Stellaris: Console Edition – Xbox One Review
Stellaris certainly sets the bar high despite there not being a great deal of competition for a strategy sim in the console market. With its fully immersive world full of options to take the game in lots of different directions, no two games are likely to be the same. Stellaris is space sim in what is often called a 4X game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate), where you start by creating your own race of beings with a starting society from a plethora of options before boldly going forth and conquering the stars. You’ll need to keep an eye on a whole range of factors within your society, from managing natural resources, building armies, researching technologies, and keeping an eye on your colonies and all the politics that runs through your society.
Although this genre of game is very popular on PC, on consoles there aren’t that many titles, possibly because this type of menu heavy game doesn’t really translate that well to use with a controller. Those of you already familiar with Stellaris may be disappointed as the console version is based on an old build of the game, so there is a better version out there, but all that is irrelevant to new players like myself who just have to take whats on offer at face value. A good point about it not being the most up to date version is the speed of the game isn’t particularly fast, giving new players time to take things in and learn the game without being overwhelmed or overtaken by events.
To start with you’ll not have too many encounters with other civilisations, as you explore your nearby star systems and expand your empire. Once you find an unclaimed star, you send a science ship to do a survey to check out what resources are available there. Every star, planet and moon in the area is surveyed, and if you’re lucky an anomaly will pop up, literally in a little textbox. These interesting little snippets of story add depth without becoming repetitive. You might discover remains of long lost civilisations or rare technologies as well as more mundane resources. Once the survey is done, you’ll find out if the planets are habitable for your species, depending on what your physical requirements are. If all is good, you claim the system and set up a colony. From those humble beginnings you can start to build up an infrastructure, increase the population and expand your empire.
Resources are split into handy categories, with the primary ones being minerals and energy credits. Secondary resources are the non physical ones such as areas of research or influence,and the third category covers the strategic resources, the most valuable because of their scarcity. Once you settle a system you’ll need to send ships to set up mining stations to extract resources. After that, farms can be set up, power plants and all sorts of useful infrastructure can be built in order to increase the population.
Once you start bumping up against the borders of other civilisations and species, contact with them becomes inevitable, and diplomacy (or a lack of it) comes into play. How you interact with other empires is dependant on the characteristics of your species, how your government is set up and your political and social beliefs. Trade deals can be brokered and alliances made, but most of the time (and to be honest where most of the fun lies), you’ll end up with some kind of conflict with your neighbours.
For war-like players who want to focus more on the combat based parts of the game, managing your troops can be customised to let you micromanage your armies in as much details as you like. Build a fleet of ships, and use them for keeping the peace, defending your territories or be a more aggressive invading force, laying waste to more peaceful neighbours in a full on conquest. A few clicks on a menu can be enough to manage your fleet, but if you want to get down to the nitty gritty you can design each ship into something unique with a custom compliment of weapons of your choosing. The actual combat is nice and easy to play, you simply match up your ships and click on the target, sit back and watch the action unfold in a blaze of laser beams and explosions, hopefully going in your favour. There are tactics involved too, just imagine naval warfare with formations of ships, flanking manoeuvres and all that entails, and you’ll find you end up with plenty of variety in your military encounters.
The major stumbling block of strategy management games when they’re remade for the Xbox is the control method, as menu heavy gameplay always works better with mouse and keyboard. The developers Paradox have done a very good job transferring all the clickable features on Stellaris and making them controller friendly but splitting the game into 4 main menus, and you just call each one up with a press on a direction on the d-pad. The subsections are surprisingly intuitive to use and despite there being loads of different options available to you, with a bit of practise you’ll find yourself switching back and forth through them with ease. If youre a little confused about what to do next, the game is easy to pause giving you time to think, and you also get a helpful pause when you encounter something new, so you never feel rushed about having to take on new information while the game moves on.
Graphically the game looks nice, with clear symbols representing the many features, and the artwork that pops up in menus is well well portrayed and imaginaitive. The screen conveys a lot of info around the edges but the actual depiction of space never feels too cluttered, well representing the fact there are tracts of nothingness out there and giving a sense of grand scale to the map. The combat looks nice without being spectacular but the stand out feature of the game presentation is the superb soundtrack, building some intellectual and emotion connect with what could be a sterile world if played in silence.
Because it’s a 4x strategy game that’s heavy on menus, Stellaris was always going to suffer in comparison with its PC version, and games like this are ripe for the recently announced Xbox feature of mouse and keyboard compatibility. Having said that, this is the best port to a controller driven version of this genre that Ive played on a console. Stellaris have plenty of depth without being too complicated for newcomers to play, will give you a different gaming experience every time you play a new game, and the storyline, although sedate at times, still packs in plenty of excitement and great storytelling.
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Paradox Development Studio / Tantalus Media
Huge Thanks to JohnnyAtom for the review copy