I picked up Sins of a Solar Empire on Sunday. I’d been holding off until I had more time to play it, but then my friend Bogan showed up with it this weekend and taunted me. A purchase ensued.
Thus graduated from the Sins education system as a functional illiterate, I assumed absolute power over a fledgling empire and began my first game.
I built a small collection of spaceships, which were sent to an adjacent planet where they were murdered by space pirates. I built a trade center which sat idle, since I didn’t have anyone with which to trade. I built a series of scout ships and sent them to auto-explore, after which I never heard from them again. I built a capital ship and subsequently misplaced it. I pushed some other buttons related to the running of my main planet, none of which seemed to have any real effect except to deplete my coffers. Then I found some ships I didn’t remember building, flying around my world. They didn’t respond to my commands, and it wasn’t until just before they began bombing the place that I realized why.
A half hour into the game I was running an inept empire whose only accomplishments were staggering financial and military losses. I felt like I was playing Soviets in Space. My empire wasn’t so much mismanaged as sabotaged by my bumbling button-pushing. I quit the game before some sort of space-Khrushchev showed up with my resignation pistol.
I will say that Sins of a Solar Empire provided an absolutely gorgeous environment in which to lead my people into ruin and anguish. The space battles where my haphazardly wandering ships were ambushed and eradicated by fleets of ruthless pirates were a brief but flashy spectacle, not unlike fireworks. It was a real thrill to see them meet their untimely end against a shimmering backdrop of cobalt blue gas and drifting astral rocks. Even the scourging of our planet’s surface via orbital bombardment was pretty. The waves of rolling flames engulfed the cities in a burning holocaust of nuclear fire, snuffing out the lives of my people in beautiful orange clouds of luminescent plasma. My only lament is that my people wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the scene from within their doomed underground bunkers. Perhaps as they huddled together in those final moments someone asked, “How did it come to this?”
The sensible reply would have been, “When we let Shamus, that drooling imbecile, run our homeworld.”
People have praised the interface of the game for the way it allows you to throttle the flow of information from the game to the player to suit your own particular ocular bandwidth. But no matter how elegant the presentation is, it doesn’t change the fact that you need to have some vague clue as to what you’re doing. Without that, the entire HUD is simply a well-crafted control panel through which you may oversee your own undoing.
Sins of a Solar Empire can be viewed as a hybrid of the empire-building turn-based games like GalCiv and the RTS elements of Homeworld. Having played lots of both, I figured I’d be able to jump into this fairly easily. This miscalculation resulted in the death of an entire planet.
This is not too say the game is too hard or complex. It’s just different, and you can’t really build on what you’ve learned in other games to help you along here. The tutorial teaches you how to use the interface, but figuring out what you should be doing is your job. At the start of the game there are dozens of possible actions to take, without any real hint as to which ones are a good idea or why. I imagine I’m going to lead a couple more doomed empires into history before I get a handle on the thing.
This is not a game to be dabbled with or perused. This is a game which requires a certain investment of time.
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