There are many guides on winning Stellaris, this is one of them.
I played Stellaris for at least 200 hours before I won my first game. I won by playing a Megacorp. Since then I have won a few more times using a Megacorp. In this guide I will show you how to do the same.
This guide (obviously) assumes you have the Megacorp DLC. I'll try to call out areas that require specific DLC as I remember them.
The overall goal is to create a tall empire with as many subsidiaries as possible.
Building Your Empire - Ethics
One of the most important parts of the game is building your empire correctly.
For simplicity sake, jump ahead to "Government and Ethics" and choose the Megacorp authority right away. I recommend choosing "Militarist", “Egalitarian”, and "Xenophile".
Militarist allows your fleets to be more effective at attacking. Early game this gives you a massive advantage, and is still helpful throughout the entire game.
Xenophile boosts your trade value, and makes other empires more likely to accept trade agreements from you. Both of these are extremely helpful in making a good megacorp.
Egalitarian allows your specialists to do more. The majority of your workforce will be specialists so this is a good choice.
My thoughts on the other ethics:
- Spiritualist: This makes the psionic path easier. If you would like to pursue that pick this instead of Egalitarian.
- Materialist: This one can pay off in the late game, but it takes time before the extra technology gives you any real advantage. There is also a benefit in building robots. You could pick this instead of Egalitarian, but I wouldn’t.
- Authoritarian: Skip it. Slaves and Megacorps would seem to go together like peaches and cream, but they really don’t. You’ll be getting enough energy from trade that you can buy any resources that you’re short on, so you won’t really have enough jobs to keep your slaves busy.
- Xenophobe: Since Megacorps are much more effective at building tall, the expansion benefits are worthless. Skip it.
Building Your Empire - Civics
Know how you will win the game, and pick civics that will make that happen. In this case, we are going to focus on military conquest to create new subsidiaries.
Recommended Starting Picks
- Franchising: Makes your subsidiaries happy and allows you to build more branch offices without hurting your sprawl. This is probably the best one to pick for us.
- Naval Contractors: You’re going to spend most of the game over your naval capacity, make it less painful.
Recommended unlock during the game
- Free Traders: Once you get your third Civic choose this one. Unless you’re playing a small map pick this first instead of franchising. You’ll need to get all you can from your branch offices.
- Brand Loyalty: Unity is useful, but if our race is already good at generating it with buildings I wouldn’t bother with it.
- Media Conglomerate: Happiness = Influence, and the war cost buff helps with longer wars.
- Ruthless Competition: This one stacks well if your leaders have a longer life. Don’t pick both this and the Fleeting trait for your race.
- Gospel of The Masses: If you are going for a psionic race, pick this instead of Franchising.
- Criminal Heritage: This is cool sounding, but bad in practical use. Your branch offices will constantly be closed by other empires, causing you to lose out in your investment.
- Private Military Companies: Armies are effectively pointless to buff. If you need more power just build more.
- Private Prospectors: Semi-Helpful early game, unless mid to late game. Unless you’re going for a wide empire. In which case, don’t play a Megacorp.
- Trading Posts: You can afford the additional cost of going over the starbase cap.
- Indentured Assets: Only useful if you have slaves. And if you are following this guide you won’t have slaves.
Building Your Empire - Traits
Now that we know how our empire will work, let's go back to traits and build a race that will support our vision. Overall I recommend using all 5 of your picks, otherwise you are leaving potential benefits on the table. I am also going to assume you are not pursuing genetic engineering and that the picks you make are the same ones you will have for the entire game.
- Intelligent: Gives you an edge in tech. Since you’re likely going to be behind in tech for a while this will really help your mid to late game.
- Thrifty: Trade Value is of supreme importance to a megacorp. Having this will help you gain the galactic market.
- Nonadaptive: You can easily compensate for this with tech.
- Weak: You can make up for the lost resources by purchasing them.
- Communal: Since you’re going to be playing tall, stuffing more people in houses is useful.
- Rapid / Slow Breeders and Nomadic / Sedentary: Getting more pops quicker helps early game, but becomes a hassle late game. On the flip side slow breeders hurts the early game and has no impact on the late game.
- Talented / Quick Learners / Enduring: Especially helpful if your leaders have a longer lifespan from your trait picks.
- Traditional / Quarrelsome: More unity can be helpful, but I wouldn’t spend an entire trait on it. Conversely if your unity generation is too slow you can just upgrade your unity buildings.
- Repugnant: Has the potential to cost a little influence, but otherwise a safe bet.
- Conformists: If you are going psionic, pick this one for sure.
- Fleeting: Don’t pick if you are buffing your leaders, otherwise an OK pick.
- Decadent: You aren’t going to have slaves, and if your people make poor slaves it’s more likely you will be able to buy them pack from slavers if you lose some.
- Wasteful: While you can mitigate this one with good trade, it’s a risky pick. If you end up wasting jobs on making consumer goods you’re in a bad place.
- Agrarian / Ingenious / Industrious: All three of these have the same issue, you’re not going to have very many regular workers.
- Adaptive / Extremely Adaptive: You’ll discover plenty of tech to boost habitability in game, don’t waste a trait on it. Unless you are going for explosive early game growth and a very wide empire, in which case don’t play a Megacorp.
- Natural Engineers / Physicists / Sociologists: I would just pick intelligent. It gives you 10% for everything whereas this just gives you 15% in one. Unless you happen to be going for a robot/cyborg build then pick Natural Engineers (If you have Synthetic Dawn DLC).
- Slow Learners: Having poor leaders can really hurt you in the long run. Never pick if you are buffing leaders in another fashion.
- Strong / Very Strong and Resilient: Armies are pointless to buff, and you won’t see many benefits from the worker increase.
- Solitary: Never pick if you’re going tall (which you are in this guide), this will really kill your late game.
- Charismatic: The possible slight boost to your influence isn’t really worth it.
- Deviants: Having your people stray from your goal is going to hurt you in the late game.
- Venerable: Great trait but not worth 4 points.
This section will talk about how to build the galaxy in such a way to maximize your chances of winning. I'm only going to call out the setting I change from default.
- Galaxy Size: Bigger is better, to a point. The real benefit of a bigger galaxy is that more other empires can exist for you to take advantage of help with the power of Capitalism. I generally play medium/Large.
- Galaxy Shape: Elliptical, less likely you will be blocked in that way.
- AI Empires: As many as possible.
- Advanced AI Starts: Counter intuitively you want these. They can create mutual threats for you to rival and gain a boost to your relations with other empires. I’d say about 10% - 20% of the total empires should be advanced.
- Fallen Empires: Always two, keeps the end game crisis a surprise.
- Marauder Empires: Two. One you will be able to purchase fleets from in the late game, the other one can blow up during the mid game crisis.
- Primitive Civilizations: 1.5x or 2x. More civilizations means more potential customers for you.
- Crisis Strength: Personally I would leave it at 1x, otherwise it feels a little like cheating. But you could go as low as 0.25x if you want. For obvious reasons, don’t turn it off.
- Difficulty: I play on Grand Admiral, I think it’s more fun that way. It also will make your subsidiaries stronger the higher the difficulty is. Set this to as high as you are comfortable with.
- Scaling Scaling: On. This allows you to ramp up along with the game difficulty. Honestly, this setting is one of my favorite features of Stellaris.
- Abandoned Gateways: If you want to cheese it, turn this all the way up. Otherwise 1.5x is good.
Here's how I set my policies at the start of the game:
- War Philosophy: Unrestricted, you're going to be kicking some butt.
- Orbital Bombardment: Indiscriminate, save you from having to build so many armies. (Side rant: I really hate how armies work in this game. It hasn’t changed much since launch.)
- First Contact: Peaceful. You are going to need friends once you start making branch offices.
- Border Status: I go back and forth on this one. I finally decided on open to maximise relations, unless you are worried about other empires sneaking past you and taking systems you have blocked off.
- Food Policy: Nutritional Plentitude. You need those pops.
- Economic Policy: Militarized economy. You’re going to need a LOT of alloys.
- Trade Policy: Consumer Benefits.This makes it so you really don’t have to waste your time on consumer factories, and you can easily sell any extra consumer goods.
- Robotic Workers: Allowed unless you are going for psionics.
- Slavery: Banned. There’s no point in you owning slaves.
- Purge and Population Controls: Enabled, unless your factions demand you ban them or you picked xenophile. You’re only going to want the race you specifically designed for yourself inside your empire. This helps you maximise your benefits.
Early Game Strategy
Start with 3 or 4 science ships. Keep 2 on surveying worlds and 1 or 2 just on exploring. Your immediate goal is to find another empire nearby. The "Map the Stars" edit can be helpful here.
Focus on minerals, alloys, and trade. In that order. You should also look for and colonize the 2 or 3 habitable planets near you. Once you get enough unity, unlock the Supremacy tradition, in particular the 10% boost to ship fire rate, and then the boost to ship build speed.
Go into ship designer and switch your Corvettes to missile boats. Give them two armors and one shield. One weapon should be a laser and the other a missile. Remember to enable automatic upgrades.
Start building a navy, as many Corvettes as you can. As soon as you find another empire declare them a rival, build a starbase with a shipyard near them, and move your fleet there. Keep building your fleet until (ideally) they are weaker than you and you can demand they become a subsidiary. They will refuse, giving you casus belli for a subjugation war. Win this war, if you lose quit and start over.
If you are unable to demand that your neighbor becomes a subsidy, declare a normal conquest war and take at least once colonized planet. Once the war is over, release it as a vassal.
If any of your neighbors happen to be friendly, make a trade pact with them and establish a branch office. Otherwise make all of your neighbors subsidies.
Mid to Late Game Strategy
Continue getting as many subsidiaries as possible. There are three main ways:
- Colonization: Colonize unclaimed space and settle any planets regardless of the habitability rating. Once the colony is established release the sector as a vassal*. You only want to keep the planets in your Core sector, otherwise you will become very overextended.
- Overpowering: If you are more powerful than another empire, demand that they become your subsidiary. When they refuse, declare war and force it.
- Bigger opponents: For empires that are too large to take all at once, declare regular wars. Always take a least one colonized planet and a few systems. Release them as a vassal as soon as the war is over. Transfer any extra systems to your subsidiaries (But save one for a future gateway).
There are a few other goals you should be working on:
- Franchises: Find 3 or 4 friendly empires, make trade agreements with them and build branch offices on their planets.
- Gateways: keep a few systems throughout the galaxy under your control. Eventually, you will build gateways in them, then hand them off to your subsidiaries. It’s also helpful to have shipyards in them for your wars.
- Regenerative Hull Tissue: Corvettes + Regenerative Hull Tissue is a very powerful combination. Attack spaceborne aliens and use a science ship on the debris until you get this.
- Traditions: Start with Supremacy then Prosperity. Harmony next if you are going psionic, Discovery if you want really good robots or to become cyborgs, or Diplomacy if you want to form a federation.
- Ascension Perks: Technological Ascendancy should be your first one, this will help with getting Gateways.Universal Transactions is your second one for the huge savings in Influence. Imperial Prerogative is also helpful for managing overextension. Defender of The Galaxy will make securing Trade Agreements easier (and also help you win!).
- Galactic Market: Do your best to secure the galactic market. Nominate your capital planet three time.
- Other Megacorporations: Since all planets can only hold one branch office, do not allow any competition. Destroy any other Megacorps in the game.
- Midgame Crisis: Eventually one of the two Muraders will generate a Khan. If they’re near you or your subsidies, stop them. If they’re far away, let them weaken the other empires for you to conquer yourself.
- L Cluster: After the midgame crisis, open the L Cluster and release some more chaos into the galaxy. Protect your interests and allow the other empires to suffer. (If you have the appropriate DLC).
That’s it. Keep growing in power with more and more subsidies, you’ll have enough credits to afford a massive fleet. Combine your fleet with an extensive gateway network and the Endgame Crisis won’t stand a chance.
*Footnote, The sectors screen says “vassal”, so I am using that word here for consistency. In reality you are releasing them as subsidiaries.