Stellaris Cherryh Features – War Changes a Lot
The vast majority of the changes announced in the Stellaris Cherryh patch and the Stellaris Apocalypse expansion change the way warfare works in the game. There has always been a section of the Stellaris community voicing concern about the staleness of galactic warfare, with the fate of the galaxy often sealed based on a single battle.
This happened because of so-called “doomstacks”. The game mechanics were such that it was beneficial to pile all of an empire’s ships into a single, massive fleet. In the opening stages of a war, two empires would throw everything they had into a single battle. More often than not, the larger fleet would win, and the loser would lose most (if not all) of their fleet power. It was then a simple case of mopping up for the winner. (This “mopping up” itself was bemoaned by some fans.)
The good news is that the developers have listened. Practically everything in Stellaris Cherryh is dedicated to breaking up the doomstack and making sure some thought needs to go into preparing for and fighting galactic wars – and hopefully making the game more fun.
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Unstacking the Doomstacks
There are some new features in Stellaris Cherryh that attempt to directly break up doomstacks, while others discourage them by introducing game mechanics that mean they’re no longer the optimal strategy.
In the former category is the concept of the Command Limit. Stellaris has always had a concept of an empire-wide “Naval Limit”, which capped the total number of ships that could be in your empire. Pre-2.0, these were normally all put in the same fleet. In 2.0, there is now a concept of Command Limit, which is a limit on the number of ships that can be put into a single fleet. One’s Naval Limit will often be several times larger than the Command Limit, meaning you must field several fleets if you want to operate close to your Naval Limit.
The Fleet Manager helps deal with the logistics of keeping several fleets reinforced at all times. This is an interface that lets you specify what the ideal load-out for a given fleet is and, at the click of a button, requisitions all missing ships for a single fleet or for all fleets at once. This makes it incredibly easy to make sure fleets are reinforced at all times.
As soon as the scale of the changes in Stellaris 2.0 became clear with the FTL (faster-than-light) shake-up, frantic discussion amongst fans ensued. Pre-2.0, there were three types of FTL drive to choose from at the start of your game: hyperdrive, warp, and wormhole. Bar a few late-game exceptions, you were stuck with your choice for the whole game. In Stellaris 2.0, there will be only one type of FTL drive available: hyperdrive. (Again, with some exceptions.)
Movement is restricted to “hyperlanes” between stars, which is a common game device in space-based strategy, seen in, for example, the Master of Orion series of games and Sins of a Solar Empire. This has the effect of introducing restrictions to starship movement and encourages tactical thinking through use of galactic “choke-points”.
Lots of players weren’t – and probably still aren’t – happy with this. I was sceptical myself. I felt that an opportunity had been missed and believed it was possible to keep warp and wormhole travel and maintain the strategic depth that the devs were promising. I think I will still miss these features for purposes of roleplay, but my experience with this particular change in Cherryh has so far been very positive.
Remnants of Warp and Wormholes
Warp and wormholes remain in the game, to an extent. Natural wormholes and ancient jump gates are scattered throughout the galaxy, which provide shortcuts throughout the galaxy. These are generally accessible in mid-to-late game.
Warp continues to exist through late-game Jump Drives, which were also present pre-2.0, though in a slightly different form.
Given this, I don’t believe it will be long before there are mods to restore FTL in Stellaris to something resembling its earlier iterations.
The Defensive Game
In Unstacking the Doomstack, I mentioned that there were changes that discouraged the doomstack rather than outright prohibiting them. When I reflect on the context of these changes amongst everything else that changed in Stellaris 2.0, I’m inclined to say that significant effort was put into improving the defensive game.
Pre-2.0, there was not much incentive to invest in static defenses or use any other engagement tactics but doomstack vs doomstack. Fortresses were never beefy enough to stand up against even mid-game fleets. The micro-management and mineral investment needed to set them up in any kind of useful manner, coupled with the existence of warp and wormhole travel, meant that the cost-benefit fell hard on the side of “don’t bother”.
This has changed. I think it might be most demonstrative to explain the new changes in a hypothetical interstellar engagement.
The setting is the outer arm of a spiral galaxy. Your empire spans from the end of the arm to some fraction along its length. An aggressive empire has expanded up to your border. They have a superior fleet and are ready to subjugate your peaceful corner of the galaxy. The hyperlanes are arranged such that the enemy empire, should they wish to entire your empire, would have to go through one of two systems.
You chose to stop expanding at these two systems for a good reason. One system contains a black hole, and both are contained within a nebula. These are both examples of Galactic Terrain in Stellaris and have a significant effect on the game.
The nebula blocks all sensor coverage from the enemy empire, meaning they have no idea what fleets or static defences are placed in those two systems. The black hole increases the time it takes fleets to charge their FTL and reduces the chances of disengagement from battle.
Disengagement and Force Disparity Combat Bonus
In pre-2.0, there would only be an option to retreat from battle after a fleet had already been engaged for a number of in-game days. On retreat, the fleet would go MIA and would sustain a number of casualties. In Stellaris 2.0, individual ships can now disengage from battle if they suffer enough damage.
The corollary of this is that a lost battle is not necessarily a lost war, as it used to be. Pre-2.0, if your fleet advantage was significant enough, you could wipe out the entire enemy fleet before they had a chance at retreating. This is no longer the case, meaning that there is opportunity for “bounce back” after a particularly hairy battle.
Smaller fleets now also get a “Force Disparity Combat Bonus”, representing the ability of a smaller fleet to out-manoeuvre a larger one. This provides a combat bonus to the smaller fleet in a particular engagement, meaning that the advantage to the larger fleet no longer increases exponentially with force disparity.