Review: Sins of a Solar Empire – Trinity

Sins_Trinity_Box_Perspective2.jpg Back when it was released in 2008, Sins of a Solar Empire was widely heralded as one of the best strategy games of the year, heralded for deftly combining RTS and 4X space strategy into a huge and satisfying package. Last year they followed up with the Entrenchment expansion, which was also widely praised. This year they introduce the second expansion – Diplomacy – and more importantly, they have bundled all three games together into a massive bundle they are calling Trinity.

Because we haven’t reviewed any of the Sins of a Solar Empire games here at VGBlogger, I’ll take a general look at some of the basics and technical details, then a short summary of what each has to offer. And not to short circuit the whole thing, but let me be very clear – Sins of a Solar Empire is an excellent space-based hybrid RTS / 4X game and, along with the two expansions, offers an amazing amount of content at an affordable price.

Sins of a Solar Empire:

As I mentioned, Sins of a Solar Empire combines RTS and 4X strategy genres. RTS stands for real-time strategy. 4X stands for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate – you are building so you can grow and exploit the resources under your command and exterminate your opponents. Typically speaking, 4X games are turn-based and focused on the minutia of economic and resource management, whereas RTS game are fast-paced and involve quickly developing your offensive and defensive capabilities to overwhelm your opponents while holding off their attacks.

There have been other attempts at a hybrid RTS/4X game, notably Star Wars: Empire at War. Sins of Solar Empire is really innovative due to how well balanced the two game types are: games like Star Wars: Empire at War are largely RTS games with a few 4X elements. And since pretty much every strategy game has some amount of 4X elements, it really takes something special to stand out enough to be called a hybrid genre game – and Sins of a Solar Empire is a really good game that StarDock has dubbed ‘RT4x’.

Similar to most games from both genres, you start with nothing, have to venture out into the world and build your offensive capabilities while expanding your sphere of influence, then utilize more and more resources and capabilities from your expanded territory to strategic advantage, and finally destroy all of your enemies.

Technically, Sins of a Solar Empire is both advanced and accessible. The graphics look great, with tons of details and realistic planetary modeling on even the most massive maps. These impressive graphics scale from a galactic level all the way down to showing amazing details on a single ship. Similarly, the dialogue and nice environmental soundtrack and sound effects go a long way to keeping things engaging throughout. The music effectively keeps you engaged during peaceful building times as well as more frantic and dramatic battle sequences.

But the biggest thing that makes the gameplay so accessible and deceptively deep is the user interface. Everything you look at is useful, and if you can’t see an immediate function there are tooltips that pop up. Given the daunting scope and size of the game, a useful interface is critical, and whether you want to queue up ship-building on a yet-to-be-finished base, or utilize resources on a far off planet, the interface has you covered. I initially had some concerns about the combination of the 4X and RTS genres in a game with such scope, but the interface ties things together so nicely that it became second nature very quickly.

The game does have a story of sorts – more of a backstory that introduces the three main races, the TEC (Trader Emergency Coalition), Advent and Vasari. The Vasari are the only alien race, whereas the other two are both variant human races. Each race has a strategic focus they employ during a game. I say the game has a ‘story of sorts’ because there is no single player campaign: sort of like Demigod (which I realize came after Sins of a Solar Empire … but I played it first), you can battle against AI opponents or against other people. Typically, I would have an issue with a lack of a single player game, but it is handled very well in Sins of a Solar Empire, so I found the transition form solo to online play progressed very naturally.

Entrenchment:
In 2009 StarDock introduced a ‘micro-expansion’ for Sins of a Solar Empire called Entrenchment. They call it a ‘micro-expansion’ because it is not focused around adding new campaigns, races, or other major content. Entrenchment is priced more like typical DLC for other games, and adds loads of defensive options. Before Entrenchment you’d need to split your fleet to defend areas while also attacking and exploring others.

With Entrenchment you gain the options to build defensive measures such as Mine Fields and Starbases, and you also gain access to advanced tactical planetary defenses. In combination, all of these greatly change the strategic gameplay. You also get the option to increase the speed at which time progresses during the game, but honestly I never did much with that since I found the pacing perfect at the default setting.

Diplomacy:
Just as Entrenchment was rather obviously about defense, Diplomacy is about … well, diplomacy. Entering into agreements and alliances more advanced than anything you could do before in Sins of a Solar Empire, you can now attain a purely diplomatic victory, and can launch your own missions against your rivals based on certain diplomatic options.

The interface nicely integrates the new Diplomatic options and lets you see the status of alliances with other factions, and in between other factions. There is also an entire technology tree related to advancing your diplomatic capabilities.

Sins of a Solar Empire manages to combine elements of both the RTS and 4X genres without sacrificing too much from either. It is a game of huge scope that is easily managed due to a brilliantly handled user interface. Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity brings in the two expansions that build the game into an even better and deeper experience, and all for a very reasonable price ($40). There are sacrifices in depth and complexity compared to the best games of either the RTS or 4X genre, but Sins of a Solar Empire manages to find a very solid way to bring gamers the best of both worlds in a package that is accessible without ever feeling like a compromise. If you have missed out on the game for the last couple of year like I did, correct that mistake now and get in on some of the best space strategy gaming in years!

BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Loads of content
+ Loads of replayability
+ Brilliant interface
+ Excellent combination of RTS and 4X genres
+ Great price for so much content

Cons:
– Not as deep as dedicated RTS or 4X games

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: Stardock Entertainment
Developer: Ironclad Games
Release Date: 2/9/2010
Genre: RTS
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-10
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!