I had fought off numerous pirate raids before. They came, in massive numbers but in weak ships, and this time, I had a fleet in position to destroy them. Giving the planet a cursory look to make sure that, yes, my fleet was intercepting the pirate scum, I went to the other end of the solar system to build some improvements. Victory was assured, and there was work to be done. It was maybe a minute, minute and a half before I received a message: my planet was under siege. The enemy had come. Following behind the pirates, they had launched a massive assault on the world, battering and destroying my weakened fleet. And they had taken me completely by surprise.
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is the new standalone expansion to Ironclad Games and Stardock Entertainment’s interstellar 4X/RTS series. The hybrid aspects of the game (the RTS nature combined with the size, scope and exploration of a 4X game) places Sins almost in a class by itself. The game somehow is able to easily blend huge universes, spectacular battle sequences, and awesome drama without forcing the usual 30 actions per second for success that you get from most other RTS games. It almost feels turn-based in scope, but with the drama of real time action.
The game begins with a selection of map. There is no campaign, but with huge variety of maps to select from, ranging from tiny two person systems to massive interstellar groups (these games will take you days…) you almost don’t notice its absense. There are three races to choose from, each of whom has two subgroups that detest one another. Each race is massively different, from tech trees and base appearance to ship types and voice work. The three all have a unique feel. I found myself partial to the Vasari. I think their evil sounding voices suited my purposes. It just felt right to me to be blasting planets into submission “FOR THE EMPIRE.”
Beginning from your home world, you’ll build ships and research stations and expand into the surrounding universe. It is a cruel place- even uncolonized systems teem with privateers who will need to be cleared out. As you expand, you’ll come into contact with other civilizations. There are a wide range of diplomatic options, or you could simply build a large fleet and try to crush your foes. Diplomacy here is excellent for an RTS, as you can form trade agreements, assign bounties for one foe that other players can collect, or assign missions to potential allies. Of course, declaring war is always an option. One of the more interesting dynamics in the game is the pirate bidding war. Periodically, the pirates will launch an assault on one planet in the system. This assault will befall whoever has the highest bounty on their heads. These assaults are massive, meaning that the pirate bidding war is not something to be taken lightly.
The game provides a wonderful interface, from which you can select any planet at any time in the left hand menu. Fleets are easily grouped and managed via hotkeys. The universe is easy to access as well, as the game zooms from an individual trade ship view to a panoramic view of the entire solar system with the mouse wheel, with no break for loading. This, combined with the alert panel warning you of any pressing developments, makes it easy to manage an empire over dozens on planets.
Fleet actions are an awesome spectacle. Ships pop out of hyper drive and move to action. Cruisers and dreadnaughts move in to battle at close range, with capital ships blasting their weapons into multiple targets. Support ships form up behind those, using their special abilities to strengthen the battle line. Long range missile frigates fires off their ordinance from the fringes. Carriers launch their fighters and bombers, which whip through orbit, assaulting whatever enemy ships are in their way. And if you’ve managed to construct a titan, be prepared to witness catastrophic destruction.
The crowning achievement of Rebellion, however, isn’t any of those things. No, the true triumph of the game is the design of the AI. The AI is a terrific opponent, even on the lower difficultly settings. It will attempt to take you off guard, hitting you in different directions, and taking advantage of your misfortune. The AI will also expertly design defenses for its worlds, building starbases, laying mines, and generally making any sort of conquest a hard one. Typical strategy game AI opponents tend to lack the tenacity and intelligence of a human player, but in this case, the programmers were up to the task.
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is the rare game that puts an entire universe at your fingertips and somehow makes it easy to manage. The battles are wonderful to watch, and the AI puts up a vicious and intelligent fight. The game does have a steep difficultly curve (this despite the excellent tutorial) which might turn off a few players. I found, though, that after a couple of hours, with the basics under my belt, I had the pleasure of enjoying one of the finest strategy games on the market. For a game of this quality, the only sin is not playing.
- Full zoom universe and interface make managing an epic empire a snap
- Huge number of maps and scenarios
- Massive ships in wide variety make for excellent spectacle
- Best, fiercest AI in the business
- No single player campaign
- Only 24 hours in a day, and not enough to spend playing this