4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) strategy games rarely gain widespread popularity. They’re like the mathletes club in high school—a haven for only the most hardcore of geeks. Sins of a Solar Empire vitalizes the genre by automating most of the micromanagement and replacing monotonous turn-based drudgery with faster-paced real-time gameplay.
Aside from the opening cinematic, there’s no plot or story to drive the single-player mode. Solo play is limited to skirmish games in which you pick one of three factions to use in an epic battle to conquer the map. Depending on the map size (up to 10 players can occupy nine massive solar systems, each with dozens of planets), skirmish sessions can last anywhere from an hour to more than a day.
And that’s the beauty of Sins; it scales all the things we like about the RTS genre into interstellar campaigns of epic proportion. Space exploration, technology research, and unit management are all drawn out over the span of a game (i.e., it’s rarely possible to explore the entire map before a game’s end). The balanced pacing gives you adequate time to develop every facet of your empire, so unlike in most RTS games, which favor the speediest player, you never feel as though you’ve fallen too far behind the curve.
In combat, the game plays like a mixture of Risk and Homeworld. Carefully plotting assault routes between planets and asteroids to surprise an opponent requires strategic finesse, and the reward of razing an undefended territory is very satisfying. We really dig the option to keep the ship-to-ship combat relatively hands-off, as we loved zooming in to survey glorious capital ship battles while the AI competently handles the micromanagement of the fleet.
Devious players will also adore the robust selection of passive-aggressive options, such as the ability to bribe local pirates to raid enemies or forge alliances and cease fires to manipulate opponents. The fine mix of 4X-style depth and RTS-inspired design makes for an irresistible and addictive combination. Just be warned, once you’re sucked in, don’t be surprised to find yourself losing track of time and playing matches until 4 a.m.
Deeply immersive, massive scale, takes the most of the micromanagement out of RTSes.