A beginner to moderate guide for those who find Umbral Choir Confusing. They are, but don't worry. They're also easy.
Guide to Umbral Choir
General Provisions About the Faction
The Umbral Choir were introduced in the third DLC, along with hacking. They have a large amount of unique mechanics and play very differently than a lot of other races. For UC players, this is a good thing, as you will see
In a nutshell, imagine the unfallen, if they could hide all game and do whatever they want. Except you'll be forced into a much more passive-aggressive playstyle than is possible when the Scottish trees insinuate that they might go to war with you and wreck your influence and happiness.
This guide is going to focus on a few of their key elements: stealth, helpfulness, and inevitable slight to hefty harm.
The UC game affinity, "In the Shadows" gives a hidden home system with a unique planet type. They are call Crescents and do not require terraforming tech because they are not planets. They do not orbit a star, but instead are in or around a special node: nebula, black hole, etc.
In vanilla, you do not get the benefits of this special node, but you can leave it for another one and then reclaim the now vacated node in order to claim its benefits: +50 science, +1 sciece & +1 influence per pop, etc. Abandoning your starting position requires claiming another which can be done early for a cost.
Systems, including special nodes, or not claimed via normal influence. UC have no influence and are thus immune to all its effects but can be attacked at cold war, even on your home system by an empire that knows of its existence. Remember, other major factions should have to infer your existance, especially if you randomed your race. To claim (and thus colonize colonizable planets), you hack them. Think of it like Unfallen branches but via tech instead of branches.
Once you successfully hack a system, you have the additional option to immediately place a Sanctuary, a hidden colony, if it is not fully colonized and you have the colonization tech for it. The UC are special in that they may colonize again already colonized planets. If a planet (not an outpost) is fully colonized, you have to "waste" two additional hackings putting a full two sleepers on the planet before you should hack it a third time and colonize it for yourself. You don't take away the original colonization, and if the hacks weren't traced, the original owner will have to guess that the three system compromised messages are for a sanctuary.
Sanctuaries are also special in that they do not function as fully independent systems. They do get planet FIDS and boni from certain system improvements, but they are also unique in that they do not have production queues. Yes, you heard that right. Instead, all their resources get pushed to the home system (where your crescents) like a Hissho, except without the 25% FIDSI penalty. The 'downside' is that not all buildings benefit sanctuaries or the populations within.
Ship are all built on your homesystem only you specify to have them assembled at a sanctuary. You cannot pick and chose which ships are shipped where. Everything gets produced in a batch and sent to the destination sanctuary you specified. Be careful with non-military behemoths. As best I can tell, you only have one hangar at your home system, so upgrading ships can be painful. You're not quite fully Vaulters.
Furthermore, population growth from your home system (since all food gets shipped back home) is not wasted. Unlike every other race, you don't have to worry about 'wasted' food. Growth can roll over its excess automatically to all sanctuaries evenly. You can even specify where to send your growth population if your home system is or is not yet full. Most of the time, you will want to sent your population to high food, high industry planets. If you forget to select a sanctuary, or select on that is about to fill, those excess population will also automatically fill your sanctuaries, evenly (so one population each for all your sanctuaries with space). The one downside is that this is the only way to fill your sanctuaries. You send growth instead of the usual starport shipping with civilian ships. So no filling your crescents later form sanctuary population. This is a very small price to pay.
The good news is that this single queue, instant automatic growth rollover, combined with no alien populations means the UC are an absolute joy to simplify your playtime. The downside is that if you start as an UC player, you'll find literally every other race to slow and micro-intensive to enjoy as much. Try not to laugh at the cravers player who is managing dozens more queues, outpost food micro, and shuffling populations around to try to maintain an optimal balance, not to mention happiness. Oh and did I mention you have a single happiness system to worry about since your sanctuaries count as outposts and are locked at 50% happiness? Yeah, try not to rub it in.
The main source of UC's micro will be with the hacking system. It is not optional, since you use it to colonize the way the unfallen use their vineships. Except all your ships are cloaked and the other races don't know why they suddenly have twenty sleepers stealing money for 'ocean moisturizing'. Seriously, let a sleeper steal some of your money as another race and look at your Dust categories. Some of them are hilarious.
Whilst most empires place sleeper agents to steal resources (which is amusing, but not too painful in small amounts), the UC can choose to sacrifice one of their sleepers (an owned population oof another race, just like normal) to turn one their populations on their home systems into an upgrade Umbral Shadow. These upgrade versions (commonly called "Übermensch") of your main race gain their original statistics (+1 science, +1 hacking for Amplitude's race combinations) along with +2 FIDSI. They have separate luxury needs from your base race. It's not a huge step up at first but after filling your homesystem with +2FIDSI/pop, you'll feel quite powerful.
Hacking speed is absolutely necessary, since it's the equivalent of colony ship speed or vine growth speed. In the early game, you can immediately form all the sanctuaries you want, unless you start near someone's home system. Hacking other major factions should be considered more dangerous, and therefore slower. All hacking danger can be averted by simply 'slowing down' your hack by bouncing it around proxy systems.
A good rule of thumb is to give enemy, colonized systems (or controlled in the case of pirates), one "bounce" before going straight from the hack. So rather than go from sanctuary to empty system, go from earlier santuary to edge santuary to the hacking target. Use backdoors to speed up hacking if you think the hack won't be detected and you don't want a sanctuary there. Always use acceleration on both ends to try to get as much speed, since it lets you hack more in total and lowers the risk of being detected. If you are and it has more than one turn left, if you're not sure ... then just cancel it and try it with more bounces. This will give a 30 bandwith penalty until you get a good idea for what you can get away with.
That's probably why Amplitude's Umbral Choir populations have +1 Bandwidth, +1 Science. Pacifist Ideology. The bandwidth is still nice for customs if you like having nodes, but it's still slightly suboptimal. You will find Amplitude's UC race to be decent but nothing to celebrate. Remember that like the Vodyani, the UC may not have other races in their empire. Instead, they abduct them to become Umbral Shadows.
The umbral choir Visual Affinity (or "skin") gives ships, quests, heroes and certain tech (like faster high-tier cloaking / detection and the ability to colonize destroyed planets) that feels quite powerful, especially in the early and late game. Their scouts are noticeable and their Burning Metal quest law turns them into late game powerhouses and pretty much assures you won't be detected.
Hacking detection is twice as fast as the enemy empire's normal hacking speed, but hacks are only detected from the last proxy to the edge point. But they must be fully traced to their origin point before they can be shut down. This is why you bounce around a bit "behind" the real edge point node you use to reach out to the hacking target system and why Burning Metal will trivialize being detected once you have enough backdoors (which you should put on anything you know won't get cleared, especially once Burning Metal is passed).
The Faction Traits in Amplitude's combinations are as follows:
- *Immaterial Population: -75% Food to Manpower Manpower conversion rate on systems. (This is to purposely give them crippling a weakness).
- Dark Matter Manipulators: +0.5 Manpower / Turn per 1 unit of unused Bandwidth on Empire.
- *Expensive Tastes: +100% System Development Luxury cost on Empire (this is actually a good negative pick since the UC only ever have to develop their single system).
- Exploited Sleepers: +1 Bandwidth per Sleeper on Empire
- Fledgling Traders: -50% Star System Trade Value on Empire (This contain the trade potential from automatically having a subsidiary on all sanctuaries)
- Ghosts: All ships start cloaked and have an automatic cloak suport module of the highest tier available.
- Hyperium Source: Start with Hyperium on your first crescent.
- Organic Network: +1 Maximum Hacking Operations
- *Planetary Landscaping: Start with the Planetary Landscaping technology researched.
- *Stay-at-Home: +100% Overcolonization Penalties on Empire & -5% Maximum Bandwidth penalty per system over the Overcolonization count.
- Titanium Mine: Start with Titanium on your first cresent.
- Twitch Infiltrators: +10% Hacking Speed on Empire
- *Xenobiology Start with the Xenobiology technology researched.
- * - means these picks have inappropriately costs, whether over or under balanced is fairly obvious when you look at the UC in custom factions or compare to other pick costs such as Forgotten Lore or other positive pick versions.
- Italic means you should never put this on a custom Umbral choir. Amplitude did this in a rush because they could not correctly balance out the affinity.
- Bolded means this pick is very central to how.
To make a custom faction make sure the slider is on in the lower left corner and then click the add race button. Select UC and click edit and it will copy the base traits into something new just for you. From here you can edit the starting gameplay affinity (empire ability), visual affinity (skin), starting planet type (for any race besides UC), government (choose dictatorship, at least in vanilla!), politics (chose ecologists, at least in vanilla!), racial stats, and finally a list of faction traits in the lower right from the lower left.
The faction traits are where most of the focus should be. You'll notice that Amplitude is not keeping to their own silly pick limitations for UC and other races too (check out the lumeris).
- There are mods for that.
However, it's still a decent starting point for most races. Notice I said starting. You should never, ever play with Amplitudes crap combinations unless forced to. It's not that custom races are too powerful, it's that Amplitudes combinations are too weak. Once you make and play your own, you won't be able to go back. That freedom is a breath of fresh air and the only reason I invested in ES1 and ES2, for real.
The first thing you should do is not tank your manpower for a mere -5 points. This is the reason the Amplitude combination has zero manpower all game, forever, unless they have lots of minors or another food race like Unfallen or Horatio to feed them manpower. You might think you don't need ghosts, until you realize that the AI totally freak out and constantly demand you remove your sanctuaries from "their" systems because they think the sancs are outposts and do not understand the two can coexist. It's worth the 10 points just for the annoyance factor of this bug alone. Also note a bug where ghosts will not process in time to hide you from starting too close to an enemy empire or after taking a minor race's empire and therefore, ships.
I'm purposely not going to give custom race load outs. Half the fun of this game is making your own custom races and then trying them out, especially when play against other customs. My suggestion will be to embrace food, trade, and peace where possible. I will say that the AI can be deadly with the correct pick combinations, and there's also the academy to fight if you think you've found something powerful enough. Enjoy!
Strengths and Weaknesses
From even a casual look, the UC are very powerful. The only things stopping them from steamrolling all other races is the glaring weaknesses built into the custom picks. Without those, you can start to see the race really shine. They are S tier, even without any other faction traits.
The first counter-intuitive part to mention is that the UC are a food race, not a science race. Yes, they can hide and rush a science victory. Yes, they can out-trade a lumeris and get that economic victory. Yes, they do decently to eventually colonize enough to control the galaxy for a cheap win. And lastly they can hack homeworlds to gain sanctuaries and thus "own" a homesystem even though the host empire is unaware. Snatching those victories is funny, but cheap.
The real challenge come from elimination victories. That's where defending and attacking isn't the Umbral Choir's strong suit. All game should be elimination or at least where it become inevitable. And this is where UC will struggle in a way that a far weaker race like the Cravers won't. However you will be able to take your turn in 2 minutes, while it will take a Cravers with 30 systems 2 hours.
The one thing UC players spend their APM on is exploration. It's not necessary, it's just the only thing you really have to do. The guardian trait would be useful here if it weren't too expensive and rolled into too many abilities at once. You're basically the sneaky Unfallen. As such once you embrace the food and start getting a dozen population a turn, you'll be able to sleeper every single population on every enemy (or ally) planet. Give your allies their strategics and money back, or better yet, feed them in general so they snowball instead of you. You'll have backdoors on all your ally's systems and you'll clear out your queue fast enough you may consider building ships to help out.
Weaknesses against the AI don't exist as long as you aren't in the super late game and you don't put sanctuaries on 1 or 2 planet systems, since your cloaking level for your sanctuaries is based off the number of settled sanctuaries there. Players will simply look at the constellation and estimate where the UC should be, then spam probes. Hissho are great to use Detection Behemoths to find you. Having a friend is necessary if you become targeted. As hated as the UC can be, having one for an ally is almost as good as an Unfallen.
Ships and Miscellaneous
Umbral Choir's scouts are very good. UC is one of the few races that can tech straight to carriers and ignore much of the midgame due to science behemoths that don't need to move to find a special node.
- Behemoth science abuse is considered as cheesy as ship selling in vanilla, so be careful with this if you aren't using the competitive balance mod.
Carriers are going to have huge manpower problems, so watch out for boarding pods (and especially vaulters). Keep in mind that while your ships can deploy instantly, you can still get caught out if you aren't careful with your ship sending.
Lastly, multiply umbral choir don't play nicely, just like multiple unfallen. Instead of vine wars, you end up with sanctuary wars. You will also find that your allies who want populations to micro (especially Horatio) will not appreciate you murdering all the xenos they want when you assimilate a race. Yes the vanilla behavior is silly, but it's a heads up you will need to coordinate with them before gaining that wonderful sanctuary at the start of a new constellation so you don't have to spend 12 turns (on fast, no joke) hacking for a backdoor from which to resume hacking in the center of the galaxy.
Also note that the Academy provides a huge source of hero point from repeated hacking, so you don't ever need to buy any from the marketplace no matter how many fleets you have. You can even coordinate over a voice chat like discord to sell them, give money, and let your ally buy up the heroes you don't need. Remember, they want multiple governors but you start out with the only governor you will ever need.