Certain games seem to just materialize out of the depths of space and take the populace by storm. Sins of a Solar Empire is one of those games. Relatively unknown game developer Ironclad Games created a masterpiece that has caused a supernova to go off in the gaming community. Not only is the gameplay reminiscent of a mix of Kohan and Master of Orion, but the support by the developer has been stupendous. Even during the beta phase of the game, ideas from the players were weighed heavily in the molding of the game. Luckily it seems only the good ideas were implemented and the game is enjoying high marks from plenty of people in the gaming community.
Sins of a Solar Empire puts the player in charge of one of three galactic empires attempting to survive, conquer, or exact revenge for their persecution. The Emergency Trader’s Coalition was founded to protect the human empires from falling to both the Advent and the Vasari. The Advent are humans that were banished from the Trader’s Coalition due to experimenting with psychic powers and human mutation. The Vasari were once a great and powerful empire that is being consumed internally by some uknown force. As the Vasari continue their exodus away from this force, they are subjugating other races to their will. Sadly, both the Advent and the TEC are in the way.
Computer Specs: Windows Vista Ultimate SP1, C2D Q6600, 2 gigs of RAM, XiFi soundcard, and a 8800GTX video card.
From the instant I saw screenshots of the game, Sins of a Solar Empire grabbed my attention. Each ship was immaculately detailed with features ranging from turrets to model numbers on the TEC ships. The universe can be an amazing backdrop, and Ironclad has used it well. A fleet phase jumping into a galaxy with a star glinting in the background is a draw-dropping sight. Add n the fighters are bombers swirling around the battlefield attacking frigates and capital ships alike, and Sins of a Solar Empire packs a visual punch. The sheer attention to detail makes this game spring to life as massive battles erupt all over the galaxy.
The animation on the planets is another prime example of the care that went into the creation of this game. As a planet’s infrastructure grows, the planet becomes more and more animated. The player can witness cities spring to life and, as with all civilization, traffic starts to snake around the planet. This definitely adds some hustle and bustle to what would otherwise be a drab planetscape.
The actual backdrops of the infinite galaxy is a grand view to take in. Ironclad captured the vastness of space to a T. When fleets jump from one galaxy to another and move into formation, having stars from other galaxies shine onto the ships adds to the epic nature of the battles. The different kinds of nebulae add patches of color that stand out from the darkness of space.
The only niggle I had with the graphics dealt with the ships’ turrets. I understand that this was a technical limitation due to the amount of ships on screen, but the graphics look a tad bit off when the projectiles or beams somehow magically appear from the side of a barrel. Hopefully, as the engine becomes more optimized, we will get the movable turrets.
Having purchased the collector’s edition of Sins of a Solar Empire, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the music that was included with the game. The epic, context-sensitive musical score adds greatly to the atmosphere of the game. As you zoom in and out from a battlefield, the music changes between the dramatic battle score and the more mellow fare. The soundtrack is so pleasant I sometimes listen to it while driving my car, a true compliment to the team behind the music.
Not only is the music topnotch, but the sounds themselves add a positive effect to the whole package. The mass drivers sound like (well, if you can imagine it) mass drivers, the missiles colliding with hulls of spaceships make the player feel sorry for the crew of the ship, and the hyper jumps make it feel like the player is right there at the helm of the ship (If you zoom in close enough).
Once of the complaints during the beta dealt with the obscurity of the interface. There is a slight learning curve when first laying eyes on the interface, but once you get used to it, you will wonder why other games haven’t used this format yet. Once a sizable empire is built up, every planet and ship will show up on screen and can be selected and zoomed in on instantaneously. This definitely helps with empire management once multiple planets have been conquered.
Control-wise, the usual hot keys exist that can make ruling a galactic empire a cinch. A hot key card is provided that will shed some light into the darkness that is memorizing what the different keys do. Other than that, both the keyboard and mouse work in tandem to bring the battlefield to life. If you prefer to use the mouse for most of your input needs, that is always one plausible course of action. I will mention the learning curve again though, as this might turn off a few 4X/RTS n00bs from the game.
If you come into Sins of a Solar empire expecting an epic single player campaign, you will be sorely disappointed. Sins does have single player battles, but no well-thought out campaign that ties all of the different races together or provides any background information on what seems to be a rich game world. Luckily, the gameplay that is present makes up for this oversight, and Ironclad claiming that the players will write their own stories is believable. My imagination does run amok when I play the game as I attempt to rationalize why I am killing the opposing faction (or allying with them during certain scenarios). The good news is that the AI players put up a strong fight on all the difficulty levels. Many a game I have played ended in my demise as the AI players started to come to good terms with each other and saw me as the thorn in their sides. The planet wrecking crew quickly followed and made sure to not leave me with anything left over as everything is pillaged and taken from me.
What makes this game so unique, though, is the melding of the 4X genre with a real-time universe continually evolving while the player makes a decision. When an enemy fleet is in transit, you will have to make a quick decision of where to pull your resources from to defend a system. The player has to decide whether to to funnel resources into solidifying the hold on a planet or just pushing money into the war-machine and research.
Research is conducted through the construction of either civil (think planetary and logistical improvements) or military (cannons go boom) labs and one click of a button. Don’t forget the massive resource drain that research can be, so you had better set aside enough raw materials to keep on constructing your fleet to protect your spoils of war. By conducting expeditions on planets and asteroids, the player also has a chance to uncover a powerful artifact that will enhance a certain aspect of their empire. If you lose the planet, you lose the buff that the artifact provides.
One unique addition to Sins of a Solar Empire have to be the roaming pirates that like to strike at the most inopportune moments. A player might think he is safe, but after playing a bidding war with the pirates, the person with the highest bounty on their head becomes the target for the pirates. The more money the pirates make, the more of a threat they become. During the mid to late game, don’t be surprised to see humongous roving pirate fleets attacking empires. The pirate threat can be ended by attacking a pirate planetoid, but the actual loss of ships and manpower will be catastrophic if the raid fails. Some people were complaining about the constant pirate attacks, so Ironclad allowed those players to create maps (or just turn off) the pirate threat. In my opinion, the pirates add a nice little variable to the game.
So, how is all of this funded? Monetary income is gained by conquering planets and making sure that a the planetary population remains high. Taxes are the best way to fund an empire it seems, and the future is no different. Crystals and ore are mined by constructing mines on asteroids with said resource. Later down the research tree, all races have the opportunity to construct refineries that will send out little ships to the asteroids to fill their cargo holds with precious resources and bring them back home to be used by you. If all else fails, just access the black market and just trade, buy, or sell whatever you are deficient in. Or, just collect bounties on other players by attacking their empire. Through this, quite a bit of money can be made.
For the diplomacy buffs, there is a quest system that is integrated into AI battles that throws around little missions for the player that increase the likelihood that an AI player will accept treaties and seize-fires. Not performing these quests affects you adversely and will push said AI player into forming alliances with other players. As was mentioned in previously, having two or more players come steam-rolling through your empire straight for your home world is never a good thing. Diplomacy becomes a significant factor for real life players. Treaties can be formed, but treachery lies just around the corner in the form of a pirate bounty or backstabbing strike when the need for peace has ended. Luckily, there are options to turn on allied victories.
The idea of propaganda and allegiance affecting the tax income of planets is also implemented in the game. The lower the rating of a planet, the less income is generated, and once the rating sinks low enough, the planet might outright rebel against its owner. By building propaganda towers and keeping planets near the home world, this negative effect can be nullified. But be careful – certain races are very skillful at converting planets through said propaganda.
Battles are fought with fighters, bombers, frigates, cruisers, and capital ships. The capital ships are unique in that they have special abilities that can turn the tide of a battle. For example, the TEC carrier can launch a rocket pod that will add a little extra bite to a battle. Capital ships also gain experience through battles and this unlocks more powerful capabilities like fighter bays and ion cannons. The fighters and bombers each are subject to research upgrades and the fighters are useful against bombers and small frigates while the bombers take out larger vessels. The frigates and cruisers each have a specialized role and each race has a different units to take advantage of.
Ironclad expected online multiplayer to take hours, so they allowed all the players to save the state of their online game and continue on whenever they like. This allows players who have little time on their hand to finish up games that would otherwise take way too long. I personally would be worried about forgetting what I was doing since there are so many things to remember in this game. The online gameplay is a definite challenge, as a human mind is one hundred times more cunning then any AI. Expect to see some moves that will strike like a snake and leave you in awe.
All of these different components of Sins of a Solar Empire combine to create one superb game. Attempting to summarize all of these gameplay options is almost impossible as there are so many variables. The best thing you can do is download the demo and try out the game for yourself.
With a map editor, the plethora of premade scenarios, the online component, and the awesome support the developers are giving the game, I don’t believe this game will leave my hard drive anytime soon. With the game currently at version 1.03 the developers are definitely keeping up with adding features or fixing bugs. If you are lucky, you can catch the game for as cheap as $30 dollars in some retail outlets and this would definitely be money well spent.
The collector’s edition I purchased could have been a little more feature packed but I have gotten so much playtime out of the soundtrack in my car, I think it was worth the money. Other than that, the game comes in a fancy box with a foldout tech sheet. In my opinion, this should be standard with all games. Leaving out vital documentation can leave a player jaded. One awesome move that the developers did was provide the said collector’s edition for free to everyone who preordered. This was a classy move!