The Sins of a Solar Empire franchise is well-established at this point, and arguably the head of the pack in the 4x realtime sci-fi strategy niche. Two addon packs have already come and gone for this game, and now we’re on to the third – Rebellion. It’s an appropriate title, since the headlining draw of this stand-alone expansion principally shows up in the addition of six new rebel factions, two for each of the game’s three already-established factions, along with some new hardware that suits each of their new divergent philosophies. Beyond the new entrants into the space-fray, there’s also a slew of new ships and features to pull in both established Sins fans and potential ones. That’s a tall order to fill considering how old the original game is by now – and if you want to know if Ironclad managed to pull it off, c’mon in. You may be surprised.
First, let’s check out these new features. Already mentioned are the new Rebel factions, each coming with their own particular bonuses that reflect the in-character style of the side they represent. The Trader Emergency Coalition’s Loyalists, for example, are isolationist compared to the more aggressively xenophobic rebels – so while TEC loyalists pick up some defensive bonuses (such as being able to build more defensive structures than normal), the TEC rebels gain the ability to spawn controllable pirate ships, and even ally with the normally business-only NPC pirates themselves. The factions themselves sound like small additions, and in a way they are – but at the same time, I really enjoyed the ability to pick a side that meshed the best with the way I wanted to play a given game, and each of the now-six factions certainly represent a nice diversity of gameplay styles. However, while the factions are new, don’t expect any new campaign to explain their appearance – Rebellion adds no campaign to the mix.
The faction bonuses are just the beginning. After all, what 4x expansion would be complete without some new units to control and/or blow up? And that’s where Rebellion really delivers: two brand-new classes of ship for all sides (the monstrous but slow-to-empower titans and the nimble, surgical-striking corvettes) and new capital ships for each race. The titans and corvettes also serve to further differentiate the factions from each other, as each of the two new classes of ships come in a single flavor per faction, and largely serve to augment the bonuses given for that particular play-style. The titans in particular feel and look distinct, and make an interesting pairing to the capital ships in terms of being the all-important units you base many of your major tactical maneuvers around.
There are some other nice, if arguably less-interesting added features – Steamworks integration topping the list at being a particular plus, since so many of us are now beholden to Valve’s mighty digital beast – which also brings in Steam achievements, cloud saves, and smoother multiplayer options. New victory conditions have been introduced, for those of you who like to win in ways beyond the typically scorched-earth military and culture-swamping methods. The icing on the cake would be the expected balance upgrades, bug fixes, AI tweaks, along with some graphical upgrades. It’s a nice package, and I’m sure longtime fans of the series are glad Sins of a Solar Empire is no longer a chess piece in the war between Steam and All The Other Services. (Well, I suppose it’s more a chess piece that Valve has taken control of, but I digress.)
It’s a nice pack of new features for a very solid, already-successful game. So the big question is: is it worth it? And that’s where things get a little complex. It should go without saying that the core game is extremely solid – really, this is expansion pack three for the title, and you don’t see expansion pack one without the game being solid enough to entice a fair share of very picky strategy game fans. There’s certainly enough new content here to turn the heads of any x4 realtime-strategy lover – the ships and victory conditions alone would have been enough for a typical expansion pack. Ironclad also has a good reputation when it comes to maintaining, balancing and patching their games, so you get all these new features plus support from a dedicated developer. Really, everything inside the game itself deserves the sci-fi equivalent of a gold star being slapped onto it.
The only concern is the price. At $39.99 as of this review, Rebellion demands quite a sum for an expansion. Now, granted, it’s a stand-alone expansion, rather than requiring the original game to work. But considering that the people most likely to be interested in picking up Rebellion are going to be those who have already played and enjoyed the original and the expansions, it seems a little steep. After all, if you already have the game, the “stand-alone” part is superfluous – you’re paying 40 bucks for an expansion, period. That’s quite a thing to swallow, at least for those of us who are budget conscious when it comes to our gaming hobby. I think what would be the dealbreaker for me is the previously mentioned lack of a singleplayer campaign – quite an oversight, considering the additions of the factions themselves. Really, the short flavor text for each of the six had me really wanting to see some of these splits showing up in the game proper.
Which puts me in a pretty awkward place to end this review on. Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion adds some nice features to a great, proven winner of a game. Those features are nice, but as nice as they are, I couldn’t really see myself running out and throwing down forty bucks for this standalone expansion if I already owned the original Sins, to say nothing of its expansion packs. Not unless I was really, really desperate for some new content for Sins (and you know there are some fans like that out there.) And even as a brand new player, 40 bucks for a game like this with no campaign is quite a lot to ask. So I end this review with the following judgment: the new features Rebellion offers are great and welcome. But if I already owned Sins and its expansions, I’d be waiting for this to go on sale. And if I didn’t own Sins already and was interested in the game, I’d probably go pick up Trinity instead at half the price and, in comparison, probably more bang for the buck.
*** Just after putting up this review, Spencer Scott of Stardock dropped by to kindly inform me that current owners of Sins of a Solar Empire are eligible for a 10$ discount on Rebellion. You’ll notice that the price point of this stand-alone expansion was one of my major caveats regarding it, particularly with regards to strat gamers who already picked up the previous SoSE games. Well, a 10 buck discount goes a long way towards addressing that. Much thanks to Spencer for giving that heads up – for you guys who are fans of the series, that should be welcome news. Nice to see the folks at Stardock and Ironclad keeping their long-standing fans in mind.