Sins of a Solar Empire Review
Sins of a Solar Empire really puts the “strategy” in “real-time strategy”. Most RTS games are in reality real-time tactical games that emphasize swift and proper battlefield execution far more than they do strategic planning on a grand scale. Sins resembles a grand scale galactic 4X turn-based strategy game more than it does a traditional RTS game. However all of the action takes place in real-time, so you never have the luxury of taking several minutes to plot out your next move. Sins’ take on strategy manages to capture some of the best of both worlds. From the turn-based world you get the grand scale and strategic play of that type of game along with the real-time equivalent of the “just one more turn” phenomenon. From the RTS side you get the tense gameplay that comes with the need to make some quick decisions under pressure. And overall, you get a game that is a lot of fun to play.
There are three playable factions in Sins of a Solar Empire: the TEC, Advent, and Vasari. The human TEC (Traders’ Emergency Coalition) excel at economic power and building cheap weaker units. The Advent are human as well, but are fervent followers of an alien philosophy that has led them on a path of psionic development. The Vasari are an alien race whose fleets are expensive to build but feature powerful ships. There is a backstory to the game, but it doesn’t fit directly into the game in any way. There’s no campaign game and the scenarios are based on starting conditions rather than events in the game’s timeline. While the lack of a campaign’s impact on the game’s story is obvious, what is not so obvious is that you miss out the smaller-scale controlled condition battles that help ease you into what is ultimately a pretty complex game. There is a small tutorial in the game, but it covers the basic mechanics of playing such as how to move the camera and give orders to ships rather than the particulars of running a stellar empire. If you’re used to games on this scale than you’ll be able to get a handle on most of the game after a play through or two, but gamers new to the genre will probably quickly feel overwhelmed by it all.
Sins is played on a map of a single, planet-rich system or a small number of interconnected systems. Each planet is connected to one or more of the other planets via jump paths along which ships can travel. Because of this travel restriction, you’re effectively playing on a traditional stellar map with the star systems replaced by individual planets. Each planet has a “gravity well” associated with it which defines the space in which ships may maneuver without jumping and in that you can build space-based structures and facilities. Planets range from uninhabitable “space junk” to small asteroids to full planets with terran, volcanic, or arctic environments on which you can build full colonies. Also orbiting most planets are small asteroids that can be mined to collect the game’s two resources: metal and crystal.
One of the impressive things about Sins is that it wraps its planetary maps in an interface that is not only visually impressive, but intuitive and easy to use as well. You can scroll the map out to the point where you can view the entire collection of planets on a single screen or zoom right in until you’re looking at a single spaceship filling your entire screen. The map also supports full 360 degree camera rotation so you can view your empire and its ships from any angle. The camera controls are quite powerful, but they’re also very easy to use; you can quickly get the view on the action that you want with a few quick mouse movements. Managing your empire is just as easy as it is viewing it. You can always manage things in the traditional way by selecting planets or ships and then using the command panel at the bottom of the screen to issue orders, but Sins gives you another option that is a great way to keep tabs on your expanding empire. The Empire Tree sits along the left side of the screen and gives you a complete synopsis of your empire at a glance. You’ll see each of your planets, the ships in orbit, any enemy ships present, and more, such as the presence of asteroids that you have yet to start mining. The summary information is great, but what makes this interface really useful is that you can issue orders directly from it. Notice a metal asteroid floating around a planet that you neglected to mine? You can order that a mine be built on it straight from the Empire Tree. You can also order ships to move between worlds or attack enemy fleets or specific ships. In fact, you can manage a large percentage of the operations of your empire from this panel, and once you’ve built a large empire it can be a real godsend.