Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is the third expansion to the well known Stardock and Ironclad RTS/4X space game Sins of a Solar Empire, that was released in early 2008.
In late 2008 the same team released Sins’ first expansion called Entrenchment. Labeled as a micro-expansion (that you could get for $10) it brought new defensive options, including formidable starbases and mine fields, among other things. These new defensive features were well received because they relieved the player a bit from frenetic and repetitive defensive tasks, allowing them to focus more on other things.
In early 2010 Stardock and Ironclad released Sins’ second expansion called Diplomacy. Diplomatic features are a very important aspect of 4X games and knowing that Stardock decided to overhaul Sins diplomacy system with this new micro-expansion (again sold for $10). Diplomacy brought a new tech tree specifically designed from scratch for diplomatic actions like missions that you can request from rivals or friends. They also included the “relations” panel in this expansion, an important feature that lets you know how good your relations with the other empires are, and why.
These were two well received (micro)expansions. They brought a significant amount of new options to the gameplay, and they were cheap. Later on Stardock re-released both expansions and the original game in a single bundle called Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity. You can check the SoaSE: Trinity review for details on how Sins looked like before Rebellion. The remainder of the review will focus on the Rebellion expansion. What is new and how valuable these new additions are.
So, what’s new in Rebellion?
Since this is an expansion it’s imperative to go through what’s new and how does that impact the game’s experience. What does the expansion has to offer? No campaign yet unfortunately. Among some tweaks to the pirate’s system, updated tutorials and other minor improvements, the most notorious Rebellion’s additions I could take note of are:
- 6 new factions (morphed from the original three races) split into Loyalists and Rebels.
- A new huge and powerful ship class called Titan. A different one for each faction.
- 3 new capital ships, one for each race. All capital ships improve to 4 levels now.
- 6 new corvette ships (new ship class). One for each faction.
- Around half a dozen new techs for the new factions.
- Updated AI.
- Improved graphics (e.g. shadows and race specific UI).
- New audio (new music, sounds effects and voice overs).
- New victory conditions (research, occupation, flagship and capital victory).
The original Sins game featured three races, and Rebellion continues to offer the same number of races. These are the TEC (human trade coalition), the Vasari (the “aliens”) and the Advent (the long time human outcasts that return for revenge). Rebellion has split each of these three races into Loyalist and Rebel factions which results in the 6 new factions. I played all of them and quite frankly I didn’t find substantial differences between loyalists and rebels gameplay-wise, apart from the different half a dozen distinct techs, a single different corvette ship and obviously the distinct Titan class ship.
The lore behind the 6 different factions and the reason for their separation into Loyalist and Rebel factions is quite interesting, however I only felt compelled by the lore when choosing the different factions at game setup screen time. After that point quite honestly Rebels and Loyalists feel too much the same and play quite similar (apart from the Titan ship, but more on that ahead).
Titans are literally the flagship feature of Rebellion. From what I’ve experienced these past two weeks they are by far the most important of the Rebellion’s features. Titans not only literally dwarf original Sins’ capital ships (the most powerful ships in the original game) but they also dwarf any other new feature Rebellion brings to the table. Each faction comes with its own Titan ship that plays quite differently from one another.
Titans look spectacular and really there no words or screenshots that can make them justice. In the picture above you can see the Ragnarov, the Rebel TEC Titan. You really have to see them in action to really grasp how cool they are. In my opinion Titans are the reason why you may want to play or skip Rebellion. In other words, if you remove Titans from Rebellion there would be very little to look for in this new expansion to justify its existence. But more on Titans later on, now lets move on to the next addition, the new capital ships.
Rebellion offers three new capital ships to play with, one for each race. This means that each Loyalist/Rebel pair share the same new capital ship. These are interesting new ships that undoubtedly bring a bit more flavor to the gameplay. But, just that really. I played several Diplomacy games (latest expansion before Rebellion) and repeated the same maps on Rebellion to test out the new features for this review. These new capital ships where surely one of those features that quite honestly I didn’t miss much.
Don’t get me wrong, the new capital ships are nice but I think there’s a limit to where you can squeeze things. Capital ships are hard to build, because they are expensive. That’s fine and cool. You’re lucky to get to a point where you have six of them in your armada. At least I don’t feel the need to build more than say, six or eight of them in my single player games. And now, Titans are also part of the show which lets face it removes some stage light to capital ships. In summary I don’t think the new capital ships are that much of an important feature to look for in Rebellion. They are a nice addition but only a minor one in my opinion.
Besides Titans Rebellion brings another new ship class: Corvettes. These are support ships that sacrifice firepower and armor in favor of speed and special weapons. Each faction has its own corvette ship with its own unique ability or abilities. For instance, the TEC Loyalist’s corvette impairs enemy ship’s ability to hit targets; Advent Loyalist’s corvette slows down hull restoration in enemy ships while Vasari Rebel’s corvette slows down the enemy’s shield restoration rate. I have to say that I didn’t build many corvettes in my games. To be more precise I only built a few of them, and in some cases just for the review’s sake.
I played many Rebellion games including two large single player games and a couple of multiplayer small ones, but for some reason corvettes simply didn’t click for me. I simply didn’t bother with building them. They do theoretically offer more strategic options, but for some reason I didn’t care about them. Part of the reason, I guess, is because as Sins is real-time and there are already so many things going on you just have to cut corners and go after your favorite strategies. And building corvettes was definitely not one of my priorities. But this may be a case of personal taste here.
Another Rebellion’s addition over Diplomacy (or to the Sins Trinity bundle) is that it brings a bunch of new techs to the table. For clarification’s sake Rebellion doesn’t offer new tech trees, the traditional offense, defense, empire and diplomacy trees, but only a bunch more techs that were squeezed into the existing tech trees. So, embedded in the new six faction’s feature come half a dozen new techs per faction, in some cases a few more.
Backed by the game’s lore the techs were arranged in a way to favor each faction’s natural abilities, or natural tendencies. So, you will find new defensive techs for the TEC Loyalists, that favor that particular play-style; TEC Rebels get more offensive and pirate/loot related techs; Advent Loyalists get extra mind control, offensive and culture spread techs; Advent Rebels obtain animation and regeneration abilities and Vasari Loyalist and Rebel factions also get their own distinct new techs.
This all sounds good, and the new techs do provide more value but again I didn’t find myself researching all of these new techs. I researched them occasionally, specially in larger maps; and, I didn’t find that they changed the gameplay experience in a very meaningful way. So, in large single player maps and multiplayer games I think these new techs may come in handy but I don’t think they are that critical or needed in smaller single player games.
About the AI I did feel that the computer was a bit more competent at places. At least it was acting more aggressively than I was used to. I played the same map with the same races in both Diplomacy and Rebellion and felt that my neighbor didn’t give me that much time to think in my Rebellion game. It attacked faster and smarter (brought stronger fleets). This was on the large map: Twin Empires. My neighbors were the Vasari. When playing the same map on Diplomacy my opponent tended to turtle more and while I think it did also play competently it did give me more time to think. Big mistake. But this was the only case where I witnessed a glaring AI difference. In my remaining games I didn’t feel much of a difference in what concerns the AI.
Stardock has promised improved graphics with an “overhauled graphics engine” with Rebellion: “new particle effects, lighting, shadows and race-specific UI”. Quite honestly I didn’t feel that much of an overhaul. I don’t doubt there are many new particle effects and lighting effects in Rebellion but after playing several Diplomacy and Rebellion games for this review I simply didn’t notice any big difference in graphics, honestly.
I did notice the new shadow effects, yes, those are quite spectacular. It’s really something to see the reflection of a capital ship on a titan for instance. And, the new race-specific user interfaces are also very nice. The Titan ship’s models are simply gorgeous. You just can’t get enough of them.
I especially like the Advent Rebel Titan: “Eradica” (above). And it’s not just the Titans that are amazing but the structures where you build them are also quite beautiful. So, overall I felt that graphics were improved but nothing close to expectations. I don’t doubt there was a lot of work involved, and I sympathize with the devs but I can only judge what I see (all video settings in highest), and I’m afraid to say that the “graphics overhaul” was not that noticeable overall.
The audio was improved. There are nice new music tracks and obviously new sounds effects for the new ships and factions but the most striking new audio is, in my opinion, the one associated with the Titans. The music that plays when you’re building a Titan or when you bring one into battle is just great. In summary, in the good tradition of Sins, the new voices, effects and music tracks are all very good.
The new victory conditions can improve the late game’s experience dramatically because they allow different playing styles while at the same time enhance the multiplayer experience. Previously you could only achieve victory in two ways: via a diplomatic victory or through conquest (complete or allied with a number of players). Rebellion now allows players to setup games with a bunch of new victory conditions: Research – breakthrough a number of techs and then an extremely expensive tech; Occupation – conquer and hold a mysterious planet guarded by a powerful neutral fleet; Flagship – be the last one to keep a formidable flagship and Capital victory – be the last one holding the capital.
These new victory conditions are helpful because they help mitigate a problem that was always reported by players: Sins games could take too long to play, especially multiplayer games. By going with a capital or a flagship victory condition, game sessions can be dramatically reduced and still offer a very rewarding experience to the players.
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is the ultimate Sins experience that certainly adds value on top of Sins Diplomacy or the Sins Trinity bundle. The best Rebellion feature is undoubtedly the introduction of the colossal-sized Titan ships. You crave them, you anxiously anticipate their completion and finally you contemplate them and really care about them. These are gorgeous, awe-inspiring and immensely fun to play spaceships. Capital ships were already a big fun factor in the original Sins games, now Titans are another big plus for the series. Sins’ gameplay will definitively not be the same with the introduction of these huge ships that’s for sure.
In addition to Titans I would pick the new victory conditions as Sins Rebellion’s best new features. But, in my opinion, the introduction of the Titans alone, and everything that surrounds them (the new techs, structures, voices, music and powers) would justify a new Sins expansion. Now, the thing is: does the price that Stardock asks for this expansion is worth the value of Rebellion’s new features?
If you’re a veteran Sins player, one who owns Sins Diplomacy or the Trinity bundle, then I’m not sure if Rebellion is worth it for you, for the new experiences it offers versus price I mean. In my opinion the new features alone don’t justify this expansion’s high launch price ($40). And this even considering the $10 discount that Stardock is still offering (at the time of writing this review) to previous Sins owners (for a total of $30 in this case). I think $20 would have been a much fairer price for loyal fans that owned all the previous games. But, to my knowledge, you will only get your $10 discount if you own a previous Sins game and buy Rebellion through Stardock’s website (buying from another source will not grant the discount). So, even here the discount is not for all, and $40 for this Sins expansion is definitely too much to ask for in my opinion.
But, if you’re new to the series then my answer would be: Yes! By all means get Sins Rebellion! It is surely worth the price and is the perfect product for you to enter into one of the best space strategy games series there are. So, rest assured that you’ll not be disappointed. You could go with Sins Trinity for half the price but the $20 difference, and the fact that Rebellion contains everything Trinity offers, does justify this new expansion’s value in my opinion.
Space Sector score: 8.6/10
- Titan ships are very fun to play and definitely change the way you play Sins
- New victory conditions provide more options and new ways to play
- Great new audio with some outstanding new tracks about the Titans
- Excellent User Interface now with race-specific themes
- Expensive for previous Sins owners (not enough value for money in new content)
- No campaign mode and no new maps
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