Mistwraithe once pointed out that most Real Time Strategy Games should be more rightly called Real Time Tactical Games, since the heart of the game is unit management, not strategy. Sins is a unique exception to this rule. In Sins, your ships are fairly smart. They know their jobs and will do them without a lot of coaching from you. It’s up to you to choose when and where you will strike, but once your ships are in the enemy system they can be trusted to do their jobs without you needing to babysit them.
This wouldn’t be a problem if Sins was just another RTS clone, but since it’s fresh and new and different, it needs to provide some way to ease players into its unique gameplay. The quickest and easiest thing would be to add an “advisor” that the player could turn to when they need some suggestions, as in Rome: Total War. It could just give the player a little hint and suggest doing whatever the AI would do when prompted. It could also be used to give the game a bit more personality. I realize that strategy games are not normally famous for their character development, but putting a face and a voice together would go a long way towards making the game less abstract, and would help define the overall personality of the three factions. Do not underestimate the power of personality.
The sad thing is that once you get over that initial hurdle of knowledge and competence, the game just isn’t that deep. The 4X side of the game pales in comparison to something like GalCiv, and the RTS side of it doesn’t offer a lot of variety. The best strategy is to build a well-balanced force of as many units as you can afford, and fling them at an enemy world. The battles come down to who brought the most ships. I’m still new to the game so perhaps I’m missing on some subtle nuances, but right now it all feels sort of spammy.
The research is de-emphasized when compared to traditional 4X games. Your typical boost from research will let you deal (say) 10% more damage. Compare this to your typical space conquest games where each technology step might double your potential damage output. The steps here are smaller and there are fewer of them, and so it’s just not possible to overcome an enemy with small numbers of highly advanced ships. Tech will give you an edge, but it’s not a trump card. As someone who enjoys turtling in and running up the tech tree in a 4X game, this is a disappointment.
Taking enemy planets comes down to bombing them clean and colonizing them yourself. There’s no “capturing” of enemy planet improvements, no technology theft, no spoils of war. This negates one of the great tradeoffs of 4X games, where you can elect to try and take control of a planet without destroying too much of it. It’s riskier, more expensive, and time-consuming, but sometimes worth it if you want their stuff. The clean-and-colonize routine is a lot less interesting.
The game looks spectacular. Space battles are a blast to watch. I really enjoy zooming in on a small fighter or bomber squadron and following the battle from their viewpoint. As they loop and dive, strafing enemy structures, you can see the planetary bombing in the background and the capital ships hammering away at each other. In the truly large battles, space will be thick with ships, missiles, lasers, explosions, and floating debris.
It’s worth noting that I can start zooming out when this is going on, smoothly pulling back from one lone fighter until I can see the entire solar system. I could even dive back into the fray, jumping into another battle taking place on another world. The game can handle this rapid change in scope without even stuttering. It’s brilliant.
Despite what probably sounds like a lot of complaining, overall I’d say the game has a lot to offer. It should at least merit a look from strategy fans for trying something new. I’d suggest checking out the demo.
The Opportunity Crunch
No, brutal, soul-sucking, marriage-destroying crunch mode in game development isn't a privilege or an opportunity. It's idiocy.
A screencap comic that poked fun at videogames and the industry. The comic has ended, but there's plenty of archives for you to binge on.
Quakecon 2012 Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.
Resident Evil 4
Who is this imbecile and why is he wandering around Europe unsupervised?
There's a wonderful way to balance difficulty in RPGs, and designers try to prevent it. For some reason.