Stellaris is probably one of the deepest and most wonderous 4X games out there. And while there is undeniably a focus on exploring, expanding, and exploiting, if you want to do some exterminating, you are going to need a proper fleet.
This guide aims at giving outlines and tips for the best fleet composition in Stellaris in 2021. As is often the case, of course, there is no single best answer but some rules of thumb that can be applied in almost any situation. Since Stellaris updates tend to be quite impactful, this guide will try to stay up to date.
Mind that some of these tips can be considered an opinion, as there are many different approaches to fleet composition in the Stellaris community. While the ideal composition is a matter of debate, the concepts here will be at the very least viable choices for beginners.
The Rock-Paper-Scissors Triangle
As is the case with many games with multiple types of ships, there is usually a kind of rock-paper-scissors meta in which one kind of ship beats the second one, but then gets beaten by the third one and so on. In Stellaris, it is kinda similar, although this is a very simplified approach that should only be used as a rule of thumb.
- Cruiser/Battleships beat Corvettes
- Corvettes beat Artillery
- Artillery beat Corvettes
While it is simplified, it still affects the way compositions are built and as such, should be memorized to be able to effectively deal with the enemy.
Also, you should keep in mind that “beat” means in this case that there is a significant advantage. It does not mean it is an absolute one. Raw firepower can defeat you even if you have the “right” counter, so ship quality and raw numbers are still key in warfare.
The first fleet composition we will discuss is a Corvette-based composition. As you maybe have already thought, the ideal type of Corvette is a Torpedo-Corvette. Corvette-based means a fleet of more than 50 corvettes that can have any type of loadout but should be built towards having as much evasion as possible. There is an old rule from the beginnings of Stellaris of having 50+ corvettes with 90% evasion.
The idea here is that 90% evasion makes it very hard for high firepower weapons to hit you especially if they have weak detection. Your torpedos on the other hand are going to be very effective in going through shields and armor.
If you lean towards picking the Torpedo Corvettes, you should ideally focus on this kind of ship and avoid picking carrier battleships as both types of ships rely on different kinds of weapon systems which both require their own research.
Another big factor for corvettes is that they are the earliest ship that is available and also very cheap. So going for this composition is naturally a given in the early game and the follow-up question is only how long you want to stay on Corvettes and when (if) you want to transition.
Cruisers/Battleship Mixed fleet
Unlike the other two options in this guide, this one is more of a spectrum composition. The ratio of cruisers to battleships in this fleet is not fixed and depends on the enemy you are facing. The more corvettes you intend (or expect) to fight, the more cruisers you should have in this composition. As mentioned above, the cruisers are what’s effective against the corvettes. A good starting ratio is 50:50 until you can scout the enemy composition.
The more corvettes you face, the more you should also change your loadout to suit your needs. Consider picking some medium slot weapons and hanger bays. Be careful on the hanger bays though, as they are not particularly useful for anything else in the game (mainly artillery, etc.)
This kind of fleet composition is a pure battleship/titan fleet with the biggest guns you can possibly get on them. The idea here is to have so much firepower and range that you can obliterate anything before it even can touch you. You can throw a titan with a tracking aura or shield dampener aura in the mix to round it out and you should be fine against pretty much everything except for pure Corvette.
Good weapon/design picks would be something like Focused Arc Emitter, Neutron Launcher, Kinetic Artillery, and Line Computer.
Generally, this setup is considered the most effective one and has the most firepower. If you only play Single Player, then this fleet will also be advisable since Battleship artillery counters Destroyers and Cruisers – the AI’s favorite choice – extremely hard.
Additionally, while it is true that corvettes “counter” Artillery Battleship compositions, it is only barely a counter as Corvettes users do more damage in terms of resource cost, but are in danger of losing a lot of ships themselves.
The more time passes in the game and the deeper you delve into the late-game, the less this weight does this rule have. Ultimately, this composition will end up being the absolute best and utterly unbeatable, particularly as you progress into the heavy late-game (research of repeatable tech).
These above-mentioned compositions and rules apply to both Singleplayer and Multiplayer but naturally, SP is a little bit more forgiving as the AI is not particularly good at managing its own fleets and does not have good compositions.
If you are looking for a couple of pointers on how you should build your fleet in single-player, my advice would be to focus on heavy corvettes in the early game and then slowly transition out of them and into artillery battleships as soon as possible. Completely forget any cruiser/battleship mixes as those won’t be necessary against the AI.
In fact, the faster you get towards heavy artillery, the easier the game will become, as the AI usually relies on cruisers and destroyers that will be utterly annihilated by your long-range fleets.
On Multiplayer, the triangle rule that was explained in this guide applies more extensively, although it will become far more complicated as your opponents start to react to whatever you are doing. The idea here is to be flexible and lock into one type of fleet to prevent being countered too hard. If you play around with your ships and tech designs, you can also find other viable options outside these 3 and potentially surprise your opponent. Autocannon corvettes or carrier battleships are just two examples of alternative builds you can try out to see if you can win the upper hand.
If you are just looking for a good way to beat the AI, then using corvettes until you get to artillery battleships is probably the way to go. Bear in mind that superior numbers always beat any sort of tech/counter advantage even if it is an unfavorable engagement.
Also, it would probably be wise to stay on top of any new expansions and updates that change the rules of combat in Stellaris. However, it should be said that this triangle has been going on for quite some time now and is probably here to stay. In order for this meta to change, there would need to be fundamental changes to the ship system in Stellaris.