Any self respecting geek gets a virtual stiffy for space combat. Whether it's piloting your ship against Kilrathi scum in Wing Commander, or taking control of an entire fleet in Homeworld - space combat makes our geek libido tick. It's been ten years since the aforementioned Homeworld was released by Relic, a space RTS on a grand scale, complete with gorgeous graphics and addicting gameplay. Fast forward to 2008 and a company named Ironclad Games released a title named Sins of a Solar Empire. It's a game that promises not only grand space combat on an epic scale, but strategy like no other as players can micromanage the details of economy, production, and research. But your galaxy is a big empty and lonely place, one that's best filled with friends, thankfully Sins doesn't disappoint with it's cooperative mode.
Sins of a Solar Empire isn't a strategy game for the faint of heart, and it's not a strategy game for someone that doesn't have a lot of time on their hands. A simple 1 vs 1 match can last for 4 or 5 hours. The screen is overloaded with information; collapsible panels, dialog notifications, menus and sub-menus all make your monitor look like a display in an intergalactic battle. As overbearing as it is at first glance, it really just works. I felt completely comfortable with it after just two missions. The game's tutorial does an excellent job of giving you the basics, and it doesn't take long to fill in the blanks.
When you start a scenario in Sins, you are given a home planet and a some basic essentials. From here you'll mine metal and crystal to bring in income. This is turn is used to build ships, research facilities, and even upgrades on the planet's surface. You can spend time researching civic upgrades to bring in gold faster, mine crystal and metal more effeciently, or have better trained spaceship crews. Or you could research military upgrades for weapons, new ship types, and defensive upgrades. It won't be long till you've maxed out your slots for your planet upgrades and structures and it's time to jump to a nearby planet and pursue colonization.
Sins doesn't have a campaign, but rather is a collection of scenarios ranging in sizes from 2 players to 8 players. These scenarios are available in cooperative mode with human or AI players, each of which has adjustable difficulty as well as the ability to choose from one of the game's three races. As I mentioned earlier, matches in Sins of a Solar Empire take quite some time to work through. Thankfully the game supports a robust save system that not only allows you to save co-op games; but the save system allows you to load up the save and bring in other co-op players if your original crew isn't available.
So what else does cooperative play offer in Sins? You can trade map locations and ping important events to other players. You can gift or trade metal, crystal and gold as well as utilize trade routes through friendly star systems. But the real joy of the co-op play is coordinating attacks on rivals. There's nothing more exhilarating than watching hundreds of little ship icons jump and converge on one planet only to be greeted by a massive enemy fleet - and a star base. You can even take up roles, having one player concentrate solely on civic and economic upgrades to pump money to the other player(s).
Sins does an excellent job of managing itself while you are away taking care of other business around your space empire. Ships will auto-cast special attacks, maneuver away from danger, and repair fellow ships and structures if they are capable. In some of the larger maps, when you have seven or eight planets, this isn't only nice to have - it's basically necessary.
There were numerous times I found myself in a battle with what seemed like thousands of ships, ranging in size from Capital Ships down to tiny squadron fighters. Planets can be defended by space turrets, and with the Entrenchment expansion - Starbases. These giant structures are actually mobile and take an impressive display of strategy and firepower to bring down. Almost every ship in Sins is upgradable and customizable providing an even deeper experience.
Above and beyond all that's packed with the game there's still a ton of user content including maps, replays, and mods. Sins of a Solar Empire with the Entrenchment Expansion is only the beginning of this game. I firmly believe this game gives JRPGs a run for their money in terms of a time / value ratio.
Sins of a Solar Empire isn't a game for everyone. It's incredibly deep and slow moving nature make it something of burden for some folks. But if you take the time to learn the game, and give a full scenario a shot - I think you'll see Sins is a game like no other out there. Why rule the world, when you can rule the galaxy?