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Sins of a Solar Empire

If you’re in the mood to expand your influence over the universe, then Sins of a Solar Empire is the game for you. New home worlds and unexplored galaxies are just a phase jump and a few mouse clicks away, but that isn’t to say universal domination is easy, in fact it’s not. Surprisingly there are different species and cultures out there who do not want to be a part of your empire, but rather have you become a part of their own. In reality, hostile extra terrestrials are only a small portion of the extreme difficulty found in these star systems.

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Sins of a Solar Empire claims to be a real-time strategy game, and at first glance you might believe that claim. Each stage is played out over an entire galaxy, comprised of at least one star and a number of planets in its orbit. You start out with a planet of your own, which is your designated home world. You can see the other planets in your system but have no idea what is actually within their own planetary orbit without phase jumping or having some of the more sophisticated technology found in the game. If none of your units are currently in a planet’s orbit it’ll be covered in a shroud that operates like the ‘fog of war’ found in many other real-time strategy games.

Like any other real-time strategy game you’ll be harvesting various resources to build and expand your empire. Having a constant flow of crystals and metal is crucial to expanding throughout the galaxy. You’ll also be collecting taxes from the people who inhabit all the different planets under your banner. Through various types of planetary upgrades you’ll be able to grow a planets population capacity, thus allowing for more taxes and improved production at your crystal and metal mines on nearby asteroids.

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Planetary upgrading is just the beginning of the non tactical side of Sins of a Solar Empire. While it isn’t uncommon for real-time strategy games to have research trees for military units and abilities, it is a bit less common to have a civilian and diplomatic tree. Gaining control of your system will require you to be just as judicious in your civilian research projects as your military projects. In addition to building your various ship depots, defensive installations you’ll be constructing logistical buildings, including various research facilities and broadcast towers, the latter granting you the ability to broadcast to nearby planets and spread your influence in a non violent way.

If your empire is the type that likes to try and settle their differences peacefully you can do that too. Sins of a Solar Empire has various menus that keep the pulse of your galaxy and all the different inhabitants. It’ll also allow you to explore cease fires and trade with your enemies or allies. Or if you don’t want to get your own hands dirty, put a bounty on the head of your rival and have the legions of space pirates lurking around lay west to your enemies.

As your fleet spills over to new planets it can be a daunting task keeping them all in order. Sins of a Solar Empire does a great job with its graphics and interface to keep even the largest empire in some semblance of order. Much like the folder hierarchy found in Windows the game will group all of your units under the planet they are at and additionally group structures, frigates and so on. On top of the hierarchy each unit or structure has an icon that is super imposed, so no matter how close or far you are from the action you can still tell your units from your enemies.

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In addition to its claim of being a real-time strategy game, Sins of a Solar Empire claims to have unrivaled scale, and by god does it succeed. The sheer amount of game to be found here is either a curse or a blessing depending on the type of gamer you are. In addition to huge amounts of research, exploration and combat to be done in game there is an enormous amount of options and scenarios to fight your way through. While these options are welcome, allowing you to tailor your game it ends up feeling like another hurdle the player has to get over to enjoy the game. The learning curve is really unforgiving, and although the game does afford you some tutorial missions they are far too basic for a game of this scale.

It’s also disappointing that there isn’t a real campaign per say, but rather a huge list of scenarios to be played in any succession the player chooses. Strategy games have rarely had great stories but its perplexing that the game boots up with an interesting animated back story and then there is absolutely no story driven campaign to be found at all. The inclusion of an actual campaign with an escalating difficulty and hints of a story could have really helped get a new player up to speed.

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Sins of a Solar Empire is really a game where you will reap what you sew. Its depth and flexibility are great for letting a player define their own experience but are also part of a laundry list of features that will discourage the new strategy player from exploring this universe. If you’re determined enough there definitely is a deeply satisfying strategy experience to be found but most gamers wont have the patience to uncover it. The last claim Sins of a Solar Empire makes is 4x real-time strategy, they need to make that 20x.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

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