So, according to the last dev logs, it seems that Paradox wants to rework entirely the way empire sprawl works, by tying it to population and giving new buildings to deal with it. Essentially, it would turn a rather useless but harmless feature that had a balancing reason (to prevent “wide” empire from being too overpowered compared to “tall” empires, especially in vanilla) into a potentially empire-breaking one that adds yet another gameplay loop and another resource to worry about.
And at that point I am starting to wonder what the hell is Paradox actually thinking. They keep reinventing the wheel (see the Le Guin update that reworked planetary management from the ground up) when there is no reason to do so. Empire sprawl is fine as it is, and I don’t get the point of reworking it this way. If it is to nerf Machine Empires, well, maybe this should have been considered when the Synthetic Dawn DLC came out, two years ago. Stellaris is EU4 in space and EU4 was never designed with buildable populations in mind, of course machine empires would break the game in half. If the goal is to add another resource, we’re already at 5 basic resources, plus research, plus influence, plus 6-7 special resources. The AI already can’t keep up and still doesn’t know how to handle production, its planets are a clusterfuck and it doesn’t know how to optimize anything.
Meanwhile, the grand strategy aspect of Stellaris is still barebones, and the only fun options outside of pure roleplaying remain either being an hyper-agressive nation fueled by war, or a shining beacon of democracy and liberty that gets attacked by all of the galaxy’s oppressive regimes, which is essentially the same thing, because war is the only interesting interaction you can have! Diplomacy is still as janky as before (Federation wars are a mess), there’s no spying, no subversion, economy is simplified as hell (no economic pressure, no partnerships beyond “let’s open our borders to trade…”). All of the DLCs so far have only added more stuff to do, not other stuff : more factions, more civics, more habitats…sure I can play as utopian post-organic space fungi but what is the point if mechanically I work the same way as basic humans, because all governments are the same aside from election systems and there’s zero intra-faction interactions, struggles or divisions (factions are kind of a joke given how hard it is for pops to actually change opinions, which are almost entirely tied to happiness anyway : as long as they’re happy, democratic pops won’t move a finger towards democratic factions in an autocracy.)
I feel like there are now three heads at Paradox. The “Hearts of Iron” head that only wants wargames and streamlined politics, the “Crusader Kings / Imperator” head that wants to spin emergent storylines and interactions, and the “Victoria” head that mostly cares about economy and resource optimization.
And Stellaris is lost between them, as a weird EU4 clone in space, whose devs have no real idea where they want to go, which is why they feel the need to reinvent the wheel about every six months, but that will never fix the issues of the original design because again, we’re getting more stuff to do, but not more diverse stuff.
I love Stellaris because there’s nothing quite like it, but it would be very nice to have another reason to play it than “I don’t have any alternative for a full space sandbox.”