On the show floor at Gamescom, we’ve just finished playing one of the most pleasant surprises: Stellaris: Console Edition.
For those unaware, Stellaris is a very detail oriented and complex PC grand strategy game set in randomly generated galaxies in space. You create a nation, selecting things like alien species, home planet stats, starting universe size and starting weapons, then get dropped at a random place in space to govern your nation’s expansion through the universe over thousands of years.
It’s one of those games where you decide if you want to go for victory conditions connected to military conquest, exploration, coalitions, or a bunch of other potential win conditions.
The game is complex, perhaps prohibitively so, and as such doesn’t seem like a natural fit for consoles. It’s menus upon menus, huge numbers of options, and the sort of thing that really shouldn’t translate naturally to a controller.
When you pick up the console version of Stellaris, there are up to four thin menus around the sides of the screen, taking up minimal screen space and grouped by type of option. By tapping the D-pad direction of the side of the screen the menu is on, you’ll enter and control that menu until you select an option or back out.
Analogue sticks move the screen around, with the centre of the screen being the point you’ll be selecting, you can zoom in or out with the triggers, and R3 switches between small and large scale views of your areas. It’s tough to get across how intuitive it is with text alone, but it works really well, and feels really easy to just pick up and play.
There’s a few redesigned menus on top of that, but that’s basically it. X to select, circle to back out, and triangle to pause or start the action. It’s all simply laid out, and none of the regularly needed features were tough to get to once I had a sense of the menu layout.
The most impressive thing is that I could pick up the PS4 build of the game, not be shown any controller button layout screen, and just know what to do from simple on-screen context clues. It’s an incredibly natural layout, and a pleasant surprise compared to some other less intuitive controller layouts I’ve tried on strategy games in the past.