Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion Review
There is certainly no shortage of space strategy games out there, but few of them offer the balance between RTS combat and 4X-style expansion and domination like Ironclad Games' Sins of a Solar Empire does. And after a couple of years without any releases, the game seems to have come back from the dead with the release of a full-fledged expansion pack. Going beyond just fixes and balance changes, the Rebellion expansion for Sins brings two sub-factions to each of the three races, new victory conditions, and massive Titan ships and tiny Corvettes to round out your fleet. As an expansion goes, Rebellion doesn't dramatically change the way that the base game is played, but it's just a solid progression and a great way to end support for what I've begrudgingly started to realize is one of the best strategy games I've ever played.
Rebellion doesn't do much to change the look of Sins or how its planets and systems laid out, but in case you haven't played the base game before, here's how it goes. A star system can be made up of any number of planets, asteroid fields, and the like, and some larger maps are made up of multiple star systems. Additionally, phase jump lanes are what connect things together. You start at one planet and use your military might and ability to colonize to take over new planets, capture new resource asteroids and build up tax-bestowing population on your planets. All this time, you're building up resources and money to research new tech for a better economy, bigger and better ships, and an overall more efficient empire - and you'll have to balance that with what you spend on building an actual fleet. It's not like, say, Starcraft, as this is a much larger scale with potentially hundreds and hundreds of ships, and here each small area is connected with choke-point-like phase lanes. Everything is easily zoomable with a full Supreme Commander-like "Strategic Zoom" which can seamlessly transition all the way from a small-scale space battle out to multiple star systems on-screen at once. No minimap is necessary when you can simply zoom out, then zoom into the area you want to see. Victory can come through diplomacy, but hey, military might is much more exciting - and for the games I've played solo and on a LAN, fixed teams and conquest victories are how we almost always roll.
This expansion brings new custom-made maps to play on, as well as the functionality of the base game's map auto-builder that allows you to set parameters for a new star system (or set of them) to play on. It's easy once you get the hang of it, too; with only a minute or two of messing around, you'll have a new semi-random map based on your specifications. The biggest and most flashy new feature has to be the new ships, though, as the Titans are fearsome, massive Super Star Destroyer-style boats with some serious firepower. Less impressive but more useful are the little Corvette ships (bigger than strike craft, but smaller than frigates) which can swarm quickly to take out larger structures and ships very effectively, especially when they overwhelm the bigger ships' large weapons. All of this stuff comes at costs that are commensurate with the size of the ship you're building, but I have found that a well-balanced fleet is still important - there are just more elements to make up that kind of fleet now.
As for the, er, rebellion part of Rebellion, the split of each of the three races into a pair of sub-factions allows for some uniqueness in research trees and in the Titan that can be built (which is unique for each sub-faction, making for six Titans in total), although everything else is generally the same. Between the loyalist and rebel factions of each race, the research trees are probably 90% the same, but those few unique research goals you do get can make a pretty significant difference near the endgame scenarios, especially when you have hundreds of ships facing off against each other. And when that does happen, the new victory conditions that you can set up can affect your endgame strategy significantly. If you're a veteran Sins player, do make sure to play around with these to see how much your playstyle changes when you can't relocate your capital (and where losing it eliminates you from the game) or when all players are racing to take over one well-defended neutral planet somewhere on the map.
What I do like about Rebellion is that some technical improvements were made to keep the game running more smoothly, both in offline and online modes. The game still can only use a single core of your CPU, but I do have to say that over the course of Rebellion's beta, the game slowed down less and less in the end-game, even with maximized fleet sizes and tons of ships in combat at once. Your mileage may vary, especially if you've got a low- or mid-tier gaming PC, but I will say that if the endgame slowdowns ruined your fun in previous versions of Sins, then this expansion might be just what you need to enjoy it all over again.
Just about the only complaint I have, and this is minor considering that I've already spent 80 hours playing Rebellion, is that it's kind of expensive. It costs a full forty bucks on Steam, and while there was some kind of $10 off pre-release coupon for those who already owned Sins, I do not see that offer available on Steam now, so at this point it just seems to be $40. You'll certainly get your money's worth if you enjoy a mix of RTS and 4X strategy in both offline and online modes, but if not, then I doubt Sins will make you a believer - and that hefty price tag will probably stop potential new players from trying out this game for the first time.
So while the price tag is just a bit steep, Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion still does a fine job fixing the technical issues behind the original game while adding plenty of variety and some fun and exciting new ships to build. It all plays out in the same kinds of star systems we had before, but the sub-factions add tactical options that weren't there before. While this isn't the most ambitious of expansion packs that I've seen, Rebellion is still far better than just the addition of a new campaign and some new units; this makes an already wonderful game much more enjoyable. The important part here is that Sins of a Solar Empire still delivers a very unique kind of strategy game, and Rebellion doesn't screw with that; instead, it makes that base game substantially smoother and more interesting.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail PC copy provided by Ironclad through Steam.