9.4

Sins of a Solar Empire review
Sinning Has Never Been So Good

The good:

- All strategy concepts, including bottlenecks, upgrades, and ship types, are artfully done
- Well constructed gameplay elements provide excellent basis for varying game styles
- Lives up to the 4X genre requirements
- Graphics incredibly good, even if you are on a lower end computer
- Unique interface successfully combines macro and micromanagement together
- Easy to get into the game
- Tends to draw you in really well into the gameplay
- Epic space battles and fleets outdo competition out there

The bad:

- Long games could be off putting to some
- No real campaign mode or storyline beyond the beginning story
- AI tends to be siege happy, and planets tend to fall too quickly

Summary:

The strategy genre has been one which doesn’t often attract large attention from the gaming audience. With the fall off of PC gaming into the consoles and the growth of the more action oriented gaming market, it’s rare when companies really stand out as being strategy oriented game producers. Yet with this game attached to Ironclad and associated with Stardock, we got a game which is the culmination of years of innovative titles, from Galactic Conquests through. This is one game which I had been drooling to play for months before we approached its release. I am happy to announce I was not disappointed – Sinning felt good.

My computer is far from the Adonis of gaming machines and I am happy to say that it was able to handle Sins with ample graphic detailing and many options included. Installing the game was a breeze, and it’s entrance interface is incredibly easy to handle. It’s worth taking a look at the well done tutorials before making the jump into Sins of a Solar Empire, as it does teach you a fair bit about the game and gives you a good basis to get going. Since there is no campaign in this game and, hence, no real beginning tutorial levels that get you going, having this knowledge before going in is fairly important, although the Sins in-game setup is well designed enough that you can figure it out on your own.

The basic premise of the game’s background revolves around three different groups. The Trader Emergency Coalition are the humans of the game, a series of planets which banded together and retrofitted their tired fleet of merchant vessels into a fleet of warships to face the invading forces of the other two races. The second is a telepathically inclined race of humans who are religiously fanatical, with a burning sense of revenge against their human cousins who had wronged them so in the past. The third force is the Vasari, a race of seemingly insect like folks who are on the run from something which had destroyed their vast empire, causing them to flee for better grounds, always one step ahead of the gathering destructive forces behind them. These three races clash in a climatic kill or be killed scenario each time you take them through the gauntlet.

Unfortunately, that is where the storyline ends. While it would have been nice to see some modicum of a plotline during gameplay or something which was like an extended Strategy game integrated with a storyline, I can see how it might have been counter-intuitive to their overall plans in constructing the game from the direction they went with it. Sins basically functions in a series of custom made maps, either randomly put together or with a preset plan, in a repeated, skirmish like series of fights. While this may sound repetitive, I find myself yet to get bored with the games, each time finding myself playing it differently and finding myself delighted with the results.

Sims games are fairly in-depth with a variety of facets of gameplay to explore, and with the excellently designed interface, the setup is done well enough that you can successfully manage a number of components of gameplay. While you can micromanage your ships in combat and activate abilities at your discretion, Sins provides a solid macromanagement system which still allows for good game control coupled with ships knowing what they do best and trying doing it that way. The core of your management system comes from the extensive, expandable empire tree, allowing for you to command multiple fleets at once from afar, even targeting specific ships or ordering the construction of facilities, without even moving your viewpoint or placing the structure yourself. At the same time, you can control the placement of individual turrents or follow the maneuvers of a bomber doing an attack run, allowing an amazingly broad player experience between the very large and the very small aspects of the game.

The ships in the game are broken down into several different kinds across two shipyards. Capital ships, with their own shipyard, come in various sizes with vast power and a variety of functions, depending on the kind you create. They come with the added bonus of gaining experience, which in turn improves just about every aspect of the ship while also building upon the abilities that ship can “cast” on the enemies.

The next kinds consist of various frigates, which are typically combat oriented vessels which compose the bulk of your fighting force. The typical beginning fleet usually consists of one or two kinds of frigates accompanying the first capital ship, which you get for free. The final group, cruisers, typically have a broader range of special abilities or uses outside of charging down the enemy or being on the front lines. These vessels usually fill roles such as fighter transports or repair ships, and are also excellent for a well rounded fleet to manage engagements.

Fighting in the game is very Babylon-esque, with lots of lasers, plasma cannons and energy projectiles flying through space, joined by missiles and assorted fighters. The game incorporates complicated but well designed systems of strengths and weaknesses oriented around weapons and armour. After a while, it is fairly easy to understand which vessels are strong against which. For example, the anti-fighter frigates tend to have excellent weapons oriented towards the armour of the fighters with a 360 degree firing arc and high rate of fire to assure maximum fire while they are in range. In return, fighters and bombers have a tough time getting through their armour with the specified shots they have. In addition to armour, ships have variable amounts of energy shielding. Also, expect massive fleet battles – it is not rare to see hundreds of ships engaged in a battle over a system, and it is also not surprising to find multiple battles between large fleets occurring at the same time. It is hard to describe a battle without linking to a video, but rest assured that the battles in Sins are epic.

Sins is a little slack on the diplomacy side, however. While it is possible to form cease fires, or trade pacts, or even alliances, they are tough to get going, easy to break and don’t have much depth for those diplomacy masters out there. This game is not for those diplomatic players out there. Likewise, the piracy system is interesting, where anonymous bounties which anyone can collect on are placed on other factions. Every couple of minutes, a horde of pirates will attack the one which they consider the most lucrative to target, a useful, if sometimes expensive, venture when trying to upset an opponent’s power. Finally, the game does react to how powerful you are, consistently grading you against other factions. If you are playing a six player game and suddenly you notice that you are second or first in the categories listed, expect to find an enemy or two suddenly becoming more hostile towards you expansion efforts.

The game also has excellent technology trees. Just about all aspects of the races can be improved, ranging from shielding on ships through to the power of your culture. The myriad options have never been filled in my games, although do culminate in a number of super weapons or super civilian powers which can turn the tide of battles or even the game. The technologies are split into two major groups, military and civilian, and offer great advantages for those who choose to dabble in them. Also, all planets, even asteroids, offer upgrades which improve everything from their population capacity to their resilience against orbital bombardments – which happen more often than not with a siege happy AI enemy, I assure you!

These different aspects are all brought together by a economic system which is impressive. With a black market running underneath the surface for just in case emergencies, the three major resources are credits, metal and crystal, all three of which tend to be required in variable amounts to perform just about any construction or scientific research in the game. While I found it unnecessary, the black market offers some fun ways to toy around with any loose resources you happen to have lying around, although it really doesn’t effect the direction of the game much, to my experience. The investment of money into improved mining ventures, tied with the need to improve planets to provide more space for credit production and scientific ventures, creates a complex intersecting system which is incredibly well designed.

I found the music and sound effects to be varied and especially entertaining. A good round of combat sounds excellent, with the background music changing to reflect the battle. From the grumbling Vasari to the omni-present eerie female voice echoing for the Advent, key information was well presented and done very well, although I could have gone with some more variation in the lines used for key pieces of information. The fiftieth time an Advent enemy demands something of you in the name of the Unity tends to grind on my nerves.

Games in Sins will be long. I have more than once looked up at a clock and wonder where I lost four hours, and while Sins will always keep you moving it does not exactly move at what one would call a hectic pace. It was not rare for what is considered a medium map of a double digit planet count in the low twenties or so to take more than eight hours to complete, especially if you choose the right options for the enemy – the setup screen for battles offers various fashions of gameplay for the enemy to follow at three different difficulty levels, or, just for fun, setting it to random is good to be surprised at what you are facing.

The game does provide a lot to keep you entertained. A well stocked achievement list and variable strategies for winning provides a bit more depth, what you’d expect from a 4X game, but providing methods beyond rush to try and win the game – the typical rush scenario now not as successful as it is in most strategy games. Graphics are well done and the detailing on the vessels are impressive, especially given the size of the game. If one of the goals of the game was to provide low end computer’s excellent graphic shows, they definitely managed it with this game.

The different cultures and how they work is interesting, not to mention the use of culture as a weapon and how it effects tax revenue. The thousands of interactions in the game between different components is well done and very well balanced, an effort thoroughly appreciated by the strategy fans. I did find the Vasari end game to be a little on the strong side and that caused some balance issues for me, but this understandably is something you must learn to overcome (I always hit Vasari first now).

I’d definitely recommend this game for anyone looking for a good gateway Strategy to get into the genre, and would also recommend it for the hardcore Strategy crowd looking for a solid game to dissect and get into. Sins provides hundreds of hours of gaming fun, if you are willing to allow the time to pass to have it. It’s worth the price tag, and it’s expansions likely will be too!

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Comments

0 thumbs!
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InsanityS Jul 21, 09
Zomg, a Mish review. =0

Excellent work. Another fine example of your impressive writing skills as your review was great to read through. Sounds like quite an interesting game.
0 thumbs!
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Mishtram Jul 21, 09
It was an excellent game, and one I definitely recommend. Oddly enough, I made this review in less than an hour and did it to make a point that you don't have to have an amazingly polished review to get it through CRS... or spend hours doing it. =P
0 thumbs!
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bobbonew Aug 21, 09
MISH IS MY GOD     
0 thumbs!
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Chad Jul 22, 09
Great review man. Nothing that I'd really change (other than the one time you put Sims instead of Sins, hehe), but if I HAD to change something it'd be replacing the '-' in front of the items in the "Good" section with '+', making it look like pluses for good, and minuses for bad, instead of a bullet point type thing, hehe. But that's just my own quirkiness, you got an excellent review on your hands especially for such short work. You must be a fast typer.

Oh, and yes, I'll probably go pick up a copy of this myself some time. Looks like a great game to at least check out.

This message was edited by a moderator on Jul 22 2009.
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