Game Review: Microscopic tactical, research and economic management, in a grand strategic scale.
Having spent every opportunity since early 2008, when Sins of a Solar Empire was first released, shaking my friends by the shoulders, begging them to play it, I know all too well what the objections usually are.
Most commonly, they don’t really understand what sort of game it is. Hardcore turn-based 4X fans sniff their noses at its RTS elements and walk away. Secretly, they’re afraid they can’t handle the pace, because proper 4X gamers spend forever contemplating a single turn and tweaking endlessly before hitting the turn button.
While RTS fans take one look at the complex 4X options, think ‘too hard’ and walk away.
Well, dummies, you can have it all. 4Xers – just slow the game speed down and pause a lot and you have 4X perfection. Action fiends – just let the AI manage everything except combat, and you’re in battle paradise. A game can take hours, or days. Take it as you want it.
Then there’s the few who write it off because the game is now four and a half years old. But that, my friends, is probably the strongest argument for it, because over the years Sins has been balanced and refined to perfection, and the new graphics engine makes what was already just about the most beautiful game you can play even more sumptuous.
Evolved to perfection
Rebellion is not only the calling card to get into it, but is the pièce de résistance that supernova’s all the previous expansions into focussed perfection. The original game was a solid but limited slugfest. Entrenchment added mighty defensive structures, but encouraged turtling. Diplomacy added that critical 4X element and made AI manipulation a whole lot more fun, and now Rebellion caps it off with a suite of new ships that can break any stalemate the previous expansions created, opening the gameplay up to suit whatever flavour of galactic conquest suits you, along with sexing-up your flexibility to adapt to the flow of each game, or execute a long-game grand plan.
Enter the Titan
The big – literally – change is the introduction of the Titan-class ship. So powerful are they, that only one can be built by each race, and they’re outrageously expensive. Several Capital ships could be bought for the cost of a Titan, and Cap ships can be built from the moment a game starts, while Titans need several separate stages of research just to be able to, then, direct your entire economy and production for a big chunk of the game to build yours.
Like any Sins ship – and Rebellion also gives us a swag of new Corvettes – Titans can be levelled up, and that comes through combat experience. The challenging pain is, then, to get yours built early while massaging an infant economy and throw it out among the stars to scoop up XP. Mighty as they are, a late-game level 1 Titan will be eaten up by a small fleet of high XP Cap ships, or even a big swarm of Corvettes.
Rebellion doubles the number of factions, not via new races, but by splitting the existing races into two factions, each. Each has its own unique tech-tree, too. Sins is especially good here. There are many common techs, but each race and faction orders them differently, and often limits how far you can develop each tech-type. Thus: strategy. Vasari Rebels, for example, can leverage better diplomacy techs to swing the political landscape, and can relocate otherwise anchored defensive Starbases to new systems. Advent Loyalists, as another example, are able to use funky mind powers to take over an enemy planet without a shot being fired.
Sins Rebellion is all about using these various race perks – which extend, in great detail, to various ship abilities – to best effect. There’s still a big element of just building a mighty fleet and throwing it into battle, but unless you play to your advantage you’re at a disadvantage.
We see that in the Titans, especially. The TEC Loyalist Titan is a pure defensive buff platform, tanking while it boosts other friendly ships. The TEC Rebel Titan, conversely, is an offensive mofo that can confidently be sent to the fringes of the system to give the enemy the biggest headache in the galaxy, while you turtle and advance slowly in another corner of space.
Now, with Rebellion, Sins offers a strategic 4X experience not far behind the complexity of Endless Space. The unbeatable plus is that with its real time gameplay, a tactical layer pervades every nanosecond of gaming.
It doesn’t hurt, either, that Sins is just astoundingly beautiful. Engage the Cinematic View during a battle and the UI disappears. Now pan, zoom and rotate while the symphony of weapons complements the exceptional music, and your screen is awash with dozens or even hundreds of ships furiously engaging over a planet that’s gently rotating, with its detailed cities probably about to be bombarded and a new flag raised, as the galaxy is slowly conquered. Hopefully, by you.