|Dev: Ironclad Games|
|Release: June 12, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Fantasy Violence, Mild Language|
by Robert VerBruggen
When Sins of a Solar Empire debuted in 2008, it filled a niche that no other game occupied—it was basically a more complicated Civilization set in space. Now, developer Ironclad Games has released Rebellion, which is technically an "expansion" but really more of an upgrade; it includes all the material from the previous expansions, along with new content featuring better graphics, some significant gameplay tweaks, and some added bells and whistles. The Sins franchise is no longer alone in the universe—Legends of Pegasus looms on the horizon with its customizable ships and terraforming system—so the big question is whether the core game holds up well enough to stave off the invasion.
The answer is maybe. While Sins is showing its age a bit, it still offers a solid experience. Newcomers to the Sins franchise will find the game immensely enjoyable, so long as they don't mind the complexity and the slow pace. In addition, some of the tweaks run deep enough that longtime Sins fans might want to drop $30 to upgrade their game. (Full price for newcomers is $40.) It's far from inconceivable that Legends of Pegasus will be a better product, but it's also far from guaranteed. And until late July when Legends debuts, Rebellion is all we have.
Here's a quick introduction to the series for the uninitiated. As I mentioned above, Sins aspires to have the same scope as Civilization—it's basically a big sandbox that you have to colonize. However, in comparison with the simplified Civ games we've seen of late, Sins is far less accessible—while the game provides all sorts of information that will help you conquer the universe, you don't have advisers holding your hand and telling you exactly what needs to be done all the time. You have to truly manage your empire here, rather than just reacting to various problems and opportunities as they arise. Sins also features a much more complicated maze of menus—the ways you can manage your research, diplomacy, resources, planetary development, and military strategy are seemingly endless.
Also, the space setting makes the geography of the game completely different—rather than exploring a territory in complete freedom, you make linear "phase jumps" between planets as you discover and colonize the universe. As you uncover more and more planets, the sense of scale becomes truly astounding. With a simple scroll of the mouse wheel, you can go from viewing an entire solar system to watching a firefight between two small ships.
And perhaps most importantly, events unfold in real time rather than in turns, which puts pressure on you to think quickly—but don't get too worried, because the game speed is adjustable and the franchise is notorious for its overall unhurried pace. This is perhaps the biggest problem that easily bored gamers will have. Some people even read or watch movies while they play.
As the developers freely admit, up until this point, Sins has been a one-trick pony: It's a single-player game that places you in various maps and tells you to explore them. While multiplayer has always been available, the developers' statistics indicate that very few players use it—probably because a single match can easily last five hours. And Sins has never included a story-based campaign.
Rebellion still doesn't feature a campaign—Ironclad tried to make one and discovered that it just doesn't work—but it does include some improvements that might make multiplayer tolerable. Most interestingly, players now have the option to add a variety of new victory conditions. In one, players can no longer relocate their capital planets, so they lose whenever their home base is destroyed. In another, players compete to occupy a specific planet, and the game ends when one succeeds. Now, multiplayer matches can be as short as an hour or so, which is a much more reasonable demand to make of a gamer with a busy schedule.
Another new development is that each of the game's three factions is divided up into loyalist and rebellious sub-factions. This ties into the underlying lore of the series—at this point of the story, the galaxy is in turmoil, and each faction has turned against itself. Splitting the factions doubles your options in terms of who'll you'll play as, and each faction comes with a variety of stat bonuses that are arranged to reflect the story without throwing off the game balance.