Review: Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
Sins of a Solar Empire is almost five years old and has had some smaller “mini expansions” already, so when Ironclad Games first announced Rebellion, there was some confusion about what they were planning to add to the game that wasn’t already there, since a singleplayer campaign was ruled out long ago. One could even say that they went with a space game trope of just adding a bigger ship class, but that wouldn’t be doing the game justice.
While Rebellion can be played as a standalone game, make no mistake that it is an expansion pack. After five years most other developers would be releasing a sequel, which could drastically change the gameplay format, and that is not what we have here. Rebellion makes some big changes to the game, but the core gameplay is still there, inviting veterans to return and quickly assimilate with the new changes.
For new players, though, Sins has always been something of an enigma with a somewhat steep leaning curve, AI players that can be brutally intelligent, and multiplayer partners who have spent years honing their skills. The new tutorials added in Rebellion go beyond the basics and do a decent job of preparing players for a trial by fire against more experienced opponents. At the very least, it should help the Rebellion community retain more of the rush of new players that come with the release.
One of the biggest concerns going in was the game’s most hyped new feature, the massive titan class ships. With a massive forward gun like the one shown above, you’d be expecting it to saw through other capital ships with ease. I was almost disappointed when I found out it wasn’t the Death Star of warships. For the massive resource and economic investment it almost seemed like I would have been better off with a few standard battleships. It was only after playing with these ships for a while that I noticed they grow in power exponentially when you level them.
Titans are more then just a resource and technology investment, they’re a time sink with levels that cannot be bought like a traditional capital ship. This forces players that want a strong endgame titan to spend time carefully deploying them to battles for experience, while protecting them from too much danger. They level slowly, but a high level titan is the death machine that we all feared, and the time investment needed to get it there balances out the slow, unstoppable doom of one of these monoliths.
Corvettes received a lot less attention then their much larger cousin in the new additions category, but also serve to change the way the game is played. Sins veterans aren’t used to terribly powerful small ships in the early game. Normally a player would have a starting capital ship and a few small escorts. Corvettes change this up by allowing players access to a small, fast and decently powerful frigate without too much of a research investment.
While corvettes do allow for players with a rush strategy to hit harder much earlier on, they are not a zerg rush. A defensive minded player could spend the equivalent time and resources building and upgrading their turrets. If anything, corvettes are good because they give players an incentive not to rush to heavy cruisers, as many love to do. Even in the endgame a swarm of cheap but upgraded corvettes can be deadly.
The last, and perhaps largest of the major changes is the splitting of the factions. The core of each faction you’ve come to know are still there and fully intact. The split instead adds new abilities to the sub-factions, and determines their titans. This unlocks a lot of new ways to play, or strengthens current ones. As a defensive TEC player, I jumped on the chance to join the TEC Loyalists. A second starbase per planet along with cheaper novalith canon superweapons allowed me to turtle up in defense while pounding my enemies from light years away.
Some of the other changes were unexpected, yet amazing. The TEC Rebel’s truce among rogues ability had the pesky pirates fighting on my side, and the small fleet of pirate ships surrounding new planets not only let me pass, but they defended the world once I took it, alowing for a quick and painless expansion process once researched. The big enchilada in this case though is the Vasari Loyalists, who have decided they’ve spent too much time in this galaxy, it’s time to move on.
Since the Vasari Loyalists are the biggest change to gameplay, I’ll focus on them. I could, and likely will, write an article discussing tactics in Sins, but let’s focus on what’s truely new. As a Vasari Loyalist you can research tech that moves your government and research facilities onto your titan, eventually allowing you to simply blow up planets that you no longer want or need for their resources. This transforms the planet into a dead asteroid and provides a large one time resource boost, making you able to be a mobile plague of locusts, combing the galaxy for easy prey.
Ironclad has done a great job balancing this. While initially it’s hard to combat a mobile player, you’ll eventually get used to it. Being mobile isn’t necessarily better, just different, and is by no means mandatory. I’ve seen Vasari players keep it in their pocket, using the ability as the ultimate scorched earth policy while leveling their titan, or just trying to expand normally. The new tactics that can be employed are a breath of fresh air for the game.
In what could have been great fodder for a sociology paper, once I observed a Vasari player rush to go mobile as fast as possible because an Advent player nearby was kicking his butt. For the next hour or so he wandered the galaxy not as a hostile, but seeming to emulate the Quarian Migrant Fleet from Mass Effect, wandering around taking the planets no one else wanted and playing mercenary for other players. Eventually he lost his titan and left, but it was certainly an interesting scenario.
I must admit I fell victim to a trap laid by a mobile Vasari player myself once. He sent his titan against a border world of mine with a small force. I knew that loosing his titan was basically game over for him, so I sent everything I had against it. Meanwhile the rest of his fleet arrived at a different planet of mine, ignoring the defenses to capture the planet then quickly detonating it and retreating. He gained a large sum of resources to cover his losses, and I was forced to withdraw from the useless hunk of rock he left behind.
Changing pace though, we have to remember that Sins of a Solar Empire is getting old. For a game that’s been around almost half a decade though, the graphics have aged well, and when stacked against newer games in the genre, the textures still look crisp and clean. Close-ups can lead to disappointment with some ships, but for the most part the game holds up well.
In Rebellion, Ironclad has finally given players something they’ve wanted for years – shadows. It may not seem like much, but when using the game’s cinematic mode and following your ships closely it can really add to the experience of a dramatic battle. While it’s not something you’ll notice a lot because you’ll be zoomed out managing battles and planets, when relaxing with a more easygoing game or using cinematic mode to film a video of your own, it will definitely be appreciated.
Overall, Rebellion is a huge boost for the Sins community. While the graphic upgrades could have been more extensive, it’s hard to find other flaws in it that Sins of a Solar Empire didn’t already carry, and Rebellion’s new tutorials work to take away one of the series’ biggest gripes. Rebellion manages to maintain the high level of polish that the base game was already at, with only a few small bugs that I noticed.
This is exactly what the game needed to keep the community strong and active in the future. Rebellion isn’t cheap, but part of that is because it will allow new players to join in without paying for the original game. I’m sure there are a lot of people who dusted off their old copy of Sins of a Solar Empire only to experience sticker shock at Rebellion’s pricetag.
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is certainly worth the investment though, for both old fans and new players looking to get a first taste. Definitely a must-have for anyone who is a fan of the genre. I can’t give an expansion pack much higher praise then to say again that it expands the game and adds requested features without breaking any of the old mechanics. Now get conquering and keep your eyes out for those damned Space Ponies!