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Location: Oslo, Norway

I am Andreas. Day time programmer and technical consultant. Night time musician and game developer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sins of a solar empire, first impressions

What a name. I can think of a lot of names for a game about interstellar conquest, but i doubt i could top this. Sins of a solar empire.. It's got epic poetry to it. Bodes well.

If you haven't been keeping up with this, Sins of a solar empire is a kind of hybrid real time tactics / 4X strategy game, published by Stardock, the same dudes that rolled out Galactic Civilizations 2, and developed by Ironclad, a bunch of ex Rockstar/Barking dog elopers. The pedigree is impressive.

I've been mildly interested in it, mostly for the name, but after actually playing it i realize it's one of those games that will give and keep giving for a long time, and give proportionally to what you invest.

It's staggeringly elegant, incredibly atmospheric, and even though the tech tree looks (and is) somewhat limited, the game offers a preposterous amount of strategizing. Played at a somewhat sedate pace, the game offers real time galactic strategy, with management down to unit level should you want it. The game adopts the same disdain of the minimap as Supreme Commander, letting you zoom smoothly in and out from a galactic view down to the windshield on a fighter ship. It's natural and direct. In addition, the left side of the view is dominated by a abstract "map" of your empire in the form of a tree, branching from celestial bodies. It looks a hellish mess at first glance, but given a little time it becomes indispensable. It's brilliant.

My favorite example of how thoughtful the game is laid out is in its merging of macro with micro.
Colonizing new worlds is typically done with a colony frigate. You can select your frigate, click on the "colonize" button and then on the planet. Or you can just right click on the planet. Or you can just leave the colony frigate in the same system as the planet and do something else; colony ships have their colonize ability defaulting to auto-cast. When your colony is up you can zoom in, choose your construction frigate, choose to make a crystal refinery, then click on an asteroid. Or you can just click on the asteroid and it will have a button that calls the closest available construction frigate in to make a refinery. Or you can zoom out of that solar system altogether and do something else, choose your new colony from the empire tree, click on "planetary development" and, lo and behold, there are buttons to build crystal and metal refineries if there are available asteroids on which to do so.

It never seems like the choice you want to make is distant. It feels wonderful.

I need to play it more, havent even tried multiplayer yet, and the larger galaxy maps are simply intimidating. Will be back with a review.

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