Stellaris: Console Edition
A glorious alien visitor that struggles to adapt to our customs
It’s not often you see a game like this on consoles. Stellaris is an unashamedly deep, fiddly, complicated space strategy game, combining elements of the 4X genre with the conventions of Paradox’s dense historical sims. It launched originally over on PC in 2016, and it couldn’t be better suited to that platform – so adapting to a controller-based interface was always going to be an ambitious task.
On the surface, the game will seem familiar to anyone who’s played a 4X game – such as Civilization or Endless Space – though it’s real-time with pausing, rather than the usual turn-based. For the uninitiated: you take control of a space-faring empire, managing its military, economy, technology and politics, expanding it out across the stars and engaging in diplomacy or warfare with other civilizations you encounter.
What makes Stellaris stand out is that it’s not really about winning or losing. Where most 4X games are a test of your tactical nous and the pure, ruthless efficiency of your empire-building skills, Stellaris is more concerned with the stories you generate along the way. Its packed universe is a sandbox of countless sci-fi tropes, bustling with random events and incidental details to spark the imagination.
Rather than just picking from preset empires, you’re free to design your own, down to their species’ traits, political ideologies, government type, appearance, preferred habitat and more. One game, you might play as a collective of scientifically-minded sentient fungi; another, a ruthless, galaxy-spanning megacorporation of insectoids. You’ll quickly find yourself role-playing more than strategising, playing to your vision of how these aliens should act.
Each empire is further brought to life by a huge selection of portraits, animated just enough to give them character – a bobbing head here, a rising and falling chest there, a sporepuffing orifice on top… Ranging from the truly alien to the human-with-afunny-forehead, these illustrations add huge personality to each species.
As you explore, discovering the mysteries of space and encountering other empires, stories unfold from the game’s many interlocking systems. Whether it’s the tale of your small, furry pacifists’ first contact with a belligerent warrior race, or your discovery of the wonders of an ancient precursor civilisation, or your battles with colossal beings of living crystal, you’ll find yourself overflowing with anecdotes, each half crafted by the game’s mechanics and writing, half by your own personal interpretation of events. They’re perfect for boring friends and family with.
But while Stellaris’ depth and complexity allows it this special quality, it also makes it an intimidating beast to get to grips with. Its tutorials are flimsy, and the unfortunate reality is that any new player, especially
those not familiar with Paradox’s historical titles, will spend their first few runs stumbling in the dark. Learning the game’s ins and outs requires patience, experimentation, and even a bit of online research – but the reward is worth it.
This is complicated further, though, by this version’s consolified control scheme. Making Stellaris’ maze of nested menus easily navigable with a gamepad was always going to be a near-impossible task, and while we suspect the developers have done as well here as they could have in the circumstances, it’s inevitably somewhat fiddly and awkward.
We do find ourselves getting more and more adept with the controls over time, but even a few hours in we’re still stumbling over particular commands, and despite being over 200-hour veterans of the PC release, we’ve more than once overlooked important notifications and events due to the cluttered interface.
It’s disappointing, too, how far this console version lags behind its PC older brother. In terms of patches, it’s nearly two years out of date. For some games that might not be a big deal, but one of Stellaris’ greatest strengths is how transformative its frequent free updates have been over time. Those two years have seen systems as fundamental as warfare, trade and planet management totally overhauled for the better. Console Edition is still a fantastic game, but it’s a secondclass citizen to the PC version, and it looks like it always will be. That extends to the DLC, too – as it stands, console players have access to only a fraction of the game’s massive library of expansions.
Of course, that need only matter if you’ve got the choice. If you have a deep love of strategy, simulation and science fiction, but not the cash to shell out for a beefy PC, rejoice – one of the best games in the genre is now available for your gaming hardware of choice. As long as you’ve got the patience for its tricky controls, you’ll find literally hundreds of hours of time-eating adventure in Stellaris: Console Edition. Just try not to look up what you’re missing out on.
“Stories unfold from the game’s many interlocking systems”
Left This is your usual view – zoomed way out, so you can get the big picture.
right Diplomacy is a vital part of the game, from trade deals to declarations of war.