Stellaris: Console Edition

When strategy games move from PC to the realm of consoles they rarely fare well, and doubly so for real-time strategy games – a controller just doesn’t provide the nuance and speed of control that a mouse does for that sort of game.

It was therefore a strange decision for Paradox to port Stellaris to consoles – the developer is known for its complex grand strategy games, four words which don’t really get much usage in the console circle. The port has its problems, but generally it’s probably the most easily playable real-time strategy game on consoles currently.

Stellaris is a sci-fi grand strategy game in which you control a space-faring empire as you colonise new planets and wage war on other empires – if you squint it’s the same as many similar games like Sins of a Solar Empire or Endless Space. It’s more complicated than these games, with many mechanics like factions within empires, specific tiles on planets to build and rear population, and detailed combat upgrades. It’s been out for several years now, however, and this isn’t a review of it – it’s a review of the console port.

The game is easy to play on console, which is a surprising concept given how other RTS games play. The reason for this is the smart mapping of different options – pressing any of the directional keys selects a specific menu, be it the event log or the empire overview, making it easy to navigate to different menus or forms. In addition pausing or speeding up the game flow is mapped to one button, making it easy to bring the game screeching to a halt if an enemy appears.

However since the menus are quite small and to the side of the screen, it can be easy to forget what’s currently selected, and accidentally open a menu. More annoyingly, if you can’t tell what’s selected, there are obstacles to doing what you actually want – this reviewer had countless occasions where he’d try to select a ship for a time-sensitive mission and accidentally open some other menu.

Another issue with the port is that the text hasn’t been optimised to TV screens, which the player sits far from, as opposed to PC games, which the player is near. The text is tiny, and squinting is required to read it – this can be fine in short bursts, but when a game takes tens of hours it becomes a little painful to read everything.

That said, the core gameplay of Stellaris remains gloriously intact. The port is of the original PC version, which is virtually unrecognisable from the current PC version thanks to a slew of updates and DLC. It’s very easy to become wrapped up in the exploration, expansion and optimisation of your empire, and the seamless way menus are mapped to direction buttons makes it just as easy to play on the console as on the PC.

This is how a strategy port should play – the limitations of the controller aren’t an obstacle the developers overcame but an opportunity they exploited to make the game even easier and more enjoyable to play than on PC. The menu design and selection was a commendable decision, and even the problems with the port can easily be fixed in patches.

Tom Bedford

Updated: Feb 22, 2019

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