Review by RogerHuxley
"Not playing this game is the real sin"
Sins of a Solar Empire was developed without a lot of publicity by a small company called Ironclad Games. It actually is their first title released. The game was published by Stardock, the makers of the critically acclaimed Galactic Civilizations series.
Now, SoaSE is a extraordinary game. Despite the appearances, it is not a 4X turn-based strategy game like the Gal Civ series, but indeed a real-time strategy game. It's particular style can hardly be compared to any other game, and this contributes to making SoaSE a great experience.
STORY ... N/A
There is no story!
The game does not offer a campaign for you to play, sadly. There is pretty much no background to the factions too. Maybe they'll correct that in an eventual expansion pack, but we'll see. It would definitely be welcome.
I'll be honest here, I couldn't care less about the graphics. My computer is relatively old, and I can still play this game smoothly on medium settings. I still found the graphics to be quite good, even if they didn't have much super flashy stuff. It does the job quite well, and the game can turn into an interesting cinematic experience in big, heated battles. Textures are not greatly detailed either, but it's still sufficient. Lasers beams and other stuff are a sight to behold though, especially when there are a lot of ships engaged in a battle.
To see all that stuff blowing up with beams and missiles ripping through tens and hundreds of ships is just great, I can't imagine how awesome it would be on high graphics setting.
The game allows you to zoom in as much as possible, and to zoom out to get a good view of the whole map, which is a good thing when playing huge games.
The interface is also simple and efficient once you get the hang of it. It's not a convoluted mess like say, Civ IV interface.
The music was correct, nothing absolutely outstanding, but it wasn't annoying. The more you zoom in, the louder the music plays. Songs are well used, switching between calm, sometimes eerie, ones when nothing's going on to more dark, upbeat rhythms when things are heating up.
Sounds effect are simple, but effective again. Nothing special to report.
Voices are limited and repetitive, but they're pretty good, so I never found that to be an annoyance.
Obviously the most important part of a game, and it's here that SoaSE shines. First, it's a RTS like I said, but it uses some basic 4X game element that I'll explain later.
When you start a game, you control one planet with a frigate factory, and nothing else. From there, it's up to you to build up a fleet to conquer the whole sector/system/galaxy.
First, resources ; there are 3. Metal, crystal and good ol' cash. Metal and crystal are mined on asteroids, which are found around planets. When you gain control of a planet, you can build mines to exploit those asteroids, thus increasing the amount of resources you gain. Money depends on your planets. Each planet you control has a population, the higher it is, the more money you get. Different types of planets have different population caps. Terran planets are better than volcanic planets or big asteroids. You can raise those caps by buying upgrades on your planets.
There are multiple upgrades, some that allows a higher population cap, bigger amount of logistics slots (needed to have more buildings) and tactical slots (needed to have more defensive buildings), to increase the health of the planet to make it more resistant to bombings, and finally, you can explore the planets. Exploring can be a waste of money, but sometimes you'll discover special resources that might increase metal production for example. Rarely, you'll discover artefacts that will give you huge bonuses, like an increase of damage done by all your ships.
Now you know how the economy works, onto the rest. To expand your empire, you need to discover new planets and asteroids. Each planet/sector has a gravity well. For a ship to travel in hyperspace to another sector, it has to exit that well. Once it's out, the ship can simply jump to another sector around the one he was in. This makes sure that running away isn't too easy. Big games will also have multiple star systems. All sectors are connected to one or multiple other, making a star system look like a huge spider web. To travel from one to another, you need the required technology, and must be around a star.
Sectors always hold something. If it's not a planet or a colonizable asteroid, it can be plasma or ion storm that will affect your ships abilities, or even wormholes that will lead you... somewhere!
So yeah, basically, you explore the galaxy, colonizing planets, eventually meeting and clashing with your rivals. This is when the real fun starts. Your rivals will sometimes give you quests. Fulfilling them will make them like you more. It can simply be Give me 200 metals or Destroy X civilian structures of a random race. This is a unique diplomacy mechanic that forces you to choose your allies and your enemies. The more they like you, the more likely you'll be able to sign a peace treaty or a planet vision treaty.
Other interesting thing, the pirate system. Each star system has a sector that holds a pirate base. The pirate do not expand, but the system they own is well defended, generally with hundreds of ships and a bunch of turrets. The only time they'll leave their sector, is when they want to collect a bounty. Each 20 minutes, a massive group of pirates will leave and attack whomever has the highest bounty on it's head. It can be a pain though, when everyone is throwing money on you, but it's a great and well thought addition.
Battles are straightforward, ships will shoot, or use certain special abilities if they can. All races share more or less the same ships though. There is some sort of basic templates with slight modifications for each races. That's a bit sad, more diversity would've been awesome.
To ensure that fighting doesn't only depends on numbers, capital ships can be built. Each races has 5 of them, and they all have unique abilities. They work EXACTLY like heroes from Warcraft 3. They have 4 abilities, you get one point each time they level up, they have an ultimate ability that they can learn once they reach level 6. They really can make a huge difference. To ensure again that you just don't spam ships constantly, there are limits to how many your fleet can hold. The limit can be increased, but you'll have to pay an upkeep on all resources you collect. You have to chose wisely.
Add to all of this the typical market thing to trade resources, and a old fashioned tech tree. Again, the tech trees of all the races are extremely similar. This is something that could use more work, but it's a minor gripe.
The AI can be surprisingly good. It seems that the guys at Ironclad learned from Stardock.
I think I've said enough, but then again, I feel like I forgot something. Anyway, the only real gripe I have is the lack of diversity between the races. If there's an expansion in the works, they should work on that, just like Stardock did with Gal Civ 2 and their second expansion.
Also, early games can be boringly slow. Before you start to massively expand and improve your planets, not much is happening. The only enemies you'll meet are weak random enemies in unoccupied systems, and the occasional scout ship from a rival. Once your empire is bigger, things can really get frantic. Stuff happens constantly and you'll to be quick to move your ships around and protect worlds that need to be protected.
I can't comment on the multiplayer, since I did not try it, but I heard it's great, except that certain games can last a bit too long.
So yeah, a good 9 for the gameplay. If it wasn't for the lack of diversity, it would've been a 10, definitely.
REPLAY VALUE infinite/10
What can I say? Games on huge maps can last over 20 hours, smaller maps can go around 2-5 hours. You can play any way you want to. Create your own map, and go shoot some stuff! Possibilities are infinite, even with the lack of diversity. Now I can only hope for an expansion that would solve that problem and add a SP campaign, transforming Sins of a Solar Empire in a perfect game.
Final score? A well deserved 9/10
It's a shame this game didn't get more publicity. It's just a gem in a genre that needs those kind of innovative, fun, complete games. Definitely worth a buy.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/20/08
Game Release: Sins of a Solar Empire (US, 02/04/08)
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