I am a huge sci-fi fan, I watch all things sci-fi and have a large game collection. I remember the days of Starfleet Academy and Starfleet Command, then along came the games like Homeworld and Space Empires – all of which are very fun games but I felt they were missing something. Then Star Trek Armada came out and I remember being soooo excited over it that I even rang up the online retailer I used and thanked them for delivering it one day before release. I spent hours upon hours playing these games and couldn’t get enough – then came Sins of a Solar Empire.
Sins of a Solar Empire has been developed by Ironclad Games and Stardock who have already made some very successful games such as Galactic Civilization I and II. To date there have been three Sins of a Solar Empire releases; the original game, then Entrenchment, which introduced a few extra features and ships with the major addition of Starbase’s, and lastly was Diplomacy which as the name suggests added large updates to the diplomacy system, as well as adding more maps and technology. Sins is a real time strategy that incorporates the traditional 4x concept known as “explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate”.
As with nearly all strategy games, there are different sides to choose from. Sins has three playable races and a non selectable pirate race. The races you can choose from are: TEC (Trader Emergency Coalition) – a human like race with well armed ships, Advent – a religious type race who use biological enhances to form a collective they call “Unity” and who favour cheap ships with good beam weapons, and finally the Vasari – an ancient race fleeing from a ancient enemy. They have hardened ship hulls and some of the strongest weapons in the game – but this comes at a cost.
The unselectable pirates have a base on every game you play unless specifically turned off. The idea of the pirates is that you can put a bounty on a rival player, and after a certain amont of time the pirates will launch an attach against the person with the highest bounty. Later in the game this is not too much of an issue but if you are unlucky and get a high bounty at the beginning of the game it can seriously cripple your start. Each race specialises in its own defence capabilities so it is a good idea to try to get a couple of defences up before the first pirate raid starts.
The game is similar to many other strategy games; you build a base, build an army and attack the opposition, though Sins is set in space so there is a lot more to do than build and attack.
You start with your homeworld, and from there your first objective will be to scout your surroundings and build a defence. Every planet in Sins is connected and every planet has a gravity well. Your fleet can jump from the edge of one gravity well to another and can only jump to adjacent planets. There are a number of different types of planets from Desert, Ice, Terran and uninhabitable asteroids and each type of planet is abundant in a specific resource. Desert planets have only Metal asteroids for mining, Ice planets have only Crystal asteroids and Terran have a mix of both. Once you have explored a number of planets you can send out colony ships to colonise a new planet so you can build more structures around that planet.
With your exploring and expansion going well you will need to start looking at your fleet and defences. When you start the game you have limited supplies, usually enough to build a capital ship a few frigates and exploration ships. To increase your supplies you will need to research it. Each level of supplies you research increases your capital ship cap and overall supplies cap, but unfortunately this comes at a cost. After increasing your supplies you will need to research more ship clases to expand your fleet. Every ship available and researchable has its own unique ability that can be very useful in a battle if used correctly.
The scale of the game is only limited by your supplies and research; of course the stronger or more expensive the ship the more supplies it will use but you can easily play a game with over 100 frigate ships engaged in a battle without much effort from the game engine.
Research and Technology:
Research is made rather simple yet strategic, there are two main research paths to go down – Military and Civilian. To be able to research anything on these paths you need to build the relevant research structure. The more you want to research in a certain path, the more structures you will need to build. In Sins research is learnt not via research points as in some games, but rather with your hard earned resources. Almost everything can be upgraded and a number of very good structures or ships can be researched on the relevant tree.
As with any game, each race has its own super power that can be researched – from summoning your own rebel fleet, to building a gate to have your dark fleet return, to constructing large planet killing cannons that can fire across the system.
The other nice feature of the game is that, depending on the map, you can research the ability to jump from one system to the other. This can be very useful if the need arises to make a strategic retreat, and can make for some nice long and fun games chasing people around the universe to conquer that last planet.
Modding is becoming increasingly popular in games, starting from simple add-ons for the most popular online games to make gaming easier, to full blown game conversions of games old and new. This is no different in Sins – in fact the developers have made the game with modding in mind and have made a few programs to help with modding and map making available.
Some of the most popular mods are widely available and are even playable online with someone else who has the same mod installed. There is even a whole forum section for modders to show off their mods, discuss development of new mods and to throw ideas around and ask for help. Some of the mods available are as simple as new user interfaces, and range all the way up to full blown conversions that replace almost every aspect of the game.
With relatively low system requirements, the graphics are very good. Even with plenty of explosions and weapons fire all over the screen there is little to no drop in framerate on the average gaming pc today. There is also a fan made mod that will improve the graphics further, with more highly detailed textures and redesigned weapon art.
The gameplay is smooth and you are able to seamlessly zoom in and out to move around the map or to just get a closer look at that breach on the side of your capital ship’s hull. As with any game there are a number of options in the graphics settings that can be turned on and off, from changing the detail or planets to increasing glare and debris the game can be tweaked to run seamlessly on any machine.
Minimum - Windows XP SP2/Vista/7, 1.8 GHz Single-Core Processor, 512 MB RAM (1 GB for Windows Vista), 128 MB DirectX 9 3D Video Card (Radeon 9600 / GeForce FX 6600 and above), DirectX 9.0c Compatible Sound Card, DVD-ROM Drive, 3 GB Hard Drive Space, Keyboard and Mouse, DirectX 9.0c, Broadband Connection Required for Internet Multiplayer, Impulse required for installation (of digital download) and updates.
Recommended - 2.2 GHz Dual- or Quad-Core Processor, 1 GB RAM (2 GB for Windows Vista), 256 MB DirectX 9 3D Video Card (Radeon X1600 / GeForce 7600 and above)
I have had many hours online running away from the enemy or hiding my fleet at a planet behind enemy lines waiting for them to move out so I can take out their home planet in one fell swoop. I have also spent hours and even days trying to conquer 4 systems and 50+ planets only to spread myself too thin. Sins is quick to learn and not so quick to put down, and games can last from as little as an hour to a few days of saving and loading.
The game is not without its flaws though – for me there are some minor balance issues and as with any strategy game there is the simple play style of build one ship and spam it. A prime example of this type of strategy would be the early Command & Conquer games and spamming Mammoth Tanks. Each race in sins does have a unit that can be used in this manner, but luckily once you get to know the game and the ship abilities of each race, this can be countered fairly effectively. The other flaw would be the A.I. I have not come across a game where the A.I will effectively behave and play close to a human player. Sins is not bad in the behaviour of the A.I but the one issue it does have, which is a big flaw for some people who like large scale fights with multiple enemies and allies, is the fact the A.I does not respond to commands. You have the ability to tell your allied A.I to attack or defend specific plants but after confirming the order they will suddenly change their mind and refuse to do as commanded, even when they outnumber the enemy 2:1. That aside, the game is still very enjoyable and does come at a reasonable price with the “Micro Expansions” coming in even lower.
All in all, if you like 4x strategy games and love a load of space battles then this is a game for you.