Sins of a Solar Empire: The Entrenchment and Diplomacy Updates
Sins of a Solar Empire is truly space strategy on a massive scale. While it is pretty much cliched to compare a strategy game to Homeworld the relative dearth of comprehensive space strategy titles makes it inevitable. And while Homeworld is a classic not to be matched by more than a select few competitors, Sins of a Solar Empire updates have fleshed out the skeleton of the original game to the point that it can actually be quite a difficult choice when looking for space combat to choose between Homeworld and Sins.
Vanilla Sins (the non-upgraded base version) is notable for its fast paced combat with huge fleets of starships and the sandbox style of the game that doesn’t bother with story. It focuses on the dynamics and play styles between the TEC, Advent, and Vasari factions and provides maps ranging from the very cramped to multi-star system behemoths. The biggest ding against Sins was the relative similarities between the three factions - though there were major differences to a casual player they could easily appear slight and of little consequence. Entrenchment served to diversify the factions by providing them unique starbases with special, faction specific upgrade paths and this was largely successful.
Diplomacy on the other hand was meant to further flesh out the mechanic of offering missions and bribing enemies and working in an alliance. Even through Entrenchment alliances were possible but somewhat pointless, and only computer factions could offer you missions. With Diplomacy the tables have been turned and and now you can buy off opponents or bribe them into attacking your enemies for you - so long as they like you enough.
Sins Entrenchment: Star Bases Aplenty
Of the two Sins of a Solar Empire updates Entrenchment is far more overt in its tweaking of the game mechanics. Vanilla Sins, with the game’s restrictions on the amount of build-up of static defenses that can take place around a given planet, was prone to large fleets simply overwhelming the defenses of a planet one by one. Worse, a small fleet could simply fly past heavily guarded worlds and raid deep into the interior, making some Sins games a battle to see who could bombard their opponents' homeworlds into submission before turning and ravaging other less defended rear areas.
Entrenchment beefed up defenses and introduced star bases, which aside from their ability to upgrade into capital ship smashing powerhouses also had the effect of reducing the antimatter available to and increasing the jump drive charge time required of any hostile vessels in the same system as a starbase. This largely put a stop to incessant multi-system raids because raiding fleets would inevitably take significant damage before being able to leave a system defended by a star base. Star bases could even be used offensively against less well-defended planets; set one to building in a target planet’s gravity well and keep it alive and suddenly you have a fortified base right next to your opponent. Call it the Warcraft III style tower rush in space. Entrenchment served and continues to serve as a major slow down in the pace of combat, which may not be to the liking of some players. Fortunately here is where having all three versions installed side by side comes in handy - no patience for a siege? Load up vanilla and raid to your heart’s content.
Sins Diplomacy: Victory Through Cunning
Diplomacy may not have changed the pace of Sins of a Solar Empire as much as the other updates, but on a more fundamental level it has made Sins a game with incredible multi-player potential. Prior to Diplomacy’s release multiplayer games followed the path blazed by so many before it: enter a free-for-all, ally with someone, try to coordinate attacks and defenses and crush your opponents. While alliances could be made on the fly and broken - not common in strategy games these days - they still were often fairly static and lasting pretty much until one alliance had won, at which point the members could turn on one another to see who would claim ultimate victory.
Sins Diplomacy turns this mechanic onto its head. Now, so long as you’ve managed to convince a faction to hate you a bit less than it might otherwise be inclined, you can offer it missions in exchange for resources or cash. Missions can range from attacking your enemy’s civilian structures to giving you resources. You can even demand that another faction give you something you desire for nothing - allowing players to pursue gunboat diplomacy of a sort. Although certainly not a physical game-changer in an immediate sense like the deployment of a star base, covertly convincing several players to each beat up on another player - maybe while funding a pirate raid as well - allows for clever players to raise tensions across the map and foment warfare without becoming directly involved. Sometimes there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching a pair of neighbors duke it out over a strategic location and then swooping in to destroy the weakened forces left behind by the victor.
Faction Dynamics Due to the Sins of a Solar Empire Updates
The faction dynamics have changed slightly due to Diplomacy and Entrenchment. More due to the latter than the former, but both updates have had an effect. Entrenchment helped to further diversify the factions and somewhat reinforced a tentative cycle of TEC beats Vasari, Vasari beats Advent, and Advent beats TEC that has been somewhat present since the original release of Sins of a Solar Empire. Updates in strategy games usually try not to tweak the overall balance of the game and Sins updates are no exception. However, Entrenchment’s star base upgrade paths do function as a partial correction to this tendency. The mobility of the Vasari starbase means that clever TEC players can no longer just pick off defensive structures one by one until a bombardment gap is open. And the Vasari have to contend with Advent starbase’s asteroid manipulation, which hits whole fleets at once. Finally, the Advent ability to swarm TEC defenses with their fighters and bombers is partially offset less by the starbases and more by the inclusion of flak guns on other defensive structures.
Diplomacy’s main effect has been to reinforce, slightly, the ability of players playing the same faction to ally. In addition, the ability to customize rewards offered for mission completions means that the TEC, which tends to be an economic powerhouse, can further press its advantage in outspending opponents.
Sins Trinity: Vanilla Sims and Fast Games
Sins of a Solar Empire Trinity allows for games of all kinds to be played, but for many players the appeal of the original Sins formula is the greatest of all. If you want a fast game of Sins that rewards quick thinking, good fleet deployments, and maximizes the Vasari’s researchable tech ability to quickly jump between any two owned systems then vanilla Sins may be most up your alley.
In vanilla Sins emphasis is similar to that of traditional real time strategy games: secure resources, build fleet, attack opponents. Knocking out expansion planets is vital, and sweeping through a poorly defended system that is rich in civilian structures is often well worth the effort. In vanilla Sins every system needs to have defenses because major raids can slip past boundary planets and eat up those in the interior. Battles in vanilla Sins will be more ‘pure’ in the sense that they will be capital ship to capital ship, cruiser to cruiser, and frigate to frigate. Starbases won’t be present to disadvantage attacking fleets or provide strong defenses where fleets are absent. A capable player who prefers the counterattack tact might well prefer a game of vanilla Sins because without starbases to interfere and attrite attacking fleets to oblivion the momentum of an attack can be sustained deep into enemy territory.
Probably the most glaring weakness of the side by side installation of the Sins updates is that you can’t choose to leave out Entrenchment and play with just Diplomacy turned on. If this were possible, it would open up an entirely new game mode where mercenary fleets could be sent ravaging like its 1609 (Thirty Years War reference).
Entrenchment and the Art of the Seige
Playing Sins of a Solar Empire Trinity with just Entrenchment turned on can provide excellent practice in the art of defending against and conducting seiges. The seige, or surrounding an opponent’s base/planet/expansion and wearing it down over time, has largely disappeared from real time strategy games in the face of the zerg rush, tank rush, or other kind of rush that typically wins multiplayer games in under 30 minutes. The closest analogy tends to be found in the tower rush, and many games go out of their way to prevent that.
The seige is a tactic used in longer games from Total Annihilation and Command and Conquer to Earth 2150 and Kohan II. It tends to arise in games where defenses are powerful and where there are no ultimate weapons capable of just wiping out opponents in one fell swoop. Seiges are highly intellectual battles fought between the attacker who seeks to do maximum damage for the lowest cost and the defender who wants to minimize defensive costs by placing defenses in mutually supporting alignments.
Entrenchment almost guarantees that sieges will be seen because fully upgraded starbases backed up by a moderate defensive fleet and orbital defenses can stall even the largest swarm of capital ships and escorting cruisers for a long time - and even defeat them outright. Starbase placement is vital - should it be close to the point where opposing fleets will jump into orbit? Or as close to the planet itself as possible? What mix of defensive structures are optimal? How should upgrades be handled? And for the attacker spotting weaknesses in a particular starbase or even one of several among border planets is essential. Proper composition of the attacking fleet has to be considered, especially repair of capital ships during battle.
So many considerations make Entrenchment a much more thoughtful challenge than most strategy games currently offer. This is a welcome option for players tired of seeing endless zerg rushes.
Diplomatic Relations in Sins of a Solar Empire. Or, How to Make Friends and Influence Genocidal Aliens
Diplomacy in Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity is a highly personalized business, and not one prone to maxims or bold assertions. It will depend very much on the players involved and their apparent trustworthiness. Needless to say, while Diplomacy is fun when conducted against AI opponents, for a true challenge multiplayer games against live humans will provide the greatest challenge and the most rewarding experience.
The possibilities are endless in Diplomacy. Traditional alliance schemes can be employed, but players can also be exceptionally devious - pressing an alliance for the mere benefit of extracting information or using an ‘ally’ as a covenient front. Complex schemes can be concocted where a player is overtly friendly to all opponents but behind the scenes presses each to attack the other, waiting all the while for a weakness in someone’s defenses to appear. The diplomatic side of Sins of a Solar Empire is unusual in a strategy game and quite welcome. The depth it adds is excellent, if for no other reason than the fact that it allows the player to feel more engaged with the game, more thoughtful about possibilities, and more interested in finding unique solutions.
Between the various components of Sins of a Solar Empire Trinity there is plenty of game to be played and plenty of fun to be had. It is a rare gem among the many games available in the RTS genre, and one gamers will be enjoying long into the future…or at least until Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is released.
This post is part of the series: Sins of a Solar Empire Reviews
A collection of reviews for Sins of a Solar Empire and its expansion packs.