With over 200 games in my Steam library coming into 2015, and a very small fraction of that touched on, I decided to set myself the goal of clearing out my backlog. However, I swiftly figured out that of those 200+, the number of games I could safely claim to have played (either completed or put in 20 hours on) was so minuscule that the remainder would probably take me years to complete. Thus, I came up with the idea setting a one hour limit – an idea that is not unique or original, but should work to help me stop feeling so guilty. Here’s my first hour with Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion.
Now, I’ll preface this quick impression with the fact that I’m not a huge fan of RTS games – at least, not since the original Warcraft and Starcraft. I’m older now, and while that does also make me wiser there is a cost: speed. I simply don’t have the reaction times these days to really enjoy a hard fought RTS match (or something like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, for that matter). Without that, I find the micromanagement tedious in most RTS games, though a solid campaign can still salvage things for me more often than not.
Unfortunately, Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion doesn’t have a campaign. Your options are Single Player, 1-off matches with no narratives or multiplayer. However, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Sins, so when it came up as the first target of my backlog mission, I wasn’t too fussed – build some spaceships, shoot some dudes, it’ll be fine!
I only got through one of the tutorials, as it seems that Sins is a fairly typical example of the genre: factories build ships which then go fight things; turrets provide a measure of defense; laboratories help unlock new technologies to make your shootey-things better; and ultimately you want to build bases (colonize planets and asteroids in Sins) to conquer the galaxy. Easy peasy. After just the first tutorial that acquaints new players with the UI, I was feeling pretty satisfied that I could operate the game for an hour to see if I liked it.
My first match was on a small map, 1v1, with my opponent being an NPC. After pumping out some ships (including a capital vessel), I began to poke around the neighboring areas. Soon, I was in combat with some small scouting missions in the gravity wells of these other places and I soon found myself a little let down by Sins. In space, it is said that the largest hurdle we have to overcome is that all three dimensions are valid for movement – think about the Battle Room in Ender’s Game. However, Sins’ battlefields are strictly 2D affairs and not visually striking in the least bit. While the ability to zoom in and out on rather large scales is satisfying, the graphics at the lowest level of zoom leave something to be desired.
Speaking of, the UI is quite dated for a game that came out in the last few years. Icons are heavy on the art, while most UIs have moved towards minimalist designs (which I enjoy – the new iteration of the Eve Online UI is awesome). Menus feel overly large and clunky – it’s basically the early 2000s over at Stardock apparently. However, none of that has to do with the gameplay, right? Let’s talk about that briefly:
It’s an RTS with not much in the way of differences between units. Whether they are spewing missiles, torpedoes, lasers or plasma, it’s all the same shit. Capital ships do have the ability to build up specials, but in my limited experience with them the specials seemed to not work, or make a significant difference in a battle. For instance, my Kortul Devastator has – supposedly – the ability to jam enemy targeting systems. However, several tries at using this in battle resulted in, well, no result at all. The enemy just kept plinking away, as did my frigates. I also never felt that having a capital vessel in combat was a huge advantage – 10 enemy frigates vs. 9 of mine and a capital felt about as lopsided as 10 enemy frigates vs. 10 of mine. There just isn’t a lot of differentiation in Sins, as a whole or on minute scales.
Granted, this is all based on an hour of play – it is entirely possible that it gets really good on higher difficulties, larger maps, or longer timelines. But if a game can’t hook me in the first hour, it’s time to shelve it and continue on.