Sins of a Solar empre (SSE) is a real time strategy game. I’ve always split the RTS category in two; the games that make you really think and the ones that don’t. Warcraft 3 is an example of what I consider a game that doesn’t require much thinking. It’s very straight forward. SSE however is a thinking game. You won’t sit down for the first time and know what you’re doing because it won’t feel like every other RTS game you’ve ever played. From the official website:
“Take control of one of three space-faring races as you work to establish your dominance of the galaxy in Sins of a Solar Empire. Through a combination of diplomacy, economic savvy, the spread of culture and of course sheer brute force and victory on the battlefield you will establish order over your corner of the galaxy.”
That’s short and to the point. More specifically SSE is a RTS of massive, maybe even galactic, proportions. Nothing is small in SSE. The “smallest” map is enormous compared to what you might be familiar with in other RTS games. Each map consists of multiple planets and naturally occurring phenomenon surrounding a star. Each of these locations has their own surrounding space that is buildable and each is interconnected through a network of conduits that allow for fast travel between them. Without confusing you more than I probably have already let me just end the explanation by saying each map is enormous and you can view it all at once or zoom in on to each individual unit.
A standard map starts off with each player inhabiting a capital planet. Each player is given some starting construction units and a frigate factory. In order to win you need a stable economy, a strong fleet of ships, and a lot of expansion. In order to achieve a healthy and stable economy one must travel out from their starting planet and conquer other planets nearby. It’s not uncommon for each starting capital planet to have at least 3 adjacent planets connected by conduits. From there each of those 3 planets might have 3 more adjacent planets and so on. Surrounding each planet (or asteroid, since those are inhabitable too) there are resource nodes of Mineral and Crystal. SSE utilizes a three part economic system: Credits, Minerals, and Crystal. To obtain Minerals and Crystal all you need to do is conquer the planet, colonize the planet, and then build mining operations on each. It’s harder than it sounds sometimes. To obtain Credits you need to tax the citizens of each planet you own and trade with other planets (your own and your allies). SSE uses another interesting economy feature. The “Black market” allows players to buy and sell resources to each other. Careful though, if you’re not paying attention you could get ripped off.
Building a strong fleet of ships is a fairly basic. There are three types of ships: Frigates, Cruisers, and Capital Ships. Think of the Capital ships as “hero” units. They have abilities and are much stronger than frigates and cruisers. A balanced fleet requires ships of all types. Strong ranged missile frigates, plasma cruisers, anti fighter frigates, cruisers that carry mini-fighters, and about two dozen other types of ships make up the assortment of options in SSE. After you decide on a decent ship make-up for your fleet you can then upgrade each of these through the use of an overwhelming upgrade tree.
Everything in SSE can be upgraded. At first one of the more confusing aspects to the game but later on one of the greatest assets, these tech trees allow for a a huge variation of gameplay. While confusing and overwhelming, once you learn what each upgrade does you’ll begin to realize the power that upgrading can really provide. Upgrades can turn a slow economy in to a thriving one, a strong fleet into an unstoppable fleet, and truly turn a complex game into an intricately woven masterpiece. The game comes full circle through the use of these tech trees.
The last interesting feature in SSE that I’ll talk about today is the computer AI. It’s incredibly smart, adaptive, and downright brilliant sometimes. I was playing one match where I decided to try and be cheap by sending a distraction fleet of ships to one of the computer’s planets and sending a squadron of planetary bombardment frigates to another. My goal was to lure their ships away from the planet and allow my bombers to make quick work of its planet. The plan worked. No more than two minutes later though the computer pulled the EXACT same stunt on me! I was in complete shock to see such a higher level of ‘thinking’ from what I’ve always expected to be stupid AI. Strategies aren’t the only neat AI features. SSE has Pirate factions that can be paid bounties to attack other players. Whoever pays the largest bounty can win over the Pirate AI’s help. It’s never fun to have a computer dump thousands of credits onto a bounty with your name on it.
Graev and I have been playing several LAN games together over the past few days. It’s worth mentioning the game doesn’t require the CD to be in and two players can play locally together with only one key (even though we haven’t even entered the key yet… odd). Each map we’ve played has turned in to a 3-4 hour long galactic battle of space conquest – and we’ve been playing on the smallest map. The smallest map is contains 10-13 planets surrounding one star and the biggest maps can be 100 or so planets comprising of multiple solar systems…. far too many for me to even comprehend. It would take weeks to complete one of the maps. Luckily the game comes with a save game option so that you can take breaks and play and your leisure.
Sins of a Solar Empire surprised me. I’m usually not a fan of these complex and “thinker” RTS games. SSE pulls off the perfect balance of intricate gameplay and fun. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a long lasting real time strategy game.