Stel­laris: Con­sole Edi­tion

A glo­ri­ous alien visi­tor that strug­gles to adapt to our cus­toms

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS - Robin Valen­tine

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.

Fun guys

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.

Un­sound con­trol

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.

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