Espionage is something that has long been missing from Stellaris and is something I wanted to see added for a very long time. The Dick update and Nemesis DLC add exactly that plus they add new variations to the end game as well.
To spy on an enemy empire click on the Espionage tab at the Diplomacy screen. Select the empire to conduct espionage on. Click on the vacant portrait next to the Spy Network name. From the list of available Envoys select one and click accept. They will need to achieve an infiltration of 10 before they can conduct any operations.
Assigning a spy to an enemy empire is simple. Select the empire you want to spy on and click on the Espionage button (if it’s grayed out that means you can’t spy on that empire). At the Espionage screen the portrait for the envoy assigned to the spy network will be blank (red background with a triangle and an exclamation mark in it). Click on it and a list of your envoys will appear. If one is available to be moved, click on them to assign them to the task of building a spy network.
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Stellaris Nemesis DLC vs Dick Update
Although this article is about the Nemesis DLC and what it adds in terms of Espionage it’s worth mentioning what the Dick update gives you versus the DLC. The Dick update does add a basic version of the Espionage system. Without the Nemesis DLC your envoys can still build spy networks, acquire assets and gather information on an enemy empire but the actions you can take and assets you can acquire are very limited. You can see your level of Intel on an empire and your infiltration level with or without the DLC.
With the Nemesis DLC you have additional options like sparking a diplomatic incident or arming Privateers. Your assets, which are individuals you’ve recruited from the enemy empire, can be added to an operation to make its chance of succeeding much more likely, especially if their skill set matches the mission. It typically increases your chances of success by 10%.
Stellaris Espionage Screen
The Espionage screen is where you can find your spy network information. Although you are limited to nine actions this is still the best attempt at espionage in any game I’ve played since Imperium Galactica 2, which was about 20 years ago. Operations get harder the further done the list you go, with increasing levels of infiltration being required before you can even attempt it.
The first operation that becomes available to you is Gather Information at infiltration level 10. One of the things gathering information does is it starts removing the “fog of war” so you can begin to get an idea of just how big you neighbor’s empires are. My starting strategy at the start of the game is to gather information a time or two about the empire I’m spying on and then I start recruiting assets. I like to keep an eye on what I’d like my next operations to be and see if any assets I’ve acquired have the skill set to make the operation more likely to succeed.
The basic mechanics, like alerts and results, are the same as the Archaeological system, so if you have the Relics DLC the Espionage system will be very familiar to you.
How To Acquire Stellaris Assets
You need to have an infiltration level of 30 before you can conduct an operation to acquire an asset. A tooltip will inform you how difficult the operation is and what skills the acquired asset will have. Selecting the operation will bring up the Acquire Asset screen, where you can do a final review before launching the operation. Clicking Launch commits you to that operation and it gets underway.
Once an asset is acquired you can go to the Espionage screen, see the asset and find out what their skills are. An asset will also increase your maximum infiltration level in the long run but gaining an asset will reduce your infiltration level temporarily. A tooltip will tell you by how much your infiltration level will decrease. A warning will pop up at the top of the screen telling you that Intel is falling for that empire once the asset is acquired, which is a result of you acquiring an asset. If you acquire an asset, you’ll also get a notice from the game that you succeeded.
Conducting a Stellaris Operation
I wanted to see how an operation worked so I chose one of the operations that took a low level of integration, Spark Diplomatic Incident. This operation cost me 650 in Energy credits, so operations aren’t free. Assigning an asset to the operation increased my breakthrough chance by 10%.
During the course of your spying efforts you can sometimes lose contact with some of your operatives. You can either track them down (if your infiltration level is high enough) which will lower your infiltration level by 10, disavow them which cancels the operation they are conducting, or call in the local asset, which means you lose that asset.
Sometimes your efforts will pay off. If you successfully create a diplomatic incident one of the things that can happen, is you frame one of their Envoys assigned to your empire for crimes, which reduces their diplomatic standing. The drawback is that your infiltration will decrease by 10.
Stellaris Espionage and Empire Sprawl
One thing about the espionage addition is that it makes empire sprawl a little more important. The higher your sprawl the easier it is for someone to spy on you. Increasing administrative capacity is a good way to reduce that, you see how that works on my administrative guide page.
When spying on an empire you can acquire information about their government (authority ethics, capital location, etc.), diplomacy (relative power to you, rivalries they may have), their military level, like the locations of their starbases, technology and trade.
I wanted to give myself a better chance at being more powerful in case I decided to be the crisis at the end of the game during the game setup, so I modified my customized Terran State empire. I removed my Xenophile and Fanatic Egalitarian Ethics and replaced these ethics with Fanatic Militarist and Authoritarian Ethics. My Cutthroat Politics civic was still allowed but I had to replace my Beacon of Liberty Civic, so I chose the Diplomatic Corps Civic since it gave me two additional Envoys, which I considered important for espionage. I changed my Government Authority type to Imperial (no more elections) but if I knew then what I know now I would have chosen Dictatorial instead since it gives a -10% in empire sprawl. That would have been a good perk since the higher your empire sprawl the easier it is for the enemy to spy on you, and I always operate with a high empire sprawl until at least mid-game, and sometimes never worry about reducing it.
Stellaris Nemesis Is A Very Good DLC
This is a very good DLC in all respects, probably one of the best ever for Stellaris, but the espionage portion could be greatly improved. For example, there is no option for counterintelligence. It would be great if you could capture enemy spies and either torture them for information, ransom them, kill them, or expose them to create a diplomatic incident.
Envoys should also be treated like other leaders and have skills and traits. Right now, they are just generic, and when an Envoy dies, they are simply replaced by another one who is performing the same task. Having specific skills would add a lot more interest to the Envoys and Espionage. After all, even the assets have skills, so why not Envoys as well?