Sins of a Solar Empire
21/4/08 by Funko
You can build a combination of Capital ships, frigates and cruisers. Capital ships are big beasts, broadly comparable to heroes in Warcraft III. They gain experience for destroying enemies and gain experience level. Just like in Warcraft III each ship has 3 standard abilities and one really powerful special ability that you only unlock when you get the ship to level 6. Frigates are small light ships that are easy to unlock and probably form the core of your military in the early game. Cruisers come later down the research path and include strong heavilty armoured attack cruisers and powerful support ships that enhance the abilities of your fleet.
Your ships can easily be grouped together into fleets which is very handy. It's similar to the traditional RTS grouping where you assign a group of units using a Ctrl+number selection (that is also available) but contains a few more options. It also has the bonus that all your fleets show up as separate items in the game explorer, you can set the fleet formation and grouping settings and you can also assign factories to send their new builds to automatically join a fleet. Which is very, very, very useful.
Once you get into battle you find that the AI is very good at handling your military. It is great for limiting the amount of micromanagement you have to do. I'll probably find that this changes as I play more and get into multiplayer, but generally I have only had to concentrate fire on various ships and micromanage some of my capital ship abilities. Again this is where the explorer feature comes in handy. You select all ships in a planetary gravity well then tab through the ships in that planet by ship type, including your capital ships.
The battles themselves are beautiful looking. I have found myself wasting time just letting the AI deal with the fight flying my viewpoint between the ships watching the battle progress. In fact, it's a very good looking game. The graphics degrade nicely if you turn the detail down. The in game interfaces are very easy to use and the out of game interfaces are clean and functional.
So far I've played the tutorials, the demo a couple of times and about 5 games of single player. The AI is decent. With a bit of previous RTS experience I could beat the 'normal' level AI in a 1v1 without any problems,the hard AI totally kicked my arse. I'm currently in the final throws of a game where I was vs 3 normal AIs and whilst I wiped out 2 the third is providing some serious resistance. Probably my favourite moment so far is in the game against the hard AI. I was battling valiantly at one of my frontier planets. Every ship I had was battling to hold off his slightly larger fleet. I had reinforcements flooding in and defensive structures to help and thought I might just defeat him. Then his second fleet, of equal size to the first one, arrived on the other edge of my empire and I realised I was dead meat. And the hard AI apparently doesn't get any bonuses, it's just smarter than the normal AI. The unfair bonuses are left to the 'unfair' level AI.
Atmospheric easy to understand and control RTS. Interesting decisions in single player. Whilst it's not entirely revolutionary the innovations make it a good step forward in the genre. Decent AI (at least compared to your average skirmish mode RTS AI). Works well on moderate spec machines.
No frills. There's no single player campaign and very little in the way of background story in the game. Winning is anti-climactic. The tutorials teach you the controls but don't teach you the basics of the game. You can play in the z-axis, but you don't really need to. Combat's mostly very 2d.
I am really enjoying it, the single player game is surprisingly good. Lots of players on the games own forums are playing a lot of single player which is something I really didn't expect. The lack of a single player campaign isn't a big miss because the single player game is really good anyway. There is a single player campaign coming in an expansion if you really care. Also there is already a very healthy mod community and some fantastic looking total conversions are on the horizon including Star Wars and Star Trek by the same teams that made the Homeworld 2 mods
It's got great multi-player potential although apparently the multi-player user base is fairly small. I hope some of the other Counterglow RTS players pick it up so we can get some games together.
Oh, one more thing. I should mention that in the short time I've owned the game I've been incredibly impressed both by Stardock and the developers Ironclad Games by the level and quality of their feedback to the fans on their official forums. I've seen everything from talking about patch schedule and what'll be in them, actually releasing patches, and even discussing the philosophy of how they should go forward with the product to ensure they can afford to provide long term support. It's just the kind of community support that the big boys could never provide, even if they could learn from it.