Sins of a Solar Empire (PC) review
"This is a pretty darn good game. But it's just shy of being a great game. In fact it has improved my opinion of the RTS genre. I've had three RTS games that have really impressed me. The first of course is Age of Empires, I remember being very excited in my very first play of that game, the second was Company of Heroes, and this is the third. Interestingly it is the departures from the latest standard RTS fare that have re-ignited my interest in this form of PC gaming. Namely, it doesn't exactly..."
This is a pretty darn good game. But it's just shy of being a great game. In fact it has improved my opinion of the RTS genre. I've had three RTS games that have really impressed me. The first of course is Age of Empires, I remember being very excited in my very first play of that game, the second was Company of Heroes, and this is the third. Interestingly it is the departures from the latest standard RTS fare that have re-ignited my interest in this form of PC gaming. Namely, it doesn't exactly feel like one of the horde of clones that we have been inundated with. It moves at a stately pace, down right civilized if you select the slow option. The pause capability is very useful, and allows you to issue orders and spend cash if things are getting away from you. To be fair, many RTS games have this ability to pause, the difference here is that the game is not a click/scroll fest like so many of the RTS clones while not paused.
This is refreshing, and while not revolutionary it speaks to a large amount of thought about how they wanted the game to play. Which brings me to the devs claims of 'Unprecedented Scale". I like where they are going with that, but I don't think they got there, and in fact I don't think the pure RTS can get there at all. I think the hybrids like the Total War series got there, and traditional 4x turn based games easily get there, but not this game. Here's why, quite simply, the strategy portion of the game is still real time, this puts very real limits on how complex the sundry 'strategic' bits can really be and remain fun/playable. They included a lot of these strategic (traditionally 4X) areas, diplomacy, trading, tech trees, buildings and planet upgrades, but at the end of the day they are relatively shallow as compared to say, the Civilization series. It is a functional limitation of the pure RTS format, period.
Another effect of going for a strategic heavy pure RTS was that the battles themselves are rather dull affairs, where RTS' typically shine (Like Warhammer 40K) is typically in the large scale battles and animations, explosions etc. While this game is better in that department than, say, Galactic Civ, it is not overly impressive. In any event, Galactic Civ never claimed to have RTS battles either, an interesting situation all in all.
There are some intriguing strategy possibilities within the battles such as the use of carriers, but overall it is rather 2 dimensional. The camera can zoom all over but there is little to see, and what there is to see you saw already in Star Wars Empire at War.
However, that is not to say that they have not scored a hit with their take on the strategic heavy pure RTS, this game works and it works well even if it is not nearly as deep as they have claimed. The graphics are pretty good, but the game is set in space and the graphics requirements to generate 'space' are not large. As I have noted before, impressive detail on ships is fine for what it is, you look at it once, and then spend the rest of the game zoomed out managing at the strategic level not caring what the ships look like, you only care that the little colored pip of the enemy fleet goes away and your colony is safe. Probably my biggest gripe is also tied to something I have noted on other game reviews, lack of a good (in this case no) single player campaign and heavy emphasis on the on-line multiplay aspect. I am likely in the minority here, but I like the single player campaigns. I'm not interested in figuring out the mathematically perfect build sequence to generate 9.5 frigates every 1.2 seconds in order to rush an online player. I understand some people are, but it's not my bag baby. This game has a zero in the campaign department, a big goose egg. In fact, I had to laugh at the history in the very limited players manual, why bother? It has no impact if there is not a campaign, you don't need back story for a good multi player online game. All you need is balance and options which sound contradictory (and sometimes are), but that's the reality of it.
So, overall I gave it an 8, it would have easily been a 9 or better with a good campaign, and I wonder if they intended to make one and just did not get to it. That sounds likely and I suppose I'd rather have it this way than not at all in the big scheme of things. Great game, good try at the strategic heavy pure RTS but the limitations of the format showed their ugly head on this one, the idea turns out to be slightly better than the execution but it is definitely worth the money. Get it, enjoy it, be warned it is limited in several respects.
Community review by jsgx3 (July 12, 2009)
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