PC/Mac/Linux
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System Requirements:
Microsoft Windows XP SP2/Vista
1.8GHz Processor
512MB RAM (1GB for Vista)
128MB 3D Video Card (GeForce 6600/Radeon 9600 or better)
DirectX 9.0c
Broadband Connection for Internet Multiplayer

Sins of a Solar Empire is a real time strategy (RTS) game that takes place in outer space. It is a variation on what is called the '4X=' game. In a 4X game, your goal is to eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate your opponent. Here, you do all of those things, but instead of it being turn based as the genre commonly is, it's all in real time, like common RTS games. The manual dubs it a RT4X game.

There are three factions fighting for domination, survival, or revenge. You can choose one of the three galactic powers: the Trader Emergency Coalition (TEC), the Advent, or the Vasari. The TEC is the result of the abrupt end of a 1000 year peaceful prosperity of the Trade Order of humans where the ancient Vasari appear out of seemingly nowhere to bring back their former domination. As a result of the Vasari's appearance, the Trade Order quickly turns their immense economic might towards war, as they try to drive them back. If that wasn't enough, the Advent, an exiled sect of humans from at least 1000 years before, has greatly advanced in psionic and biotechnology sciences, and are back for revenge from being exiled.

It's a pretty interesting backdrop that leads to the conflict that you get to take part in. The real surprise in all of this is this game's biggest downfall: it doesn't matter. The storyline, and the intro video that helps explain it, set a backdrop for a game that has no story or campaign mode to explore it further. There is an interesting backdrop, but the game never embellishes on it. All there is available is single player or multiplayer skirmishes. However, even with that rather significant downfall, there are many, many skirmishes available that mostly makes up for it.

In Sins of a Solar Empire, you have a 3D view of the map you are in, and you can move the camera in any direction, and zoom out to see every planet as a small cluster of icons, or zoom in to look at every detail of even the smallest ships. Though the game takes place in complete 3D space, and you can move ships to anywhere in that space within a gravity well, it naturally tends to a basically 2D flat plane around each planet within its gravity well. Travel between planets is done along node lines, which define travel routes and helps create choke points. You cannot see a planet until you have been there once, after which you know of its planet type, nearby node lines, and whatever was at the planet the last time you visited. There are several planet types, from terran, desert, ice, volcanic, gas giant, and habitable or dead asteroids. Gas giants are not habitable, and ice or volcanic worlds require research before they can be inhabited. Each type has one benefit or another, such as more or less population, various amounts of resource collection, and other things. There are also other environmental factors, like stars, wormholes, and various kinds of space clouds.

 

 

 


There are three primary resources in this game: credits, metal, and crystal. Credits are gathered as a tax from the population of a planet you control. Credits are used for everything, as they are the primary currency. Metal and crystal are mined from small asteroids that orbit each planet. It varies from typically two to three mine-able asteroids per planet. Most construction needs metal, and is fairly plentiful. Crystal can be more difficult to acquire, and is needed the most for advanced systems and research. Fortunately, with credits you can buy metal or crystal from the black market, and you can sell your excess metal or crystal as well, though always at a loss. The actual price goes up and down depending on player behavior; if people are buying metal, the price will go up and likewise if no one is, the price drops. Each race can research various ways to improve their economic position, including trade ports that increase credits, and orbital refineries that help you get more out of each mine. While all races have ways of dramatically improving their bottom line, the TEC are definitely forces to be reckoned with in this area.

Combat is in real time, though it is much slower than you might expect. It's not all bad, and indeed each battle feels really epic. You see each ship firing its many weapons at each other, and fighter and bomber squadrons flying about making attack runs. Long range attack frigates as well as carrier ships stay back and let their remote units or long range missiles take care of the fray. Other smaller ships move in and around to attack their targets, while capital ships are largely stationary except to follow who they have decided to reign death upon. It's quite engaging to watch, especially as potentially massive fleets duke it out, though sadly each individual weapon impact does not always directly affect the damage done; sometimes the game issues the damage before the visual of the weapon impact. But it's not noticeable when playing, only if you are watching the hull damage numbers. It's great that the AI makes decent decisions, so that you don't have to babysit each unit any time there is a battle, though you can micromanage as much as is necessary to help give you the edge. What is great is that by default, each unit that has a special ability will use them whenever the AI thinks that it will help. And for the most part, it works pretty well. Having autocast on repair abilities, for example, can really turn the tide in a battle. Also, I've seen the enemy AI many times run away whenever they are badly outnumbered. This makes sense, and it's probably the same thing I would do if I was too badly outnumbered, though it can drag on my conquest sometimes. ;)

One aspect of combat that makes it much more interesting is the way they make capital ships worth saving. Far more than just the purchase cost, capital ships gain experience for each enemy they defeat. They can gain levels up to level ten. A level ten capital ship is much, much, more powerful than when they started. As they gain levels, they gain additional hull and shield points, and gain new abilities and strike craft. It's a lot of fun to gain a new ability to rain down on your enemies, and makes it all the more delicate a situation to help that ship run away if it's getting pounded. One fleet can never have more than sixteen capital ships, so each loss is most definitely felt.

Being a real time 4X game, there is more to this game than just gathering resources and attacking your enemy. Culture, research, and diplomacy play an important part. Research is not all that much different than many games, in that you research in order to gain access to more buildings, ships, weapons, and other things. There is a fairly large set of things to research, though it's not an overwhelming amount. The game gives you a fair amount of freedom on what to research, as long as all prerequisites are met. Some rely on past research, while others only need a certain number of research stations. There are military stations which opens up structural, weaponry, and experimental designs, and there are civil stations which open up industrial, engineering, and policy tech trees. The specific trees are different between races, with this example being from the TEC, but they all work similarly. Each tree is different, though they all have some commonality.

 

 

 

Culture plays a significant part in Sins of a Solar Empire. As you expand your empire, planets farther away from your capitol planet are less steeped in your culture, so they have a lower culture percentage. As an example, your home planet starts out with 100% culture. A neighboring planet will have 90%, and as planets get farther out, that percentage continues to drop. Culture affects many things, including how difficult it is for an enemy to take over that planet. If one society's culture is too high, it is impossible for another to take those people over for themselves. Another benefit of high culture is that the tax benefits are much higher for those who have a high allegiance to your empire. Each race has a culture beacon that can be placed near a planet. This projects your culture onto this and all nearby planets. Again, the closer, the more effect it has. This is one area where the Advent really shine: they can influence culture more than anyone else, though I suppose that makes sense since they can telepathically influence others with their minds. :)

Diplomacy is fairly simple, but still important. When dealing with multiple AI opponents, you may receive missions to complete within a certain timeframe. These missions are sometimes simple, and sometimes not. Success brings a certain percentage of positive faction disposition towards you, and failure drops your favor with them. If your disposition is high enough, you can form trade alliances, cease fire agreements, shared vision, and even a peace treaty, which if broken, still requires time before retaliation is possible. All of these things can also happen with human opponents, but you cannot ask others to perform missions. You could always resort to bribes, though, as gifts to other empires is permitted.

The most interesting (and relevant) consideration when dealing with other empires is piracy. There is often a pirate base in a star system. Pirates are driven by one thing, and that's money. Every fifteen minutes, there is a pirate raid. The faction with the most bounty on their head will have a pirate raid launched against them. It's an effective, anonymous way to keep growing empires in check. Pirate ships are fairly powerful, and often come in large numbers. The larger the bounty, the larger the pirate force. The first pirate raid can prove critical in changing the balance of power in a game if that faction being raided is not prepared, or ran out of money in an early bidding war. Fortunately, pirate bases can be put out of business by a powerful enough fleet and can be colonized. But even near the end of a game the pirate base is no push over, so a substantial fleet will be needed to put piracy to a stop in a star system.

Each race is fairly similar, with subtle but important differences. As previously mentioned, the TEC is the most focused on economy, while the Advent are focused on spreading their culture, and the Vasari on domination. This is most evident in their research trees, and what special abilities ships have. The fleets themselves, and what their general purposes are, is practically identical. Each fleet has six frigates, four cruisers, and five capital ships. With a few exceptions, they all also have the same basic complement of logistical and tactical buildings, with different names. Logistical buildings include mining structures, standard and capital ship factories, military and civilian research stations, trade ports, and culture beacons. Tactical buildings include point defense platforms, hangar bays, repair structures, phase jump inhibitors, and two or three unique structures, including each race's ultimate weapon. They also deal with planets in similar ways, as they all have the same upgrades.

With each race having basically the same structures, they do a pretty good job of differentiating then anyhow. The TEC units have the most armor, and have the Hoshiko Robotics cruiser, which are units with a really powerful repair ability. Swarms of these can make their capital ships a bear to take down. They also have fantastic research abilities in relation to the economy, where they can even earn a tax on other player's expenditures. The power of quantity cannot be overstated, and the TEC have a big advantage here. Their ultimate weapon is the Novalith Cannon, which can devastate a planet's population in just a few shots.

The Advent takes a bit more strategy, but can be really nasty. They tend to do really well with culture, and can research in such a way as to have their culture beacons have more effect than other races. Their ultimate weapon is the Deliverance Engine, which can be used to spread culture in a very powerful way. When a blast hits its target, it starts to change the minds of those on that planet. This can be used on friendly and enemy planets. When culture gets low enough, an enemy empire can lose a planet, so it can be very effective. The nice thing here is that since culture also effects neighbors, blanketing an area in negative (for your opponent) culture can mean that a whole sector of planets could leave your enemy and be ready for you to take them. It can also be used to boost the culture on your own planets. When it comes to war ships, the Advent also have some interesting abilities. While they typically have low hull strength, these ships work together very well for combo abilities that are hard to match in other races. For them, it really pays to have a balanced fleet. There is also a piece of research that can automatically level your capital ships to up to level five without having to engage in combat. That is really powerful.

 

 

 

The Vasari are an ancient empire, and their abilities show off as such. The ships tend to be well armed, and are really aggressive attackers. Their ultimate weapon, the Kostura Cannon, does massive damage to all ships and structures on the target planet, which can lead to a very easy conquest. They also have phase missiles, which have a chance to pass through shields and hit the hull directly. This can lead to an unexpectedly early death for those who oppose the empire. What really takes the cake, though, are the phase stabilizers. These tactical structures allow you to travel between any two planets in the same star system that have these structures as if they were only one node away. Talk about a tactical advantage! If that wasn't enough, the Returning Armada ability allows you to bring in ships from the Dark Fleet by contacting other remnants of the Vasari empire. In other words, a fleet of almost free ships. It's really powerful and very useful.

All of this results in a really balanced game. Though in certain parts of the game some races do have an advantage, a player's skill ultimately determines the outcome. And that's how it's meant to be.

It also really helps that this game has the best interface of any RTS game I have ever played. Most of the screen is devoted to showing you what you want to see – the action. On the top and bottom, there are common interface features, like listing the resource count, showing the currently selected item, and any actions that it can perform. But it just starts there. For example, there is no mini-map. Instead, you can scroll in and out to zoom. And you can zoom from a light year view, where all planets are tiny icons, to zooming in to a few meters – you can examine each ship in detail, all in real time. Where your mouse pointer is, that is the focus of your zoom. It takes a little getting used to, but it's brilliant. Ever since playing that, I've been annoyed with other interfaces that require some action in order to change the zooming focus. On the left hand side of the screen, there is a mini list of all of the planets in your possession, or where you have units. It also shows a small icon for each unit, so you can get to them at a glance. This list also scrolls, so if it won't fit on one screen that won't stop it's usefulness. If that wasn't enough, there is a search bar at the top of the screen, where you can search to find any kind of unit if you need to. It's really pretty brilliant. Another useful feature is that planets have rings around them that in a glance tell you how large and powerful friendly and enemy units and buildings are in any system you control. It also can show details with a mouse hover. Yet another fantastic feature is that almost all functions of buildings orbiting a planet can be accessed from the planet's menu. You don't have to find the construction base to start building ships, and so on. It's just one of many more touches that I could bring up that shows time and again that the designers of this game know what we want – to play the game, and have the interface stay out of the way as much as possible.

If enjoying the one of the nearly fifty scenarios is not enough, you can also play a randomly generated map, or create your own, all using built-in tools. There is also an integrated mod manager, so as the community expands what is available, the engine is ready. There are also achievements that encourage you to play a certain way. Examples include having a maxed out fleet, completing a mission as a particular race, beating the AI on hard, and more. There are also some really insane ones, like defeating an opponent without researching anything in the military tree. Good Luck!

 

 

 

Multiplayer is available both for Local Area Network (LAN) games, and over the Internet. One thing that has to be said is that one game can take upwards of ten hours, though the typical small map is probably no more than three. Fortunately, they offer multiplayer save games, which can be resumed at a later date. When I tried an online game, I experienced no major technical problems, and I thought it worked well. The only thing I noticed is that sometimes the audio cues were a little late. You play online by signing up for their Ironclad Online service, where you register your CD key. It's an effective means to keep the online portion of the game free from software pirates.

The game itself has no DRM – no DVD is required to play. The only thing is that after the 1.05 patch was released, (it is as of this writing at 1.16) they require all future updates to be gotten through Impulse, Stardock's own digital distribution platform. For a digital download service, it's not bad. It doesn't require you to log in to play the game, it never phones home or forces Impulse to run in order to access your game. When you launch Impulse, it checks your game for updates. If they are available, it gives you the option to install it. Once you are done, you can log out of Impulse, and that's it – no more nagging. You can even re-download the game as often and at as many places as you like – no restrictions. I like it a whole lot. Other than Internet multiplayer requiring sign on, which is reasonable, it trusts you, the player. For once, a publisher finally gets it. :)

As you may have guessed, the graphics and animations are really quite nice. It also runs well on medium spec'd systems. My laptop with a NVIDIA 7900GS Go has no trouble running the game at 1920x1200, and my desktop runs it max'd out with pumped up anti-aliasing. It's a joy to watch epic battles as they unfold. There is also a cinematic mode that removes all of the lines and information so you can just watch the battle happen. It's also great for showing it off to friends.

The music and sound effects are nice as well. The music tends to rotate through a few themes, and battle is appropriately intense. As you scroll in and out you can hear the music get louder and softer if it's a battle, and the same with the weapon sound effects. As you zoom into planets you own you also may hear a different tune. The music is on the whole atmospheric and fitting. Each race has their own set of musical themes. It's quite good. Fortunately, they are all .ogg files in the game's Sound directory. :) The sound effects are quite effective and varied. I really cannot complain here.

 

 

 

From a Christian perspective, there are some considerations. First of all, it is war, so while there is no gore, people do die, and planets are bombarded. Nuclear-like missiles are launched at planets. You get the idea. Also, a few minor curse words are used. H*ll is used in the intro, and 'time to kick some *ss' is issued by a ship when ordered to attack. The Advent voice overs are full of things like 'vengeance shall be ours', 'heathens be purged', and 'smite these defilers'. Others say things like 'annihilation awaits' and things like that. While these are not curse words, thought should be taken before playing around the youngest ears. Fortunately, since the sounds are just .ogg files, they can be replaced fairly easily with another sound effect. :) For reference, the sound effect with the phrase 'kick some *ss' is CapitalShip_TechSiege_OnAttackOrderIssued_0.ogg, which could easily be replaced with one of the other CapitalShip_TechSiege_OnAttackOrderIssued_ files, like numbers 1-3. Also, the Advent are psionic beings, who use their mental powers to influence others and communicate with each other. While this is clearly a non-Christian concept, in practice, it only influences how some abilities are described, and has little bearing on how the game is played.

Sins of a Solar Empire is one of those games that manages to, despite its flaws, be a great example of what a fantastic strategy game is like. Stardock has continued to support this game well, and has already as of this writing released one expansion pack, and is rumored to release two more in the future. I hope that is the case. I have to admit that I have not been a huge RTS fan in the past, and I don't claim to be now, but this game has grabbed me, and I played a whole lot for weeks at a time. This is certainly one of my favorite real time strategy games. With some of its flaws addressed in expansion packs, like a deep and involving campaign mode, it could easily be one of the best in the genre for some time to come. After considering the relatively minor appropriateness issues, I encourage you to give Sins of a Solar Empire a shot. I don't think you will be disappointed. But definitely give yourself enough time. A really large match (say, fifty to one hundred planets) could easily span ten to twenty hours...

Appropriateness Score:

 

Violence 7.5/10
Language 7/10
Sexual Content/Nudity 10/10
Occult/Supernatural 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical 8.5/10

Appropriateness Total: 40/50

Game Score:

Game Play 18/20
Graphics 10/10
Sound/Music 10/10
Stability/Polish 5/5
Controls/Interface 5/5

Game Score Total: 48/50

Overall: 88/100

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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