Stellaris – Console Edition review (Xbox One)

After their earlier ports of Cities: Skylines, Paradox is now bringing its Stellaris franchise to consoles. Also available on PS4, we’re checking out the Xbox One version of the game.

Having played the majority of my games in the last 25 years on a PC, I love publishers like Paradox and Kalypso for bringing “traditional PC genres” to consoles. Gaming within the context of family life often means that the action shifts towards the living room, where a console is set up next to the TV – emphasizing family-friendly and/or action-oriented titles but rarely classic adventure or strategy games.

Filling that latter void, Paradox has just ported Stellaris to Xbox One and PS4 in a “console edition” – and it’s a game I was happy to get reacquainted with. I believe the first time I laid eyes on the game was during a 2015 Gamescom appointment with Paradox where it was simply titled “something new” ahead of the convention, and I couldn’t wait for its release in May of the following year.

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During that (hands off) demo, I was impressed with how impressive the game looked and sounded on a big TV screen with a serious speaker setup. Obviously, some of that gets lost with the average desktop (and especially laptop) setup, but part of that magic is back with the console ports. Obviously the game pales in comparison to the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2, Forza Horizon 4, God of War and Spider-Man, but if you look past the text-heavy interface of the game Stellaris is a very well polished game in the grand strategy genre. At the same time – three and a half years have passed since that demo, and graphics aren’t going to be the reason anyone’s buying this on a console.

If you’re a fan of the genre and interested in exploring it on a console, then your interest in Stellaris will partly be fueled by a lack of choices. Similar titles like Endless Space and Sins of a Solar Empire are PC exclusives, and other strategy titles on consoles are thematically different. Luckily, that’s not the only reason why the console edition of Stellaris should interest you.

For one, the team has come up with a great control system where using a gamepad doesn’t feel like a limitation, no small feat in a menu-heavy title like Stellaris. A lot of these menus have been categorized and mapped to the directional pad, which hides a lot of functionality on a part of the controller that’s frequently underused. This keeps the majority of the controller free for other stuff, which is why playing the game with a gamepad never felt overwhelming. In fact, it works so well that I was wondering if controller support is (these days) also in the PC version.

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Speaking of which – the Stellaris Console Edition isn’t on par with the PC version in terms of content. Many of the more recent DLC packages for the PC original haven’t been included in the console edition at launch. The same was true for the Cities: Skylines ports though, and they’ve been receiving more DLC content since then. However, that also means that you’re looking at a heftier price tag than the current launch suggests, if you want to eventually catch up in terms of content.

Visually – the big TV screen I mentioned earlier isn’t a luxury item. The way that the screen’s built up in Stellaris means that you have to be able to read relatively small text, so your screen has to scale up with how far away you’re sitting (when compared to a PC/monitor setup). Playing Stellaris on a smaller bedroom TV while sitting against the other wall might be tricky, as there’s no “small screen” option. Checking your setup is something to consider before buying.

The Stellaris – Console Edition is an excellent port of an excellent game. It’s a shame some of the existing PC content is missing (making it a jump back in time for existing/previous players), but the game works well with a gamepad and that’s exactly what strategy fans on consoles should want.

Score: 7.8/10

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