Lost in space.

Title: Stellaris: Console Edition
Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Developer: Paradox Interactive
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Price:  £32/$40
Release date: Out now
TL;DR: A satisfying strategy game with a lot to offer.
Family Focus?: Click here for more information

If you’re looking for a game that’s easy to pick up and play, Stellaris probably isn’t it. The sheer number of options presented to you from the minute you load into the menu to start a new game is, frankly, overwhelming.

Perhaps if you’ve played countless other strategy games, all of the information that’s thrown at you wouldn’t be quite so daunting. but I didn’t have that luxury and as a result, I found the first few hours of the game to be a steep (but very worthwhile) learning curve. You are given the choice between choosing a pre-built empire, having a random one picked for you, or creating your own. If you’re new to Stellaris, I’d definitely recommend the first option to save unnecessary confusion.

One of the first things you’ll notice is the amount of choice you have – or get overwhelmed, depending on which way you look at it. Each empire has different government types (dictatorial, democratic, etc), ethics, and civics, as well as starting weapons and ship appearances. There’s a lot to wrap your head around, so if you’re unsure, you’re probably best just picking one and jumping into a new game.

If you’re new to strategy games, then it’s wise to turn on the full tutorial, which will offer you vital info for what the vast amount of menus – and sub-menus – have to offer. You’ll start off by sending one of your Science Ships to survey your home system, searching for habitable planets or recoverable minerals. The Situation Log gives you objectives to strive towards, and while there is an undeniable amount of learning to be done, you’ll soon find the game falls into its own satisfying routine.

I mean, I say satisfying, but on my first playthrough, I was convinced I was finally getting a handle on things when suddenly my empire was destroyed. I’m still not sure how, but I took what I learned from that first try and started a new game.

Each empire has different traits, government types, and ethics.

It’s a balancing act between establishing a steady supply of incoming resources to maintain your empire, and building it up enough so it can resist any attacks from aggressors. You can mine minerals and credits from surveyed planets and systems within your borders, or build outposts in systems that lie outside to increase the size of your empire and the planets you can gather resources from. Of course, this does come with some risk, as you may encounter hostile forces as you explore new systems. And honestly, it’s just as well I’m not the head of some space-conquering faction, because my two subsequent playthroughs saw my empire utterly destroyed by space pirates for getting too greedy with neighbouring – and mineral-rich systems, and neglecting my defences…

You can colonise habitable planets and set up farms, science labs, or power plants to farm more materials, but each building or planetary mining structure you set up has a maintenance cost. There are also various technologies you can research to help you out; upgrades for buildings which produce more minerals, food, or credits. Then there’s military upgrades or weapons, and upgrades that allow you to terraform planets or clear wasteland to erect more buildings.

You can research technologies to help you in various ways.

You can also enter into treaties or trade agreements with other empires, joining forces to protect each other against hostile empires, or sharing star charts to reveal the resources various planets offer.

You’ll need to recruit leaders – either Scientists, Generals, Admirals, or Governors – to perform various tasks throughout your empire, but they come at the cost of Influence, yet another resource you’ll need to manage. And, as I found out, leaders can and will die of old age. I got a bit overzealous on my first playthrough and ended up with most of my scientists dying in the space of ten minutes and not having enough Influence to recruit more.

There is undoubtedly a lot to learn when playing Stellaris, but if you can survive reading through the countless tutorials, along with a whole lot of trial and error on your first few tries, you’ll uncover what I found to be a surprisingly fun and satisfying game – and that’s coming from someone that usually avoids strategy games and has no real interest in space-y things outside of Mass Effect or Red Dwarf.

The Good

  • Really satisfying to play once you know what you’re doing.
  • In-depth tutorials tell you everything you need to know.
  • High replay value as it feels like you learn from each defeat.

The Bad

  • Could be daunting for strategy newcomers.

Family Friendly?

Rated: E for Everyone/PEGI 7

There’s nothing unsuitable for children in this game, though they will be in for a lot of tutorial reading if they hope to play it!

Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the game provided by PR for the purpose of this review.