Released in February 2008, Sins of a Solar Empire is a series which combines elements of RTS and 4X strategy into a single game, where up to 10 players face each other with huge fleets of ships and an empire of planets.
Released to critical acclaim, it proved to be a popular title with many strategy fans and has had two expansion packs (Entrenchment and Diplomacy) which expanded many features and incorporated new ways to play the game, as well as a Trinity Edition which tied the original game and two expansion packs together. The third and latest expansion pack, Rebellion, promised to add the most changes yet, and is the first stand alone expansion pack in the series.
The basic gameplay mechanics of Sins: Rebellion are exactly the same as they’ve always been: you start off with a single home planet and gradually expand your empire to control other planets to gain their resources and to build orbital structures around. Planets include Terran, Desert, Volcano, Ice, and Dwarf worlds as well as several uninhabitable systems such as Gas Giants.
There are 3 resources in the game: Credits, Crystal, and Metal. Credits are earned from taxing the populations on your planets and through trade ports, while metal and crystal is earned by building extractors on metal and crystal asteroids. These resources are then used to build fleets, conduct diplomacy, or research technology.
As well as these resources you have fleet capacity and capital ship crews, which determine how big your fleet can be and how many capital ships you can sustain, which are both increased through research. Research is conducted by building military and civilian laboratories around the planet. The HUD, which contains all these elements, is one of the best ever incorporated into a strategy game and is very intuitive and easy to use.[drop2]Sins of a Solar Empire is based on an interstellar war involving 3 factions: the Trader Emergency Coalition (TEC), the Advent, and the Vasari. The Vasari are the only alien race: once the strongest power in the galaxy with an almighty empire, they are but a fraction of their former selves due to an unknown threat which has moved into their territory and attacked Vasari held world’s, silencing them completely. Any forays to investigate ended with no return, and no distress calls.
Whilst fleeing from this unknown power, they stripped worlds of resources to replace losses until they arrived in TEC (Human) space, who took up arms against having their own planets raided by the Vasari threat and fought back. The TEC were initially on the back foot due to being an economically driven society, but they eventually pushed back after retooling factories to produce weapons and arming their ships, causing a stalemate.
The Advent are a pseudo religious offshoot human faction who rely on a collective mentality called the ‘unity’, as well as Psi-tech and Biotechnology. They were persecuted and driven from their home planet by the TEC generations ago for researching these technologies, and the descendants of the original Advent returned 10 years into the current conflict to inflict revenge on the TEC.
In Rebellion, all 3 races are split into two factions: the Loyalists and the Rebels. The Loyalists adhere to the original principles of the of the race they are part of, while the Rebels wish to do things differently. For example, the TEC Loyalists wish to only protect themselves, while the Rebels wish to strike out and destroy the other races. Because of this, TEC Loyalists can research better defensive turrets and cheaper Starbases, whilst the Rebels can call in aid from pirates and can inflict more bombardment damage to enemy planets over time.
Each of the new factions has unique technologies they can research to improve their ships or economy, such as the Vasari Loyalists’ ability to devour all the resources from a planet and leave it as a dead asteroid. However, more could have been done to vary them in addition to new technologies. Additional new unique units for each faction would have been more welcome, as each faction only has two new unique ships, although they are extremely fun to use: Corvettes and Titans.
Titans are a new feature in the game, huge ships which dwarf anything except other Titans, and can take on fleets of frigates and even capital ships on their own and often come out on top, although you can only sustain one in your fleet at a time. Each faction has their own unique Titan, which in turn have their own unique abilities. They rely on experience to level up and unlock these abilities, just like Capital ships have done in the previous games.
They’re fun to use and it’s great to watch them annihilating your poor enemies ships. Corvettes are smaller than even frigates but do not take up as much fleet capacity. They’re a useful addition to anyone’s fleet if deployed correctly, but if used wrong the battle can go badly wrong as in most cases they cannot go toe to toe with other fleets like the bigger frigates can.
Also, each race has also had a new Capital Ship added, bringing the total to six per race, and Capital Ships and Starbases can be leveled up further. However, just two unique ships per faction, as well as some research, does not feel like enough to differentiate the factions of each race from each other and this is a bit of a disappointment.[drop]As well as new factions, Rebellion has updated the graphical side of things, and the game does look absolutely gorgeous when you have two fleets trading salvos in orbit above a planet, bombarding a planet, or retreating out of the gravity well of a planet using hyperspace.
The game isn’t very demanding either, most rigs I’ve come across have been able to play the previous games in the series very easily on even mid settings, although my PC has noticeably struggled a little with some of the largest battles on Rebellion whilst it had no problems when playing the Trinity edition of the game. The audio and sound effects are much the same as previous games, which is to say that they are bearable but could definitely be improved upon.
The AI in the game has taken a rather apparent step back as well: whereas in Trinity it was always somewhat challenging and scaled to different difficulty levels nicely, on Rebellion it veers to either extremely easy or extremely hard. There is just no middle ground anymore and this is a massive disappointment to me as the AI in Trinity was pretty much perfect.
The AI used to scout, sally out from their own planets and attack undefended worlds I controlled, and defend against any forays I made against them, but now it seems content to expand to a three or four worlds and sit until destroyed for the rest of the game, not making any attempt to try to defend itself minus a few defensive turrets which are easily smashed aside. On the opposite end of the scale, the hardest AI bots are near impossible for anyone except true masters of the game to face off against.
Finally, Sins: Rebellion still hasn’t added a campaign mode to the series so game types are limited to single player skirmish against the AI, or multiplayer against AI/other players. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as skirmishes are great fun and games can last upwards of 15 hours on the biggest games, but it is a bit of a missed opportunity for the developers. On the other hand, multiplayer has always been great in the series and is probably the most enjoyable part of the game despite there being the odd glitch or two present, such as a couple of my ships getting trapped inside a planet.
- Still a great game after several years.
- Titans are huge and great fun to use, and Corvettes are a nice addition.
- Some of the new factions’ unique technologies are great.
- Graphically at times very striking.
- Still no campaign mode.
- Sound is merely average.
- AI has taken a step back.
- Not enough to differentiate the new factions.
- Slightly glitchy multiplayer mode.
- Not enough new content to justify the price unless new to the series.
Overall, it’s tough to give a score for Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion. For players new to the series, the game is a perfect introduction as it has all the content of the previous expansion packs as well as the new features, and is the best choice if you’re tempted to give the series a try. However, for those who have already put countless hours into previous games in the series, there is not enough to justify the price (even with the discount for owning Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity) and so I’d suggest waiting for a price drop or a Steam sale before purchasing.
This review was written by Jonathan Brown.