Sins of a Solar Empire
21/4/08 by Funko
My combined military might floods across the gravity well of the asteroid. I have 6 different capital ships formed into 3 fleets. Each pair of capital ships is surrounded by dozens of frigates, cruisers, tiny fighters and fighter bombers. They assemble at the edge of the gravity well, beside the phase lane that links this asteroid to our alien enemy's home planet. When everyone's in place the fuzzy blue glow of phase space starts to surround the ships as they phase jump into the last enemy occupied system to mop up the remnants of his armada.
It's all over in a matter of seconds. I concentrate the fire of my entire armada on his one remaining capital ship zooming right in so I can see it's shields collapse, the hull rupture and burn before it explodes brilliant white across the screen. I leave my ships alone and let their AI take out the few remaining ships, the rest of the orbiting infrastructre and bomb the planet's inhabitants to dust.
That's it, the screen flashes up the slightly anti-climactic "You've won, do you want to continue?" page and I quit. Wow. As first experiences of a game go, that was pretty awesome.
Sins of a Solar Empire is a 4x RTS game from Ironclad Games. It's published by Stardock who published the very highly regarded Galactic Civilisations. Sorry, jargon alert. 4x stands for "eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate" which are your main aims in the game. RTS is real time strategy. Which just means you and your opponents are doing things at the same time, you don't take it in turns. One bright spark on the Sins forums suggested that building a Capital ship in the game was a major project that should take weeks in the game. It's not that kind of real time. Some people call a game that combines the genres of 4x and RTS RT4x, but they should probably get out more.
One of the stated aims of Stardock is to make games that are accessible to the common PC owner, so they are apparently deliberately targeting their game specs at the mass market consumer. I have a 3 year old computer that got an upgrade about 18 months ago. So this review was done on an AMD 3500+, 2gb RAM and a 256mb ATI Radeon x1600 running Windows XP SP2. Not a bad machine but very far from a cutting edge hardcore gaming rig.
Right, so what about the game. The short pitch is it's a cross between Galactic Civilisations and Warcraft III. You want the longer version? OK, you take on the mantle of the ruler of a space based civilisation. You can choose between the traditional human race the TEC, the slightly odd slightly psychic humans called the Advent or the ugly aliens, the Vasari. In most standard scenarios you start off with a home planet, a frigate factory and a couple of construction vessels and from there it's up to you to conquer the solar system.
You have three resources to gather, crystals, metal and credits. Crystal and metal are harvested by building mines on the asteroids that orbit various planets. Credits are gained from taxing your planets and by building trade routes. Mines are completely autonomous. Once your construction ship builds a mine it provides you with crystal or metal without any further intervention. Every ship, structure and bit of technology you want to research requires some mix of credits, metal and crystals.
It is important to manage your economy, but the Sins team have tried hard to make it as simple as possible. Once you've built the structures everything basically runs itself which leaves you to manage your fleets and build structures/expand your empire.
Research is split into 4 areas.
Civillian, where you can research planetary improvements, new civilian structures like trade ports and orbital refineries, the abilities to colonise new types of world and increase your mining abilities.
Military, where you research new ship types, weapon and armour upgrades etc.
Fleet logistics where you increase the total numbers of ships you can have, and the number of capital ships.
Artifacts which isn't strictly research but show you any special artifacts you've found when exploring your planets.
In most typical small/medium games you'll never get anywhere near researching everything in the technology trees so you really do have some choices to make here, which is very nice for a RTS.
The interface is worth a mention at this point. If you click on any planet you have access to any ability from any building you've built at that planet. You can upgrade the planet itself to increase population, or logistics, explore to find artifacts, build new structures (either military or civilian) even build ships and set the rally point for your ship factories. This is extremely handy. It means you can easily zoom right out of the game and manage your planets.
You also have what the developers call an explorer column on the left hand side. This is a collapsible categorised area that lets you get a quick overview of what is where in your planets or fleets. This is so useful that you quickly forget that previous RTS games didn't have it.
Ok so all that's very nice but the meat of the game is fighting, so let's get to that.