The reason we play games is so we can do things that we might never get to experience in real life. Or just because we want to enter fantasy worlds, travelling around them, utilising amazing powers that let us live out our superhuman ideas. We don’t want to worry about money, or political problems or the difficulties of others.
Well, there are exceptions to this rule – yes, The Sims, I’m looking at you – where it’s all about doing the hard work and worrying about the finer details that no one else wants to think about. But imagine you’re in charge of a whole race of humanoid beings venturing into space. Soon you are controlling the space system around you, then the galaxy and then the universe. It’s the biggest of big jobs, but is something that you’ll be taking on in Stellaris: Console Edition.
Stellaris delivers a huge undertaking to pursue, but it’s a game that fills a gap in the Xbox sim/strategy market nicely. In fact, apart from the very deep Cities: Skylines, there aren’t many games on the market that are quite like this one, mainly because I think that the control systems are possibly too complicated to adapt from the mouse and keyboard to the controller. Perhaps developers feel that the console audience is more interested in the Battle Royale and first person shooting larks, instead of being ready for a slow thoughtful empire builder of a game. I personally think we are more than ready and after spending time with Stellaris, hope that others will be.
You kick off your time with Stellaris with a big decision to make – your first of many. Who you are and what race of humanoid you will be taking care of as their respected leader. I personally couldn’t resist dealing with those who came across as a bit of a mixture of bird and human, looking like a sort of flamboyant circus performer. From there on out you can then customize all the finer details about what military empire or benevolent civilisation of scientific endeavour you want to focus your skill points on. There is a high level of detail on offer here, and if I’m honest, being one of those who prefers a simple controller to anything more complex, found it all a bit overwhelming at first. Thankfully there is a nice little tutorial to guide you through your selections.
To start with you are presented with your planet and star system. The game has a number of UI bars on the left, right and bottom of the screen to select, view and play with. Once again if you are new to the sim world this might feel like accidentally wandering into an exam for A-level Biology, and realising you don’t know anything about life, plants or animals. Don’t worry though because once you get started with Stellaris you will quickly learn all about gathering resources – and then spending those resources on things to make your empire better. Just remember to never let your precious commodities dry up and all will be fine. Simple? I wish. But it’s still pretty addictive.
In your control you have, at least to begin with, a number of ships. A science option which you send out to survey your star system and other galaxies for resources, finding mysterious anomalies or alien life forms. Then you have a construction ship that can go into orbit around a planet, a star or even an asteroid, allowing you to build power plants, mining vessels, and research stations, for example, to start to reap the rewards of your space exploration. Then, of course, you have your navy of ships which are used to defend your systems, and maybe, if you’re that way inclined, dishing out the odd attack to the aliens you come across.
Stellaris: Console Edition is, at times, like spending the day working on a hugely serious project; it’s a hard slog of a day. Now, I know that doesn’t make it sound like fun and something you should be looking to do, but believe me when I say that it is fun, especially should you be one that’s happy to focus on games that come with plenty of strategy and depth. The first few hours of gameplay went by in a flash for me, and much like any of those huge games which are available to purchase and play, it is a massive time devourer. You’ll quite possibly leave yourself with a plan, a list of things to do and try, but before you know it Stellaris: Console Edition on Xbox One will have ensured your afternoon, and quite possibly evening, are gone. Having that ability, desire and patience to keep an eye on all things is hugely addictive; preventing or causing war, tightening financial control, and always striving for scientific enhancement and expansions.
Thankfully, in order to help these hours fly by, the control scheme of Stellaris: Console Edition is fairly straightforward to use and the development team have done well to transfer the UI over to the console market. I’ll admit that I did find myself getting lost in the menus a few times, and when you first begin this game everything will seem massively daunting. But if you’re a fan of this genre then you’ll not want to give up because this journey is well worth taking in. Just be ready for it to be a lengthy one.
Design wise and Stellaris uses a sort of graphic novel art for the characters, events, and description of discoveries and encounters found on your journey, and this is very well put together and drawn beautifully. Most of the time though you will be staring at the array of menus, dipping in and out of the solar system that you are currently living in. This looks good, without being marvellous, but the ability to zoom around the galaxy is a feature that I have adored. An honourable mention must go out to the space battles which play out in real time; they look amazing, if somewhat confusing… which I guess is the nature of space war. The sound work is also pretty damn decent and the little effects throughout deliver well within the framework and progression of the game as a whole.
In conclusion and I think that fans of strategy and sim genres will get a huge amount of fun from Stellaris: Console Edition, burning a ton of man-hours as they take their people on an epic journey across the universe. It’s a game that is all about self-narrative and the creation of stories, and I guess that is what has got me utterly hooked.
Yep, I’m in it for the long haul and I now demand that you all call me by my rightful name… Master of the universe. You can blame Stellaris for my new way of thinking!