Sins of a Solar Empire is a slow-paced and large-scale real-time strategy game that incorporates all the best parts of the traditionally turn-based 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) game genre. Ironclad has really nailed the pacing of the action—whether you’re commanding your fleets or managing your planets, there’s always something to keep you busily entertained, but never too much to wrap your brain around.
Contrary to what the opening cinematic would have you believe, there is no storyline campaign following the epic space war between the Trader Emergency Coalition, the Advent, and the alien Vasari, but you can play an open-ended single-player game against very competent (and sometimes downright evil) AI players, or jump online to face other players. The three playable factions are not only visually distinct, but have more than enough unique technologies, ships, and abilities to make playing as each a different experience.
You start out every game with a single world, but by building a fleet and colonizing other planets and asteroids you create an empire that can even stretch to neighboring stars. Of course, to do so you’ll have to deal with the competition: other fledgling empires are fighting for the same territory. To beat them you’ll have to build a fleet of hundreds of starships, research new technologies, and manipulate the diplomatic situation to your advantage. A clever bounty system allows you to sic pirate raiders on your enemies—but you have to watch out, or other players will put a bounty on your head so large you’ll be too busy fighting off pirates yourself to defend yourself from your neighbors.
Sins is a thinking person’s game, and not for the impatient. Because battles play out over minutes, not seconds, so you have plenty of time to consider how to tactically turn the tide in your favor. For example, massive capital ships, the workhorses of your fleet, level up with experience and gain power and new abilities. Keep them alive, and you’ll defeat a player who treats them as disposable. Other 4X elements, like trade and culture, can enhance your economy and allow you to build enough ships to overwhelm your enemies.
It’s not easy to manage a vast territory, but the zooming interface, which allows you to smoothly scroll from a single fighter all the way out to a multi-solar system view, enables you to easily navigate.
One thing you do need to be prepared for when starting a round of Sins is the extreme length of the games. While there is a game speed adjustor, don’t expect any game to last less than one hour—and with 10 players, you will be extremely grateful that the save game system allows you to come back to a multiplayer game after you’ve gotten some sleep.
With most RTS games shifting towards fast action at the expense of real strategy, it would be an unforgivable sin for a strategy fan to pass by this game on the shelf and not pick it up.
Feb 8, 2008