While they thrive on PC, Grand Strategy games are few and far between on consoles. Whether you once loved the 4X strategy of Civilization Revolution on PS3 or grappled with history in Nobunaga’s Ambition a few years ago, there’s undeniably slim pickings, and it’s not difficult to figure out that it often comes down to the interface and the gamepad controls.
Paradox Interactive have tried on a number of occasions to crack the console market, but have always stayed away from trying to adapt their own grand strategy titles, until now. Stellaris is coming to console, and it looks like it’s going to fit right in.
By far and away, Stellaris is the best fit for this kind of port when stacked up against Paradox’s other in house games like Europa Universalis or Crusader Kings. Some of that comes from how new the game is in comparison, without anywhere near as large a weight of expansions and updates, but it also comes from the general premise. You’re not starting off with an established historical country or empire, but rather as a single star system and an ambitious new race looking to expand. That makes life much more manageable to start with, but it also allowed Paradox to add much more fantasy and randomised elements to the game as you send scientists out to uncover and research anomalies that can uncover different stories from one game to the next
That said, Stellaris is still very much a Paradox Development Studios game. This is grand strategy played out in real time as opposed to turns, you have direct hands on control of population and demographics, if you wish, as well as a very familiar diplomacy system to fans of their other games, in which you can force wars, fake Casus Belli on star systems, try to bend others to your will, or play as an all loving race of xenophiles that just want to try and get along with everyone else.
Right off the bat, you can see how the UI has been tweaked and altered to work well on a gamepad. You’ve got camera control on the twin sticks, letting you move around freely and view the galaxy, dive in and out of star systems and manage your growing empire. More important is how all the information has been laid out around the screen for you. Essentially, it’s not that different to the layout you find on PC, but the way you access it is now done via the D-pad.
As on PC, the top of the screen presents all of your important empire stats, detailing population growth, income, scientific resources and more, while the right hand side then has you star systems, navies, star bases and so on. Left on the D-pad now leads you to the more detailed panels for things like diplomacy, government, wars, while down takes you to the various alerts that might be demanding your attention. Though there’s depth, it’s presented in a way that gives you a lot of breadth so you should be able to get right to the information or actions you want quickly.
Certainly, there’s a couple of quirks to the control layout, such as how you switch between galactic map and star systems by clicking the right stick, but it feels fairly conventional and easy to pick up on the whole. The test will, of course, come when your empire spans a quarter of the galaxy, when you’re waging wars on multiple fronts against other factions, when one of the game’s doomsday scenarios is unfolding and you have to try to deal with it.
A few minor cutbacks have also been made to keep the game running smoothly on now ageing hardware, so the fastest and slowest game speeds have been removed, though this still leaves you with plenty scope to pause, play and fast forward, even if not quite as fast. The largest galaxy size has also been removed, but that still leaves you with the second largest map size, which features 800 star systems.
All of this has been built using the 1.7 codebase from late last year, with the PC version now being at 2.1 since the release of the Distant Stars story expansion in May. It’s something we’ve also seen with how Paradox have developed Cities: Skylines on console, starting with a solid, well rounded base on console while the PC version is allowed to march ahead and lay a path for the console game to follow.
Honestly, it’s just great to see Paradox trying to bring their brand of Grand Strategy to consoles and preserving practically everything about their games in the process. Just as Cities: Skylines was a pretty safe bet for them as a city builder, Stellaris is their safest bet for a successful grand strategy game on console right now, but any success it has could open the door for their future projects to make the leap as well.