War essentials for beginners (maybe)

Take over the entire galaxy and win!

Hilariously the resolution systems keep going and a "senate" goes in session/recess

… except these guys stay, they're cool

After taking over the entire galaxy with war as a somewhat barely getting into intermediate level player I decided to put down some notes that should hopefully help beginners in navigating the concept of war in the game.

Is a completely peaceful game possible?

You can get fairly close, but at the cost of a large chunk of content loss and very specific settings required.

What's the biggest threat in this game?

Taking a break from a game you started at 1PM to realize it's 4AM

Checkpointing / save scumming

There's a term in the gaming world which I see often in strategy type games known as "save scumming". Essentially it's the concept of saving, trying something out, then re-loading if it doesn't work out. Some consider it unfair as the player has essentially seen ahead to create a more optimal outcome versus dealing with the consequence of one's action.

That said, Stellaris is fairly unforgiving and a perfectly fine game can get ruined by a number of unforeseeable events. Beginners without knowledge about how things work may fine themselves at the start again and become very frustrated. As such, I recommend saving quite often when you're starting out. Going back and trying knew things after getting tossed around helps the player develop different ways of handling situations like:

  • A crisis popping up during war
  • Fallen empire suddenly goes crazy
  • That friendly relations neighbor suddenly goes to war on you

Such outcome can often lead to the question "why is this happening?". Sometimes it may require going back several save checkpoints to prepare properly. The more obstacles you overcome, the farther you can get into the game and experience more obstacles to take on. At a certain point you should be comfortable enough with your experience to where the checkpoints can become less and less of a need to where you might try not using them entirely (ironman mode).

Save checkpoints are also nice for experimentation purposes. I have a checkpoint for example where I've expanded a decent amount and want to try become the crisis. This lets me try what I want without having to deal with the very slow paced initial expansion phase. Other times I use it to simply test certain setups (such as different ways of dealing with Fallen Empires) or validate something I read on the wiki/a reddit post.

That said, sometimes it's best to try to see how things play out on occasion to understand how salvageable something might be (there are some cases where certain favorable conditions can turn the tide of a terrible outcome). It's also a good idea to watch videos/streams of how others play for additional knowledge. At the end of the day though, the devs put in a save function so whether you use it and to what extend is your own personal decision.

Difficulty level

Depends on how much challenge you want but for beginners:

  • Cadet: You get buffs (if you're an absolute beginner)
  • Ensign: Special enemies get buffs (you're a beginner but don't mind a it of challenge)
  • Captain: Everyone gets buffs except you (with diplomacy you can potentially use this to your advantage)
  • Commodore: Lots more buffs except you (you don't mind having to re-roll and start from scratch and have gotten pretty solid at captain)
  • Admiral: You have in depth knowledge of the game
  • Grand Admiral: You know so much you can teach people complex game mechanics and want to make it big on YouTube

Other difficulty like settings

Galaxy Size

Larger galaxies means more potential land to cover and more variability in things that show up. On the other hand it also can give more breathing room to give AI empires space for expansion so there's less of a need to go after other empires to expand territory. Smaller size can mean less area to expand, but the same goes for AIs. It can also mean the AI might be more likely to target you in order to acquire more land.

AI Empires

I usually find the default to be fairly sensible. Increasing can give less room for expansion but also allow for more interesting diplomatic play styles (including the chance for allies). Especially beneficial to megacorp type play styles as there's more places for branch offices. Beware this might become heavy for low spec machines towards the endgame (unless a good chunk "disappear" for some unfortunate reason!). Default should be fine for start.

Decreasing can give more space for expansion which means your empire might have more access to goodies (artifact sites, guardians, ruined megastructures, etc.). It can also mean your war enemy has more territory allowing them for much stronger fleets. This can become even more problematic with increased difficulty and advanced starts. The default should be fine for start.

Advanced AI Starts

In general you want this set to Off when starting out as a beginner. If a nastly bloodthirsty military empire shows up you might be screwed right away (on the other hand if they want to be your friend you might have a huge buffer against nasties).

Fallen Empires

This is kind of a double edged sword. In the early game they can provide buffers against enemy expansions letting you mostly expand to their borders except:

If you see any world with a Holy World feature do not settle it or attack it as a beginner you will get yeeted

You can either just remove them and deal with the slightly more manageable AI empires or keep them and see what happens (sometimes they gift you).

Habitable Worlds

I tend to think the default is fine. More for you also means more for empires potentially. Even worse if they have an advanced start.

Crisis Strength

Crisis are events with unusually powerful enemies which can pop it at certain year checkpoints depending on settings. Setting this to 0 disables crisis and makes it so you have to deal with empires exclusively (unless you have fallen empires enabled which can kind of be crisis like depending on how things work out). Setting this to less than 1 will nerf them. Setting it higher than 1 starts to give them buffs (which with difficulty modifiers added in on top can get pretty spicy).

If you're starting out might want to set it to 0.50/0.25 so you stand a chance even with some fumbling around. It's good for getting adjusted to them happening during wars and such.

Mid/End/Victory Year

Mid game = slightly difficult things start to happen

End game = difficult things start to happen

Victory = what year calculates who wins the game

For a beginner the defaults can be a little daunting.

  • 2900 mid 3000 end 3200 victory is an absurd amount of breathing room and can give you a less pressured experience
  • 2700 mid 2800 end 2900 victory gives a substantial amount of breathing room.
  • 2500 mid 2600 end 2700 victory gives slightly more challenge
  • Default is reasonable for getting used to more difficult pacing
  • 2200 mid 2300 end 2400 victory you should probably start a YouTube channel

AI Aggressiveness

Setting this to low will give you a bit more breathing room, but empires can still declare war on you technically.

Advanced Neighbors

This is whether or not an advanced AI can show up next to you. On might be nice if you're a diplomatic type as you can potentially get things like research / economic agreements or a federation ally to help save you at the start. On the other hand if it's a devouring swarm or fanatic purifier… Even with the diplomatic advantage you'll find them at some point so turning this off might work out to an advantage all things said.

Abandoned Gateways

I find the default to be fine. While it is a way for enemy empires to warp around I find they aren't to crazy with gateway building enough to where it would be a completely terrible experience.

Wormhole Pairs

This can be really annoying to deal with in wars. These are essentially warps which unlike fully occupied gateways in enemy systems can still be used by the enemy to get from point a to point b instantly. If you want more isolated gameplay disabling this can be extremely helpful. Otherwise the default should be fine.

Marauder Empires

I recommend disabling this as a beginner and putting it back on when more adjusted to the game. It can mess with expansion / empire building in the early game and potentially escalate to something worse towards mid/end game.

Game speed

There's a game speed indicator in the top right. Pressing the +/- buttons will adjust it accordingly. The available speeds are:

  • Paused: Default when starting a new game/loading an existing game. If you're a beginner feel free to spam this if you need to wrap your head around something or check the wiki. With default settings certain events will auto-pause the game (I recommend you keep it that way if you're a beginner). Also the bathroom break button.
  • Normal: Default speed when unpausing when starting a new game/loading an existing game. This is a nice speed for being able to react to things when you're first playing
  • Fast: A nice balance between not being too slow while still being able to reasonably react in many cases
  • Fastest: As close to a real time experience as you'll get. You can use this even as a beginner in cases where you're just kind of waiting around for things to happen. If you see anything weird then pause the game, hover your mouse over the – button, unpause, then spam – to get to a slower speed so you can react with less pressure.
  • Slow/Slowest: Honestly you're probably better off with pause. It's nice though for having a view of battles up close.

Empire Choices

A more detailed analysis would be outside the scope of this so I'll mostly talk about the effect on neightboors and war choices:

  • Xenophiles – The a majority will like you type of play. You love diversity in the galaxy.
  • Xenophobes – "master race" type mentality. Slightly more annoying and may require a few envoys or trades to keep folks happy and not murder you right away
  • Pacifist – Can also be nice but military/genocide types probably won't like you
  • Militarist – War is inevitable but makes people more wary of you. Pacifists probably won't like you but they can only do offensive wars anyways so unless there's a defense pact/federation going on not a huge issue
  • Machine Intelligence – Not out of the question for other empires to view you as "soulless machines", especially spiritualists. Easy to make friends with other machine empires though.
  • Devouring swarm/fanatic purifiers/determined exterminators- The "genocide" category. If you want a lot of people to hate you and be mostly banned from diplomacy this is the route for you! Not beginner friendly. Also not who you want as a neighbor as a beginner.

Xenophiles are nice if you want to have a balance between keeping war at bay but also being able to go to war if you want, assuming you're not pacifist.

Ship defense

  • Shields are a line of defense to protect the hull, taking up power
  • Armor does the same, but doesn't take up power
  • A ship/fleet is destroyed when hull is lost, as with armor doesn't take up power

Another defense not listed is evasion, where a ship simply dodges attacks depending on enemy weapon composition and possible buffs. Damage to each component can also be seen:

As mentioned as long as hull gets to 0 a ship is considered destroyed. This means you can have situations like:

Where the enemy's shields and armor are mostly in good shape but half their hull is missing, putting them in a pretty bad spot. Ships also get a debuff to fire rate relative to how much hull they've lost.

There a technology repeatables which increase shield and armor hit points. Hull lacks this except for some rare ship specific ones which can be done twice (Improved hulls and Advanced hulls).

Ship offense

As enemies have defense as well, weapons are needed to deal with it. There are a few categories of weapon types in the game:

  • Kinetic: Tends to do well against shields / often has decreased armor/hull damage
  • Energy: Tends to do well against armor (and often hull) / often has decreased shield damage
  • Explosive: Tends to do well against hull and to some degree armor / very slow speed, so can potentially be countered by point defense and strike craft

Outside of straight damage, there is also penetration which inherently ignores specific types of defense. Cloud lightning for example ignores shields and armor and does direct damage to the hull. Further making decisions interesting is damage range:

This has a damage range of 1-1700 making it very RNG in nature. One time it could do 3, the next it could do 1000. So while it goes straight for the hull (as long as the hull goes to 0 shield and armor don't matter) spamming it alone might not be the best idea. Telling which is the best can depend on a number of factors. At the end of a battle a report will show up indicating what the attacker/defender damage efficiency was so you can see what worked and what didn't, potentially doing some refitting of ships. Details can be shown by clicking on this icon when a battle completes:

Which gives something like this:

Weapons did pretty well for the most part here. Looking at the losses destroyers weren't the best idea it seems. The same information is shown for enemies:

Being a fallen empire (even stagnant) they still managed to pull off a considerable amount of damage. I'd probably have a lot more of an issue if I went in with equivalent fleet power. That said, their focus on shields meant their armor damage was pretty bad. They still got decent hull damage, though not as much as the shield focus.

In the early game balancing out between energy and kinetic weapons (unless you plan on fighting space ameba, better do use energy weapons since they have no shields). In mid/late game I tend to have kinetic and armor/hull specialized ship designs and diversify them in my fleets. That said, it's probably a good idea to check out some YouTube videos on ship designs (especially ones that do testing) to see what works best. For fallen empires/crisis/guardians there's generally specific strategies that doing a search for "anti x build stellaris" generally gives good options, as well as checking the wiki.

Ship icons

Standard ship icons

These are the standard ships. From left to right:

  • Military ship
  • Science vessel (civilian ship)
  • Construction ship (civilian ship)
  • Transport ship (carries armies which can invade planets or transport armies to player ones for more defense)
  • Colony ship (civilian ship) used to colonize worlds

There are also some special ones:

  • Juggernauts are mobile shipyards allow for the repair/upgrade of existing ships, and the creation of new ones. If the enemy has one consider it a priority target.
  • Spaceborn alien are minor creatures who for the most part are hostile and tend to get in the way of early expansion
  • Guardians are tougher mobs which when defeated can grant a number of benefits. However you generally need to have a fairly mid-game sized fleet for defeating them, and they each have their own tactic. As it's more of an intermediate topic, I recommend checking the wiki for more advice
  • The same symbol can also represent a powerful type of player unit. This can be a colossus (planet destroyer) or a star eater (system destroyer). If you see one and it's hostile consider it a high priority target (though make sure it's actually one and not a guardian).
  • Spaceborn alien base are special systems that can contain a large number of a certain spaceborn alien along with a special base
    • It can also house a guardian called the "Enigmatic Fortress" so be sure to check the contents before you rush in

Ship colors

  • Yellow = neutral, won't attack unless attacked or war declared
  • Green = player ships
  • Blue = ally ships (federation, overlord, vassals, etc)
  • Red = hostile, will attack if within range in most cases (might run away if you're too much of a threat)

Fleet stars

Fleets have a ranking of 1-3 stars:

  • 1 star: a single ship
  • 2 stars: more than one ship, up to 49 command limit
  • 3 stars: 50+ command limit

Military Ship rank

Military ships can have rank. Higher rank gives more damage, hull points, and evasion. That said, it's not something many players concern themselves with much as getting to the highest Elite level requires a substantial amount of effort to where it's really just easier to add more fleet power instead. It's increased +1 per day in combat and +0.1 per day while suppressing piracy.

Military ship types


Small and fast. They mostly rely on high evasion to keep in the fight and can be good as "distractions" for the beefier and slower ships to deliver strong firepower. Lowest defense out of all the ship types and are vulnerable to flack cannon point defense.


A slightly larger size than corvette allowing for initial "bulk damage" against larger targets such as space ports. In the end game they can escort larger ships with point defenses to provide them with defense.


One of the first ground breaking ship types. These allow you to utilize strike craft, essentially allowing "mini corvettes" to distract the enemy while staying in the back away from danger. However if there's sufficient point flack gun point defense then this becomes a less useful option. Though it can also stand as a cheaper battleship alternative at the cost of less armor.


The bulky ship type. It's great at taking down bigger prey such as guardians, other battleships, and sitting ducks like starports. It will have issues trying to take on high evasion targets such as corvettes or strike craft, so sending them without proper escort might not be a great idea (since the AI tends to enjoy some portion of corvettes in their fleets).


A special type of ship which requires a fully upgraded starbase and a dedicated ship building component to produce. Even with an absurd amount of ship build speed they can take quite a long time to push out. This is one craft you don't want to send alone and have proper escort. They have a wide assortment of weapons and defense components, and a special "aura" ability. This aura has useful features which can buff your allies, or debuf your enemies. However they have a cap depending on naval capacity (discussed shortly):

  • 1 base
  • + 1 per 200 naval capacity, up to 20 max


A special type of support craft which acts like a mobile starbase which can produce ships, do upgrades, and heal units. While it does have some offense and defense, it really is meant to be part of an escort or behind the front lines. An empire can only have one at a time, so it's generally best to have it in your main bulk firepower fleet.


These requires something known as an ascension perk, which is a powerful buff to your empire. Like the titan they require a dedicated starbase component for building and Juggernauts you're limited to one per empire. It's essentially a one shot way of either making a planet useless to both attacker and defender or completely bringing it into attacker ownership. Can be nice for times where you just don't want to deal with the additional baggage of gaining worlds from conquest which have a high chance to be full of annoying crime/resource requirements/high unemployment totally not salty about that. Unlike the other ships it can't attack back, so it better have a decent escort (since rebuilding one is time consuming). Given you can only have one, spreading around armies or using destructive orbital bombardment is generally faster.

Star Eater

This is also an ascension perk called "become the crisis". Essentially it destroys an entire system. All planets, habitable or uninhabitable are yeeted when finished. While the AI technically can become the crisis and use against you, you've probably got a big issues if they're able to get that far into the crisis chain to obtain star eaters. At any rate, if you see one destroy it ASAP.

While they technically don't have a cap like the others, it's a cost of 10,000 dark matter and a ship size of 32. It's not something that will be spammed without a lot of effort.

Command limit

This controls the composition of your fleet. Each type of ship has a certain size, and this can potentially hit 260 with apocalypse DLC, but most of the time you will see it at 250 after going through all of the basic upgrades. Each ship type has a cost associated with it:

  • Corvette: 1
  • Destroyer: 2
  • Cruiser: 4
  • Battleship: 8
  • Titan: 16

Juggernauts , Star Eaters, and Colossus are special types and cannot be combined into a fleet. So assuming a command limit of 250 you could have:

  • 250 corvettes
  • 125 destroyers
  • 62 cruisers
  • 31 battleships
  • 15 titans
    • The number of titans depends on how large you overall naval capacity is and caps at 20, so this assumes your titan limit is 15-20

How you want to compose depends on a number of factors which are a bit outside of the scope of a beginner article.

Naval Capacity

This is the global version of command limit. It can be increased various ways and going over it increases ship upkeep based on % over you are. How impactful that is will depend on how much tech you have on your ships, the size of the ships, and how well your economy is doing. While there is a soft cap of 9999 you can still go over it. However as there's no way to increase the ship upkeep burden soon hits an unreachable point. The basic way to increase is:

  • Adding anchorages to starbases
    • even more bonus if you have Naval Logistics Office buildings
  • Soldier/warrior drone jobs via military academy / stronghold / fortress buildings on worlds (not only does the building need to be there, it also needs jobs populated to have effect)
  • Through technologies

Other methods also exist in a bit more empire/system dependent manner which can be found in the wiki page on it.

Ship Upkeep

Civilian ships such as science vessels and constructions ships tend to have a base of 1.00 energy upkeep. Military ships on the other hand will have both energy and alloys as an upkeep, which depends on the components applied to it.

A corvette with nothing on it and very minimal base components will have about 0.36 energy and 0.09 alloy upkeep. Add in a few decent components and primarily shield defense and now it's at 1.30 energy and 0.28 alloys. So basically, the more high tech your fleet becomes the more economy will be required to support it. Different ship types also have different power base levels. A mostly stripped down battleship will have 2.88 energy and 0.79 upkeep. Hovering over a single ship will show it's base upkeep

Another issue with this is that ships tend to be made from a starbase's shipyard. If it has a crew quarters building, upkeep is reduced by 25% while docked. The moment it moves away or loses the crew quarters building upkeep returns to normal. For example the corvette at the start of the game for me had:

0.90 energy upkeep per, for a total of 2.70 for 3 corvettes. With crew quarters there is a 25% upkeep cost so 2.70 x 0.25 = 0.675 and 2.70 – 0.675 = ~2.02. This seems minor, but it really adds up once you start to get large fleets and more powerful tech with increased energy requirements. It's also possible to offset this by selling things on the market per month and keep your existing fleet.


Save other options available later on in the game, these are where ships get built. They can also act as an empire invasion deterrent. In general though they tend to have the following uses:

  • Becoming defense platform outposts to protect borders and other key areas (wormholes, L-gates)
  • Producing ships
  • Increasing naval capacity
  • Catching trade value for empires which support it

As with Naval Capacity there is also a cap on how many starbases you can have. Unlike going over naval capacity which you can potentially mitigate with a good enough economy, going over starbase cap by even 1 can be fairly damaging to a player's economy.

Base defense

Starbases start as outposts and can be upgraded appropriately. The highest level is citadel and each upgrade requires technology to unlock. It also takes a certain amount of time to upgrade where no other defense platform or building additions can occur. With this in mind, it's best to have the starbase components mostly setup before upgrading. It can sometimes be a chore when an enemy you're attacking surrenders and you end up with a bunch of annoying starbases serving little purpose that you end up having play house keeping on. Using the "Downgrade" option will make it an outpost again so it doesn't count against the cap.

Downgrade will always turn the starbase into an outpust. It doesn't take it down a tier so be careful.

Gun battery, missile battery, and hanger bay components will increase the starbases overall HP and add the respective weapons. I usually start out with guns instead of the easier to shoot down missiles and then transition to hanger bays when they are available. All three have the same hit point upgrade except hanger bays add more trade value protection ( which I still favor hanger bays even for empires which don't support trade value ).

Defense Platforms

One thing I see people miss including myself in the beginning is

Defense platforms are available on outposts

This is nice for dealing with pirates without needing corvettes doing patrols or having to create a starbase just for this (you can use gateway tactics later to get around this but that's a bit out of scope). These come in the form of either small ship type components or ion cannons if you have them unlocked. In general I find a single ion cannon is enough to force engagement and then the ship types can go out and rush. There are also some repeatable technologies regarding hull platform HP and damage leading to some… interesting results:

Unyielding tradition is also nice for defense based empires as it provides more defense platform capacity to help with numbers like this. This also adds on to the defense platform capacity for outposts potentially providing for more interesting defense strategies. Another benefit is that defense platforms don't count against naval capacity. Even so, they might be a bit heavy at the start versus just doing gun batteries/hangar bays/upgrades and building fleets to defend (close to naval capacity can be a good deterrent against early invasions).

Starbases themselves also have their own weapons setup (which you unfortunately can't customize):

Here shown are the base weapons/armor/shield and the strike craft from the hangar bay components. As for the other components:

The hanger bay as mentioned along with a defense supercomputer. The supercomputer allows housing of more defense platforms for extra overall starbase power. Next up is a disruption field generator which debuffs enemy shields. Finally communications jammer will reduce fleet speed and disengagement chance to make it more difficult for enemy ships to get away. Note there are certain cases where this isn't ideal, but it's not a make or break for a standard beginner play. Command center increases friendly ship fire rate for cases where fleets are needed to help defend (yes, this is that important of a strategic location).


If you have a colossus or start eater due to your play style this might not be as important. Armies invade planets to make them occupied by the attacker. This is very important because if you have an unoccupied planet in a system it's not completely yours even if you defeated the starbase and all hostiles within it. It also makes it so that enemies can still use gateways for warping purposes making attacks more difficult. This means you generally want to have a decent amount of armies around before invading unless you plan to blow everything up instead.

To get armies you need to recruit them from planets:

Having a governor with Army Veteran trait can help speed recruitment up:

Once recruitment has been selected a panel will appear on the right where you click on the army you want to recruit. Generally you'll have to scroll down to get more powerful ones:

Once armies have been recruited they will appear in transport ships, much like how ships appear as parts of fleets. While they cannot be combined with fleets, it's possible for them to follow fleets instead to ensure they are traveling protected. The tooltip mentions morale and collateral which are special types of damage. Certain armies require morale to reach their full potential and lose damage output when their morale gets low. Some armies are completely immune to this (mostly robotic/AI ones). Collateral damage is essentially how much devastation will be caused by the planet for their war tactics. A full list of armies and their respect damage/moral/collateral damage can be found on the wiki.

As for how much army power you will need, check out the "Armies" tab of the specific planet you wish to target:

This is a fallen empire so it has an unusually high army power. Standard empires tend to have around 100-300 ish armies but it will depend based on their expansion/economy/difficulty settings/etc. In general using the empire's capital should give you a good indicator on what the max army power you probably need is. Another option is orbital bombardment, which is where ships will fire upon the planet, slowly reducing overall army power, straight to 0. To do so, simply select fleet(s) and action select the planet banner. This gives something similar to:

The 3,700-ish army power is now down to around 2,900 and dropping. Some empires will not allow orbital bombing, and some have a form which completely destroys all life on the planet. If nothing else, getting an army with a strong army power buffer may be the more acceptable solution. Do note that orbital bombarding is likely to make the planet more difficult to administer if you gain control of it as a war outcome so that's another thing to keep in mind.


I think that's all I have the energy to write about for now. I might do other tutorials on more interesting war topics later on. Remember, the worst enemy is the lack of sleep making you take over a fallen empier's gaia world and get yeeted early because Stellaris made you lose all concept of time.


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