The internet is quite good at making up and appropriating words; a quick glance at the “leet” article on Wikipedia will prove that. Unfortunately, one of my favorite words—epic—has lost so much of its power that whenever I see it, it reads as an ironic parody. If only for a moment, I’d like to ask you to remember “epic” without the modern connotations, and instead recall it as a noun that described poems covering decades of time and nation-changing events; as an adjective that was greater than both “grand” and “majestic.” With that in mind, I’d like to tell you that Sins of Solar Empire: Rebellion is epic.
We had the chance to talk with Stardock producer Chris Bray a month ago and the conversation convinced me that the expansion to the now almost five-year-old game was focused on two things: improving what was there and stretching the scale of the game. Considering Sins already felt large due to its hours-long matches and solar point of view, it seemed like a bold goal. Having delved hours into it though, it’s clear that they managed to accomplish both objectives quite well.
For those unfamiliar with Sins, it’s best summed up as a grand RTS. Players pick one of three various races—TEC, Vasari, and Advent—who are uniquely nuanced in their tech trees and units. The game is played on the galactic scale, with players expanding to planets, mining resources, and then using those resources to both build fleets and research new technologies that allow for faster resource gathering and larger fleets.
The game’s advertising would like you to believe it’s a 4X game, but I’m going to politely and strongly disagree as gameplay boils down much more to managing an army than managing an empire. Both then and now, Sins stands out as game that went against the fast-paced, small scale, digestible chunk gameplay design philosophy that is prevalent amongst RTS games and was appropriately hailed as one of the most compelling titles in the genre. “Rebellion” marks the third expansion for the game.
The main features of “Rebellion” come from the splitting of each race into two different groups—loyalists and rebels—effectively giving players six playable factions. Having played Sins without the expansion, I was unsure they’d be able to differentiate the factions, but my doubts were quickly allayed after having touched on each one. While a lot of the technologies and units remain the same, the ability to specialize in both the early and late game brought about by faction-specific technologies is fantastic.
Consider the economy-focused TEC: loyalists can build up to two starbases, giving them the ability to turtle easily and place bounties on opposing empires. The rebels play aggressively though, and can implement a truce between both the pirate faction and local planet militia. This makes colonizing planets faster as now rebels won’t need to deal with the NPC enemy ships that are built into locations and can cut across pirate space without worrying about reprisal. Vasari rebels bolster friendly ships, encouraging alliances, while Vasari loyalists can eventually dismantle planets down to uninhabitable husks, ravaging an entire system. While the core tactics of each race remain the same, the splintering of the races means different playstyles are encouraged.
Corvettes and the much hyped titans have faction-specific abilities as well, further bolstering different tactical options. While not particularly great against human players who know how to target more important ships, the cheap corvettes are effectively impressive as a horde against enemy AI, confusing it with multiple targets. The titans are a wonder to behold. The huge ships outsize any capital ship by far and seem more designed around being visually impressive than battle effective.
That’s not to say that the titans can’t hold their own. While the tide eventually turned against me, I was able to destroy a starbase and two capital ships with a handful of corvettes and a Coronata, the Advent loyalists’ titan. The might of this ship may seem overpowering, but as building one sends out an announcement to every other player and effectively makes players building one resource poor, a smart opponent will take that as the signal to strike. In short, both ships on the opposite ends of the scale add depth to an already engagingly complex game.
While I said earlier that the 4X label of Sins was a misnomer, and I still stand by it, the much needed addition of new victory conditions help expand the endgame into more than just sending fleets against each other. The most notable of these is the research victory that allows defensive players with strong economies (I’m looking at you, TEC loyalists) to win without being forced to change their habits as the game winds down. A king-of-the-hill style victory requires military might, but directed against a heavily fortified npc planet. In addition to the diplomatic victory that was introduced in the “Diplomacy” expansion and remains here, those three paths offer less aggressive players a chance to take the game.
If I have one criticism about the expansion, it’s that it doesn’t fix one of the critical issues that it has had since the beginning: little assistance in surmounting a steep learning curve. New tutorials clarify the many game systems and the UI continues to be one of the best designed in terms of clearly and cleanly conveying lots of information, but there are still so many things to consider in the game that it may scare lots of new players.
“Rebellion” does exactly what an expansion should do: give compelling reason for fans of the game to come back. At its core lies the original Sins that players know and love, and the addition of more ships, new technologies and varied factions give it a fresh feel. While it still lacks the tools to help ease new players in, this is easily the place one should start as it has all of what was great about the original and makes it better. Whether you’re an old Sins player that’s been looking to get back in or if you’re a new player looking for a fantastic RTS game that goes against the grain of modern RTS design philosophy, I can’t recommend Sins of the Solar Empire: Rebellion more highly. It’s epic.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ New factions provide more tactical options
+ More victory conditions vary the endgame
+ Updated graphics give the game a fresh coat of paint
- No single-player
- Tutorials are sparse
- Learning curve may be tough for many
9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion was developed by Ironclad Games and published by Stardock Entertainment for the PC. A copy was supplied to RipTen for review purposes.