion in players. It’s there, and necessary to win wars; it would be notably absent if the developers struck it from the game entirely, but it didn’t seem to have the presence of a complete feature, either.

Cherryh will address that with a number of changes to Stellaris ground combat and how one works with armies. There are a fair number of changes, which is befitting of their scale:

  • defence armies are now built by certain buildings, including the capital building, the Military Academy, and the new Fortress building (which will also produce a small amount of Unity);
  • Fortresses must be worked by pops and will produce armies corresponding the type of pop working them;
  • armies spawned by Fortresses are impervious to orbital bombardment;

Stellaris Ground Combat Rework - Dev Diary #99 - Fortresses

  • fortified worlds may be fitted with an FTL inhibitor, preventing enemy fleets from leaving the system unless that planet is captured;
  • armies no longer directly reduce Unrest;
  • technologies are being introduced related to Fortresses and armies;
  • Assault Armies are always space based;
  • planet size determines Combat Width, which in turn determines how many army units can be simultaneously engaged in combat (size 10 planet = Combat Width of 10 = at most 10 army units for each attacker and defender );
  • having more army units than the Combat Width means that new units will replace defeated ones;

Stellaris Ground Combat Rework - Dev Diary #99 - Combat Width

  • introduction of Collateral Damage, so that battles result in damage to buildings and pops, with some unit types dealing more Collateral Damage than others;
  • retreating regiments are likely to receive heavy losses;
  • planets no longer have fortifications, with fleets instead dealing Planetary Damage, ruining buildings and killing pops;
  • planets can only be invaded if hostile Starbases in the system have been destroyed;
  • attachments have been totally eliminated.


These are great changes. I’m not sure there will be many with an opinion otherwise.

Planetary invasion, to me, always felt like an unnecessary extra step. Once you’d smashed the opponent’s primary fleet, destroyed any orbital defences, and reduced their planetary fortifications to rubble, the war was won. The remainder of the engagement was a clean-up exercise, spent dropping dozens of xenomorphs onto poorly-defended colonies and coming out largely unscathed.

Wiz identified some of the lousy tactics that were employed as a result of the existing mechanics, such as the attack-retreat-attack invasion:

When an attacker retreats from a ground combat, there is now a significant chance that each retreating regiment is destroyed while attempting to return to space, making retreat a risky endeavour and eliminating the tactic of simply send in the same army again and again in wave attacks, instead making retreats something you do in order to preserve at least some of your army in a poorly chosen engagement.

or invasion sniping:

Instead, we have added a requirement that planets cannot be invaded if there is a hostile Starbase in the system, so that transports cannot snipe worlds that are protected by defensive installations present in the same system.

Thank goodness, is all I can really think to that.

Meaningful Ground Combat

All of these changes actually make ground combat meaningful and mean that, once the space battle is lost, the war might not be. It lends to a legitimate alternative style of combat or, at the very least, means that players can’t just pump out a few dozen robot defence units and be done with it.

I also enjoy how naturally some plausible defence scenarios are dealt with by some of these new mechanics. In particular, Combat Width reflects how the cost to defend and attack a world is proportional to its size; larger worlds will have a greater Combat Width and so require more Fortress and army units to properly defend, lest the attacker land with overwhelming force.

I enjoy the thought of “fortress worlds” built on hyperlane choke points that will give an opponent a real run for their money. These bastions must be cracked before proceeding further into an empire thanks to the FTL inhibition mechanics. To be quite honest, I can imagine myself building at least one of these new Fortresses on every world just for the Unity gain; I’m always short of Unity.

I’m not particularly upset about the removal of army attachments. I’ve heard from many players that they just never used them; I, myself, didn’t discover them until embarrassingly late, but I did use them, generally when I had a glut of minerals and it didn’t really matter any more because of my overwhelming strength. But I think I just used them because they were there, another advantage to exploit, regardless of what the magnitude of that advantage was. Their removal is a smart decision, removing the compulsion to perform this small act of micromanagement.

Future Revelations

There are some things that haven’t been totally fleshed out in this dev diary, such as Planetary Damage and and FTL inhibitors. When I wrote about the 92nd dev diary (FTL Rework and Galactic Terrain), I mentioned how I was disappointed at the missed opportunity for FTL inhibition/interdiction. Well, what’s being presented here isn’t quite up to the standard set by Distant Worlds: Universe (which I happily compare Stellaris to on a regular basis), but it is a large step in the right direction.

Grand Plan

The Cherryh Grand Plan is starting to come together. Over the past couple of months, we’ve seen the introduction of some big changes to combat mechanics in Stellaris. Since the devs are taking a break over the holiday period, now seems as good a time as any to inspect the present state of affairs:

  • borders are now a reflection of system ownership rather than a cause for it to change, with the owner almost always being determined by the owner of the Starbase in said system;
  • each system can have only a single Starbase, which can vary in strength and entirely replace Frontier Outposts;
  • there is a Starbase Capacity, with the lowest level of Starbase (and Outpost) using no capacity, but otherwise each Starbase will use 1 Starbase Capacity;
  • Starbases replace Spaceports and so will be responsible for military ship construction and system/planet defence;
  • Starbases can support Modules and Buildings which can specialise the role of the Starbase;
  • Starbases will generally be much more formidable than their current Spaceport counterparts;
  • warp and wormholes are being ditched in favour of hyperlanes only;
  • Galactic Terrain will influence movement about the galaxy in a significant way and will apply modifiers to local entities;
  • empires can spend influence to place a Claim on a system they don’t own, which can be later pressed in war;
  • empires now need a good reason – a Casus Belli – to go to war, dependent on empire ethics;
  • warscore is being replaced with War Exhaustion, more or less its inverse, where the empire on the losing side of a war will suffer higher war exhaustion and eventually surrender;
  • introduction of System Occupation, in which an aggressor gains temporary control of occupied systems and their economy;
  • star charts are being removed in favour of a Communications system, whereby empires may trade comms with each other to interact with other empires;
  • Terra Incognita is now dependent entirely on whether a system has been visited, or you have comms with an empire that encompasses that system;
  • addition of a Force Disparity Combat Bonus which is applied to the smaller fleet in an engagement;
  • introduction of Ship Disengagement, which means that ships get a chance to disengage from battle if they’ve sustained heavy damage;
  • addition of a Command Limit to limit the maximum size of individual fleets;
  • inherent ship class Power Levels, changes to Armor, introduction of components rewarding ship specialisation, changes to missiles to make them similar to torpedoes, and changes to Combat Computers so they reflect engagement tactics;
  • ability to pick War Doctrines, a new policy that influences the overall strategic military doctrine for fleets;
  • addition of another standard technological tier in the tech tree (up to five from four);
  • possibility of gaining tier six technologies by scavenging the wrecks of Fallen Empire ships;
  • components from tech increases give more significant stat boosts;
  • tech and Unity costs are entirely dependent on the number of owned planets and systems and not pops.

The dev diary that got me to start writing these responses had be worried about the direction Stellaris was taking. Looking over all the announced changes so far, I can see how each of these individual design decisions fits into a much grander plan, with all of the many new mechanics working with each other as well as existing ones.

I’m very excited for this update.

Categories State of Play


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