Sins of a Solar Empire is an space-based strategy game in which players command of one of the game's three factions in a quest to rule one or more untamed star systems. Bringing civilization to the region involves establishing productive colonizes other habitable worlds, working along the diverse branches of racial technology trees, and establishing dominance over the competition through a combination of diplomatic treaties, cultural subversion, and military conquest. Though played entirely in real-time, the expansive nature of the gameplay and slower, more pensive sense of pacing give it many qualities in common with a "4X" strategy game like Master of Orion or Sword of the Stars.
Sins is the premiere title from developer Ironclad Games and was created in close association with the game's publisher, Stardock Entertainment. It has been widely distributed through traditional retail outlets, as well as through Impulse, Stardock's own online digital distribution service. As with Stardock's other releases, Sins features no copy protection on the game disc and the licensing agreement allows users to simultaneously install it on as many computers as they own, but the game must be registered with a unique serial number in order to receive any of the free updates or patches which have been released.
All of the action in Sins takes place in the gravity well around a celestial body such as a planet, wormhole, or plasma cloud near a local star. Inside a gravity well, players can construct orbital facilities around colonized planets and engage in combat in a manner similar to many RTS games on the market. Every colony represents a base of operations capable of supporting a limited number of resource gathering, production, scientific, and defensive structures, and most battles center around one faction trying to maneuver its fleet to harass or annihilate an enemy's holdings.
Space in the game is three dimensional, but although vessels have the option to move over and under other objects as they see fit, almost all the activity takes place along the flat 2D plane that defines the radius of the local gravity well.
Each celestial body is connected to at least one of its neighbors by a "star lane," enabling ships outside the gravity well to enter jump space and swiftly traverse the vast distances between them. Ships are restricted to normal sub-light maneuvering and will respond to orders immediately while inside a gravity well, but once in transit along a star lane, they may not be rerouted, engage in combat, or make any repairs until arriving at their immediate destination. Since long distance travel is typically only possible along existing star lanes and even the speediest vessels require time to spool up their jump drives before they can escape, certain locations often emerge as valuable choke points where empires can concentrate their defenses and stage attacks of their own.
The ultimate goal of the game is eradicate all of the opposing faction's colonies, either through annihilation of the population from orbit or overwhelming cultural influence. In games where the teams are not locked, players may also achieve a diplomatic victory by forging a military alliance with all of the active empires in the game.
Uninhabited worlds may be claimed by any faction using a colony ship, so long as it isn't already under the heavy influence of another culture. At the start of the game, every potential world is protected by a garrison of non-aligned ships which will automatically attack any foreign vessels in the area. The more valuable the world, the stronger the defending force tends to be, and since they put such a high priority on taking down incoming colony ships, games often begin with by assembling a military force to purge nearby worlds of their guardians so they can be safely claimed.
Colonies form the manufacturing, scientific, and economic backbone of every empire. Aside from building up their population to generate tax credits, most worlds have metal and crystal asteroids in orbit which can be mined for materials to finance other construction and research projects. These mining platforms are inexpensive and may be built on any resource points in the gravity well, but other orbital facilities like research labs, trade ports, and hanger bays take up a designated number of "points" which limit how many the colony can support.
Every structure falls into one of two categories: logistical buildings like laboratories and cultural transmitters, and tactical buildings like repair bays and defensive hanger bays. Because there's a separate pool of construction points for each, every world can support some mix of domestic structures that benefit the whole empire, and defensive structures to ward off attackers. The most valuable construction projects take up the most points, though, so players will need to consider the strategic location of the world, the immediate needs of the empire, and the amount of stored resources when laying out structures around each planet.
The three factions in the game each have access to distinct research trees that can unlock new weapons and abilities. Though there are many differences that give each one different strengths and play styles, they share a similar tiered layout where more advanced breakthroughs demand more time, resources, and available laboratories to complete. The required laboratories cannot simply be scrapped afterwards either, for civilizations will lose access to the benefits of their scientific progress until the labs are rebuilt.
All races share a common research tree for increasing the number of military vessels they can field at a time, and their maximum number of capital ships. From there, the faction-specific research branches diverge pretty widely from one another, but can still be sorted into two groups:
- Domestic research improves an empire's economy by boosting the rate of resource extraction and allowing the construction of interstellar trade ports and deep space refineries. Broadcast centers for disseminating cultural influence are also discovered here, increasing the tax revenue from far-flung colonies and improving the performance of military operations in the area.
- Military research covers a similarly broad range, unlocking more types of offensive craft, bringing dormant special abilities online, and applying fleet-wide bonuses to areas like shield regeneration, armor deflection, and weapon strength. Other branches also open up superior orbital defenses, including Phase Jump Destabilizers that interfere with the ability of enemy ships to escape the gravity well, and repair bays to patch up damaged craft.
The domestic and military research trees are divided up into three sub-categories specific to each race, and many technologies have optional enhancements that can further increase their effects. Because they require such an investment of time and resources, most games of Sins will end before every option can be exhausted. This encourages players to focus their scientific advancement on paths that will supplement their strategy in a given game, be it one of multi-pronged military invasion or one of economic and cultural supremacy.
Warfare in Sins plays out between four distinct classes of military vessels: frigates, cruisers, strike craft, and capital ships. The specifics vary from one race to another, with more distinctions becoming apparent through military research, but certain thematic elements unite them all.
Frigates are general attack vessels which appear earliest in the military research tree. They're relatively weak compared to some of the heavier craft, but their maneuvering speed, low expense, and high versatility allow them to take up the bulk of any fleet. Light attack frigates tend to be the most common, taking up a front-line position against enemy forces and breaking off to chase down runners, but variations include missile ships that bombard foes from a distance, flak frigates that defend against enemy strike craft, and siege craft that specialize in bombarding the surface of foreign planets. Finally, scout frigates are invaluable for mapping out the star lanes early in the game, and for collecting intelligence on enemy defenses later on.
Cruisers are larger and more specialized vessels which perform rather differently depending on the race. This is especially apparent in the category of support cruisers where the TEC have a robotic drone controller that automatically repairs nearby ships, while the Advent Guardian projects a moon-sized shield bubble that dilutes incoming damage by dividing it evenly across every ship in range. Nonetheless, while the specifics may vary, each faction also has access to the formidable heavy attack cruisers and the light carriers which can ferry wings of nimble strike craft into battle.
Strike craft squadrons are assembled by orbital hangers and larger carrier craft, and what they lack in individual power, they make up for in speed and numbers. Too quick to be tracked by conventional weaponry, bomber wings can swiftly close in to dish out heavy damage to opposing capital ships and structures without fear of retribution from their cannons, but will be easy pickings for dedicated flak cannons and defending fighters. Fighters don't stop at providing a screen against incoming bombers, either: they're particularly effective against siege frigates, too.
Capital ships are, without peer, the mightiest ships in the game. Not only are they protected by the thickest defenses in the game, bristling with weaponry on every front, and capable of supporting multiple wings of strike craft, they actually gain experience levels and unlock even more special abilities as they fight. These rare and exceedingly valuable ships are the centerpiece of any faction's fleet, possessing enough raw power to singlehandedly sway the course of a battle in their favor.
All empires get to build their first capital ship for free, picking between combat, support, carrier, colonization, and planetary bombardment variations that have been specifically tailored for each of the three races.
Bounties & Pirates
One of the most unique gameplay innovations in Sins is the ability for any player to put a price on the head of any other. This provides a financial incentive for other factions to target that empire, as any ship, structure, or colony destroyed will earn the attacker a portion of the bounty. The bigger the kill, the greater the reward, with high level capital ships and densely populated colonies earning the biggest share of the loot.
The bounty system becomes particularly influential in matches that include Space Pirates: an unaligned coalition of savage mercenaries that launches regular raiding parties at whichever faction is most profitable to attack. Though these raids start out small at first, Pirates use the plunder they earn to swiftly increase the size and severity of their attacks to the point where swarms of heavily armed ships can overwhelm all but the most heavily garrisoned worlds, ransacking them clean in a matter of minutes. Every faction in the game is alerted when a new pirate raid is imminent, often leading to intense bidding wars late in the game as they desperately try to redirect the assault away from themselves.
Space Pirates have one secret asteroid base in each star system on the map. In the event that the major factions can successfully battle their way through the thick nest of fortifications and destroy all the colonies, the pirate attacks will cease for the remainder of the match.
The wars in Sins of a Solar Empire take place over control of a number of celestial bodies around one or more star systems. While smaller games will include a dozen or so locations in a single star system, larger maps can include multiple star systems with upwards of thirty regional gravity wells each.
The center point of every system, stars project such intense levels of radiation and gravitational pull that ships in immediate vicinity can only operate at a fraction of their normal speed. Plotting a route around a star can sometimes be faster than trying to navigate through the corona itself. On maps with multiple stars, however, they become the staging point for interstellar invasion because long-distance jumps from one solar system to another begin and end around the stars themselves.
Ships cannot embark on interstellar voyages until "Long Range Jumps" are researched in the domestic technology tree for each race.
Colonizable worlds comprise the core of any faction: they are the income collectors, research centers, and production yards which enable an empire to function and prosper. They're also the most frequently found type of celestial body, appearing in many distinct forms throughout each solar system. Each type has its own inherent advantages and disadvantages, but even the most barren, backwater world may turn out to house a powerful artifact that will grant unique bonuses to whichever empire controls it.
Planetary bodies may also have special features like "Dense Cores" which substantially increase the size of their local gravity well, or "Automated Miners" that give a free bonus to all the resources they generate.
- Terran Worlds are the best all-around planets in the game. Capable of supporting massive populations for any of the three factions, they can also be upgraded with enough tactical and logistic build points to turn them into incredibly productive economic, scientific, and cultural hubs ringed by thick clusters of heavy defenses. These planets typically start the game with large garrisons of unaligned ships that require a significant effort to purge prior to colonization.
- Desert Worlds have a lower population cap and therefore somewhat fewer defenders, and like Terran worlds, can be colonized by all three races without any special technologies. They're especially well suited for the Advent, though, as their race-specific domestic research tree features a number of upgrades to boost their maximum population. The arid environment also focuses the colonists on building up their orbital infrastructure, allowing these planets to support an unusually high number of logistic structures.
- Volcanic Worlds require specific Tier 2 colonization research before they can be settled. The Vasari have the option to go further than other races, elevating their population growth and tax income far beyond what their two adversaries can manage. Due to the unstable geologic conditions that lead such volatile planets to form in the first place, Volcanic planets make for ideal metal processing centers but feature no crystalline mines at all.
- Ice Worlds also require the completion of some Tier 2 research before they can colonized, but otherwise hit the exact opposite end of the mining spectrum: they feature up to three or four crystalline asteroids, but no mineable metal whatsoever. With the right research under its belt, the TEC can become much more at home in arctic settlements than the other races.
- Asteroids are stable, but uneven chunks of barren rock that support just enough population that they can pay for their own maintenance. More valuable are the metal and crystal asteroids that can be found nearby, as well as the opportunity to put up one two needed labs or starship factories.
- Dead Asteroids are so small and remote that their "colonies" are little more than automated administration centers to queue up construction. They do have their use as staging areas, however, as they can maintain enough tactical structures to serve as repair bays and defensive choking points.
Dense clouds of energized gas don't technically emit a gravity well, but they disrupt jump drives and force ships to rely on their sub-light thrusters just the same. Depending on the exact nature of the nebula, plasma storms may prevent carrier groups from launching any strike craft or render antimatter abilities unusable within their influence.
Each wormhole in the galaxy is permanently linked to one other, forming a two-way conduit that vessels can use to instantaneously travel from one point in the galaxy to another. Having both ends in the same system can allow for some quick fleet relocations, but in the event that wormholes connect together two different star systems, they can allow fleet captains to completely avoid the interminable light-speed jump between stars.
Wormholes cannot be navigated or mapped until a specific technology for each of the three factions is unlocked.
Asteroid Belts and Space Junk
Asteroid Belts and Junk regions are nothing but low density debris fields that fleets must cross at sub-light speeds to avoid collision. They lack any object with enough mass to support a real colony, but often contain special indestructible mining platforms that can be crewed by a faction to provide extra resources.
Sins has three races in the game the player can take control of: the Trader Emergency Coalition (or TEC), the Advent, and the Vasari. The TEC are a human race that focuses on trade but has taken up arms with the emerging threat of the Advent and the Vasari. The Advent were humans that had been outcast from their home for dabbling in genetic engineering and psychic abilities. Now they return to seek revenge over the TEC for what they have done to them in the past.
The Advent's game focuses on psionic abilities and ships with heavy shielding. The Vasari are an ancient race that is on the run from their home planet as they are being threatened by an unknown force that usurps every planet in their system silently. They now come into the domain of space of the TEC and the Advent and will crush anyone who stand in their way. The Vasari focuses on their technology of shifting through space time and can summon a huge fleet from far away distance. Their ships have powerful weapons and big hull but are slower.
Sins forgoes a single player campaign, so most of the backstory and motivations for each race is explained through the opening cinematic and in the manual.
The Trader Emergency Coalition
The Trade Order was established over 1,000 years ago from the minds of economists. They based the Order on laws of economics and codes of behavior. They soon became a juggernaut, and quickly recruited new worlds. Although they controlled many worlds, they allowed each world to keep their own culture and government that were within the Trade Order’s basic laws.
During one of their routine exploration missions, the Trade Order landed on a dry, desert planet that orbited a red giant. The crew discovered a primal race of people that performed heinous crimes which broke the basic laws of the Trade Order. For the first time, the Trade Order decided to exile an entire race of people and forcibly removed the entire planet from Trader space.
This brought about a golden age in the Trade Order. War was a thing of the past, and any of the rare disputes would be settled in Trader-sanctioned Court.
After 1,000 years of prosperity, the golden age ended with Vasari ships phasing into Trader space. Without a war in 1,000 years the Traders had little to defend themselves. The Vasari were able to sweep over the Order’s fleets without any repercussions. Caught by surprise, the Trade Order set up an emergency coalition focused on war production and training. This new army has been able to keep the Vasari at bay; however, a new enemy has arrived.
The Advent, who refers to their civilization as “The Unity”, are a highly advanced people. Relying heavily on spiritual, psychic, and cybernetic technologies creates social classes based on psionic ability. Elitism is a common trait in those who excel at psionics. Silent Ones, who are exceptionally rare, are social outcasts with no psychic abilities. This makes them unable to participate in the Unity’s groups mind.
Early in the life of Advent children, they are taught to learn whatever naturally suits them and experiment with neurochemicals or artificial implants to augment their psychic ability. Their advanced integration with technology, called PsiTech, allows them to share their feelings and ideas innately. Navigating, interpreting, and shaping this sea of ideas is a highly prized skill in Advent culture. Females demonstrate these abilities most effectively and are part of the highest caste, the Coalescences.
The Trade Order forced their ancestors off of their home world long ago that left a permanent scar on the Advent. All new citizens are etched to remind them of their enemy and to take revenge upon the Trade Order in the future. In the next 1,000 years the Advents pushed technology to the breaking point until they ran out of resources. Now they find it to be the perfect time to take back their rightful place in the galaxy.
The Vasari Empire
The Vasari Empire used to rule over innumerable planets. They began at the galactic core and quickly conquered many different planets. They found many primitive planets that were peacefully incorporated into the empire; however, the more advanced civilizations were quickly enslaved. Alien species were integrated into Vasari society with the title “valued citizen” which had little standing. Their planets were controlled by large orbiting structures which minimized the chances of rebellion.
Just like the Roman Empire, the Vasari Empire soon experienced their decline. 10,000 years ago the inner worlds fell silent. Expecting only a small rebellion the Vasari sent ships to check the planets status, but no status reports were ever received. Soon the Dark Fleet was sent to restore order, but more worlds fell into silence including the Vasari home world.
The spread of this enemy sent fear through the empire, so the Vasari redirected the Dark Fleet from expansionary frontiers to an assault on the unknown enemy. Only a single, heavily damaged, ship ever returned. The crew inside were found to be driven mad.
In a last ditch effort, the Vasari decided to run and found a new domain far from Empire space. They jumped system to system deploying warning beacons and replenishing resources. The farther they jumped the more warning beacons grew silent. No matter how far the Vasari run, their unknown enemy marches unto their extermination.
- Windows XP SP2 / Windows Vista
- 1.8 GHz Single-Core Processor
- 512 MB RAM (1 GB for Windows Vista)
- 128 MB DirectX 9 3D Video Card (Radeon 9600 / GeForce FX 6600 and above)
- DirectX 9.0c Compatible Sound Card
- DVD-ROM Drive
- 3 GB Hard Drive Space
- Keyboard and Mouse
- DirectX 9.0c
- 2.2 GHz Dual- or Quad-Core Processor
- 1 GB RAM (2 GB for Windows Vista)
- 256 MB DirectX 9 3D Video Card (Radeon X1600 / GeForce 7600 and above)