Sector 426 was a an empty, lonely section of space, patrolled by the Arcova Scout Frigate “Odyssey.” It was supposed to be a routine mission to track possible enemy presence. Her array of remote sensors and upgraded engines were supposed to make this a routine flight for the 75 member crew, all of whom were looking forward to their upcoming shore leave on Lautaro.
One bad decision changed all that. A few moments of inattention – apparently the skipper was too busy communicating with TEC HQ about mining operations on a nearby asteroid to pay attention to the threat board. A massive Rankulas Battleship slid into view with a compliment of Nanite Swarms, Skirmishers and Assailants. How had they gotten through the picket screens? THAT’s right- they hadn’t been set up- TEC Command was too concerned about exploring the rest of the sector- eager for plunder to feed to the factories while the propogandists hunted stories of easy conquests to feed to a populace too weary of war to care. The captain, his options limited, and his escape route closing, tried to run for home. The Odyssey would never make it…
They say the best games teach you about yourself. I’ve learned I have difficulty playing Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion.
Let’s examine why this might be the case. It’s clearly not due to the interface. Keyboard commands are mapped intelligently, and the mouse interface is fairly tight (although the default seems to scroll a BIT to quickly across the map for my tastes). Even if the keys were mapped poorly (or at least not to your liking), binding commands are easily accessed during gameplay, so they’re easy to change. Many have pointed out the sheer sense of scale you get when zooming in on individual craft, or zooming out almost instantly to a system or sector level, as well they should. It’s seamless, effective, and just plain COOL. Ships respond to commands cleverly and quickly, so I never felt like I was battling the control scheme to put my plans into action, so that’s not causing any problems. Information is readily available with a quick button command, or by sliding the mouse over the appropriate icon, so I never felt ill-equipped to make a command decision.
Did I feel ill at ease getting back into the Sins universe? Not really. The full tutorial is paced well, and allows an accessibility the franchise hasn’t been as known for in the past. The hardcore aren’t the only ones welcome anymore.
Stability issues? While it’s been known for them in the past, my build of Rebellion ran relatively glitch-free, save for a bit of stuttering and a bit of waiting for menus to respond when I switched to the highest graphical settings, and some long-ish load times when the game first starts. Otherwise, the play was smooth.
Ok- if the mechanics are solid, maybe there’s something that displeases me aesthetically…? Quite the contrary, actually. The game is colorful, the universe is well defined, units are detailed and easily identifiable (clearly key during the frenzy of RTS combat). Sound effects are suitably handled, and the score is appropriately epic. Still, there’s something about the aesthetic that’s affecting my ability to play, so we’ll come back to this momentarily.
The battle is over- While the Odyssey and her crew was avenged, it was at a heavy cost. While the TEC survivors struggle to put the pieces back together, command is forced to send condolence emails to grieving families, packing as little substance as the vaporized remains…
Ok- I think I’ve discovered the problem- I have difficulty playing Rebellion not because of anything it does wrong, but for EVERYTHING it does right.
Stardock makes you care about the universe they’ve created. It’s evident in the mechanics and the carefully balanced units. It’s shown in the lovingly crafted lore available on the website. It’s bloody obvious in the aesthetic design of the units themselves. TEC ships have a bulky, almost thrown together look that screams war-weariness, but also a determination to fight to the bitter end. The Vasari ships plainly display a culture with over 10000 years of experience in conquest and intimidation. Although the game’s story is told without the use of a single player campaign, these units MEAN something.
That’s where it all falls down for me. I examined my play style. I thought I used turtling tactics because I was still learning to play effectively. It turns out I use those tactics because I’m too invested in individual ships to risk throwing even one of them away. I’ve learned that I should NEVER be asked to command troops in battle because I’m not capable of sacrificing some for the greater achievement. Unlike the decisions in RPGs such as Fallout,or Mass Effect, or even in Roguelikes like the upcoming FTL, I feel like my choices in Sins carry a greater weight. If I botch up, even “permadeath” doesn’t bother me as I can start over with a new avatar and a clean slate. In Sins, a poor tactical decision wastes lives, AND the battle keeps going.
I want to be able to simply enjoy the challenge that Sins offers… Psychologically, though, I have a lot of work to do. It’s a shame really, as Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is so easy to recommend. It really is the ultimate version of a great series, and should not be missed.