This is the fourth in a series of reviews looking at the evolution of Stellaris. See the previous reviews here:
Stellaris: Paradox Among the Stars
Leviathans: There Be Dragons Here!
Utopia: No Place Among the Stars

The third Stellaris expansion was a second story pack, this time focusing on the role of robots and AI within the game. Synthetic Dawn was announced on August 3, 2017, and released, alongside patch 1.8 on September 21. My initial review was about a patch after this one, so I’m mostly concentrating on the actual expansion features.


One of the patch features was reworking species so that you could modify a species’ traits and the game would understand they were still related (this has been the system ever since). There are technologies to research to allow it at all, and to allow a species to have more traits than is allowed at start. You can establish a new template, and then apply it to the population of one planet as a special project which requires biology research points to complete.

This can be done to get rid of negative traits, add new positive traits, or change a population’s planet preference for colonization purposes. These can also happen on their own. Either way, as long as you have some population of the new template, they are eligible for being used with colony ships.

Machines also use the same system (swapping engineering research for biology when applying a new template, and with separate technologies to be able to modify them). Robots can be constructed as soon as the Robotic Workers technology is gained, though they’re limited to the lowest-level jobs. Further technologies let them go up the scale of society (depending on the empire’s policies), and also allow further trait points, opening them up to modification into more advanced models.

Networked Intelligence

Machine intelligence is a new authority type allowed by the expansion. Like hive minds in Utopia, it will always use the central gestalt consciousness ethic, with an immortal ruler, and has its own set of fifteen civics (plus a few more available in combination with other expansions). They technically use machines instead of robots as population, but that is a difference in origin and possible policy rules on them; mechanically they’re the same, including traits and how to apply new templates.

Machines and robots have their own species traits, separate from the normal ones, and can inhabit any kind of world that has a habitability rating. Machine intelligences also start with an extra pop in their colonies, so they can expand very fast, as long as they can get to inhabitable worlds at all. However, their drones are incompatible with normal species, so expect a number of empty worlds after territory changes hands in a war and species get purged.

One exception to this is the rogue servitor civic, where the machines have taken over from an organic species that they still pamper and care for, letting them build unique buildings for taking care of them (these replace all the normal unity-generating buildings), though this comes with a higher upkeep.

Less friendly versions of rouge servitors are driven assimilators (to emulate the Borg), and determined exterminators (terminators, Berserkers, and numerous other SF examples), which are in the ‘galactic threat’ category of governments that don’t use the usual diplomacy rules. The exterminators are the machine version of fanatical purifiers, but will actually get along with other synthetic civilizations.

Three new default empires are made available with the expansion, showing off the new machine traits and features. The Tebrid Homolog are driven assimilators with extra research and a strong secondary species. XT-489 Eliminator is a determined exterminator with combat-oriented traits. And the Earth Custodianship is a third alternate ‘human’ start, with the machines pampering the human race in an organic sanctuary on Earth.

New Features

When origins were introduced in patch 2.6, Synthetic Dawn got one available with it: Resource Consolidation. It is only available to machine empires without the rogue servitor or organic reprocessing civics, and the homeworld will be a machine world (which can otherwise be gotten by an ascension perk), a special habitable world type, which are only habitable by machine species, with this one guaranteed a few nice planetary features, as well as a +10 deposit for the home star, but the rest of the system will have no resources.

A new mid-game crisis was added (there’s a few now, but I think Paradox should look into adding more). The game steers you to having servant synthetic populations; if you build robots for extra population/workers, early on they’re not capable of being sentient/free, and freeing them later leads to unrest and high maintenance costs.

Sentient Combat Simulations is a dangerous technology upgrade to ships computers. It gives an extra level of bonuses to ships equipped with them. But there is a chance that the ship AIs will rebel, causing a powerful civil war to erupt. This isn’t a “true” crisis, as it isn’t a galaxy-wide event, but it can be one of the more dangerous things to happen to an empire.

And it may not even be your fault. I’ve had to deal with an AI rebellion caused by conquering systems from an empire that was in the early stages of this event. It certainly made that game much more dramatic!


I’ve never gone hard down the robot/synthetic path, so this is an expansion that has meant much less to me. However, I certainly appreciate having the machine empires around as more exotic contenders for galactic power, and has been worth the price on that level.

And as mentioned, the AI rebellion can disrupt things even when not going down that path. While annoying, and dangerous, it was nicely dramatic as I struggled with ongoing wars and the rebellion. It is a bit forced as it will spawn powerful fleets as well as taking over some of yours, but it works as a major challenge, even to a well-developed industrial empire. Overall, I consider this a lesser expansion, though still well done, and well worth picking up if you do want see robots grow from simple menial machines to citizens equal to everyone else.