Wot I Think: Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion

The boys at RPS needed somebody who knew about rebellions for this review, so they called me in because I am Northern Irish and I once shot a gun. I thought, “This will be easy because it is a game about rebellion. There is even ‘rebellion’ in the title.” And then I discovered it was a game about SPACE rebellion, which is completely outside of my knowledge because I have not been into space even once. I thought, “I am in trouble now because I am not good at being in space.” I am currently playing a pen and paper role-playing campaign set in space. The character I rolled is so traumatised by life in space that every time there is a “stressful situation” he has to roll to see how he reacts. If I roll a one, I have to go through a psychotic breakdown.

I am not good at being in space. And here’s wot i think of Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion.

I thought, “Hopefully there is enough rebellion to off-set this fact.” Then I played Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion and found out that it is barely a game about rebellion at all, which means it really should have gone to Space and Robots Correspondent, Jim Rossignol. But instead here we are. Me, with my lack of knowledge of the previous Sins games, forever unable to write “proper” reviews. You, fuming at your computer at the lack of spaceship facts, your Jean-Luc Picard figurine lying askew in a pot of yesterday’s hummus. For fuck sake, clean up.

Right. Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is your bread and butter 4X real-time strategy game set in the cold, dark recesses of the universe. 4X refers to the genre’s famous ability to make you say “Ooo” precisely four times – no more, no less. You will note that Rebellion is a very pretty game. Even when everything is peaceful and combat is a distant afterthought, there are enough beautiful spacescapes to fill a whole corner shop full of intergalactic post cards. Far-off supernovae bathe your ships in white light, arms of galaxies corkscrew through your field of vision, bubbling red stars hiss and flare and burp like fierce gods with stellar heartburn, often frighteningly close. This is the first “ooo”.

It’s also one of the few games I have found myself zooming right in to single units just to watch them do their thing. Most strategies leave me unconcerned for close-ups of the action (I am too busy watching my fast-moving triangle hitting that big dumb rectangle to care about Roman soldier no. 1365) but again and again I made full use of the scroll wheel, viewing my battleships from every direction, thinking of them more like toys than war heroes. It helps that the zoom function is smoother than a brand of hot chocolate endorsed by Barry White. And although I actually had a good time taking OVER 200 screenshots, I don’t feel like any of them really do justice to the vision of stars blooming against the dark void, or the adorable little space-ballet your frigates do when they’re trying to get into formation.

As for how it plays, the whole thing is about as traditional an RTS as you can get. Resources are collected by colonising planets and building mineral extractors in orbit, or by jealously guarding the extractors at each space junction. The maps can be sprawling webs full of gas giants, asteroid belts, space junk, suns and wormholes. Or they can be a small, confined handful of rocky planets arranged in simple symmetry. If you’re not happy with them, there’s a map editor included, so fire away.

There are three races to fight as, also in keeping with tradition – the TEC are the testy humans, the Vasari are the alien scourge, and the Advent are the psychic lot who practice yoga and try to chat you up with talk of “Unity” and “Deliverance”. Each race has a rebel counterpart, with slightly different research options, which is new to Rebellion. Also new to the series is some tech for everyone and the introduction of huge capital ships called Titans. Titans, however, is an unimaginative name for these colossi but you can also rename almost anything in the game, so go ahead and call your Titan the ‘Space Bastard’.

The ludicrously expensive Titans feel like they should be part of the endgame on a map, but I discovered the hard way that they can be built a lot sooner than that and generally you and your foe(s) will get into that familiar arms race, each tying to build enough labs to “out-research” the other and launching frustrating hit-and-run raids at each other’s Titan Foundry.

Actually, the hit-and-run thing is interesting. I play almost every RTS the same way – dogmatically defensive. I layer every road with mines and barb wire, get the high ground whenever possible, wait in ambush for days rather than risk venturing out. In Rebellion, however, the AI was angry and hellish enough not to let me do that. Each race has the ability to spread their culture from planet to planet using propaganda platforms. These basically broadcast your team’s colour down the arms connecting every junction. God knows what’s in these broadcasts. Probably propaganda but possibly also annoying adverts with repetitive and memorable music. In any case, if the enemy’s culture is affecting your planet, the people begin to resent you and eventually they will rebel and chuck you out.

The enemy AI was fond of doing this to me. This meant my usual boarding-up-the-windows strategy had to be adapted to include horrid little guerrilla attacks on their propaganda platforms, in which I would have to distract their main armada with an attack on one side of the map while launching a smaller, specialised bombing run at the other side. Then there are the pirates to deal with. You have to constantly outbid the other players by making the bounty on their heads look more enticing than the one on yours, to avoid being hounded by pirate raids every ten minutes or so. All the while I was desperately scrounging together all my money to buy my own propaganda artists in the form of research.

And this research menu itself is one hell of a sprawl. It’s less a tech tree than a tech orchard. Each race has basically collected all the potential technology and specialities from previous games, along with upgrades to capital ships and starbases – gargantuan space fortresses that can also often double up as trade ports or a culture-spreading aid. I get paralysed with indecision when the “sandwich artist” in Subway asks me what bread I’d like. So the dozens of branches of tech was never going to be my strong point. But it will make many others very happy.

Each race has its own requisite endgame Big Guns to work towards. For the TEC and Vasari, these are literally really big guns, which rain down hell on distant planets or the structures orbiting them. The Advent, being awkward and speaking in a stupid echoey voice, has the Deliverance engine which allows them to spread their culture from afar, rather than just from an adjacent system. But of all the high-hanging fruit on the tech trees, my favourite is the Advent’s “Wail of the Sacrificed” which allows you to kill the ENTIRE POPULATION of one of your own planets so that enemy ships in nearby systems will feel the “psionic shock” of so many deaths and suffer damage as a result. Using this ability results in a huge scary witch face to appear above your planet, who looks like that banshee in Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Absolutely terrifying.

I didn’t play multiplayer because in my entire life I have never won an RTS online. People who play multiplayer RTS are good at thinking and pressing buttons very fast. I am not. Look how long it took me to type this review, for instance. The game has been out for WEEKS. But if the AI can give me so much grief on a normal setting, you’re likely in for some highly competitive games (and lengthy ones too – my shortest game was 4 hours 15 minutes and that’s only because I was so easily beaten (I am shit)). There is also a whole research area dedicated to diplomacy, allowing you to build pacts and have peace treaties with other players. I’d be interested to see whether such features could result in a long, fiendish backstabbing orgy – a game of Neptune’s Pride condensed into a single night. But I’m not going to be the one to test that. That would be silly.

So, yes. I like it. I knew I liked it when in the heat of a skirmish I upgraded my capital ship to include a boarding party who then captured a pirate frigate and convinced him to fight alongside our fleet, thereafter screeching “Trrrrrreasure, ye say!?” at every order I gave him. The thing is, Rebellion could easily be the kind of game which resulted in one of those boring IF THEN ELSE statements. IF reader played previous game AND likes previous game THEN reader will like Rebellion fine ELSE game too expensive. IF reader knows what’s good for them THEN reader will take advice ELSE sadness. You know, that kind of thing. But it’s a strong enough RTS to consider. I’d recommend it more heartily to newcomers if I didn’t already know that Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity was on sale for half the price, which is likely to have a lot of the same content. I guess it really comes down to one thing: extra quids will get you Space Bastards.


  1. President Weasel says:

    I am President Weasel, and I approve of this review.

  2. YogSo says:

    I know they are implicit somewhere in the text, but I’m a bit dumb and need things to be spelled out: what are the other three ‘ooo’ moments?

  3. Danny252 says:

    Erk, calling Sins a 4X? I think I can hear Vinraith typing his explanation of why you’re wrong already…

    • ninjapirate says:

      Perhaps he should edit the “4x” entry in Wikipedia instead, since it also speaks of Sins as a 4x game.

    • timmyvos says:

      You can explore several galaxies, expand your empire, exploit resources and exterminate your enemies in a pretty expansive world.

    • BooleanBob says:

      Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s an RPG.

      You know, like Wizardry..

    • Lemming says:

      It’s a 4x game. There is no argument on this.

      • Sardonic says:

        It’s not pure enough 4X to be called a 4X game at all. It’s an RTS with an extremely light dusting of 4X elements, if you ask me.

        • sqparadox says:

          Funny, last time I check 4X had absolutely nothing to do with being turn-based or real-time, beyond the fact that the first 4X games were turn-based.

          God forbid games should evolve from there roots. Bring back the text phraser! (Which is not to imply that turn-based gameplay has no place, just that our world is bigger than that now.)

          It’s not like a real-time 4X game is any kind of innovation, they’ve been around for more than 15 years

          • Sardonic says:

            Never said it had anything to do with being realtime. Imperium Galactica 2 was realtime, and unarguably a 4X. I’d say Sins is more of a RTS because the diplomatic aspects are so shallow and there are no random events.

      • Jimbo says:

        It’s 4x and RTS. Nothing about those terms implies mutual exclusivity.

        I don’t rate Sins very highly either, whatever you want to call it.

    • Vinraith says:

      As I’ve said before, call it what you want, but you’re doing it no favors. Compared to other RTS titles it’s a pretty neat game, compared to other 4X titles it’s painfully shallow and stripped down.

  4. Tom Walker says:

    See, I’m normally one for the defence-building, hidey sort of a approach to RTSes, but something about the magnitude of this game put me in a hurry to just build a massive fleet and steamroller everything in my path.

    This is far more effective against the AI, by the way, but doesn’t seem to give such a nuanced experience as you seem to have…. um… experienced.

    WIsh I could have more Space Bastards though. On a really big map, one really isn’t enough.

  5. TheApologist says:

    Someone should do some kind of research into why online RTS multiplayer is quite as horrifying as it is. I mean, why do I care if I get beaten by someone I’ll never meet. Yet, I would never even contemplate putting myself through it.

    Also, this review was hilarious – thanks!

    • abremms says:

      I think it’s two things, really, first is the time commitment. even a short game of SC2 is going to last 15 minutes. that’s a lot of time to get invested and have some give and take, as opposed to an FPS where if you live for 15 minutes, it just means your opponent is awful.

      second, i think it’s an ego thing. if you die in an online FPS, then the guy what killed you just had faster reflexes, better positioning, or leet hax. If you lose an RTS, (assuming you know how to play the game fairly well), then it means the other guy played smarter. It’s harder to justify being outplayed to oneself. I can dismiss a hundred deaths in BF3 as being dumb luck, but with a game like SoaSE, if you lose it’s because your opponent was simply better. you can make all the noises about starting locations and maps and all that, but in the end you have to admit that you fell for his diversion in the east and left your homeworld open to his suicide bombing fleet. or some suck.

      • Asokn says:

        Believe me Internet, you don’t want to open up your homeworld to some suck.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Bring on the suck, I say. Let them break upon my walls with wave after wave of suck. I shall not yield.

      • Iskariot says:

        15 minutes is a lot of time?
        I must be of another century.

        • kio says:

          15 minutes of pure attention, where every single small decision you make (or fail to) can result in failure, practically invalidating all of the effort you had put into it up until that point (or after, given that you might not lose right away). It’s a strong investment of attention that is unlike an FPS (attention is only needed in bursts, little investment given that you’ve probably only been alive a minute and will spawn again in x seconds), or browsing websites (zero investment), or whatever else.

          Plus there’s so many different skills involved, several of which most people aren’t even aware of. That’s a bit scary — when you don’t even know what it is you’re supposed to get better at.

      • Ironclad says:

        Not saying those aren’t contributing reasons, but I Think th main problem is that pc strategy games are so opaque: you lost a game of Starcraft 2, did you have the wrong build order? Did you not give the right orders? Were you simply not fast enough? Should you have gone after that +1 armor instead of that extra soldier?

        There are hundreds of possibilities as to why you lost, almost none of which will be apparent the moment you finished the game. You have to open up the replay (and be confronted with your playstyle) and be very attentive re:flaws in your behaviour.

        That’s a lot of work, and with uncertain rewards at hte end of the process.

        • Cooper says:

          It’s simple.

          RTS games do not have killcams.

        • Grygus says:

          All of that, and the opponent isn’t consistent in terms of quality or playstyle, making it even harder to judge progress.

      • Ragnar says:

        In addition to that, in an FPS game, even if you suck, you’re going to get a few kills. You made lose the match, but at least you have something to show for it in the kills you got. As you keep playing, and start improving, you may still keep losing but at least your kill – death ratio is improving.

        With an RTS, you’re going to lose over and over and over again. The FPS equivalent would be playing 1v1 against a much better opponent who kills you every time, it’s not very fun. There’s nothing handy like the KDR to show signs of improvement.

  6. kaoswielder says:

    You guys should also check out Total Biscuit’s take on this game. I am now torn between this, Endless Space and the upcoming Legend of Pegasus

    • Lemming says:

      Go Endless Space. Give the new guy a chance!

      • Bhazor says:

        Warlock Master of the Arcane
        Endless Space
        Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion

        You wait a couple years for a good 4x game and then three come along in a month.

        • Giaddon says:

          Of those, Endless Space is the most diverse. Warlock and Sins are pretty much exclusively about combat.

        • Lord Byte says:

          Also Warlock: Master of the Arcane is hardly a 4X game, it’s the combatty parts of Civ V with worse AI, and less different units.

          • PleasingFungus says:

            “explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate”.

            Huh, funny, I don’t see “diplomacy” in there anywhere!

            (Also, Warlock is splendid.)

        • Arkh says:

          I like Sins a lot, but I didn’t play rebellion yet. They should have released it as an expansion rather than a Standalone game.

          Also, Warlock is shallow. It’s Civ5 (done right) with magic. It’s an Ok game, it’s not MoM great. And, no, I’m not being nostalgic because I only played MoM recently. I do prefer Fallen Enchantress, it has more content and can end a good game or a Ok game like Warlock. But I prefer FE probably because of Cognitive Dissonance and you guys prefer Warlock because of the same thing.

          Still, they are worse than Galactic Civilizations 2 and Distant Worlds.

          • Bhazor says:

            Fallen Enchantress looks splendid but given the butchered original I’m waiting for the wot this time.

            But still its a strange resurgance this year for my favourite genre even if none have dethroned Civ IV even after … 7 years! Holy frick, how did that happen? I was supposed to have written my epic magical realism murder mystery trilogy by now. And married that woman from the Scottish Widow ads.

        • RegisteredUser says:

          I wouldn’t count any of those as true 4X.

          For me its more something like Distant Worlds(or Space Empires, MOO).

          Premade ships and non-selfmade stations etc just aren’t “true” 4X elements for me, and given the pause based combat you can do with DW, it at least comes close to feeling a bit more turn based-ish / tactical.
          Although admittedly the weapon tree boils down to “get best torpedo”, especially as one of the “killer” races.

          DW I think snuck past a lot of people. Kinda sad their pricing is so crap and exploitative for the expansions, and that some of the economic issues were hardcore buggy for a long time, but nonetheless definitely a game worth looking into(and lauded as THE worthy modern day MOO sequel by that one space game review site).

    • Apolloin says:

      I bought both. I have a huge grin.

  7. unique_identifier says:

    FYI: there’s a 1hr “three moves ahead” podcast discussing sins rebellion (featuring some of the ironclad devs). Episode 174 over here

  8. affront says:

    $30 (with discount for owning the original, even) for an amount of new content that doesn’t exceed about 2 of the “DLC addons” when being generous (honestly, what I saw of it was more like 1.5 than 2) for the original which were $10? for each back then feels like a shameless cash grab.

    Glad I, uh, “previewed” it before buying it straight away, which I probably would have done had it been cheaper.

    • Asokn says:

      Previewed, you say? Wait a minute; *you’re* the pirate captain!

      Can you say ‘treasure, you say?’ for me please?

  9. Jon Tetrino says:

    Rebellion is one of these situations where if you’ve not played Sins, or at least never bought the two expansions, it’s a great buy.

    However if you own Trinity (the game + its DLC) then you’re spending full game price for less new content than the Diplomacy expansion added for £7. The game is good, very good, it’s classic Sins with some nice tactics being brought into play with the racial abilities, but about 90% of the content existed in Trinity.

    Is it worth owning if you’re a Sins fan? Yes. Is it worth buying at full price? Sorry to say it, but no. Not unless you’ve never owned the other two DLC.

    I must point out that I didn’t buy Diplomacy, so that side of the game was all new to me, but I am aware of how much is new to Rebellion only and frankly, the Entrenchment expansion had more fresh content.

    In other words, this would have been best suited as a DLC release, (barely noticeable) graphics update and all, and it is pretty obvious that they released at full price to try and balance some book.

    • liance says:

      Seconding this: if you are on the fence about buying this, and you already own Trinity or the original Sins, it’s not worth it. As much as I adore Sins, Rebellion seems to change the game even less than the previous two expansion packs. It has some new research abilities for racial factions, and better multiplayer support (although the first few games I played, I was desynchronized from the game and AI bots were substituted in for real players – all without the game telling me or my friends – which wasted a good few hours of my time)

      This is an excellent game to pick up if you’ve never played Sins before, but otherwise…

      • kaoswielder says:

        So if I’ve never played a game before and I had the option of picking this vs the original Sins pack (DLCs included), then which one should I opt for ?

        • Lemming says:

          This, it would seem, as it has all the previous stuff in it + new stuff.

        • Jon Tetrino says:

          Definitely get this over the original Sins, but if you own the original sins + the DLC then don’t bother with it until it’s on sale and cheap.

          If you own the original Sins but without the DLC, still worth picking up.

    • Gnoupi says:

      I guess that with the original game becoming a bit old, this was a good opportunity to “renew” a bit the franchise, bring new customers.
      I think the third DLC was supposed to be a regular expansion, originally. But I might be wrong.

      But I can confirm indeed that this is exactly what you had in Trinity, plus the loyalist/rebellion techs, and the graphical update. IF you’re new to the series, it’s probably a good idea to pick this up. If not, you might want to ponder taking it for a lower price, regarding what was added.

    • Saiko Kila says:

      Thanks for these voices, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I already have Sins+Diplomacy+Entrenchment (I didn’t know it was called “Trinity”, I have it on Impulse, and they all are listed as different entities) and was contemplating this new title. Which I thought was just DLC to the original Sins but packed as standalone.

      • Jon Tetrino says:

        Trinity is the name of the triple pack (Sins and the two DLCs). Because it is literally the same package as buying the three things separately, the combination of the three have been called Trinity by the community regardless of how you purchased. =)

    • Archonsod says:

      It adds a hell of a lot of new content towards the end game (including new victory conditions, so you actually have an end game). The factions now play very differently (Vasari space locusts for example – who needs planets when you can just strip them bare and move on), there’s a handful of new tech and ships plus the graphics engine has been overhauled.

      And to top it off, if you owned the original the discount they offer(ed?) on Rebellion put it in the same price range as the expansions.

      • Jon Tetrino says:

        Actually the discount still resulted in it costing three times as much as a single piece of the other DLC – and it only applied to those who owned Trinity, so if you had bought the game and DLC separately you were screwed out of the deal.

        I am still struggling to see the content being worth £20+ when a solid DLC would have covered it.

  10. tehsorrow says:

    I suppose it’s slightly off topic but does anyone know what P&P Brenden is refering to in the line ” I am currently playing a pen and paper role-playing campaign set in space.”?

    Sounds a bit like Rogue Trader but I’m curious

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      It 2300 AD, it awesome and terrifying and I don’t want to die in the depths of space

  11. Lemming says:

    I own Sins: Trinity, and it’s a bit misinforming to call it an RTS. Yes, there is real-time strategy involved but I feel sorry for the poor bastard who gets this thinking it’s going to be like Company of Heroes or Command and Conquer.

    It’s a 4X game. It’s pretty. And (for me) the battles aren’t anywhere near as fun as building up your empire. I played it for hours never really getting anywhere and resenting the fights. It takes far too long to get a decent force together and everything dies far too easily on your side, the tech upgrades not doing anything of noticeable difference. Even on the lowest AI settings the other races seem to churn units out like there is no tomorrow, while you’re still establishing a modest 3 system empire. For those that like their strategy snail-slow this is great. But it wasn’t for me, and I love marathon Civ4 games.

    I much rather fancy the look of Endless Space with its auto-battles.

    • Gnoupi says:

      It’s a 4X, true, but it’s by far the 4X which plays the most like a RTS.

  12. TehK says:

    Stellar article – it brought a smile to my old eyes quite a few times :)
    I’ve not played a Sins game yet, so this will at least go to my wishlist! At the moment there’s just too many other games to play.

  13. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    The counter to a Titan is a fully-upgraded starbase. The TEC starbase, with its massive amounts of health, is particularly nasty and more than capable of withstanding a Titan and even a moderately powerful accompanying fleet. I learned this the hard way when in one game I lost a Titan, four capital ships, and entire fleet to a single starbase, my military crashing on it like a wave on a rock.

    The lesson: Titans should be treated as super capital ships and always given an escort, and you ignore anti-structure frigates at your own peril.

    • Archonsod says:

      The AI gets particularly nasty with starbases, minefields and overlapping defences. Plus defence fleet and a healthy amount of defence hangars. That said, depends on the Titan; a couple of them can still go toe to toe with a fully upgraded starbase and come out on top, others tend to be better in a support role.

  14. Asokn says:

    I have the same problem of not feeling able to play many games online. I always feel like unless I buy the game on release day and then play it constantly I’ll be well behind the curve of those more dedicated souls that do and there’s no way I can win.

    • kert says:

      There should be leagues for this stuff. And sunday pickup games.

  15. RPSRSVP says:

    “One of your enemies has built something new” After hearing this, you have ~180 secs to organize defense because that new Titan will come at you.

    I played against AI set to “vicious”, only emerged victorious once. I only managed to win as TEC loyalist, they can build TWO starbases per gravity well.

    8 repair platforms, 2 starbases, a few Dunov’s, 40 hoshikos and mine fields were buying me enough time to recover losses in attacks and pirate raids. eventually build up enough forces to cleanse the star system. Haven’t touched the game since though.

    • Apolloin says:

      Wait… You played it on one of the hardest settings and found it a bit too wearing and haven’t gone back? They do have other difficulty settings, you know.

      Personally I play it less for the challenge and more for the fleet combat porn. Titans increase the fleet combat porn so I bought the upgrade and love it.

  16. Erithtotl says:

    I have the original Sins but none of the DLC/expansions. If I get Rebellion do I get all that other add on content as well?

    Also, what Pen & Paper RPG is Brendan playing? Sounds like it could be Eclipse Phase.

    • Archonsod says:

      Yup, it’s got all the stuff from the original + the two expansions + the new stuff.

  17. Billzor says:

    On sale for half-price??? Where????

  18. Billzor says:

    P.S. WIT for Endless Space pretty please.

  19. Keith Nemitz says:

    Props for mentioning Darby O’Gill and the Little People!

    It still haunts my dreams…

  20. sonofcaine says:

    Brilliant writing. How do you brits do this? Got me convinced, gonna try this one out.