Stellaris from Paradox Interactive originally launched on PC way back in 2016 and has now made its way to PS4 thanks to Tantalus Media. The game brings the “4X Grand Strategy” (“explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate”) genre to consoles and surprisingly, it holds up extremely well. One would not expect a strategy game of this calibre to be as accessible as it is on console but Paradox and Tantalus have made it work, and work really well at that.
In Stellaris players will take on the role of a leader of a species that has just discovered interstellar travel. After choosing from a vast array of options regarding your species, their homeworld conditions, their governing policies and their primary weapons technology off you go into your galactic journey. Stellaris is a game that gets better with time but thanks to the ability to fast forward gameplay, it isn’t too long before you’re able to amass a massive space armada and get into combat if that’s what you’re into.
As previously mentioned, Stellaris takes time. As with all 4X grand strategy games, players will have to explore their environment; which in this case is the galaxy they spawn into; expand their empire, exploit the resources available to them and optionally exterminate any competition. Should you opt into being a totalitarian dictator hellbent on galactic domination, Stellaris will allow you to do just that. Conversely, if you want to achieve victory by bringing about technological advances or diplomacy between any races you encounter, that too is possible. The galaxy is yours for the taking and it’s up to you to decide how to achieve victory.
Gameplay in Stellaris is incredibly complex but the talented folk over at Paradox Interactive have made it quite accessible. The game’s built in tutorial will allow you to learn how to play at a steady pace. It helps guide you into the game’s more advanced mechanics so that you can enjoy your own playstyle sooner rather than later and new players are definitely advised to read or listen to the tutorial tips that pop up as you play.
Starting off at your homeworld somewhere in the galaxy, the first order of business is to begin exploration using science research ships. These ships will go out into the galaxy, exploring nearby solar systems and will be able to survey planets and asteroids alike. Upon gaining valuable information players will be able to construct research stations or mining stations using their construction ships. Eventually, you’ll come across a habitable world and once you’ve researched the appropriate technology and have amassed enough resources, you’ll be able to send off a colony ship to deploy on the new world and establish a new foothold in the galaxy. This is the core gameplay mechanic of Stellaris. Exploration and expansion are essential to victory as it increases the amount of resources you can obtain every month in the game world and thus allows you to further your research efforts and/or your war efforts.
Similar to games like Sid Meier’s Civilization, in Stellaris as you explore and expand, you’ll eventually come across another faction. These can be rogue space pirates, artificial intelligence robots or even another sentient alien empire. Upon discovering these, this is where gameplay heats up. Players can either opt for diplomacy or may have to defend themselves with violent military might should the need arise. In our playthrough of the game, we encountered crystalline aliens that were quite violent and needed to be avoided at all costs. Later on in the playthrough we discovered galactic probes that were sent out in search of alien life and needed to be recovered. Recovering these assisted with research efforts. Stellaris is filled with in-game events such as the above and many of these help to flesh out the galaxy your story takes place in. It’s a great touch from the developers that draws you further into the game world and keeps you entertained since you never truly know what you might find out there in the vast expanse of space.
Combat in Stellaris involves the use of military ships and point defenses on both your homeworld, colonies and space stations. Watching ships firing lasers or missiles at each other in space is gorgeous and highly satisfying. So too is amassing an armada and just gawking at your entire fleet in all its glory as it orbits a planet or star.
Stellaris’s gameplay is glacial at first but the fast-forward option speeds things up somewhat and makes things happen at a more enjoyable pace. Thankfully you can slow things down too and even pause the action entirely to make strategic decisions. The game is extremely management heavy, as one would expect, and there’s a lot of customization available to the player. Everything from the form of government your species employs to the leaders you’ve assigned to military and research operations to the management of power generation and mining activities for resources can be managed by the player. You can even design custom ships using available parts and this is quite welcome.
Stellaris ticks all the right boxes for strategy games blending real time strategy with more relaxed almost turn-based-esque elements thanks to the pause time option. The game is extremely accessible with its console UI and controls are superb. It’s a testament to the developer’s love for their game that they were able to port over an intense micromanagement heavy UI from PC over to console with almost zero hitches along the way. The only gripe we have is that we wish it were possible to hide the entire UI with one button press so that we could take screenshots of the game’s gorgeous interstellar planets and stars.
Speaking of, graphically, Stellaris looks great. Planets and stars look amazing and so too the ships you build as well as your space stations and megastructures. Special effects such as projectiles and lasers look gorgeous and combat is enjoyable to watch especially when you zoom in on the action. The soundtrack used in Stellaris is exceptionally good too with music that fits the theme of the game perfectly.
Stellaris Console Edition brings the PC version of the game over to the PS4 along with the first two major expansions. These being Leviathans and Utopia. Whether the newer DLC available on PC makes its way to console remains to be seen but for first time buyers, the console edition delivers a stellar experience. This game comes highly recommended from us if you’re a fan of 4X grand strategy games.