#865 Sins of a Solar Empire

Posted: 5th June 2014 by Jeroen in Games
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338th played so farSins-of-a-Solar-Empire-box-art_lgGenre: Strategy/Simulation
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Ironclad Games
Publisher: Stardock

I’ll be honest. There are certain games where, once I realise what they are, I look forward to playing, because I am fairly sure they’ll push the right buttons. Sins of a Solar Empire is a spiritual successor to Galactic Civilizations, a 4X game we enjoyed but that was unfortunately too unstable for us to play for long.

Hopefully, Sins of a Solar Empire will make up for that and give us something else fun to play with.

Our Thoughts

As we started playing, it rather quickly became clear that this wasn’t an update of Galactic Civilizations (that game already taking a lot from Masters of Orion). It has a lot of elements, but it’s focused more on battles, faster gameplay and shorter turnarounds. I would say it seems closer to Rise Of Nations – it’s a similar cut down 4X experience that becomes more of a strategy game than empire building.

At the same time, the game’s economy and expansion is more complex than a real time strategy game such as Warcraft or Command & Conquer, with far more extended research tree and a focus on developing different planets. It’s the type of combination we’ll see coming in Age of Empires as well, on the intermediate scale between immediate battles and the big empire-building games.

Ultimately, it’s a game where you improve planets to support more troops and research further abilities to create the large fleets you need to take out your enemies. This takes place in one solar system (or two or three in the large maps), with specific trade lanes linking planets, asteroids and space debris. You colonize planets one at a time, mining their surroundings for resources and building all sorts of space buildings to expand your fleet, defend your planets, do further research and more.

As much as it is a mix of two different styles, it does work. Not as well as Rise of Nations, but there are enough engaging things going on. The downside is the length of the game. It feels set up for the length of a 4X game, but at a (real time) pace that makes it hard to keep going. Resources are also incredibly limited, with some big limits on what you can build, making it difficult to progress if you don’t plan it exactly right. This especially shows on small maps – good luck finding enough room to build all your research stations! It permeates the game, in a way that felt too limiting.

Combat, at the same time, is as frustrating. It’s incredibly slow – especially as you need large armies, the time it takes for two of them to meet can easily taken ten to fifteen minutes – during which you also need to focus on the rest of your empire. The real time nature is a disadvantage here, as you need to spend time directing your troops (the automated use doesn’t always cut it) but it’s just not interesting enough to hold your interest – ships moving slowly and taking ages destroying each other.

It looks gorgeous though – detailed ship models, nice planet designs and so on. When you’re zoomed in far enough, it looks pretty neat. Unfortunately, though, the complexity of the simulation kicks in again and ruins it. To keep a proper overview, you need to zoom out so you can see most of the system. At this point, the ships become invisible, replaced with an icon (they’re often too dark to really see anyway), which obscures most of what looks nice about it. The scale of this map overview really feels off anyway – there’s no separate worldmap, so you’re constantly zooming in and out to find places. There’s not much context either – because the planets are all separate, they don’t feel like to form some coherent system, you just follow the lines.

Final Thoughts

I’m sure that part of my misgivings about this game come from the different expectations we had for it. Still, even discarding that, it feels like the game is a bit lacking in places. The impressive graphics are nice when you see them, but the scale of the game doesn’t really allow you to do that during regular play. The game feels uncertain how much of it should be empire building and how much should be strategy and battles, which means the joins show and it makes it awkward to play. While, at its basic, a good idea, it feels like it has been pitched wrong. A shame really, because there is something fun in there.

  1. […] however, I’m probably most annoyed that Sins of a Solar Empire wasn’t what I hoped for. While it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t the 4X game its […]