Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion review

By Kat Bailey, Jul 16, 2012 2:00pm PDT

Like any warm-blooded human being, the first thing I did when I booted up Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion was build a Titan. Big as Darth Vader's flagship from Empire Strikes Back, these newly-added warships are built to single-handedly change the tide of battle. To my infinite delight, they don't disappoint either--after much anticipation, my giant space shotgun promptly shattered an enemy fleet with a few blasts of its scatter gun.

Impressive--and marketable--as the Titans are though, they are hardly the most important feature in Rebellion. It's the other additions--the new goals and factions--that constitute the most important changes to this, the third expansion to Sins of a Solar Empire. They constitute a ripening for the series, bringing it closer than ever to Ironclad's original vision of a massive strategy game that runs in real-time.

When Sins of a Solar Empire was released in 2008, it was an admirable effort to combine the aesthetic appeal of Homeworld's spaceship battles with the grand strategy of a Civilization. It was a tightly designed game, and great fun to play, but also a bit limited. The diplomacy, such as it was, was limited to executing missions to gain the favor of the AI The only goal was to utterly annihilate every opposing faction, which was tedious and time-consuming. Ironclad has tried to address those issues over the years by tacking on first star bases, then improving the diplomacy. Welcome as those changes were though, Sins of a Solar Empire was still mostly about blowing up other factions, and the changes wrought by Entrenchment and Diplomacy occasionally felt tacked on--improving one element but not the whole game.

Rebellion's most important accomplishment is in consolidating the two previous expansions into the whole, with the results being both new and very interesting. Thanks to the new victory conditions, easily the most critical of the additions, diplomacy matters more than ever. If you're going for a new research victory, it's critical to exploit the diplomacy tree so that you don't waste time and resources fighting off hostile foes. If you're of the more offensive mindset, the new Vasari Rebel faction--every faction has a new "rebel" variant with remixed powers--can jump their star bases into enemy gravity wells and use them as an extra ship. The new factions and victory conditions do a lot to bring it all together, greatly expanding the focus of what has always been an enjoyable strategy game.

Regarding the new factions, I was surprised how different they felt. At first blush, they aren't much more than palette swaps--simple retreads with different Titans. In this case though, the technology really makes a difference. The Terran Loyalists, for instance, are basically turtles, which is exemplified by their tank of a Titan and their increased focus on star base defenses. The Rebels, however, have powerful offensive improvements for their ships, as well as the ability to sic pirates on opposing factions. Other races bring their own variants to the table, whether in the ability to destroy whole fleets with the power of mass suicide (no really), or strip planets to the core and leave them lifeless husks.

It would be overstating matters to suggest that these new factions lend Sins of a Solar Empire the depth of a Galactic Civilizations II, but it's certainly a welcome improvement (even if the race balance could still use some tuning--the ability to jump star bases make the Vasari Rebels frighteningly powerful). Ultimately, Sins of a Solar Empire is still a real-time strategy game, meaning that Ironclad has to take care lest it all become too overwhelming. But the new factions and objectives do add a certain amount of depth that wasn't there before, and make massive games set in huge galaxies much more in appealing.

For that reason, Sins of a Solar Empire Rebellion is an essential addition for existing fans, and a great opportunity for newbies to jump in and try it for themselves. For many, the Titans will be the key selling point, and it's true that it's hard to deny the power of rolling up to an enemy home world with a five-mile long monstrosity and simply ending them. For the first time ever though, naked force is not the only option, making Titans a fun (albeit very useful) bonus more than anything. And that is the most important improvement of all.


This Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion review was based on a digital version of the game supplied by the publisher.

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