Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion Review

So here we are! The fourth (technically fifth if you count Trinity) title in Ironclad Gaming’s Sins of a Solar Empire franchise. To those of you new to the game, SoaSE is a multiplayer-targeted sci-fi RTS with a deep complexity behind it that toes the line of a 4x strategy game. Now, if you’re like me, what that really means is “OH GOD WHERE’S THE PAUSE BUTTON WHAT DOES THIS RESEARCH DO SEND IN THE FLEETS.”

To provide a quick recap, SoaSE involves taking your large fleets of spaceships that fire shooty-plasma-stuff and throwing them at everyone else’s fleets, with the general goal being to acquire more and more planets to further your empire. I mentioned 4x strategy game, but you shouldn’t be fooled into believing that means you can skip past the shooty-bits. No matter where you go in SoaSE, you’re always going to need to be carrying a big stick. Want to be a research-focused civilization? Sure, just have a big fleet to capture more resources to spend on more research. Want to be a diplomacy-focused civilization? Diplomacy largely amounts to “Go blow up this guy’s ships for me and I’ll like you.”

Now, that shouldn’t be something you hold to a fault with SoaSE. This game was always designed to be something of a war game, with players smashing their fleets against each other in the gravity wells of stars and planets, always trying to stay one step ahead. The other aspects, such as diplomacy, culture, research, and economy, are all sort of meant to act as accessories towards this. Everything you do in the game always rests on the need to have a strong military force. Some elements, like diplomacy, can even be forsaken completely, especially in games against other players where much of the diplomacy takes place over chat rather than through the game’s system of giving other players missions to complete.

So that’s SoaSE. We’ve had two micro-expansions so far, adding small content and tweaks to the delicate-but-impressive balance that the game has maintained. With Rebellion, though, things are a tiny bit different. Key word being tiny, of course. One of the first things that should probably be discussed is the concept of rebellion itself, which has served to split all three main factions into loyalists and rebels. Each of these factions has a new/updated story to them, along with new technologies, ships, and general abilities. While that sounds awesome on paper, it doesn’t actually make too much of a difference in-game.

Let’s say I’m playing the rebel Advent. We believe that our faction’s original goal of absorbing everyone into our religion has been corrupted from within. By what? Who knows? Does it change our goals by much at all? No, not really. Does it prevent me from being best buds with a loyalist Advent faction in the round, or offer any new interaction with said faction? Nah. It’s all really just flavor text, with the only real change being that I have more incentive to play with a focus on military aggression rather than culture due to rebel-specific abilities.

It’s the same with the other factions, with their stories remaining solely as flavor-text. The new abilities, while helpful in playing in certain play-styles, don’t really serve to restrict you from doing what you want to do. The lack of any meaningful addition to the story is a common thread in SoaSE, though. There’s no singleplayer-campaign, and playing against AI bots is highly underwhelming when compared to playing against actual people. While you could generally argue that we should expect this from an SoaSE game, the trailers leading up to this release *did* tease at revealing more story elements.

In terms of new content, though, Rebellion does bring in two new ship classes. Corvettes, which act as a middle-ground between the cheaper Frigates and more-specialized Cruisers, are a nice addition to have, adding even more options when it comes to determining fleet composition. Titans, meanwhile, are where the real excitement is. These massive ships are capable of a variety of buffs, on top of (metaphorically) towering over the battlefield. Construction of these adds a great deal of excitement and tension to the multiplayer, with players often making desperate moves to disrupt the process before they’re completed.

And… well… that’s it. If you’re feeling cut short by this review, it’s because Rebellion is essentially another micro-expansion, very much in the same vein as Entrenchment and Diplomacy. Asides from tweaks and balancing, the new ship designs and slightly-altered factions are the newest things you’ll be seeing with this expansion. The game’s still entirely fun, of course, and new content is always a welcome sight, but where the issue becomes a bit of a stickler is when it comes to just how much Rebellion costs. At $40, Rebellion’s a bit on the high side for the amount of content it actually offers. Yes, it does bundle all three of the last iterations into one package, but most SoaSE players already own those in some form. The $40 price tag is really more for people who’re completely new to the series and want quick access to everything it has to offer. For the rest of us, the additions aren’t quite that critical.

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