Sins of a Solar Empire:
Final Thoughts

By Shamus
on Jun 24, 2008
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I realized this weekend that I never really finished my series on Sins. The game fell by the wayside and I sort of left things hanging. Now that I’m on this MMO binge it seems unlikely I’ll be coming back to it anytime soon.

The major problem was that I just didn’t have anything interesting to say about it. There aren’t any glaring faults with the game that I can point out, but there’s also nothing in it that inspires excitement or entices me to play. I managed to work in a grand total of five games of Sins before giving up on the thing. I feel like I haven’t given the game the attention it deserves, but I just have no desire to stay with it.

This has nothing to do with the learning curve, which only affects the first couple of times you play. The problem is deeper than that, because interest waned in direct proportion to how familiar I was with the game. As I got to know SoaSE, the ratio of my familiarity with the game to my apathy towards it remained at a constant 1:1.

(I still have the box on my shelf, unopened, which is noteworthy. I love how Stardock will sell you the game, let you download it and play it right now, but also send along a nice box with the disk. I get to have my game and play it, too.)

I think my main problem is that this particular blend gameplay elements doesn’t really work. The real-time combat is too ponderous to offer excitement, and the strategy is too shallow to offer flavor or variety.

I think there needs to be another layer of stuff on the strategy side. Perhaps something along the line of building “Wonders”, which might mix things up a bit.

I’d like it if the number of research stations affected the speed at which research was done. You need a prerequisite number to “unlock” some techs, but as far as I can tell adding more won’t get those techs faster. Sure, I might go for tech A and my foe might go for tech B, but we’ll both be at about the same level, technologically. I can’t hope to outpace my foes by building a larger research infrastructure.

The whole “cultural influence” thing is odd. As far as I can tell I can’t absorb a planet by overwhelming them with culture, I can only impede enemy production in petty ways, and even then only after reaching the highest-level cultural techs and by attaining a massive lead in cultural power. In one game I had 80% of the map, with all of my large planets spamming the solar system with culture. That was a huge investment for what turns out to be a minor impediment to enemy operations, and I could have done a lot better by just rolling all that cash into more ships and crushing them outright. This is on top of the whole “you can’t colonize this bombed-out husk of a ruined world because enemy culture is too strong here” thing.

The series has its fans, and to be honest I envy them. The sights are enjoyable. The idea is innovative. The execution is clean and polished. I just have no desire to play the thing. I was hearing rumors of a new content patch at one point. Maybe I’ll check back later to see what’s new.

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20222 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. Fenix says:

    I’m waiting on the expansion in the hopes that the game will have more depth. The scale is to large for the amount of tech available. It’s like playing starcraft on a map 50 times larger than what the game allows. At a certain point you have researched everything and maxed out your pop cap and now the only thing left is to finish the map because money management has disappeared and tech is done so……. well I’m rambling now. Point is the game needs……. lots more of everything to match the scale which appears to dwarf what the game already has.

    However I still do play the game with friends because it happens to be a great lan fest game when you can’t find your copy of starcraft.

    Edit: Oh well thats a first. I’m first.

  2. funkbunny says:

    100% agree with your comments. I liked this game, but moved on pretty rapidly. I have to give them props for a quality effort and taking a bit of chance on the design.

    Ultimately I think I’m a turn-based strategy fan and this game just didn’t have the depth that other titles have for me.

  3. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    I was hoping to hear that it is good along the lines of the Civ games, which I love. Unfortunately, the parts I love about the Civ games are tech trees and expansion (I’d love it if I NEVER had to worry about fighting opponents). So, it sounds like I’ll be giving this a miss. Pretty graphics aren’t enough. I mean, I like Civ2, for crying out loud!

    One little chuckle came from the phrase “all of my large planets spamming the solar system with culture”: “spamming” and “culture” (at least in this context) are two words which are unlikely to ever be used together at any other time. :)

  4. Cuthalion says:

    Let us spam the universe with our culture, and they shall fall to their knees before us!

  5. Lee1255 says:

    An example of culture spam:

    From: Shamus Young

    Re: Get CUL_CHER heer – movees, muuusic and moar
    Make yoiur plnaet moan with pleasure!

  6. Veloxyll says:

    I was disappointed with the power of culture actually. It’s incredibly difficult to actually change governments with culture, I’ve never managed offensively, the only time I lose a colony to culture it was hemmed in by enemy planets, even then it only went neutral, not got stolen.

    As for spending resources on my fleet. After a point I just can order whatever shipping I want. Resources are irrelevant and it’s just a zergfest

  7. Sharpie says:

    Yeah, I really wanted to like this game. It comes across in practice, however, as a simple board game. There are no deeper layers to get into, the surface of the game IS the game.

    Oh well. At least I have GalCivII.

  8. DaveMc says:

    AndrewNZachsDad: “Unfortunately, the parts I love about the Civ games are tech trees and expansion (I’d love it if I NEVER had to worry about fighting opponents).”

    Hey, me too. If you look in the comments for that post, you’ll find various suggestions, including the one that worked beautifully for me: If you play Civ IV, you can start a Custom game and select “Always peace”, which forbids anyone (including you) from declaring war. (Barbarians can still attack you, so you can’t just ignore military units completely.) It makes the game into a culture/tech/expansion race rather than an arms race, and I really enjoy that variant.

  9. Lintman says:

    I’m in total agreement on the 1:1 familiarity:apathy ratio. I got about 5 games in and lost interest as well. It’s really such a shame, though. I think they have a quality, well-polished core game that really *could* have been a solid basis for their “It’s a 4X RTS!” promise.

    But they just didn’t deliver enough of the goods to quite cut it as a 4X or as an RTS:
    – No campaign. Maybe Civilization can get away with that, but even the 4X GalCivII gives a campaign!
    – Not nearly enough depth of activities to be a 4X game: wimpy tech tree, lousy diplomacy options, etc
    – Not enough player interaction/excitement compared to other RTS’s like C&C or SupCom

    So to me, SOASE was like a tiny appetizer at a fancy restaurant: well-constructed and nicely done for what it offered, but ultimately, unsatisfying.

    I keep thinking “Man, if they made an expansion that added a campaign and some more gameplay depth and …”, that it’d be great. But then I remember how shortchanged I feel right now and think I shouldn’t have to pay extra just to get the rest of the game that should have been. That’s probably a little too uncharitable, but in some ways, this could-have-been-great game is more frustrating than a lousy game would be.

  10. guy says:

    It seems that the persistant RTS is really hard to do, two great game studios have tried and failed. It gets even worse if you try to do somthing detailed on one of the levels, like two related tactical layers.

  11. folo4 says:

    …..probably one of the catch-22 in gaming.

    if nobody hates the games, nobody will like the game, and thusly descend into obscurity.

    on the other hand, if people hate a game for various reasons(DRM, bad UI, what-have-you), there will be alot of people liking the game for other reasons, and the game will be talked about for years on end.

  12. JBlock says:

    I’ve played around with the Sins of a Solar Empire demo and come to many of the same conclusions you have: for all its polish and potential, the game just isn’t interesting to me.

    I liked 2006’s Sword of the Stars from Kerberos Productions a lot more. It was honestly the best 4X-style game I’ve ever played. The game didn’t do spectacularly well at retail, unfortunately (though they did well enough to make an expansion pack, which I never got around to purchasing). I think this was largely due to a lack of promotion, combined with mediocre initial reviews; a huge number of very annoying issues were fixed in the first few patches, which weren’t out at the time of review.

    Anyone here who has enjoyed 4X games but had the same ‘meh’ reaction to Sins might want to give the Sword of the Stars demo a try; I did, and I was pleasantly surprised.

  13. Bob says:

    @JBlock

    I tried the Sword of the Stars demo in 2006 and never liked the game. It was something I felt I should like but didn’t. Strange. Since then they have released a new demo (a few weeks ago) for the collectors edition (orig game + expansion and all patches) and I became hooked. Went straight out and bought the full CE game (Its cheaper then buying the orig and expansion anyway) (And most importantly it does NOT require online activation (with I despise) and it does not require the DVD in the drive to play. (You do need a valid serial for multiplayer (which is the sort of protection I agree with)) and have been playing my first full game in that for the last 2 weeks.

    http://www.gamershell.com/download_26514.shtml

    I do have Sins as well. Managed 6 games before I just stopped playing it. It’s a very good game but there is just something that I can not put my finger on that’s missing. And unlike Galactic Civilizations the patches do not need online activation, just a valid serial number to download.

    Also tried Galactic Civilizations last year but just did not like it. (And the activation of patches would have meant I would not have got it even if I did like it)

  14. Jeff says:

    The lack of a campaign in Sins is killer, especially with the apparently rich background we only get vague glimpses into.

  15. Lintman says:

    @Bob – I’m not sure what you mean by online activation of patches in Gal Civ? Both SoaSE and GCII are published by Stardock and they both have the same (lack of) DRM. For both games you put in a serial # and DL patches from Stardock Central (or Impulse now, I guess). No activation required.

  16. Yahzi says:

    I’m in the same camp – Sins was not bad in any way, but I stopped playing it after a dozen games.

    Yet I’ve had Civ4 for years, and I’m still playing it. Too much, even.

  17. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    Hey, DaveMC. While I was composing that original comment I though tI had read that somewhere (on this blog, in fact). The only problem with that is…I only have Civ2 & 3!!! Curses. I was hoping to put off getting 4 until later… My wife hates you. I think you rock, but she is currently attempting to hack Shamus’s host to trackback your IP address. I heard the words “air strike”. I honestly didn’t think she knew what that meant.

    Apparently, I’m married to Mrs Smith… :)

  18. Bob says:

    @Lintman – When using Stardock Central to patch the game you are already online so you don’t see it activating itself. Anybody that installs the patch offline will be left with an unplayable game until they can get online to either activate or send some sort of email to Stardock help.

    See: http://forums.galciv2.com/114813

    I can confirm that Sins does NOT require any patch activation (thank god), only a valid serial to downlaod from the official web site.

  19. DaveMc says:

    AndrewNZachsDad wrote Hey, DaveMC . . . My wife hates you. I think you rock, but she is currently attempting to hack Shamus’s host to trackback your IP address. I heard the words “air strike”

    Not to worry, I’ve turned off warfare for my house, too.

  20. matt says:

    I think one of your problems is you’re thiking about it wrong, it seems like you’ve not played any of the larger scale conflicts, that’s where things like culture really matter, the ability to sap the opponents income and overthrow their govt on a planet is great if you’ve got a colony ship to hit and run, forcing them to pull some of their other forces to re-take core worlds. Sins was designed as a massive multiplayer game, and it really shines through, hell, on the big maps it’s like taking two risk boards and taping them togeather, except you have more control over how units react. I wont deny that it’s not perfect, but I think it’s a bit better than you claim.

  21. Bob says:

    Damn, a few days after I have been singing Sins patching process this comes up on the official forums

    We will not be providing standalone patches for v1.1 or for any future version of any of our games. Updates will only be made available via Impulse moving forward.

    http://forums.sinsofasolarempire.com/316556/page/4/#1785376

    For those of us that do not have Internet access on our gaming PC’s this is a major problem. Looks like I won’t be buying any more Stardock games any time soon. Damn DRM.

  22. Joe B says:

    You should try Sword of the Stars. It’s a pretty good game and they have a decent demo. It has the same problem with capturing worlds as Sins does, but is still pretty fun.

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