So along comes Sins of a Solar Empire, looking to fill up that black hole with a meaty asteroid of RTS gameplay
There’s a consensus in the PC world that the realm of the RTS isn’t what it used to be. Fans of the genre will fondly recall titles such as Red Alert and Dungeon Keeper in the early days before moving onto heavyweights such as Rome: Total War and Company of Heroes. Nowadays though, the MMO has taken over. Thought perplexing Strategy has been tossed aside by the brutish rush tactics of Warcraft and Co. So along comes Sins of a Solar Empire, looking to fill up that black hole with a meaty asteroid of RTS gameplay.
Load up the game and you’re treated with an intro movie with a plot as convoluted as Star Wars Episode 1. It appears that humanity has fallen foul of alien races and religious sects that we simply cannot co-exist with. Without explaining too much and speaking in riddles, the narration more or less leaves you to figure out that there’s a three way space battle on the cards, and we have to do everything in our power to protect humanity. So let’s get going! What’s our first mission? Who do we attack first?
This is the first major disappointment of the game. There is no Campaign mode!
The black market can be your friend or foe depending on how you treat it
See the tree on the left? Handy for selecting individual units during a heated battle.
Battling away the tears, you then make your way over to the tutorial to get a slice of what the gameplay has to offer and let me tell you now, the first time you play it your brain will want to wither and die like a distant planet becoming a Red Dwarf. There’s simply so much to take in initially and it’s easy to feel lost, peering over your monitor in the hope of being easily distracted by something else in the office.
You’ll be introduced to planet politics, how to tax your people, resource management, vessel constraints, research and tech trees amongst a pile of other things including how Geordi La Forge’s eyes work in Star Trek. Ok, I made that last one up, but the initial feeling is one of confusion, especially when you clap your eyes on the gargantuan key list in the manual which is akin to reading a dictionary in Klingon.
This is a test of mettle though and will show what kind of gamer you really are. Sins of a Solar Empire just isn’t for the casual market, plain and simple. It’s for those who have lots of time and are have the patience to learn everything about the game. And the reward for all of this investment? You’ll get a package with gargantuan space battles lasting for hours, even days at a time with superb visuals and a feeling of real triumph when you get to grips with everything and storm a galaxy.
Asteroids provide your crystals and metals. Make sure you get there first!
Cruisers are your best bet of winning the epic battles on offer. Build one ASAP!
The game looks very impressive indeed. As it’s obviously set in space, you’ll have to put up with your share of endless black with a few dots here and there for stars, but the impressive zoom function alleviates all of this, which shows the beauty of the Iron Engine. Ironclad have done a brilliant job with camera flexibility meaning you can be as close as possible to an epic space battle, and with a simple scroll of the mouse, can zoom out as far as possible to see the galaxy of planets you can travel to at your whim.
Start up single player and you’re presented with a myriad of scenarios from survival of the fittest to all out exploration. The core goal is always the same though, to colonise and take over every planet before any of the other races. You’re given one of three to choose from, the Human Trade Emergency Coalition (TEC), a psychic religious sect (Advent) or the strongest alien empire in the galaxy (Vasari). Each races personality is reflected on its fleet, the Vasari for instance can choose to focus on incapacitating ships in line with their slave trading nature while the TEC concentrate on stoic firepower such as missiles and nuclear firepower.
Of course there are the conventional RTS staples here, resource collecting comes in the form of mining crystals and metals from asteroids. Where it’s different from the likes of Command and Conquer is that you can more or less leave it be, leaving you free to explore the galaxy at will with your units, which are cleverly selectable from a collapsible tree to the left of the screen. Clever because as you amass a sheer behemoth of ships, it would be hard to keep track of them in any other game. Not here as they’re all laid out for you should you wish to select one at will, making management a simple affair for such a complex game.
You can zoom in as close to the battles as you like to watch the galactic power struggle.
Of course, being alien is the most fun. Who wouldn’t want to destroy humanity?
Such a mechanic allows you to solely concentrate on building up your planets and ships ready to take on everyone else, but you’ll need to be quick. Pirates are always on the loose and can be bribed by other races to take you out as soon as possible which can be frustrating, especially when you first pick up the game. Black market schematics can be used to your advantage though, meaning the highest bidder could be the difference between defeat and victory. Don’t like the sound of that? Then simply switch it off in the options menu!
Where Sins of a Solar Empire is excellent value is also in its Multiplayer. Bored of spending hours traversing the galaxy looking for trouble? Then take it online and challenge a complete stranger. Where this is interesting is that the more diplomatic side of proceedings is exercised, make a pact with someone else to wipe out a rival? Or enlist the aid of pirates to stab your ally in the back? Whichever way you choose to do it, the size of online means that you’ll probably spend hours doing it
In closing, you could spend an entire lifetime playing Sins of a Solar Empire, it’s that involving. But the drawback of this is that you’ll need to spend half of that lifetime learning how to play it. If you’re a casual gamer then steer clear, but If you have both the time and the inclination to devote a lot of time to learning the sometimes over complicated set up then you’ll have more fun than some kind of space pun I can’t think of at the moment. It’s simply a must buy.