Sins of a Solar Empire First Impression

Stardock and Ironclad put a real-time spin on the traditional turn-based, conquer-the-galaxy genre with Sins of a Solar Empire.

Could the space strategy genre be slowly coming back? You might be able to make a case now that Stardock, the developer and publisher of this year's Galactic Civilizations II, has announced Sins of a Solar Empire, a real-time space strategy game that is being developed by a new startup known as Ironclad. This news comes shortly after the release of yet another space strategy game, Sword of the Stars. Coincidentally, Kerebros, the developer of Sword of the Stars, and Ironclad feature veterans from development teams that worked on Homeworld games, though the coolly named Sins of a Solar Empire will present its own unique take on conquering the galaxy one planet at a time.

Starship combat is going to be a major feature of this conquer-the-galaxy strategy game.

Sins of a Solar Empire could best be described as Galactic Civilizations meets Homeworld, two excellent space strategy games. Though the game is at an early stage of development, the presentation and visual look at this point is similar to that of Galactic Civilizations II. The map of the galaxy is shown as a flat, 2D layer, with stars and planets dotting the vast black void. Zoom in with the camera, and those little blue and green marbles turn into beautiful worlds. However, you'll also notice fleets and orbital stations clustered around those planets, and this is where the comparisons to Homeworld come into play. Homeworld was all about tactical battles, and you'll be able to see similar battles unfold in Sins of a Solar Empire, though you won't be able to exercise the same amount of tactical control as you could in Homeworld.

Your job is to command one of the factions in the game (so far there's a human faction, an alien one, and a slightly even more alien one) and conquer planets, which give you resources that let you build more ships and conquer even more planets. That's all standard for space strategy games, but the way Sins of a Solar Empire approaches this task is slightly different from all the rest. You'll be able to churn out huge fleets and send them toward your enemies in real time, and the interface is being designed so it's easy to manage a large number of worlds and fleets simultaneously. In essence, the galaxy will be awash in combat because multiple battles can flare up on the map at any one time. If you zoom in, you'll be able to see the individual ships slugging it out in the fleet actions.

Each faction will have a wide variety of ships to construct, though Sins of a Solar Empire does depart from the direct relationship between researching technology and ship design that's found in many space strategy games. You will be able to conduct research in the game, and that can have an impact on your strategy. For instance, you can improve your industrial output to build ships faster. However, you won't need to worry about researching certain weapons technologies and outfitting your ships with them, or coming up with the latest shield design and having to install it on your vessels. Ships will come in stock designs, so there's no need to constantly tinker with their weapon loadouts.

Each faction has a large variety of spacecraft it can build, from fighters to huge capital ships.

But, it's not all about combat in Sins of a Solar Empire. A robust diplomacy system will let you wheel and deal with your fellow players, either in single-player or multiplayer mode. One really nifty feature is the idea of a bounty. You can put a bounty on another player, which means other players or even pirates will have a financial incentive to destroy ships from that player's faction. Even worse, if you have a bounty on your head, you won't know who commissioned it--unless the faction responsible for it announces it. So imagine how you could publicly declare yourself as someone's friend to soften him up while at the same time put a bounty on his ships for the moment you decide to stab him in the back.

Sins of a Solar Empire is not due out until 2007, but the glimpse of the game that we got from Stardock was enough to pique our interest. The game mechanics look like they could be a lot of fun, and the real-time aspect of the game is a nice change of pace in a traditionally turn-based genre. However, what we're really looking forward to is assembling huge fleets and throwing them into battle as fast as we can build them.

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23 comments
Canitbe
Canitbe

This is by far one of the best game's I've played in I dont know how long. It excels at everything and I have yet to find any real gameplay flaws, other then the memory leak issue(which is a direct result of Vista, not the game). That being said, games like this are pretty far and few between, I wish the gaming community as a whole would support developers like this, instead of rehashed FPS shooters like Halo,Resistance,etc(I am not bashing those games).

oflow
oflow

Oh, I almost forgot. There is also a culture factor in the game. The civil tech tree of each race allows you to enhance your races' culture, which is important because whenever you colonize a planet, you have to build up its infrastructure so its tax base goes down. The more a planet is aligned to you, the more money it generates.You can build up culture by creating trade ports, communication satellites and investing in the civil infrastructure of the planet, which also helps 'harden' the planet against orbital bombardment. Planets farther out from your homeworld start with a lot lower culture level and can be influenced by the culture of other races that are close by. If you let your culture get to low, the people on the planet will rebel and overthrow the government and they will drop out of your civilization. You can also research and find ancient artifacts on planets which unlock special abilities as well. Its important to build up your culture, because if a planets' culture is strong enough, even if another race comes and destroys its defense and infrastructure, they wont initially be able to colonize and take the planet because your culture is too strong there.

oflow
oflow

A lot of the people commenting here obviously havent played the game so take their comments with a grain of salt. I got the game on release day and its a really solid game. There actually is 3-d combat. you can make the ships move up and down on the Z-axis. While you cant design your own ships, there are five different types of capital ships for each race and they actually gain levels thru combat experience. Everytime you level you can unlock another ability on the capital ships. Also, using the tech trees you can unlock more abilities, so while you cant create your own ship hull, you can make your ships unique by having a unique abilities set since theres six tech trees for each race and each tech tree has about 25 options in it. Each race has a very different back ground and dont share the same tech trees except for the basic structures. TEC are humans and their tech is mainly based around a lot of robotics and capitalism since they were the trade federation before the invasion. The Advent are humanoids that were banished from the TEC thousands of years ago for 'moral indeceny', which really was development of psychic abilities. The went into deep space and founded their own civilization. Their tech is based primarily around psionics. The Vasari are an 'alien'l race, whose empire attacked the humans because they encountered them while actually fleeing from some unknown dark power while retreating thru space. They could be considered the 'evilest' faction, if you dont count whatever they are running from which hasnt been revealed yet. Their tech is based off of phase technology and their civil tree is basically about enslavement and subjugation. As far as diplomacy goes theres a diplomacy screen in the game that lets you offer options to all the players in the game, i.e. cease fire, make peace, trade alliance, show planets, show ships, give credits, give resources, goto war. The other thing the game has is a market system that allows you to sell your resources and you can set your own price to undercut or overcharge the market price. Finally, the game has a pirate faction. Every so often the pirates will perform a raid on the player that has the highest bounty on them. There is a screen where you can place bounty on other players in secret that usually turns into a bidding war since the pirates attack whoever has the highest bounty. The players also can use this bounty since whenever you kill a ship from a faction that has a bounty on them you get the money. The beauty of the game is the maps can be incredibly large. You can have 10 players in a game, and you can have multiple star systems, so its possible to have a map with a few hundred planets that would take weeks to finish. You can actually save online games which is a really cool feature. While the graphics arent FPS quality (dont know why so many people are hung up on good graphics I guess its just this generation they'd rather have eyecandy and crappy gameplay than a good game since thats what they are used to) I run the game on 1600x1200 and the game looks really good, especially when you start using higher end weapons and special abilities. Keep in mind, the graphics cant be too great since you'll have battles with hundreds of ships at a time. Most of the time you arent zoomed in watching the cinematic of the fight like in these screens you are zoomed out actually making tactical moves in the battle so you are looking at the icons for the ships anyway. This is a very addicting game and the good thing is the developers actually listen to the communities' feed back and make constant updates. They are already readying the third minor patch to tweak the game balance based on player feedback. The game was in beta for over a year and when I say feedback I mean civil discussion, not massive QQing. The player base only wants the game to get better.

Xeuton_Mojukai
Xeuton_Mojukai

Looking at more recent screenshots, this actually seems more like Homeworld 2, given the lack of truly 3D combat. Still, I have played MOO3 and HW2, and I think they would combine perfectly here. I can't wait to see the further addition of BF2 elements... Some players act as fleet commanders. Some act as fighter pilots. Others act as spies. Others act as diplomats... Clan vs. Clan gaming would be so insane! ~ Guardian

Allan_X
Allan_X

You mean those two ships in the top screenshot? Hmm, it's not EXACTLY the same design as the Sulaco, but the similarities are striking indeed. It has the same key design features... a long hull in the shape of an elliptic cylinder, communication antennas up front, and a little downward-pointing fin near the drive section. But the general curves on the hull itself have been varied enough so that it's a fairly different design. Still, it's kinda lame that they didn't come up with something original. Keep in mind that when it comes to spacecraft design, originality is very, very difficult. If you draw something up that even makes sense from a design standpoint, chances are good that it's already been done before. I know this for a fact, because I've personally designed some cool-looking spacecraft only to see their spitting image appear in works of science fiction later on. Since I have excellent memory - and since this effect often occurs with media that hasn't even been released or shown until AFTER I had created my own design that subsequently appeared in said media - I can confirm that I've never seen these designs in my entire life before I sketched them. I call this effect "Coincidental Cryptomnesia".

facehugger12
facehugger12

A couple of the ships That I have seen so far, are exact replicas of the marines "SULUCO".taken from the movie ALIENS.I wonder If james cameron gave permission for the USE OF THE DESIGN? w

bamantm
bamantm

might be good...a bit sad you cannot tweak your own ships, but if it is all in real time i suppose it could be somewhat difficult to implement...and it is kind of boring to have to update your shipdesigns every 5 minutes or so because of some newly researched sheild or missile...

Dasc00
Dasc00

"Conquest: Frontier Wars was along the same lines, at least in terms of real time space strategy. This seems to be a bit more involved though. Hope it comes out well." Yeah, this looks like Conquest but mixed with Homeworld....you a fan of conquest?

d-olsvik
d-olsvik

What is this, the company line? Promoting a major limitation to the depth of gameplay (the inabilty to configure space ships) like it was a breakthrough in space strategy development, sounds a bit...limp. And '[...] you can improve your industrial output to build ships faster.' No?! Are the Robotic Factories and Deep Core Mines about to be invented all over again?

Nebule
Nebule

Conquest: Frontier Wars was along the same lines, at least in terms of real time space strategy. This seems to be a bit more involved though. Hope it comes out well.

_Sam_
_Sam_

seems ok so far

cjcr_alexandru
cjcr_alexandru

The graphics aren't jaw-dropping, but I don't hink this is intended to be a AAA title. Something like DEFCON: gameplay, not graphics will matter the most.

seth_xx
seth_xx

This game has a terible graphics, like games from last century, at least on the screenshots I've seen better graphics in games form recent years like Homeworld 2...

midn8t
midn8t

its not quite same scale as total war. theres only 3 factions as for glatic civlizations how is research, devlopment building of space ships and dipomlacy handled ? im going to guess senes theres 3 factions there is no dipomlacy and im going to guess all the games that have gone way of RTS with such supber gFXS have all exactp Galtic civlziations which isnt a true rts, have gone way of no real unit modding. well theres anthere game out there that was RTS that had money in it and u could desinged units i think it was WAR INC but i dont really remember at this point any more. have to wait and see how this plays out. im going to guess that this will be a lower budget made game, whith more ephmises on the RTS then the space conquest.. its already proven that by this review in way whole thing they golrifed is pretty much rts part. ill have to wait and see what comes of this, if it dose good i bet sequal will have alot more depth to it.

MD351
MD351

Finally this game getting noticed by sites like GameSpot, about freaking time, i new this since earlier this year when the first trailer was released (even before that).

lensig24
lensig24

Cooolll!!!! I'll get this when it comes out since it joins two of my fave space games Homeworld and GalCiv

woodstockc
woodstockc

oooohhhhh, pretty....... hard to top good old homeworld though

PackersRock
PackersRock

Sounds like this will either be the next big thing in the RTS genre, or a huge flop. Personally I think it will be amazing.

martok
martok

This is excellent news. I'm a big fan of Stardock's GalCiv 2, and I think it's terrific they're helping Ironclad publish their game. I've been keeping an eye on SoaSE for a while now, as it looks likes like I could enjoy it just as much as Galactic Civilizations 2!