Combining real-time tactics with many components of the typically turn-based 4X genre has paid off for Ironclad Games and Stardock. Their game, Sins of a Solar Empire, has sold more copies than games with 10 times its budget, netting Ironclad a hearty profit and helping fund their next game, Sins of a Dark Age. Unsurprisingly, Ironclad isn't letting the series fade anytime soon, with the upcoming expansion, Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, giving longtime fans yet another reason to take up the commander's chair and forge their empires anew.
While there is no particularly well laid out narrative to Rebellion, it does have a bit of a story to tell. The last expansion explored the idea of diplomatic relations between the races, but since then their relationships – both with each other and within – have deteriorated. As a result a host of rebellions have sprung forth, splitting each race into two very different factions.
The new versions of each faction dramatically alter how a typical game of Sins plays. For instance the humans, known as the TEC, have a Loyalist faction, and they are the ultimate isolationists. Typically a successful commander in Sins will expand fast, grabbing up new planets in order to secure new resources. But the TEC Loyalists don't have to play this way, with special abilities that allow their ships to level up without getting into a ton of combat. Likewise the previously xenophobic Vasari Loyalists are still hell bent on their mission to escape this sector of space, and have abilities that keep them highly mobile. Their new capital ship can serve as their capital planet, enabling them to never bother settling a planet if they so choose. They can also remove planets from the system, razing them for resources and leaving behind dead rocks, completely reshaping the stellar landscape for all other factions.
The Rebel versions of each faction have abilities that equally change up the gameplay of Sins of a Solar Empire. The xenophobic TEC Rebels can ally with pirates, keeping them from raiding their colonies, as well as directing them against their enemies. The Vasari Rebels have decided to abandon their xenophobia, and can now ally with other races, fighting alongside them with their unique mobile battlestations. While these are only a few examples of how each race's rebel/loyal factions vary (to read even more, check out GameSpy's preview), they show just how much effort Ironclad's put into making every one of them play uniquely. If you've gotten used to playing Sins of a Solar Empire a certain way, you better be ready to evolve your tactics in Rebellion.
Outside of the introduction of new intra-racial factions, the Rebellion expansion includes many additions you might expect.. Each race shares the tech trees established in the Diplomacy expansion, but gets even more abilities and skills in Rebellion. Additionally they can all build new vehicles, including faction-specific gigantic capital ships known as Titans. The TEC Loyalist ship is a behemoth that compliments their isolationist mantra, bristling with guns and making an awesome defensive ship, while the Rebel Titan is outfitted with powerful guns that can blow away enemy forces and make for a nearly unstoppable strike team. Titans definitely change the landscape of an interstellar conflict, and everyone is given warnings when someone is crafting them. The process is labor and time intensive, and smart scouting can make all the difference between catching an enemy Titan while it's still in the shipyard and having it show up and level your homeworld.
Destroying an opponent's homeworld is only one victory conditions in Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion. In an effort to not only reduce the amount of time necessary to come out on top, but also to give you more ways to win than just brute force or diplomacy, Ironclad's introducing several new victory conditions. One involves occupying an Artifact World for a certain period of time, at which point it starts a countdown for any other factions or players, encouraging them to take you out. Another is Flagship Victory, wherein each faction gets a flagship that, if destroyed, takes them out of the game (a similar mode is available for capital worlds instead of ships). You can also win by focusing on research. If you manage to complete a research tree and finish an ultimate research subject you can win with the brains of your people than the guns of your ships. An interface on screen for each person tracks player progress towards the various goals, allowing you to adapt your strategy as necessary as people make plays on particular victory conditions.
Less vital to the gameplay, but oh-so-important to those of us who just want to see the spectacle of epic space battles, are the engine enhancements Ironclad's implemented for Rebellion. High-res textures have been applied to ships, allowing you to zoom in on them and see all the little bits and pieces that don't do a dang thing. But dammit, they do look cool. Additionally they've redone their lighting system, with real light sources that make ships cast shadows on themselves and objects around them. It's all subtle, but does make every clash in space feel that much closer to watching, say, the end of Return of the Jedi.
It's not uncommon to see game expansions and walk away with the feeling that they just add more components, doing next to nothing to change a person's mind about the way a game plays. But Rebellion is different; Ironclad has addressed gameplay concerns and given you more ways to play. If you haven't played Sins before, or have let it collect dust on your shelf for a few years now, it might be time to put your plans for galactic conquest back in action.
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