t’s not terribly often that a developer attempts to mash two genres together and actually succeeds in creating something that’s more than the sum of its parts. Sins of a Solar Empire, however, manages this complex task brilliantly. Injecting 4X concepts like a deep tech tree, massive military clashes, diplomacy, and infrastructure development into a real-time framework is a great idea on paper, but I never would have believed that it could translate to truly compelling gameplay if I hadn’t seen it working here in Sins. A combination of smartly streamlined mechanics and a slick interface to control them with makes this experiment a resounding success.
In order to conquer the known galaxy, players have a number of concurrent tasks to accomplish.You’ve got to colonize available worlds, develop them to be economic assets instead of liabilities, build and manage enormous fleets of starships, research improvements to both the civil and military sides of your empire, and ultimately wage interstellar war against rival civilizations. It sounds like a daunting undertaking, and it is. Fortunately, the pace of the game is best described as stately; any given improvement or research item takes minutes to accomplish and fleets can take a minute or more just to traverse the gravity well of a single planet. Along with the clever UI, this gives astute players just the right amount of time to keep up with every aspect of their dominion.
Along the left side of the screen, the innovative Empire Tree allows instant access to any of your assets. Once you learn to quickly read its compact icons, a quick glance to the left contains both a status report on and a single-click method of selecting anything you own. For experienced players, it’s not difficult to queue planetary developments and ship construction in a few seconds while zoomed into an intense space battle half a galaxy away. Furthermore, if you must tear your attention away from a conflict, the ship AI is reasonably competent at controlling your forces during your absence.
For all of its genius, Sins does have a few rough edges that can annoy from time to time. Maintaining diplomatic relations with AI empires can be nearly impossible, as blowing up one of their many itinerant scout vessels resets their view of you to “undying hatred.” Late-game battles can be difficult to control despite the generally good interface simply due to their enormous scale -- it’s not unusual to have hundreds of ships engaged in a single system. The relatively low number of available ship types and minor differences between the three races offer a merely acceptable level of breadth to the content. And while the presentation is functional and amazingly scaleable to lower-end PCs, Sins is average at best when it comes to visuals.
Overall, though, Sins is a highly polished, very original, and extremely fun strategy title. In only a few weeks since release, developer Ironclad Games has already released a few small patches that fix a number of minor issues, which bodes well for the game’s future. This is one $40 investment that will pay PC gamers dividends for years.