Here is my review of the game in its current state. By current state I mean unfinished, the game is still missing many elements which will be provided at a later date. Due to this fact, my review will only be valid for a few days if at all
Fun Factor: 8
Sins of a Solar Empire Beta 1 provides a great, fulfilling experience, even at this early development date. You will find yourself spending hours playing a game that logically should be boring and somewhat of a chore to play. Not to say it doesn’t have its faults, the foundation is there and it’s strong.
You have one race, limited options, limited ships, limited A.I. capabilities and a largely undeveloped trade & culture system. And yet, you will have a blast.
While the A.I. is still not what it should be, it is showing a lot of promise reminding me of the A.I. from Galactic Civilizations 2 which if it ends up anywhere near this, it will be amazing. Though your computer controlled opponents will stupidly launch frigate after frigate into your planetary defense system they will also forge alliances (if allowed) ask for help, ask for trade and brutally stab you in the back. At one point a fleet of friendly computer controlled ships moved into my domain with the excuse of doing flight tests or something to that effect. They waltzed past my fleets and defenses flying their flags of allegiance running their "flight tests" all the way to my homeworld where they abruptly opened fire while my main force was far away fighting on other fronts. I have never played an RTS where the A.I. extended an olive branch too me which I gratefully accepted only to have it snatched back and replaced with a sword.
This game won’t be what your used to in an RTS game, the area you control will be enormous, that will be one thing you will find somewhat annoying. Managing all your planets and asteroids can be a bit of a problem. The developer have tried to remedy this with a side menu you where you can control everything from a single menu. This menu will become filled with a mass of information. It will become hard to distinguish frigates from colonizing ships and once you have a trading post, masses of trading ships will show up here to further confuse you. This issue I feel could be helped by having shapes around the ship icons that represent ship type (i.e. triangles for frigates, rectangles for cap ships etc...) maybe give the shapes colors that correspond to ship type as well so that you may more easily determine ship types at a glance. Since you will control so many area it will become hard to determine which area is the one you need to look at. One thing I would like to see here is the ability to name my planets and asteroids and then have the name displayed to the right of the planet / asteroid. I think this would help me distinguish my territory (I.E. Planet Hizaed is under attack, I will know that’s my homeworld). I am sure more work will go into this aspect of the game as it feels unfinished, however its well on its way to being an intuitive way to interact with you empire.
If your side menu is driving you crazy than fear not! Simply use your mouse wheel and zoom out. While this may not be the most informational view, you will be able to get your bearings by viewing the entire universe, click planets to begin production and order your fleets around. The camera controls will take some getting used to but once you do, some of the features will be appreciated though there are some problems, as to be expected. As you zoom in, you will find that the camera zooms to your cursor, while this will be disconcerting at first as you accidentally zoom to empty space or other places you don’t want to be, you will soon find your self deftly zooming out to galaxy view, mousing over a planet and zooming in to be instantly where you need to be, I find this to be a feature that I had to learn to appreciate but now love. One thing that I don’t love is the camera locking feature ("M" key) this allows to you remain locked on a ship. While locked you will no longer zoom to your cursor and moving your cursor to the edge of the screen does nothing, this mode would be better if it wasn’t a hard lock. I would rather click middle mouse or double click on an object to establish a soft lock on an object in which zooming will zoom to that object and I can rotate around it freely while keeping it centered whether its moving or stationary just like in hard lock but when I move my cursor to the edge of the screen I think the lock should be lost and you can strafe the camera around and zoom to cursor once more.
So the A.I. and Interface are well on their way. What about the most important part, the fleet combat and epic battles. Well, for the most part you should find your war like tendencies assuaged as the combat is enjoyable. Capital ships carry compliments of fighters (though I think we all want more fighters that live more than 15 seconds since they are enjoyable to watch as they wave through battle) and bristle with awe inspiring weaponry which seems to appropriately decimate lesser ships. They are enjoyable to watch as they fire barrages of death in the direction of the enemy, they get into position and sit still like a giant capital ship should. The fighters launch and weave destruction throughout the field of battle for about 20 seconds before they are obliterated; they are still fun to watch. Frigates are pretty boring, I would like to say that they should move around, maybe attempt to gain a tactical advantage, try to move out of the enemies firing arc or something, but I think that may cause more harm than good if they are moving about it could be very irritating if they were to inadvertently move into range of ships that could devastate them, I know that I would be yelling at them to stay where I told them to go, nothing more frustrating than watching your units kill themselves for no good reason. Bobbing and weaving should be reserved for the fighters, they just need a little greater and maybe the ability to dodge. I understand having a lot of small units can affect performance; players could be given the option to display the fighters as icons only if it is that detrimental. Another thing on fleet combat, I think that a "fog of war" would be appropriate. Currently when you get to a planet/asteroid you see everything in the area, enemy placements forces everything. I would like the advantage to go to the defender in this instance, since he owns the planet. Let the owner see everything as he has a sensor array on/around the planet (maybe an upgrade? Or build item?) Increase the size of the gravity well to allow for more tactical maneuvering. Allow the enemy or both people if no one owns it to see ¼ or ½ of the area with the rest grayed out unless there is a unit in the area. Maybe an attacker could bring a mobile sensor array with him to allow him a full view, however this should be an expensive and well researched item which you will endeavor to protect. One other thing I would love to see but understand if it can’t be in. The shield ability, I would love to see a command where I could tell a ship to shield a unit or structure and they would move into a position between the enemy in order to take a portion of the damage.
Giving your ships orders is easy, and the context choices are performing well, right click an enemy and they attack, right click empty space and they move etc… The A.I. falters a bit here when the order to jump is given, I find some units being left behind, particularly capital ships seem to dislike the order to jump and sometimes it must be given twice. Currently when ships jump they can immediately continue on and jump from where they are, right through the planet/asteroid gravity well. This can be annoying as the enemy can bypass your defenses and units, I don’t mind letting them retreat but I would rather not let them through unless they have a line of sight to the next destination that is free of gravity well interference. They can still make a break for it, they just need to take some hits on the way. One other thing is that when you are selecting units with a selection box it only selects combat units if there is one included in the selection, this is a cool feature, though I would appreciate it if colonizing ships were not included in this, as the A.I. will quickly destroy them, they should be brought in once the battle is won.
One thing about colonizing ships, they rely on antimatter to use their colonization power. I do not like this as they use antimatter to travel there and you must wait for the antimatter to recharge, which is a long process. In fact I would like the colony ships to work differently all together. I think when you build one it should take a set number from the planets population, then it should go to the planet/asteroid and disappear thus colonizing the planet, you lose the ship and must build a new one, the price of the colony ship can be increased if needed. I am happy with the way that capital ships can colonize the way they do.
The graphics, how could I forget. The graphics are great, I hear people comparing them to homeworld 2 and to them I say, you are correct! The graphics in my opinion are slightly better than HW2 which is not a bad thing. There is one huge thing that people are missing. This game is huge, massive and gigantic. If I played HW2 and tried to put as many units and structures around a beautiful planet on my screen as I have seen in this game, my PC would cough up its lung and my PC is no 486. This game allows smooth game play with tons of units and HW2 graphics IN BETA 1 which is insane!
To sum it all up, this game is off to a great start. Even at this early stage it has a very solid feel to it. This is a game that people are going to talk about and that’s a good thing since I am already looking forward to an add-on pack and a sequel.
The sound is currently not all there which is the reason for the low score. This is undoubtedly going to change for the better in the near future.
One last thing to recommend that is my head. A huge suicidal capital ship called the Nova that is very expensive, moves very, very slowly and has little health. As there are multiple galaxies this could be an interesting weapon though detrimental to your own income. You move the ship to a galaxies sun and command it on a collision course, once the ship enters the sun in 10 minutes the star will super nova obliterating life in that galaxy. When playing AI this genocidal action should cause all A.I. to immediately dissolve ties with you as this is an unspeakable act of murder.
Thanks for this great game!