Just for the Hull of It: Armor Vs. Shields in Stellaris


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When waging war in Stellaris, you need to have a strong understanding of every aspect of your vessels. One of the most important features of any ship is its defensive capabilities. The value of armor versus shields in Stellaris is one of the most important choices you’ll make as you declare war.

Each of these technologies has specific advantages and disadvantages, and if you don’t have a complete understanding of each one, you will limit your potential for victory, and may in fact doom your entire fleet to become not much more than scrap floating through the void.

Before you start declaring war against your enemies, take a look at our in-depth guide to armor vs. shields in Stellaris.

What Are Shields?

energy weapons are weak against shields

At a basic level, shields are a technology that cast an energy barrier around a ship. When attacked, they are the first layer of your defenses that take damage. With rare exceptions, you acquire all of the available shields in Stellaris through normal research means.

Dark Matter Deflectors and Psionic Shields require special technology to unlock, but Hyper Shields, the highest upgraded normal shield type, are still incredibly strong. Focus on unlocking the best shield for your style of play, and in most cases, Hyper Shields will do the trick.

If you want extra shield strength, it might be worth pursuing Dark Matter Deflectors. They are far more powerful than Hyper Shields but have the burdensome requirement of needing dark matter to construct. In addition, they are power-hogs, requiring immense amounts of energy to operate.

Psionic Barriers and Psionic Shields are another viable option but again have their drawbacks. Their low power cost compared to the amount of protection they provide cannot be understated. However, not all empires will be able to tap into the potential of these highly advanced technologies. Additionally, Psionic Shields require Zro to develop.

What Is Armor?

missiles ignore shields

After an enemy depletes your shields (assuming you have one), a ship’s armor is the next level of defense that prevents your crew from being sucked into the vacuum of space. Armor is a much simpler technology than shields. This defensive plating covers the hull of your vessels and defends against all forms of physical attacks. You research almost all levels of armor through normal means.

Ironically, there is an advanced armor option known as Dragonscale Armor. You earn the right to research it by defeating a giant space monster known as the Ether Drake, whose attacks are weak against shields. The Ether Drake guards the planet known as Dragon’s Hoard and is one of the guardian creatures of Stellaris. Once you defeat the Ether Drake, you’ll unlock the ability to make this powerful armor plating.

Keep in mind that you will only encounter the Ether Drake if you have the Leviathans DLC pack installed.

Upgrading Shields

group your ships equipped with shields together

To guarantee that you can equip a shield onto your ships, you will need to make sure you’ve completed researching the Scientific Method technology. Scientific Method unlocks a variety of science-specific tech, but for this guide what we’re interested in is Deflectors.

Deflectors are the most basic form of shield, and you must research them before you can move on to more advanced technology. It’s a linear research path from Deflectors to Hyper Shields, but it will take time and a lot of resources. The cost to research Hyper Shields is 24,000, which is not a small investment of funds.

Dark Matter Deflectors require that you’ve already researched Hyper Shields, and you still won’t be able to research them until you’ve reverse-engineered a Fallen or Awakened Empire ship. Psionic Shields can only be researched once your psionically ascended empire has completed an appropriate Shroud Event.

In addition to basic shield tech, you can also research Shield Capacitors and Shield Harmonics. These technological marvels provide an additional energy surplus and a 5% HP boost to your shields respectively. You’ll need to unlock Shields and Advanced Shields to have the ability to research these pieces of technology.

Upgrading Armor

will you equip shields or armor

Unlike shields, you can begin research on the materials needed for armor immediately. The first level of technology you need to complete is Nanocomposite Materials. Make sure to upgrade this basic armor immediately as it provides very little above the base defense of a ship’s hull.

Like shields, researching armor is a linear process, with one level of armor technology being the prerequisite to unlock the next. Also like shields, the higher-level armor material upgrades are very expensive. Neutronium Materials, the highest level of armor tech costs 20,000 resources to unlock.

Pros and Cons of Shields

a very large fleet attacks

Without a doubt, the biggest advantage of shields is their ability to regenerate. When not in combat, shields recover 1% of their max capacity a day. This feature of shields makes them extremely valuable. It’s especially true if you plan on long-term engagements that will keep your fleet away from a spaceport where you can perform repairs.

Additionally, shields provide a strong defense against almost all forms of energy weapons and cost fewer alloys to construct than armor.

The downside to shields is their inability to deflect any form of kinetic weapon. If you encounter an enemy armed with these types of weapons, your shields are ineffective. Another rare situation to watch out for is engaging in combat near a pulsar. Pulsars actually disable the shields of any ship nearby.

A final downside of shields is the fact that they consume power to operate. This requirement forces you to balance another energy variable in the midst of combat, which is already an intense game mechanic.

Pros and Cons of Armor

make sure to equip shields

The second line of defense on any warship, armor has its own sets of strengths and weaknesses. The obvious advantage of armor is the fact that it does not consume power when installed on a ship. Once your corvette or battleship has armor, there are no other considerations that come in to play.

Additionally, armor is designed to defend against all forms of kinetic weaponry, making them ideal when facing foes that tend to focus on these more traditional types of war implements.

Without a doubt, the biggest drawback of armor is the requirement that it is manually repaired. Unlike shields, once armor has taken damage, it won’t recover. There are a few ultra-rare pieces of tech that will allow armor to regenerate, but in general, they are hard to come by and expensive to build.

Another significant weakness is the fact that armor is vulnerable to all types of energy weapons. Make sure to know your foe before you go in for an attack. An army that uses energy weapons will tear through your ships if all you’ve got is armor. Finally, armor costs far more alloys than shields to build. This means that the overall cost to develop armor is higher than the cost to develop shields.

Armor Vs. Shields: The Stellaris Verdict

As you can see, there isn’t a clear winner in the armor versus shield debate. Paradox Interactive has put a lot of work into the battle mechanics to ensure that both of these defensive technologies play pivotal roles in how you construct your ships and wage war.

Sometimes you need to make sure you have enough armor to defend yourself from shield piercing weapons or battles waged around pulsars. However, if you encounter foes far from an allied base, the regenerative properties of shields will be invaluable.

Ultimately, the only right way to play Stellaris is by building strategies and technologies that allow you to win wars to take over the galaxy. Whether you do that with ships covered in armor or buzzing with shields is a matter of preference and intelligent war planning. Know your enemy and always remain battle-ready. The AI in Stellaris is merciless, you should be too!


Eric Studer

In a previous life, Eric was a video game developer. He helped create many games over the course of more than a decade. These days you can find him huddled in front of his laptop, consuming far more caffeine than is healthy, writing whatever it is someone needs him to write. And he couldn't be happier!

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