Real-time strategy, Unrivaled scale… no sh**!
Sins of a Solar Empire, aptly tagged “Real-time Strategy, Unrivaled Scale”, is just that: an RTS set in a truly humongous universe to indulge all your space wars fantasies.
All in all, Sins of a Solar Empire is nothing short of a breakthrough game in the world of real-time strategy.
At its core, SoaSE seems like your regular real-time strategy game: in a set environment, you select one of three races for your faction and then proceed to beat the living crap out of the other factions. The very important omission of any kind of story mode seems all of this somehow gratuitous, but the three races (Trade Emergency Coalition or TEC, the Advent and the Vasari) are provided with a semblance of background to make all of this a little more credible. Not that we wouldn’t take whatever excuse to wage global (simulated) warfare on any enemy. The TEC are basically human, or descendants from the humans who are part of a trading empire; the Advents are basically a religious sect, cast out by the TEC, and back to kick some TEC butt; the Vasari, an ancient alien race, are on the run from their own galaxy and trying to regain a place in the universe. But you can really make up your own stuff, since, as I said, there is no story line to support this.
The goal of most maps is to wipe out enemy factions, and it doesn’t really matter which race they are, even your own. You do so by collecting resources (metal and crystal), building infrastructure, and sending out warships. You can unlock different features by researching them.
This is where the similitudes come to a stop though. You can forget all about setting one or two, maybe three bases, building a huge army and sending it out to blast away at your enemies. The truth is, the smallest maps in SoaSE are comprised of about 15 planets or asteroids built around a solar system, and the bigger ones easily can contain a hundred planets in four or five solar systems, which means you absolutely have to get organized or get lost: more than once you’ll find yourself sending out a fleet of battleships to one side of the map, only to be stabbed in the back at the very other end of your empire, losing a few planets on the way. Attacking, conquering and exploring takes careful planning and fallback plans, safe havens for retreats, reinforcements, and a lot of tactical goodness. You can even flood your opponents’ planets with “culture” by building broadcast centers, and have their population revolt!
The battle aspect of the game is very exciting, with sometimes hundreds of ships filling the screen and blasting away at each other, but the game luckily (or unluckily) doesn’t end there. There is also a fairly developped diplomatic and trading side, complete with peace treaties, trade agreements and mission requests: there’s also an insanely frustrating bounty feature that you can use to send pirates out to your enemies’ planets. Only know that your enemies can do the same, and the more you give money to the pirates, the more powerful and insisting they become, until they’re virtually indestructible. Whatever you do, they’re the real winners of any game you’re going to play. Unless you plan on taking out their crazily unbeatable base and its thousands of ships.
The steady, almost leisurely, pace of the game renders all this management possible, but sometimes confusing when your empire contains more than ten planets or so, and there are 8 other factions making different offers and demands. You’re going to need all the time in the world to sort that out but, on the other hand, it makes space combat look a tad less exciting: expect a lot of naval-style combat, not Star Wars’ Death Star attack kind of action. Just crossing the gravity well of one planet can take a ship 30 seconds or so, and moving from one planet to another will seem like the journey it is in the real world. All of this is forgivable though because you have so much to do between the researching, the fortifications, the exploration and the building of new ships that you’ll sometimes even forget you sent a fleet going from planet A and F.
The graphics engine of the game is great. It’s basically the first game of its kind to let you zoom in or out seamlessly from a view of the whole galaxy to a close-up of a single one of your ship, without loading time or lags. It’s as useful as it is visually interesting and you’ll find yourself using that feature a lot, along with the “zoom to mouse pointer” tidbit. As far as the sounds go, they’re appropriate. There is nothing stunning or impressive about it: ships still utter some banality when you click on them, and lasers sound like, well, lasers.
All in all, Sins of a Solar Empire is nothing short of a breakthrough game in the world of real-time strategy. Its seamless video engine and massive scale make it stand out in the sea of so-so RTS games. It’s not the most exciting in terms of action, but what it lacks in action it more than makes up in evil planning and conquering!
The Bad: Races very similar; Scale makes it easily confusing; VERY insisting pirates; No story mode