By Jim Rossignol on April 4th, 2008 at 10:31 am.
Kieron: Okay. I stick on Mogwai Fears Satan, as it’s the most piece of SPACE WAR music I have to hand. And let’s consider Sins Of A Solar Empire, the game people are literally calling “Sins Of A Solar Empire”. It’s a Space-based RTS from some guys who we mainly know for Homeworld Cataclysm, published by the guys who made Gal Civ 2. As the lineage may suggest, it’s an enormous Space War game which mashes a load of Gal-Civ-esque elements into a more traditional RTS. I’ve played it since the Beta. What about you, Jim?
Jim: Hmm, well I tend to go for more Lustmord when in spacewar. I like that alien-thunder in the depths of space vibe, plus I’m secretly a goth from Manchester. Anyway, I’ve been playing the game since it arrived on my desk a few weeks ago.
Kieron: Alec – how long you been playing it for? And what about you Walker?
Jim: There’s something wrong
Kieron: There is.
Kieron: Something’s missing.
Jim: WHERE ARE THE OTHER MEN
Kieron: In Space-RTS chats, no-one can hear John Walker and Alec Meer scream. Let’s just presume they’re being shy. Or perhaps realise that their opinions are pretty worthless compared with our own. And carry on. Did you like it, Jim?
Jim: Their opinions are nothing compared to… yeah it’s good. The fact that I’ve just embarked on a second giganto-map session testifies to that. It’s going to take about twelve hours to defeat. In fact I’m not sure quite why this game hasn’t come along before. It felt remarkably natural to sit down and play for ten hours at a stretch.
Kieron: Yeah. That’s always kinda testament, innit.? I know we’re going in too deep, too quickly, but… Do you think that’s anything to do with the bit of your head that plays Eve for every waking moment?
Jim: Well it’s a possibly. But Eve has become about playing the game with a proficient bunch of highly-sarcastic gentlemen. Sins is about hours alone, managing, planning, waiting.
Jim: I’ve dodged mining in Eve for quite some time now. (And guys it’s not that I don’t want to contribute to corp upkeep, I’m just very busy…)
Kieron: Don’t lie. You hate Corp Upkeep.
Jim: Sins has quite a different beat to it though, there’s a continuous, elongated need for concentration. Eve is usually bursts of action followed by a lot of sitting about discussing how spaceships are a bit like penises.
Kieron: Yeah – it’s a big game, and it feels naturally like that. The problem with me – and it’s a reason why I tend towards playing Medium/Small maps – is that it’s still got that bit in a strategy game when it’s clear one of you is going to win. I hated it in Kane’s Wrath when I’m having to find and destroy the last man or whatever. And that’s a game whose maps take 10 minutes to win. But in Sins… well, it can be clear you’re going to win, and there’s still an hour of mopping up to go. At least.
Jim: Yeah, it’s a classic problem for this kind of game. Needs specific victory conditions outside that Last Man thing. Isn’t that being patched?
Kieron: Yeah – the AI surrender now, so it’s less of a problem. Which is the other thing that’s always agreeable with Stardock games – there is this general post-patch support.
Jim: Isn’t that basically just essential for all PC games now?
Kieron: Well, I meant better. Better than average.
Jim: It is better than average, which is kind of the surprising thing about Sins all over really. Even the explanatory pop-ups in the game are better than average. Which is lucky, because the one thing that is below average is the tutorials. They’re rubbish.
Kieron: Yeah. Openly terrible.
Kieron: I believe on the V1.0 they had problems with the scripting which was fixed very quickly. But it’ snot an easy game to get into.
Jim: It would actually kill John, and he knows it.
Kieron: Which kind of leads me to something else which is a nagging problem with the game – and this will be my last whine before going onto raving about the bloody thing, honest. I remember being on a train with Walker somewhere, and I was reading the Gal Civ 2 manual.
Kieron: Because I was reviewing it. And at the back, there was a fomula for something to do with the economics. A proper, multi-element scary-looking formula. I showed it to John, and his tiny little brain just went hiss. Bless him. That’s why he likes Point and Click. You point. You click. And that’s it. He’ll probably like C&C
Jim: He’d like World In Conflict. I’ll take my copy round and forcibly install it.
Kieron: Er… what I wanted to say that while there’s some great stuff in the pop-ups, it also manages to obscure information which is absolutely central to playing *well*. I mean, I’d won games before I even understood the damage system. Look at this: http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=p7xc_snd9Cc-6o2UwvPEWUg&gid=1
Jim: Ooh, that’s useful.
Kieron: Yeah, but look at the maths of it
Jim: Looks simple enough!
Kieron: It’s just absolutely counter-intuitive!
Jim: Giant blocks of numbers aren’t exactly helping people feel comfortable getting into these kinds of games. I guess I’m used to it after explaining falloff and tracking to people in Eve so many times. That said, we both won games in Sins without worry about this stuff.
Kieron: Well, yeah.
Kieron: But… well, what did you think Fighters were for?
Jim: I mean, you know you need a balanced fleet, and so you guess your way in. Probably need capitals, and fighters, and those Kodiak cruisers. Fighters were for killing fast stuff
Kieron: I kind of presumed the fighters were for taking down Bombers.
Jim: Well, the fact that one of the best planet defences in Sins was the hangars told me that they were for killing the planet-bombers, which is evidenced by that table.
Kieron: Well, the planet defence hangars you had the choice of fighters or bombers.
Jim: Oh yeah. I don’t think I ever built bombers with them.
Jim: Hmm. ANYWAY.
Kieron: That’s my reservation with it – it’s a strategy game where you have trouble really knowing if you’re making a good decision or not. It’s all there, but it’s counter-intuitve. Compared to something like Armageddon Empires where every decision is crisp (There the UI confuses. Here, it just keeps so much stuff under the hood)
Jim: Yeah, there’s a distinct lack of feedback. And things like figuring out how to deal with a giant swarm of the planet bombers before your population was evaporated is really frustrating.
Kieron: Oh – and I stress, the pop-ups have been improved since release to get some more of this stuff in front of people.
Jim: So, all that aside, why has the game been so popular?
Kieron: Well, it’s a bit on the awesome side, really. To be an internet-person…
Jim: I think I was surprised at how quickly I grasped it, but I don’t know if that’s why it’s popular. I wonder whether people are actually gasping for massive-scale RTS games and we just don’t know it. I mean, while playing it, I thought: there could be a game of this scale with normal dudes, across entire countries, continents even. You could call it “Mega Captain”.
Kieron: I would play Mega Captain to death.
Kieron: Okay, putting aside its qualities – being a novel game which simultaneously isn’t absolutely alien to the player – it makes me suspect there’s an audience for that sort of thing. I think it’s also profited from being the only REAL PC game of the year so far. As in, completely unadulterated.
Jim: That’s kind of Stardock’s claim, isn’t it? “We made the PC game, therefore people actually bought it.”
Kieron: Yeah. I think they’re probably right. It’s a game with no shame about what it is.
Jim: I was thinking about this the other day: do other people use games as sort of experiential antidotes? Like if you overdose on one experience does it leave your in need or something else? I say this because I came away from a week of Sins wanting to play Half-Life 2. And conversely, if there’s been a year of not-PC strategy, are people just pent up with RTS urges?
Kieron: I think there’s a bit of that. I mean, look at the Witcher last year. Putting aside the Witcher’s quality, there was a decent-budget PC RPG and it found an audience.
Jim: Yeah, again with the Wardell agrument, are people just not finding the PC markets that will buy the games?
Kieron: God, we’re just paraphrasing the PR line. How embarrassing.
Jim: Yeah, but at least his PR line isn’t “our game is funner than it was in 2006″
Jim: I wonder if you could do a survey to prove his ideas. Does anyone pirate ArmA, or Total War games?
Kieron: I probably should do the Yarr-ts again.
Kieron: Absolutely. But I suppose the question has to be less Total War, and more… Well, Europa Universalis or Combat Mission or… those guys. Sins and Gal Civ is kind of between the pair of them.
Jim: So yeah. Getting back to the game, are you actually recommending it to people?
Kieron: I mean, I’m on the record with a 9. There’s nothing in the review I’d change. I think it’s one of the strongest RTS games of recent times. Also, enormous.
Jim: It is enormous. Enormous!
Jim: That’s a word we don’t use enough.
Kieron: Actually, question for you – does the lack of any structure annoy you?
Jim: Not in the slightest.
Kieron: In the game. Not life.
Jim: Oh, in the game. Er, that’s fine too. I mean, I’m generally anti structure. I’d rather Stalker had *just* been wandering around by some old sheds. However, I’m also not chiming with your opinion that linear campaigns are a bit rubbish, or whatever it was you said.
Jim: I would absolutely love to play a brilliantly told Homeworld 3 campaign.
Kieron: I’d love to play a brilliant Homeworld 3. God – we’re PC fanboys today.
Jim: For Sins though, it was more like I was playing Space Ultra Chess 5000. Pick a galactic board and plunge in.
Kieron: Yeah. I mean, as you say, it’s a 15 hour mega map thing. That’s more than every FPS I’ve played in the last year. I’m not sure I could bear more of a structure. I wish opposing AI had more character but… well, I wish that in almost every strategy game.
Jim: I was fine with it. I actually really like the simplisitc diplomacy systems. I found the inevitable backstab process incredibly satisfying
Kieron: There’s some neat stuff in the diplomacy system, but it’s not QUITE there yet. I do like the Pirate bidding. Stabbing abstract friends secretly is fun. And in the game, etc.
Jim: There’s a T-shirt slogan. (Would YOU buy an RPS T-shirt, readers?)
Kieron: And a way of life. Okay – since we kind of agree on the main topics, they’ve announced the add-on. What would you like to see in it? Bar Horace the Endless Bear.
Jim: An endless bear in the depths of the Cosmos *would* make the game.
Kieron: It’ll make any game. I mean, it’s interesting we’re saying we don’t care about the campaign, and that’s what they’ve announced.
Jim: I’ll definitely play the campaign. But I think I just want a slightly richer world. Perhaps more tiers to trade and planet-building. I never really felt like i was leading my people to victory. You’re just a intergalactic fleet-factory.
Kieron: Yeah, me too. I want to see what they’ll do with it. I think you could do with some more exploration bits and pieces. The exploring the planet stuff never really felt integrated properly.
Jim: I mean, I didn’t care about the campaign, but I’ll be glad to have it. Especially if it breaks some of the waverers who haven’t played it yet. There could be a couple of layers of exploration. Finding things in the system, as well as on the planet, that sort of thing. But really I feel like the expansion will just be an excuse to spend more time with the game, which is enough.
Kieron: Yeah, it’s the sort of thing I have in my head as “I’ll inevitably be reviewing that for someone, and it’ll be a lovely chance to spend more time with it”.
Jim: Okay last thought: most of the people reading this verdict will probably have played Sins already… right? At least the demo?
Kieron: I dunno. 50% of RPS hasn’t played it. That implies there’s a lot of people who really need to give it a shot.
Jim: True, true. But would the people who aren’t interested in the game even read this far down the page? And if they have made it this far, what should we say to them? “SCREW YOU SPACE-SCEPTICS?”
Kieron: “Thanks for reading RPS! Please Click on our adverts”?
Jim: Man, our adverts are amazing, aren’t they?
Kieron: I love them almost as much as I love Sins of a Solar Empire.
Kieron: Actually – final point: Great name!
Jim: Yeah, in a year of names, that one stood out as a better name than average.
Kieron: Okay – what I’d honestly tell someone who got this far is kind of basic. You’ve heard a lot about this game. You really need to try it, if only because it’s one of the few games which tries to find its own place. And, if you’re anything like Walker in his “RTS hasn’t changed in 10 year” mode, you triply do.
Jim: I’d like to see what the average name would be, if you put all names into an averaging machine.
Kieron: Wasn’t there a game called Average War? Ordinary War?
Jim: Original War? That was the game we refused to believe was good because it had bad looking tanks and time-travel, or something. But I hear it was actually okay. Anyway, let’s wrap it up. For the love of Space Week.
Kieron: Make it so. … I’m sorry.
Jim: You idiot. Verdict?
Kieron: I say purchasitude
Jim: Yes, buy this game.
Kieron: Alec? Walker? . .. Let’s take that as an abstention.
Our verdict: SALE!
Jim: The format dictates that we talk about something after the Optimus Thumbs
Kieron: Yeah, we need a topic.
Jim: Would you rather be twice as tall, or twice as wide?
Kieron: I would rather be twice as tall.
Kieron: We could just be rude about Alec and Walker some more. Who would you rather caught a nasty disease? Alec or Walker?
Jim: That’s a trick question, they’re both monstrous plague beasts.
Kieron: (It’s Walker) And you say Alec, so we can get them both wiped out.
Jim: Ah nice. Perhaps they’re both already rotting in a septic ward, hence their absence here?
Kieron: Let’s hope not. Otherwise we’ll have to talk Tim and Quinns into posting more. And I hate those guys too.
Jim: Right, I’m off into space.