While zoomed out, you can still make out facilities and fleets from the reasonably intuitive icons. While zoomed in, you can admire the graphics in all their glory. Those hoping for a next-generation Homeworld with Unreal 3 engine levels of detail may be disappointed, not least because some of the smaller animations that made Ritual’s debut so lovable are missing. All the same, Ironclad’s own Iron engine does a nice line in bump mapping, plasma effects and specular lighting, all of which help to make the game’s space battles look suitably cinematic when seen up close.
Enjoy the sight of grand battlecruisers exploding, because it’s one you’ll become familiar with the more the game goes on. This is a galaxy at war. The Trader Emergency Coalition is already locked in battle with the cruel Vasari Empire when the Advent, a bunch of religious outcasts, forced from their homeworld years before, come looking for revenge. Not only are the TEC, Vasari and Advent factions scrapping over every system, but the galaxy is infested with gangs of space pirates to boot. There’s no need to get too caught up in the story; with no formal story-based campaign it’s little more than a framework for a whole bunch of skirmish scenarios, but this isn’t a game of gentle colonisation and exploration. It’s a resource grabbing, arms race running festival of destruction, and while alliances, diplomacy and trade have their place, building and using a mighty starfleet is the most crucial aspect of the game.
Doing so involves a lot of work. First, you’ll need money, and that means a) taxes and b) trade. Colonising planets and improving the civilian infrastructure means more happy taxpayers, and therefore more cash in the bank. Secondly, you’ll need facilities; not just frigate factories and capital ship factories to build the ‘bread and butter’ units and commanding capital ships, but defensive structures and military and cultural research facilities. The last bit is important, because Sins of a Solar Empire relies heavily on research in order to optimise the offensive and defensive capabilities of your ships, but also to raise the cap on the number of frigates and capital ships you can command, or give you the skills you’ll need to colonise more hostile worlds. Finally you’ll need metal and crystal resources in order to build your facilities and fleet. All these things are connected by a number of fairly complex game mechanics, but your task is reasonably simple: build and upgrade your fleet then explore, colonise and defend new planets from aggression, while mining resources and boosting civilian facilities to keep the credits flowing. And don’t forget to chip away at your rival factions and deal with the space pirates while you’re at it.