Sins of a Solar Empire PC Review

I tried to listen to the backstory, I really did. I even put it on for a second time to try and care about it, it was definitely something about a trade company or something? Anyway, whatever story there is behind it, this is another sci-fi Real Time Strategy with another flimsy excuse for several galactic neighbours with slightly differing opinions on life, and slightly differing technologies of equal power to blow the star dust out of each other.

It is easy to become quite cynical about the RTS genre, when the essence of a strategy experience seems to be hoarding resources and building a bigger wave of ships than your enemy. We have all sat through and experienced this time and time again with and it has been hard to remain positive. But…SURPRISE! Sins of a Solar empire is excellent, and I will now tell you why with the 26 words I have in my vocabulary arsenal.

Every match is a skirmish type set up, seeing you choose your race, the amount of NPC opponents you face, and the planetary system you wish to fight in. The three commodities you will find yourself dwelling over here are credits, metal and crystal. Credits are earned through the taxation of your citizens, meaning you will want to keep your high population planets prosperous and protected. Metal and crystal are both acquired through mining the appropriate asteroid type, by laying claim to the closest large celestial body, and using it as a central base to power the nearby mining facilities. These range from planets to asteroids, planets having the largest capacity for citizens and defense, asteroids being smallish outpost type facilities which can easily fall between yours or the enemies’ possession. All three resources are used in differing amounts to do everything from, resupplying your fleet, building ships, to researching technological advancements.

Now we get to the fun stuff, ship to ship combat. There are four different types of ship: capital ships, fighter squadrons, frigates and cruisers. Frigates range from light multi tasking attack vessels, to ships specializing in countering certain enemy tactics, or plain out planetary bombardment. Cruisers are the slight upgrade in hull and shield terms, obviously costing slightly more resources to manufacture, but paying off by surviving longer in battle. The cruisers also specialize in having a slightly more support role, apart from the most advanced cruiser which is a general all rounder the rest usually specialize in either healing, buffing or releasing attack squadrons from afar. Remember the saying quality over quantity? Well you can pretty much punch your mother in the stomach for teaching you that tosh, I avoided using fighter squadrons in my first game, thinking “those little pathetic ships will get blown up in one shot” I was mother windingly wrong. They seem to be the life blood of most fleets, running interference or interception before other ships have even moved. One of these little guys may not seem threatening, but when they’re swarming all over you along with a substantial fleet that rivals your own, you’re pretty much a goner. Finally the daddy of the fleet, the capital ships. These massive ships are strong and powerful, turning a rag tag group of frigates and cruisers into a full on offensive machine. There are five capital ships in total, each of the three races having their own slight twist on each, but the ship types generally boil down to, Attacker, Healer, Buffer/Debuffer, Squadron deployer and Tank. Each of these ships level up in your standard RPG style, increasing in strength and gaining access to more abilities as they go. One of the more impressive abilities being ship domination, which convinces an enemy ships crew to permanently fight for you.

Each planet you wish to attack or lay claim to has to be “Phase Jumped” to. What that means is that there are jump lanes that connect to other planets, and each planet is cut off from another, unless you go to the effort of specifically jumping to the location. It’s this combined with the capital ships that sets this game apart from other RTS. A valid defense is possible for your planet, you can sit there farming resources and building a large defensive fleet, which you intend to use to push out. But the opposition will use that time to lay claim to other planets, and their resources and will eventually box you in. Even with you having a defense set up, and even with you knowing the jump lane where the attack is coming from, the opposition will have used their extra income to raise their fleet capacity to double yours, along with researching advanced weapons and technology to make you no match. They could even build a weapon in a neighboring system, and bomb your planet without even sending one ship against you. You have to be constantly planning ahead, constantly covering your rear, as well as optimizing your capital ships locations and combining their skill types to compliment each other. A truly strategic experience, especially when you can hire local pirates pursue a bounty you have placed on your opposition, or vice versa. Meaning that you can coordinate your attack with the pirates, following them into battle, or can use their offensive to circle around and flank the enemy from a Phase Jump Lane they weren’t expecting you to come through.

I had the ideal experience with this game, after sitting through the tutorials and understanding very little, I played my first game. After putting up a reasonably good fight, it became apparent that I was going to lose, but after my defeat I realized that on the fly I had taught myself everything I needed to know about playing the game. I had experienced the ideal pacing of education, difficultly and enjoyment that saw that I was more excited to play my second game than my first. I then won what I thought was a short one sided fight in my favor, in 6 hours and 23 minutes. Which got me thinking, when games of command and conquer can be won in 45-60 minutes, it’s hard to imagine how this game would work online against other people. But I was happy to find out that it is possible to play a game with someone else, and save at any point to play at a later date. Which seems a shame when the online match making system requires you to know either the name, or the IP address of the person you want to play with. But then again, are you likely to want to stay in the company of a stranger for 6 hours, or would you ever really go to the effort of meeting up with that stranger again, to continue your game? Probably not. Online play is probably for hardcore RTS fans, who are looking forward to playing with their friends.

Overall the game plays well, looks fantastic and whatever slowdown is caused by the huge space battles can be simplified from graphics card chugging render fest, to a simple set of logo’s flying about simply be zooming out. The only downside to the game is the lack of a campaign mode, which would give you a sense of accomplishment beyond the game’s Xbox inspired achievement system.

9/10

by

Version tested: PC

Developer: Ironclad Games

Publisher: Kalypso Media

Genre: Real-Time Strategy