Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion Review for PC

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion Review for PC

Deadly Sins

When Sins of a Solar Empire debuted in 2008, it filled a niche that no other game occupied—it was basically a more complicated Civilization set in space. Now, developer Ironclad Games has released Rebellion, which is technically an “expansion” but really more of an upgrade; it includes all the material from the previous expansions, along with new content featuring better graphics, some significant gameplay tweaks, and some added bells and whistles. The Sins franchise is no longer alone in the universe—Legends of Pegasus looms on the horizon with its customizable ships and terraforming system—so the big question is whether the core game holds up well enough to stave off the invasion.

The answer is maybe. While Sins is showing its age a bit, it still offers a solid experience. Newcomers to the Sins franchise will find the game immensely enjoyable, so long as they don’t mind the complexity and the slow pace. In addition, some of the tweaks run deep enough that longtime Sins fans might want to drop $30 to upgrade their game. (Full price for newcomers is $40.) It’s far from inconceivable that Legends of Pegasus will be a better product, but it’s also far from guaranteed. And until late July when Legends debuts, Rebellion is all we have.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion Screenshot

Here’s a quick introduction to the series for the uninitiated. As I mentioned above, Sins aspires to have the same scope as Civilization—it’s basically a big sandbox that you have to colonize. However, in comparison with the simplified Civ games we’ve seen of late, Sins is far less accessible—while the game provides all sorts of information that will help you conquer the universe, you don’t have advisers holding your hand and telling you exactly what needs to be done all the time. You have to truly manage your empire here, rather than just reacting to various problems and opportunities as they arise. Sins also features a much more complicated maze of menus—the ways you can manage your research, diplomacy, resources, planetary development, and military strategy are seemingly endless.

Also, the space setting makes the geography of the game completely different—rather than exploring a territory in complete freedom, you make linear “phase jumps” between planets as you discover and colonize the universe. As you uncover more and more planets, the sense of scale becomes truly astounding. With a simple scroll of the mouse wheel, you can go from viewing an entire solar system to watching a firefight between two small ships.

And perhaps most importantly, events unfold in real time rather than in turns, which puts pressure on you to think quickly—but don’t get too worried, because the game speed is adjustable and the franchise is notorious for its overall unhurried pace. This is perhaps the biggest problem that easily bored gamers will have. Some people even read or watch movies while they play.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion Screenshot

As the developers freely admit, up until this point, Sins has been a one-trick pony: It’s a single-player game that places you in various maps and tells you to explore them. While multiplayer has always been available, the developers’ statistics indicate that very few players use it—probably because a single match can easily last five hours. And Sins has never included a story-based campaign.

Rebellion still doesn’t feature a campaign—Ironclad tried to make one and discovered that it just doesn’t work—but it does include some improvements that might make multiplayer tolerable. Most interestingly, players now have the option to add a variety of new victory conditions. In one, players can no longer relocate their capital planets, so they lose whenever their home base is destroyed. In another, players compete to occupy a specific planet, and the game ends when one succeeds. Now, multiplayer matches can be as short as an hour or so, which is a much more reasonable demand to make of a gamer with a busy schedule.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion Screenshot

Another new development is that each of the game’s three factions is divided up into loyalist and rebellious sub-factions. This ties into the underlying lore of the series—at this point of the story, the galaxy is in turmoil, and each faction has turned against itself. Splitting the factions doubles your options in terms of who’ll you’ll play as, and each faction comes with a variety of stat bonuses that are arranged to reflect the story without throwing off the game balance.

There are several new ships, too, but by far the most impressive of them is the Titan class. These ships are tough to build—they’re expensive, and you have to create them in several different stages—but they are immensely powerful. This forces players to decide whether a big investment will pay off before it’s too late.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion Screenshot

Fans of the previous games will also notice Rebellion’s fresh coat of paint. While the franchise is known for its low system requirements and Rebellion continues this tradition—it still runs on the Iron Engine, takes up only a few gigs of hard-drive space, and will work with most computers—this expansion is a step forward visually. It’s not the best-looking title in the game industry by any stretch of the imagination, but given the small download and the ability to run on old computers, it looks decent enough. My only significant complaint with the graphics is that there are long load times, both when you start the game up and when you begin an individual match.

The sound doesn’t fare nearly as well, unfortunately. Thanks to the sheer size of the game (and perhaps as a nod to the scientific fact that sound doesn’t travel through space), Sins doesn’t honor each individual laser blast and explosion with a sound effect. What you do hear are the obnoxious, poorly acted comments your team makes all the time: “Show me the path!” “I seek knowledge!” In fairness, though, the epic orchestral music is a nice fit for this franchise.

So what does all this mean? In a way, it’s a gutsy move for Ironclad to release an expansion for a four-year-old game, especially when the marketing team for Legends of Pegasus is telling gamers to “forget your Sins… become a Legend.” Rebellion leaves plenty of room for a competitor to improve on its formula; personally, I would like to see cutting-edge graphics, a story campaign, and faster and more gripping gameplay. But Rebellion is easily the definitive game of this series, with lots of new content and all the old stuff thrown in too—and if Legends of Pegasus wants us to “forget our Sins,” it had better give us something truly great.

Given the small download and reasonable system requirements, the game looks fine, but it won’t knock your socks off. 3.7 Control
There are lots of menus, but that’s unavoidable in this genre. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice acting is terrible, but the epic music is a nice touch. 4.0 Play Value
Sins is showing its age a little, but it’s still the best example of this genre we have. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • New factions: Decide whether to play as a Loyalist or Rebel – each unlocks new technologies, ships and play styles for each race.
  • New Titan Class warships: Mighty titans enter the fray of the war to tip the scales of power. Each faction may field its own unique titan, drawing upon unique strengths and abilities on the battlefield.
  • New and updated capital ships: A new capital ship joins the fleet for each race to offer even more tactical options. Additionally, all existing capital ships have been upgraded to four levels for their abilities, allowing players to focus their ships along specific strengths.
  • New Corvette Class ships: Each faction has developed a new light attack craft to harass enemy forces.
  • Updated visuals: Updated graphics, particle effects, lighting and shadows, race specific UI, and other enhancements make the Sins universe look better than ever.
  • New victory conditions: Take multiple paths to victory, including Military, Diplomatic, Research, Last Flagship Standing, Last Capital Standing, and Occupation.
  • New Audio: More than 60 minutes of original music, countless new sound effects, and dozens of new voice overs help bring the drama of battle to new levels of immersion.
  • Tutorials: New and updated tutorials make it easy for both experienced and new players to quickly start building their own solar empire.

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