Stellaris: Federations – It has my vote.

The Old Man has always been a friendly sort. Always a looking to meet new space critters and enjoy their xeno-gin. But I’ll tell you something, when we came to a part of the galaxy where the laws were so different I didn’t know what to expect. Federations were not just a clump of space empires that kinda hung out; they were active bodies with different agendas. You didn’t just meet your neighbours and snicker as you sent them a knee slapper of an insult, you had to vote on things. Real honest to goodness space-laws!

Every empire in this area of the galaxy had a some kinda backstory, an origin if you would. They looked deep into the past of the species sometimes nasty, sometimes nice. This Federation-rich part of the galaxy was home to massive structures called Mega-Shipyards and huge war-machines the locals called ‘Juggernauts’.

It was a strange place to be. And it was here these old eyes beheld a bizarre giant critter called the Syricoth Entity. A Hivemind with a diplomatic bent that recruited me to learn about the other races and, of course, to clean the space johns on the more dangerous space stations.

The DLC, Federations, is the latest DLC instalment for Stellaris and is available on March 17, 2020. For anyone who has been craving a deeper dive into the realm of galactic politics, Federations is sure to deliver. It will have a price tag of 22.79 CND.

With Friends Like These

It started with the Panaxala Hegemony, the Nharr Foundation and the forming of the Equilibrium Concorde. The Panaxala were dictators who enslaved their own people. The Foundation were religious folk who wanted to spread their message to the stars. They had two things in common. First, they both had a martial history that was reflected in every level of their powerful militaries. Second, they had both been buttered up real nice and right by my Hivemind employer, the Syricoth. It was early in their starfaring days that these folk flew under the same banner in service of the three-fold mission: Find slaves. Spread the Faith. And protect the Tree of Life.

This here star-gathering wasn’t your grandpappy’s federation, either. Theirs was called a Martial Alliance, and boy I’ll tell you it lived up to the name. I’m not exactly sure I’d call it a simple matter, but I’ll give you the details as I remember them. I was mostly cleaning space toilets at the time this ominous document was signed.

Fourth member of the Federation? What do you mean?

All federations have five levels of development. Development levels are earned by how well the federation’s members are getting on with each other. This has a bunch to do with envoys, who are the diplomatic suckers that get sent to talk about boring things like laws, wars, and whatnot. They work at increasing the cohesion between members. The higher the cohesion, the more experience earned. Get enough experience, and the federation develops further.

The more a federation develops, the more fun things it can do. You can change how the federation determines leaders, how votes are counted, how much naval capacity (if any) is contributed to the federation fleet. Lots and lots of interesting, big-brained diplomatic stuff. Like, when the Syricoth decided they wanted to rule the roost for 40 years rather than 20. It didn’t take much to convince the other empries this was a good idea. I mean, they’d get their turn in the driver seat before too awful long. Right? They also thought it was a good idea if all members of their little gang had free migration between each other. Well, not with the Syricoth, visitors would have would up absorbed or worse.

The different federation types have special perks for each level of development as well. For example, just for being part of the Equilibrium Concorde, ships were built faster, started with more experienced crew, and they trained better soldiers. Very imposing stuff. As they grew, they learned how to leverage their military might even further, like being able to fight off the terrible creatures from beyond the galactic rim or finding more efficient ways to have members contribute to the grand fleet of the federation.

But it wasn’t just Martial Alliances, you see, there were all kinds of new types of federations that the Old Man had never heard of. I mean, you all know me… I’m a lover, not a fighter. I would’ve much preferred to have hitched my caboose to one of them Trade Leagues or Research Cooperatives. But all I saw beyond the Martial Alliance were Hegemony and Galactic Unions. However, all of them are pretty fun in their own way.

Trade Leagues can make their members stinking rich – as rich as a Research Cooperative can make your brain bigger. A Galactic Union is the floor model of the Federations, and is mostly about working together in harmony and whatnot. And the Hegemony? A Hegemony federation is a group of empires united under whoever is the strongest. And I tell you, strongest is a strange word in the galaxy where pens can murder billions.

So I was leaning back in my favourite chair, looking up at the mess they made of the stars. I know some horrible things happened, but I gotta say, this new way of handling federations is pretty top-notch. When you start having to pay attention to the federation and galactic politics, well, it got my old heart pounding the same way a good space battle would. A federation that’s in trouble can start falling apart due to lack of cohesion, so they need envoys to deliver a bit of social TLC to keep everything from falling to bits. But with the Federations DLC, Stellaris makes this is a fun kinda maintenance and not some sort of fiddly chore.

A Voice Among the Stars

The Equilibrium Concorde were obviously not the only space gang out there. (Would’ve made for a pretty darn dull story if that was the case.) Small groups, big groups, friendly groups and dangerous groups – our galaxy had ’em all. And when the tendrils of communication were stretched out far enough, eventually the galaxy formed into a big ol’ friendly Community. Here they all got along, made laws that benefited everyone, and no one ever fought or argued. The end. Thanks for coming out kids.

Ha. Right? You weren’t fooled for a single nanosecond.

I’d rather spend forty-two seconds in a shielded space sack full of rogue nanites than take my chances at trusting any of them vipers in the Galactic Senate. Oh, they get things done, but at a cost: bickering, fighting, back dealing, betrayal, and other nasty business. Pick the envoy you hate the most and send them to represent your needs in the Galactic Community, and they can bolster the weight of your words in the Senate. But don’t expect that envoy to send you a birthday card.

The Syricoth played the game well. A very empathic hivemind indeed.

When talking about getting things done in the Galactic Community, it all boils down to two things: the so-called diplomatic weight of your Empire and what resolutions are currently active. Diplomatic weight is calculated with many big-brained ideas in mind. It looks at how strong your Empire is in regards to things like the economy, science stuff, the power of your military, and how many bodies you’ve got. I ain’t talking about skeletons in the closet, I mean actual citizens in various states of freedom and happiness.

Resolutions are what the Community is all about. Take the Syricoth. They started making nice, buying favours from various powerful empires in exchange for rare resources. They then called in those favours to push their agenda. They made enemies of almost every single megacorporation out there with their anti-trade resolutions. Their first such resolution was the Pan-Galactic Recycling Initiative. (Recycling, tch. That is how they get you. First, it’s the blue bins on the curb at the end of every galactic month; next thing you know, you’re just lighting the economy of your Empire on fire because some smooth-talker said so.)

This resolution affected every citizen in the Galactic Community. It made them less dependant on consumer goods and made it take longer to do planetary landscaping… but that isn’t why the Syricoth wanted it passed. They knew the restrictions on exploitation would weaken the diplomatic weight of economy based empires. And so began the Hivemind’s relentless social navigation to make sure the resolutions passed did everything to increase their standing in the galaxy and hamper those that would harm the Tree of Life.

It was around the time that the Syricoth seized control of the Equilibrium Concorde, effectively making the entity president for life, that the Galactic Council was formed. The three empires with the loudest diplomatic voices were afforded special privileges to help guide the galaxy. Unfortunately for the galaxy, it only took a few elections for the members of the Concorde to assure that they held those three seats. Wielding words like a cudgel, the Syricoth Entity was able to strike down any opposition to their goals now.

But that isn’t to say that smaller nations were helpless. The senate would meet at a regular time that you could set your atomic clock too. Before they would get together, spacefolk would have the chance to leverage their influence to put forward one of those newfangled resolutions. If an empire liked a resolution they could approve of it, pushing that resolution up higher in the queue. When the time for the big space moot came, the resolution on top of the pile would be voted on. The more diplomatic weight behind yer vote, the more it counted. Pretty simple math stuff. But it wasn’t just the big empires that could play in the sandbox.

Given the right leverage, influence and patience, a few smaller nations had moments of victory that caused the social thugs of the Concorde pause. They were able to start counteracting some of the early moves by the Syricoth to curb economic power. This was through the promotion of real fancy marketing and business ideas known as “The Buzzword Standardization Resolution.” Sounds fancy, eh? It was a good move, and it hurt the goals of the Hivemind, but it was a bit too late at that point. Resolutions can and will get buried in a queue.

As more and more resolutions of higher intensity are approved, some ways of life become illegal in the galaxy. For example, when Ethical Guideline Refactoring was passed, all empires needed to use their science to modify their leadership to its full potential. Half the egalitarian empires fell in line and started shifting ideas around, and the other half became subject to the sanctions that were approved.

Sanctions are the teeth of the Galactic Community. When the galactic community start saying everyone has to listen to them, it’s sanctions that makes it have a punch. At the end of the day, they’re best explained as the punishment for defying the Galactic Community, and it can really cramp a fella’s style, like when suddenly having slaves means your naval capacity is dropped by thirty percent. That said, an empire can just flip the table, grab their ball, and leave the Galactic Community. They can brave the galaxy alone and play their weird table-flipping ball game elsewhere.

Anyway, I’ve run long in the jaw at this point. If politicking is your game, you’re going to like this. The time between votes is enough for you to have your focus elsewhere, but if something important is being voted on, you’ll want to keep tabs. Honestly, the Galactic Community might just be my favourite feature of the Federations DLC. A clever group of smaller empires can really make some big changes, and I can only imagine the fun that it will be in multiplayer.

A New Beginning

So, yeah, we’ve been jawing a mean streak about where the Galactic Community was headed, but we ain’t really talked about where it came from. Maybe it was always like this, and maybe I just wasn’t paying attention, maybe that Tree sap connected me a bit more to that soundless music it was always babblin’ about.

But everything starts somewhere, even powerful cosmic entities. I’m talking about their Origins and those of the other empires they would rule by default. Origins are just that, how an empire started out. Looking at your fungal tree friends, we can see their Origin is called “Tree of Life,” and it is everything to that big ol’ fungal farm called the Syricoth. Having the Tree of Life so handy grants them all sorts of neat perks on their planets. I mean, it provides food, homes, teaches them secrets, and helps with their, uh, spore-reproduction hatching thing? I don’t know how the drones are made; honestly, I don’t wanna know. All you need to know is the Tree of Life helps them get it done faster.

But there are many different origin stories for the different empires out there. The tomes of galactic history show many different ways your empires can start. They range from the mundane like the Foundation’s “Prosperous Unification,” which pretty much means that this here Empire got control of their homeworld and now everyone works together. On the other hand, you’ve got the long time rivals of the Syricoth, The Battle Clans of Meshka, who’d started with something history buffs called “Hegemon,” which is an Origin that allowed the Empire that picks it to start as the leader of a Hegemony style Federation. Not bad at all, provided you can maintain your strength and thus hold on the reigns of power.

More than a few to choose from.

I’m not gonna go into much detail on all the different types of Origins an empire can choose to follow. But there are some great ones that have unique stories and provide exciting situations for your Empire to start in, and some that give them an edge at the cost of some freedom of choice down the road.

If you like diversity in an empire’s creation, without much worry for symmetrical starts, this will get you excited about all the new stories you can make about your favourite space folk. In many cases, taking an empire and switching the Origin around a bit can lead to a very different-feeling play through. However, I imagine in the multiplayer scene, lots of communities will put restrictions on who can play what.

Carry a Big Stick

War didn’t come to the Syricoth often. But when it did, they and their federation members were ready. I ain’t never seen something like a Juggernaut-class ship before. I mean, I thought the Titan class ships from the Apocalypse realm were big. No sirree, these big brutes were something else. The Syricoth named theirs ‘The Harbinger’ and I tried to explain that sounded spooky and no one would trust it. They ignored me.

But this thing was spooky. I mean, it spat out lots of tiny little ships, had a massive aura that could be retooled to do different things. And it had shipyards. Shipyards! On a ship! We were in uncharted territory now, kids. The versatile nature of the Juggernaut allowed to to act as either a forward base in the heart of enemy space, or as a mobile front line you could reinforce and repair from. I saw the dang ol’ thing take out many stations, smaller than citadel class, before it had to retreat.

And I tell you, if they weren’t getting a couple of ships from the Juggernaut, it was the never ending reinforcements pouring in from the Mega-Shipyard that really frightened me. With enough alloys, this massive structure had twenty shipyards on it. That ain’t a typo. It was gosh-darned intimidating. Every time they brought the darn thing closer to full completion, it just kept spitting ships out faster. Not just on the Mega-Shipyard, but all the shipyards in the Syricoth empire got the benefit of that.

Peace in our time

So, the Syricoth knew something dangerous was coming. It had to protect the galaxy and make it ready. Was it? I don’t rightly know… I was stuck on cleaning duty on the Matter Decompressor in the Eternal Horizon black hole and, well, there was an accident. Fell right in and started my strange world hopping adventures. I mean, at least I get to tell you folks about it so you can make smart choices with your toilet paper – or whatever it is you use for money in this dimension. (I’ve seen the news, it’s clearly toilet paper.)

In the end, if I were to give it a score, I’d say that Federations warrants a 9.5/10. For me, it was nearly a perfect affair. There are some minor issues regarding political balance inside a Federation, and I can’t say I like that the Federation fleet grants the leader diplomatic power. As the fleet grows stronger, it can turn any federation into a dictatorship. A few fixes to that, and I’d happily give it a full score of 10.

So until next time, this is Old Man Mordaith signing off.

Review by Joshua Smith (Old Man Mordaith)

Edited by Jesse Roberts

*Disclaimer – The publisher provided this copy as part of a paid live streaming sponsorship. Old Man Mordaith was not under any obligation to give a positive opinion on this product. The review is in line with my usual standards.

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