Normally when we think of a 4x sci-fi strategy game we imagine it a turn-based slow-paced, low-burn experience. Things take time and so you don’t have access to Heavy Battlecruisers or powerful new technologies so soon. You start small, grow over time, think it over carefully, and when you’re finally ready you assault your opponents with no mercy.
Sins of a Solar Empire does all that but in real-time, but this is not really a novelty since Imperium Galactica and StarWars Empire at War are also 4x RTS games. Sins provides a very interesting mix of real-time and 4x mechanics which results in a much more tactical game like Starcraft or Command & Conquer but still preserving a good depth of strategic options. So Sins is nothing like Master of Orion 2 or Galactic Civilizations but much more like Homeworld, Imperium Galactica or Star Wars: Empire at War.
But enough of comparisons, now its time to talk about Sins of a Solar Empire.
The Story and the Races
The game offers three races for the player to choose from. These are the Humans, the Advent and the Vasari. The intro cinematic is quite good and unveils a bit of the game story. The adventure takes place somewhere in the future were Humans control now several systems and operate trade among them. The Advent is a race that possesses mystic powers and want to spread their religion; the Vasari are the nasty Aliens that just want to take control of everything and everybody.
In terms of gameplay the races are “skins” of each other with respect to units and the infrastructure that can be built though however the research path is substantially different and the capital ships powers and other small details are also different. Albeit all that the three races do offer a different and unique experience to play and possess specific sound effects, music and concept art.
In the Beginning …
Like in a regular 4x space strategy game you start with your home planet. You then start to collect additional resources (metal and crystal in Sins) nearby and develop the infrastructure to increase population (in order to increase credits). In Sins you can construct labs, trade centers, refineries, resource extractors and other military and civilian infrastructure.
Regarding warfare you can build three types of spaceships (in increasing order of size and importance): frigates, cruisers and capital ships. You need to pursue your way through research to unlock many of the spaceships prototypes but the types of ships that certainly will catch your eye are the Capital Ships.
Capital Ships are the Queens of the Sinful Empire
Capital Ships are the backbone of your fleets, they possess special powers that you can unlock with time as long as you allow them to survive and gain experience from battle. And this is one huge fun factor in Sins. Not only they are gorgeous, big and powerful they can gain experience and level up. In this sense Sins offers a certain degree of RPG element to the gameplay.
You tend to really care about your capital ships since you cannot build many and so you tend to look at them as special, as your heroes in the battlefield. Their powers bring a lot of strategic and tactical depth because their special powers are diversified and serve specific roles. Some powers are for fleet carriers, others for bombing capabilities, others for support, others for offense. You have to think wisely how and where to deploy these ships and when or not to use them in the battlefield because their loss may cost you the battle.
Playing Sins is Fun
A lot is going on and lots of decisions can be made when playing Sins. And being an RTS all this happens in real-time in a nicely balanced tensed environment. Yes, RTS is more for the gamers that enjoy the adrenaline over comfortable chair experience. When you are not developing your infrastructure you may be thinking in evolving your research. When fighting battles you may need to take control of your capital ships powers or acquire new powers as soon as they level up. If you’re not fighting wars you may, and should be, preparing for them and building ships.
From time to time your foes will give you quests and you should pay special attention to those since they may bring you closely to an opponent and prevent an imminent war. When you successfully complete some quests for a specific opponent he may be willing to agree on a cease-fire with you or even to accept a peace or trade treaty. And although the diplomatic options of Sins are basically these, until Sins Diplomacy expansion was released at least, they are sufficient to give you enough strategic options when grouping and forming alliances to decide who to attack or not next.
Another fun aspect of Sins is the Pirate System. Pirates are a third-party opponent that is generally present in all games. As pirates you expect them to be treacherous, they don’t takes sides, their single purpose is to profit from bounty. Throughout the game players may put bounties on other players and Pirates will be driven to attack those players. So one interesting side-plot in the game is to fight this bounty war with your rivals since you can raise the bounty and in an instance divert the attention of the pirates from yourself and use them to strike your rival while you happily mass up your fleet to attack him next .
The User Interface gives you great control and is very functional
You may find all this overwhelming, and so did I thought at first, but surprisingly Sins plays very smoothly in an almost comfortable pace. The game is so well-balanced that you never feel too overwhelmed while battling or developing your empire at the same time. And part of the blame for this nice balance is the User Interface.
The UI is very well-built to help you achieve your goals as it provides you a great sense of control and overview over your empire. And your empire can be quite big with lots of planets and lots of ships fighting diverse battles. Planets and fleets are organized in a very useful way and so you are as far as a button click from a fleet fighting a battle as you are a double-click from jumping to inspect a planet or give a construction order on another planet. Therefore it’s easy to give navigation orders to fleets, to retreat or to engage a determined planet all almost at the same time. In summary all these inter-galactic orders can be obtained at a distance of a single or double-click mouse button which is quite an achievement.
Graphics, Music and Sound
Sins looks and sounds great. The ships and structures models are really well done that even when you zoom in the maximum they still look fine and even have interesting details like bleeping presence lights. The User Interface is also beautifully well crafted with the information well in place with pretty icons.
The sound effects and dialogue also do a very good job. The music also helps establishing the right atmosphere depending on if you’re in peace times or war times.
A word about Entrenchment
The first expansion pack developed by Ironclad and Stardock for Sins was Entrenchment. They call it a micro-expansions mainly due to the small amount of changes it adds to the game and the fact of being sold for a relatively low price (~$10).
As the name suggests, Entrenchment brings new defensive options to the game. And these are good additions since sometimes you do feel a bit nervous about leaving your planets undefended while you strike the enemy, and splitting fleets is not always an easy decision. To alleviate a bit this stress Entrenchment unlocks Starbases, Mine Fields and new Tactical Defense upgrades. Entrenchment also allows you now to increase the speed of the game.
Starbases are very powerful and albeit expansive to build and upgrade they do take care of the job pretty decently. A single starbase can some times defend a planet single handed. Minefields are also a good defensive addition. The tactical defense upgrades also enhance substantially the global planetary defense network.
A word about Diplomacy
Diplomacy was the second and last micro-expansion to be released for Sins and as the name suggests it brought new diplomatic options to the game. Among the additions are a completely new technology tree specifically devoted to diplomatic options. Diplomacy finally unlocked one aspect that was surely lacking in the original title: – the capability to launch missions or quests to your rivals, this is surely a nice new feature.
Among the additions you also account a new panel called “relations” that gives you a nice overview of your relation status with each rival and also relations between themselves. There are lots of modifiers that affect your relations, as examples: – resources given in the past or the size of your fleet. Many more factors will affect the overall relations.
The Trinity product, this that is being reviewed, includes both the Entrenchment and Diplomacy expansions.
Sins of a Solar Empire – Trinity – is a very nicely done game. It excels on providing a rich gaming experience that will no doubt entertain you for many hours. Ironclad and Stardock deserve an applause for having created a game that successfully mixes the RTS mechanic with the 4x genre in such a fantastic way.
Sins of a Solar Empire is a very fun experience and I strongly recommend it to all Sci-Fi fans that love Real-Time strategy, this is a must title for you guys. For the Sci-Fi Turn-Based fans that enjoy more the traditional 4x experience I also recommend you have a try, I include myself in this last bunch and I can assure you that I have a lot of fun playing the game.
– Spaceships have lots of personality;
– Gameplay is fun and provides a greet feel of immersion;
– Capital Ships RPG aspects are very fun to play;
– UI is excellent providing lots of control and overview;
– Good balance of strategic and tactical decisions.
– No Campaigns, although lots of scenarios and custom maps help mitigate this lacking.
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