Sins of a Solar Empire
I played the crap out of turn-based “Civilization-esque” games, especially if they were set in space. “Birth of the Federation” and “Galactic Civilizations II” were particular favorites, but I hadn’t played a good real-time strategy game set in space since “Star Trek: Armada” and its sequel released in 2000-2001. “Sins of a Solar Empire” came along in 2008, promising just what I had been looking for: real-time space combat with empire management. Was it everything I had hoped for, however?
The main menu lets a player setup single or multiplayer matches, dabble in the map/scenario creator, adjust profile settings, and set game options. The options menu covers your basics and then some (screen resolution, graphics quality, etc.) but I enjoyed having the ability to set my profile’s race icon and color. You’ll also be able to cycle through portrait sets of the three playable races, but you can’t change individual races to display a particular portrait. The scenario editor is a bit lacking and doesn’t allow you to physically move planets around and design the map personally, but you can set the parameters for specific things and have the game create a map based on that input.
The in-game interface reminds me a bit of “Supreme Commander” as you’ll be able to zoom in and out at will and still have control over your forces. Like other RTS games, you’ll have menus for constructing various ships and structures. You’ll also have panels that display your current resources and the like, so RTS vets will have no issue understanding what is going on. The camera is freeform, allowing you to swivel it across all three axes. On the left side of the screen is a handy planet list, which helps you keep track of where your ships are. Other important menus like diplomacy and tech upgrades are easily accessible via a mouse click. All in all, the interface is sleek and user-friendly, making the game easy to play.
There are three playable races and they all have unique ships and tech trees…kinda sorta. While they each have a unique look, the tech trees are similar. All three races have upgrades for the same thing, for the most part. Ships look and feel different, but it’s clear that one is designed to be an artillery ship while another might be a support ship. Ships have different names and designs, but their roles are similar across all three races. Tech trees are the same way in that while certain techs have been moved around in the tree from race to race, you’ll still be unlocking things similar to that of another race. An increased metal and crystal extraction rate, for example, is available for all three races…you’ll just find them in different slots and in a different area of the tree. Some techs are unique to a race, but not many. I would have prefered to see more variations and differences among the three races, personally.
Unlike “Age of Empires” and its successors, you’ll only have three resources to manage: metal, crystal, and credits. Worlds need to be colonized in order to mine the first two resources, in most cases. On occasion, you’ll hit an asteroid cluster that can’t be populated but can still be mined. You’ll be building colony ships and trying to build your network of planets as quick as you can to bring in those precious resources. Resources can be traded on the black market, and what’s cool is that the prices fluctuate based on supply and demand. Other buildable structures exist to augment your resource income, like the trade center or refinery.
The real strategy behind this game is how you’ll be spending your resources. You’ll be overwhelmed with choices initially. Will you concentrate your resources on military and civilian tech to improve your forces before expanding? Will you spend your money on ships so as to conquer as many planets as you can right from the start? Will you construct buildings on the planets you have first to secure your economy before branching out? Will you spend your credits to buy resources for an early boost or save them up for mid-game expansion? Will you build a fleet of capital ships, or mass produce basic ships and send them at your enemies en masse? Will you let the pirates (if you have them enabled) do the dirty work for you? There’s a lot to consider, and the chance of being overwhelmed increases as you get more planets under your control.
I don’t have the time to get into every mechanic, but I will say that I enjoy being able to hire pirates and send them after your enemies. Pirates are NPCs that occupy a planet and have tons of ships in orbit. Every so often, they’ll seek out and destroy whoever has the highest bounty on their heads. As they destroy ships of that race, that race’s bounty decreases. Ergo, you can keep the pressure on your enemies without having to build ships yourself, for a fee. Pirates can be disabled pre-game, which is nice for those who don’t want to deal with that kind of thing. I also enjoy being able to set up defenses (stationary turrets & hangars) around planets. The population caps are handled a bit differently in that you’ll need to buy more room for basic ships and capital ships, but doing so increases the maintenance drain on your resources. The larger your population cap, the more resources you’ll lose to maintenance.
Overall, I enjoy playing “Sins of a Solar Empire”, but I do think it could be better than what it is. Races could stand to be a bit more unique, for example. Space battles are still a lot of fun and I enjoy watching my large capital ships bear down on enemy fleets. It’s a solid RTS experience and then some, aging well considering the game’s release date. Ironclad and Stardock later released two expansions: “Entrenchment” and “Diplomacy”. I liked the former but disliked the latter, mainly because I thought that the diplomacy mechanics in the core game were silly and lacking. Entrenchment, on the other hand, adds giant starbases and other useful upgrades for turtling and defense. Steam has all three (the core and two expansions) listed for twenty bucks under the Trinity pack, which is totally worth it if you’re into strategy games at all.
It’s worth noting however that a standalone expansion called “Rebellion” was released recently, which contains all of the content of the previous expansions and then some. You may want to hold off on purchasing this game until you have had a chance to read my review on “Rebellion”, which should be published hopefully soon.
Final Verdict: 9/10
You can find the game on Steam here:
You can view video play sessions here: