I’ve been a fan of the Sins of a Solar Empire series for a while now. Really, about the only problem I’ve ever had with the franchise has been the name. It is a little long and unwieldy. So other than the fact that it adds yet another word to the already sentence long title, I’ve been eagerly anticipating Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion for a while now. I’ve been sitting here for an insane amount of time trying to work out some cool acronym to shorten the title, but it just comes out to SOASER or SSER, neither of which are really cool, so we’ll just go with Rebellion for the purposes of this article. Anyway, enough rambling from me, on with what you’re here for: the review.
I have to admit, at first I was a little put off by the UI. It just seemed really cluttered with too much everywhere. But as I played, things started making more and more sense. I started noticing little things that were wonderful about it. I have to admit, it’s been quite a while since I’ve played Sins, and there have been a lot of strategy (and non-strategy) games between now and then, so I can’t recall exactly what the UI was like before the expansion. With Rebellion, it has been updated to be more dynamic. This is definitely something I noticed while playing. I love the fact that, for example, if I have my construction ship selected and I’m trying to decide which structure to build, the hotkeys for each structure have little icons on them if they can’t be built for whatever reason. Rather than just being grayed out or having a big red slash through them like in most games, there are little contextually appropriate icons telling you why you can’t build that item. Examples include a little credit symbol if you’re too broke or a little metal or crystal icon if those are missing. It's a very nice, if simple, addition to the UI that other devs need to take notice of.
Graphics & Sound:
There really isn’t much in the way of earth-shattering, or well, space-shaking changes to report here. If you’ve played Sins, you know what to expect. It is an expansion after all. But that being said, there have been some under the hood type of tweaks to help the game take advantage of newer hardware and technology. Primarily, this will help with things like shadows, lighting, textures, and particle effects. All very important things no doubt, but nothing very exciting to the average gamer. Sure, if you’ve spent hundreds of hours playing Sins already, you’ll probably notice. If you’re more of a casual player, it may not be as apparent to you. And if you’re new to the franchise, well, let’s just say you won’t be disappointed by the game graphically. Sins has always been a very pretty game that offers very good levels of scalability for play on a wide range of PCs.
The best thing I can generally want from the sounds and music of a game designed for me to spend hundreds of hours playing is that they not be annoying. I know at first glance that may come across as a bit harsh, but think about it. They can only add so many background music tracks. At some point it is going to get repetitive. You’re going to start hearing the same music over and over. I understand that it's a problem with strategy games and MMOs, both genres where people tend to replay the same areas over and over, and spend a lot more time playing than most other genres. The music and sound in Rebellion meet that criterion for me. I never felt the need to go into the menu and turn it off. It fit with what was going on on the screen without jumping out and being all in my face screaming “look at me, I’m the background music, love me!”
Story & Races/Factions:
Sins has always shied away from the whole single player campaign thing, and I’ve always been of two minds about that. For one, I’ve always loved me some single player campaigns in RTS gaming, but on the other hand, even I have to admit they’ve always been the worst parts of RTS games. They’re always campy and don’t quite play in the same manner as the game does in multiplayer. Diving into Rebellion, I was instantly glad there was no campaign. I can’t imagine how silly and campy the story would have had to have been to explain how all three races in a three sided war have suddenly started a civil war amongst themselves and split into two factions each. Ironclad gives a little bit of background story on each faction’s page explaining what has happened and why, and then you’re thrown into the game, be it in single player sandbox mode or online multiplayer.
When starting said game, you choose between the Loyalist or Rebel factions of each race (the TEC, Advent, or Vasari). While the Rebels and Loyalists of each race are primarily the same, each faction gets a bit of unique technologies and toys to separate it from the other side.
Each faction enters the rebellion with access to new corvette class warships, which are small and cheap to build offensive powerhouses. On the other end of the spectrum, each faction gets access to new Titan class warship that are, well, titanic. They are enormous and deadly, and only get worse as they level up and become more powerful. And to make matters worse, there’s also a new Capital ship for each race. All told, there are tons of new toys for each side to play with.
When you first jump into Rebellion, you’ll notice a decent amount of tutorials. I’ve played the series before, but figured what the heck, let’s take them for a spin. I’m honestly glad I did, as they were really well done and did a decent job of explaining where things were and how to go about dominating the galaxy.
The new faction split in each species is an interesting addition to the gameplay options. As I said above, for the most part they play the same. Their researchable technology remains about three quarters the same, but with that last quarter differentiating them from each other enough to make playing the TEC Loyalists different from playing the TEC Rebels. Of course, as I mentioned above, they each have a new and different Titan class warship further separating them from their faction rivals.
There are also now more ways to declare your victory over the galaxy. Instead of just military (conquest) or diplomatic victories, you can now aim for such valiant triumphs as Last Capital Standing, Last Flagship Standing, Occupation Victory, and Research Victory.
Another major concern from the community that Ironclad spent a lot of focus on was balancing the game. You can imagine if there were already balance concerns what doubling the playable factions would do to that. Ironclad appears to have done a decent job of keeping this in mind while doing a rebalancing sweep across the game.
Closing with a Rebel Yell:
Admittedly not everything is perfect. I ran into a couple of hiccups with the UI. If you switch from one thing to another (planet to constructor ship for example), the contextual hotkeys don’t automatically switch. Let me explain that better. Let’s say I have the planet selected and I’m using the hotkeys/buttons to do some planetary improvements, upgrading population, exploring, and all that happy stuff and I click on the constructor ship to build some of the new tactical structures I’ve just unlocked slots for. Even though I no longer have the planet selected, I still have to back out of the planetary improvements hotbar and select the constructor ship’s hotbar, then go into the tactical structures selection from there. Sure, it really only takes a couple seconds extra, but it just feels like something that is supposed to happen automatically, since in the above example, once you no longer have the planet selected, you can’t access any of the planetary improvement hotkeys.
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion suffers another problem that really, all games of this genre suffer: multiplayer. While the multiplayer is fun, it IS a huge commitment. You have to be ready to commit yourself to several hours. But like I said, this is really a problem the whole 4X strategy genre faces.
Overall though, Rebellion is a VERY solid 4X strategy title. As a standalone expansion, it does very well at balancing between long time Sins fans and newcomers to the series. Both should feel right at home and have a lot of fun playing Rebellion. The new UI tweaks are a very welcome sight. The rebalancing efforts should please the longtime Sins fans. And the new faction splits should broaden the options and replayability for everyone.
· Lots of new toys to play with.
· Doubling the Factions adds more options and replayability.
· UI Tweaks add small, yet very helpful changes.
· Nice focus on Balance.
· More Ways to Dominate your Opponents (i.e. Victory Conditions)
· Minor UI Annoyances.
· Multiplayer is a serious time commitment.