Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion Impressions

Platform | Release Date
PC | June 12, 2012
Developed by Ironclad Studios
Published by Stardock Entertainment

The Pitch:

While many were hopeful that diplomacy would finally end the war, differing opinions on what should be done, along with the depleted power of the controlling factions, has led to a splintering of the groups involved.

The loyalist members of the Trader Emergency Coalition adopt a policy of isolation, focusing on enhanced defenses to ride out the rest of the war. Those who rebel against the coalition take on a purely militant view, coming to the opinion that the only way to bring peace is by ultimately crushing all who oppose them – especially xenos.

“The enemy is building something new.”

Six words of terror. Titans, the new superunit introduced in Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, are so powerful the game tells you the moment an enemy begins construction on one. Immense, gorgeous, and designed to crush planetary defenses and fleets alike, Titans are spaceship porn.

Merely building the Titan, however, is only a small fraction of the battle. It supersedes all other units in the game, but you can only have one. More importantly, Rebellion places a heavy emphasis on veterancy for capital ships and Titans. A Level 1 Titan is arousing but it doesn’t have much of a payload. Capital ships provide anchors for your fleets until you can bring a Titan into the field. The key is finding a way to build these expensive ships as early as possible, without destroying your economy because both kinds need to “fatten up” before they’re truly useful. Low-level ships can easily get overwhelmed by swarms of lesser units – something the AI is particularly good at. If the enemy gets a Titan, or even several capital ships a few levels above your own, head-to-head battles will almost never turn in your favor.

Aside from herding your ships into the correct system, combat isn’t about placement, as the AI auto-attack is very effective. People who prize their APM (actions-per-minute) rating need not apply. Starcraft is up-close, swift, and brutal. Rebellion is RTS played at a distance; slow enough it could almost be turn-based, but with enough information to parse that it’s necessary to pause the game frequently just to figure things out. Ships are gorgeous when you zoom in, but you spend more time looking at icons of units or planetary systems than the units themselves. How many ships do I have in this system? Have I discovered the inevitable chokepoint planet where the enemy will come from? Which planet should I colonize next?

Since its initial release in 2008, Sins of a Solar Empire has provided a unique blend of RTS and 4X. Unlike typical base building games which frown on overexpansion, economic development in this game demands early expansion and regular growth thereafter. You can beat yourself in the first hour just as much as combat can kill you in the fifth. Over-extension is obviously still possible, but an individual match will go so much better if you have the chokepoint planets first rather than the AI.

The exploration, expansion, and exploitation elements necessitate a number of mechanics feeding into the RTS core of the game. My first night with it made me feel incredibly stupid, just overwhelmed with the amount of information on-screen. I’d strongly recommend doing every tutorial the game provides before jumping into a match – and even then, the UI takes some adjustment before you can actually “see” the information presented by the game. I’d also recommend disabling pirates in the game creation dialog, because piracy in the game is relentless. It’s hard enough to suss out all that goes on in the game without constant harrying attacks from a “neutral” third party. That said, if you bank enough coin and bid at the right moment, you can pay the pirates to harass your opponents instead. I laughed about that mechanic once I realized it was there, as if a type of griefing was integrated into the design. It’s still better disabled.

If you prefer a more hectic experience, the best way to go are the small maps which can start you with the enemy capital next door. I barely survived an early game rush. My forces were battered, shaken, and I was unsure whether to press the (small) advantage I had or consolidate and expand. The safe route lengthened the match but ended up assuring victory because I had kept my first capital ship alive while killing the AI’s first one. This veterancy advantage proved decisive. The most sprawling encounters can last ten hours or more but this compact experience was a delightful 90 minute snack.

So far I’ve focused my efforts on a single faction, but Rebellion offers six to play with and numerous parameters with which to start a game against the AI. I don’t feel like I understand the game enough to wade into online multiplayer just yet, but look for thoughts on that in our future full review. That said, I can safely say Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is worth checking out for fans of RTS and 4X games alike.

About David Hughes

David Hughes is an Editor for Splitkick. PC gamer, mod lover, screenarcher, and Elder Scrolls fanboy.
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