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Sins of a Solar Empire – Entrenchment (PC) artwork

Sins of a Solar Empire – Entrenchment (PC) review


"Originally slated for release near the beginning of this year, Stardock wisely delayed this expansion and instead opened up beta testing to the community, allowing anyone who'd pre-ordered the game (such as myself) to contribute to development. The result is one of the most polished expansions I've seen in my many years of digital conquest, well-balanced and virtually bug-free upon official release."



What is the ideal expansion pack?

Since the dawn of history, philosophers have mulled over this most fundamental of questions. What should an expansion bring? What makes an expansion different from a sequel? In many cases (Knights of the Old Republic II comes to mind), the answer is "hardly a thing", but recent stand-alone expansions (I'm looking at you, THQ) have blurred those lines. Thankfully for my wallet, along came Sins of a Solar Empire: Entrenchment, an expansion of the traditional school that expands both the gameplay and title of an already stellar (haw haw) RTS. With its unassuming budget price tag, one might assume it to be a glorified patch with a few extra maps and token balance changes. Such a one would be mistaken.

Originally slated for release near the beginning of this year, Stardock wisely delayed this expansion and instead opened up beta testing to the community, allowing anyone who'd pre-ordered the game (such as myself) to contribute to development. The result is one of the most polished expansions I've seen in my many years of digital conquest, well-balanced and virtually bug-free upon official release. Since Entrenchment requires the original game to be installed, I'll assume readers are already familiar with the basic gameplay; if not, take a glance at Suskie's review before proceeding.

In vanilla Sins, the best defense was a strong offense; static defensive structures were nowhere near as cost-effective as a small mobile fleet at guarding your colonies. Entrenchment blows the lid off that whole line of thinking and makes turtling a perfectly viable tactic. For starters, each race's defensive structures are significantly improved and given research that unlocks secondary abilities, be it disruption nanites for Vasari missile turrets, secondary weapons for TEC gauss cannons, synergy bonuses to stacks of Advent beam cannons, and equally useful abilities for fighter hangars. A whole new "defensive" tech tree is filled with new research items that enhance static defenses, as well as the defensive capabilities of your warships.

But new research isn't all there is; Entrenchment has a few brand-new toys to play with as well. The first of these are minefields, which are fairly self-explanatory, and differ slightly between the three races. TEC players construct theirs like any other tactical structure, while Vasari require a new cruiser that drops them a la Homeworld. Advent, being the strike-craft-whores they are, can construct seeking drone-mines from any carrier, hangar, or capital ship, which follow their mothership like normal strike-craft until ordered to deploy to a static position and arm themselves. Each race's scouts gain a new ability to "sweep" for mines, giving this previously useless ship a much more important role (mines hurt a lot).

To deal with tougher and more fearsome defensive structures, the TEC and Advent have access to new long-range ASSAULT CRUISERS, tailored to mow down structures from a safe distance but with shields and armor more akin to a light frigate. Keep them well guarded; the Ogrov's heavy torpedoes and the Adjudicator's powerful plasma cannons can make short work of the most heavily guarded planet. The Vasari don't get one, more on that in a sec.

But by far the coolest and most interesting new toys are the STARBASES, the ultimate in defensive technology. Armed to the teeth with turrets, beam cannons, missile batteries and fighter hangars, protected by powerful shields and nigh-impenetrable armor, these massive structures are capable of fending off entire fleets single-handed. Their price, however, is nothing to scoff at. Short of a massive direct assault the best way to deal with these mammoth stations is to hit them when they're still under development; starbases require costly and time-consuming upgrades to reach their full potential, each requiring almost as much time and resources to develop as the original base itself, and until they are complete a newly built starbase is no greater a challenge than any capital ship. Though armed with multitudes of combat upgrades to defend your colonies, starbases can also be upgraded to bolster your economy and act as a ridiculously large trade port - this allows your empire to connect trade routes through gravity wells containing no planets. In addition each racial base has some unique upgrades; the TEC starbase can be equipped with construction and repair facilities, and a self-destruct capable of obliterating an entire armada, while the Advent arm theirs with psionic attacks capable of disabling enemy ships and bombarding planets with asteroids.

The Vasari starbase is a whole different can of beans. I said before that the Vasari lack an assault cruiser; this is because their Orkulus starbase fills a similar role. Research allows the Orkulus to be built more quickly if deployed inside an enemy gravity well, and its initial (discounted) weapon upgrade arms it with anti-structure disintegrator beams. Its greatest advantage, however, is its mobility; unlike the other two stationary bases, the Orkulus is free to float around its gravity well and engage targets at will with its multitude of weapon batteries, making it the most dangerous of the three starbases. Its special abilities include frontal damage reduction, colony pods that house taxable population, hull repair system fed by debris of destroyed ships, and a mobile phase stabilizer.

Understandably, many an enemy force will no doubt attempt to skirt along outside the range of the stationary TEC and Advent bases, even outrunning the fearsome but slow-moving Orkulus mentioned above, perhaps attempting to bombard and seize their home planet regardless. But have no fear; my favorite starbase upgrade locks the sovereignty of its home planet, allowing it to remain under your control when normally the colony would be lost, as long as the starbase is intact. Should your opponent (wisely) shy away from such a confrontation, even retreat is not an attractive option; starbases disrupt the phase lanes leading out of their gravity well, causing signifigant damage and antimatter drain to any ship attempting to flee.

Either or both of these factors force an attacking player to assault the starbase directly if he wants to take your planet, or simply retreat without casualties, and with a fully upgraded starbase staring them down this is seldom a desirable option. As I mentioned before, these things are nasty.

Starbase battles sure look pretty though, what with energy weapons and missiles and explosions everywhere.

If it's not obvious, starbases are Entrenchment's main attraction, and easily the coolest part of this expansion. If my enthusiasm makes them sound overpowered, I assure you this is not the case; all of Entrenchment's new features are finely tuned and balanced, largely the result of direct community involvement in the beta stage, and serve to vastly enrich an already deep and challenging RTS title - a tall order for its meager price tag.

Rating: 10/10

WilltheGreat's avatar
Freelance review by Will Roy (April 21, 2009)

Will is grumpy, sarcastic and Canadian. He occasionally crawls out of his igloo to cover sci-fi and strategy games. Has a love-hate relationship with cats. And the colour purple.

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Suskie posted April 21, 2009:

Very interesting. Until now, the only other review I'd read for Entrenchment was Game Revolution's, which was aggressively negative. They argued (and this was my biggest fear) that the Starbases introduce a much higher emphasis on defensive play, essentially morphing the game into TurtleFest 3000. This always seemed like a pretty radical change to me, since the original Sins practically forced players to expand and punished them for sitting around twiddling their thumbs. It's already a slow game anyway, so Entrenchment's additions seemed ill-suited.

They're clearly in the minority, but I'm still not entirely convinced these changes are for the better. You say that the best way to take down a Starbase is to nail them while they're in construction, but what happens if you miss your chance? I recognize that Sins is a slow-paced game but I wouldn't want progress to come to a halt altogether and reduce the gameplay to a lot of minimal back-and-forth between empires. (This sounds exacerbated by the upgrade you mentioned that leaves you in control of a planet even after its colony has been bombarded, so long as its Starbase remains intact.) That's not to say this isn't a very informative review -- it is -- I'm just curious whether it comes down to personal taste, or whether I'm simply being too skeptical.

Either way, ten bucks is a steal so I'll probably find out for myself soon enough. Hell, this expansion is probably what I need to pull me back into this game after going far too long without playing it. On a side note, I need to rewrite my original review. It really sucks.
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WilltheGreat posted April 22, 2009:

Starbases are tough, but they aren't indestructible. The first defensive upgrade doubles shield and armor capacity, but also takes 1800 credits (and some crystal/metal) and about a minute and a half to construct. If your opponent is sinking his income into building unbeatable starbases then he's not expanding, and that means you can mass those assault cruisers and take 'em down from a safe distance. I think the TEC one has does something like 40 DPS against structures and fires from halfway across a gravity well.

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