By MajorMitch 3 Comments
Preparing For Phase Jump
When Sins of a Solar Empire came out back in 2008, it was the one PC game that made me sad I didn’t have a gaming quality PC at the time (coincidentally, more on that below). I picked it up recently in one of the many Steam sales, and finally got around to giving it a shot. I’m glad I did too, because Sins is totally awesome. It’s an incredibly clever hybrid of real-time and 4X turn-based strategy conventions, combining the tactical combat of something like StarCraft with the long range planning of something like Civilization. In fact, pretty much everything about Sins lives in a comfortable middle ground between those two extremes. Battles occur in real-time and require some micromanagement, but it’s more big picture and less frenetic than your typical RTS, with only light tactical management and the ability to pause anytime. Empire building is broad in scope and has you managing different colonies like your typical 4X game, but there aren’t quite as many resources, units or technologies to consider. The tech tree finds a similar middle ground, and diplomacy options with your potential adversaries even manage to split the difference. Finally, my average game has taken around 3 hours to complete thus far; much longer than a RTS, yet much shorter than a 4X game.
Sins strikes this balance in every facet of its design, which sounds like it should be absolutely disastrous. Yet somehow it isn’t, and the game manages to nail exactly what I like about both genres in equal measure; it’s part building units and counters to compose armies with very specific tactical makeups, and part addictive “one more turn” style empire management. The game gives you enough of both without piling on so much of one that it would override the other, and it's executed to work better than it has any right to. In short, I really like it. It could probably be a little better balanced in spots, but the only thing that potentially seems like a large issue is that I could see the game reaching a kind of stalemate scenario at times. Granted, it hasn’t happened to me yet, but since resources are infinite and there’s no timer on a game, I could see two players splitting control of the map and maxing out their tech tree, only to end up butting heads indefinitely. Fortunately I have yet to encounter this scenario, so I’ll go on thinking that Sins of a Solar Empire is the magical melding of ideas that it’s proven to be thus far.
For most of my life I’ve spent the vast majority of my gaming time on consoles. From the Super Nintendo to the PlayStation 3, and covering just about everything in between, I’ve always gravitated towards the controller and TV experience. I could go on and on about the various reasons and historical details why, but it mostly came down to two primary things: the games coming out for consoles appealed to me more, and consoles were easier and cheaper to maintain. Sure, I played PC games here and there; StarCraft is an all-time favorite after all. It was simply never my platform of choice. The PC hit a personal low during the first half of the current console generation (meaning about 2005-2009), as the combination of very few interesting PC exclusives and me not having ample means to invest in a gaming quality PC meant that I played virtually no games on the PC during that stretch. All the talk about PC gaming dying seemed to make a lot of sense at the time, and I was perfectly satisfied and content to ignore the platform in favor of the flourishing consoles.
That slowly started turning around in 2010, when after getting my first “real” job I was able to buy a legitimate gaming PC. The double hitter of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and Civilization V then kicked off what’s turned out to be a surprising turnaround for the platform. It’s not any one thing either, as a whole host of different factors have combined to give the PC a new life for me. They include:
- Some great “big budget” exclusives like the aforementioned StarCraft II and Civilization V, along with Diablo III, which are all endlessly playable games that make use of the PC’s strengths.
- After years of bad ports, PC versions of multiplatform games like The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Battlefield 3 and Far Cry 3 are now regularly surpassing their console counterparts.
- Near universal controller on PC (I’ll always be a controller guy).
- Day one digital downloads for literally everything. Sony is doing much better at this recently, but Microsoft is strangely content to ignore this on the Xbox 360.
- The growing “small games” movement (be it indie or otherwise) has shone brightest on the PC recently, where developers don’t have to fight strict console certification processes. Games like To the Moon, FTL: Faster Than Light and Hotline Miami may have never happened on consoles, and prominent figures such as Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish have had many well documented issues with putting their games out on those platforms.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, PC gaming is cheaper than ever. Digital pricing is often cheaper than retail to begin with, and regular sales (primarily through Steam) are simply incredible; the rate at which games dip below $20 makes buying any game at $60 feel antiquated. The upfront investment for a PC is still higher than consoles (though that’s also cheaper than ever), but I believe PC gaming is currently cheaper in the long run due to digital pricing and sales. Not to mention that you don’t have to pay for any online services to get the most out of your games; here’s looking at you Xbox Live Gold.
Those last three points are the biggest ones for me, and are the areas where the consoles have the most catching up to do. The PC has proven to be a highly adaptable and varied platform over the past few years, and the way you can now get tons of quality content on the cheap, from both big and small developers, be it retail or digital, is the way of the future. It’s likely that the consoles are lagging behind due to their protracted cycle, and it’s completely possible that they will catch up and I will switch right back to them once the next generation begins in earnest. But for the time being the PC is the way forward, and for the first time in my life it’s my platform of choice.