First review in a while, but this game deserves it.
I'll start out with the somewhat common "my playtime is inaccurate" speech, having played more than 200 hours of this and it's previous incarnations through Impulse.
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is truly one of a kind. This version basically combines the entirety of the 2 previous titles, Trinity and regular ol' SoaSE, so Rebellion truly has it all and more.
As such, this review is kind of both a Rebellion review and SoaSE in general review, because I've never reviewed the original or Trinity as there is no real story to this game, which makes it a difficult game to even explain to the masses who enjoy story driven games.
I tend to play a Single Player skirmish with 2 or 3 Hard AI players, however in the past have spent a great deal of time playing lengthy LAN matches, which were loads of fun, but ultimately one of the only major flaws of SoaSE comes out through such lengthy matches, even just playing against AI.
That flaw has been given a bad wrap in more recent times because of the evolution and adoption of Multi Core processor technology.
Essentially this game does not utilise multicore CPU's and unfortunately there is no fix for this, even after extensive research and optimisation mod trialling. But to their credit, those mods are great for getting the game to run on lower spec systems, laptops, virtualisation/steaming etc, but no mod can add 64bit or multicore support. That's the game's engine limitation, and it's not the only one around... I'm looking at you Cities XL.
It is important to note that at regular playing speed, this takes tens of hours of a single match to even be a problem, but on lower spec, lower (and older) GHz systems, this happens within about an hour give or take 30mins of regular speed play time with a couple of AI players.
With all that said, one of THE greatest longevity features for me is the ability to speed up the game time by 2x, 4x and 8x increments, even in a LAN match (host must change it).
Because of the vast expanses of space and [travelling] time at regular speed, this speed up feature can actually make for a much more challenging game, albeit much faster. Generally you will have to sacrifice micro management for macro at those speeds, but on large scale maps with only 2 or 3 players, with multiple star systems, the ability to speed up hyperspace travel from a distant planet to another is a HUGE time saving and action creating element and there is no penalty or lock down on the control of the game speed that you have, apart from it's 4 presets, so interchanging between them can be as fluid as zooming in or out and the speed controls can be remapped as well as basically everything else.
When I first discovered this speed up feature in the original Sins, it was, at first, not something I was looking for or really cared about, largely because I was still learning the controls and the game at the time.
When I was finally bored with the amount of time it took to setup, capture, defend, build and deploy, it would be too long for a single game session, and that bothered and still bothers me.
Command & Conquer (up until and including 3) had the right recipe for possible lengths of a single player skirmish battle. With Sins this isn't possible at regular speed, that is if you're interested in actually establishing a large empire of any sort instead of rushing with a dozen weak ships, which gets stale fast.
The camera controls in Sins are very fluid and quite unique, and once you get the hang of it, there really is nothing like it, some things are similar but the ability to orbit and zoom freely around any axis while fixed on a certain point is impressive, and the instant ability to track any of your fleet and zoom right in to the ship and it's details or zoom right out to galaxy level all in real time and fluid as your mouse can move. An RTS camera/movement system that IMO rivals that of what Blizzard, Westwood or EA have ever done is definitely worth a mention in this review.
The 3 original factions, the TEC, Advent and Vasari have been Loyalist-ised and given their Rebel counterparts in this final Sins title and have created many new ways of playing the game. I found that this is by far the most balanced of the 3 in the series mainly because of the 3 extra sub-faction additions, which also open up Role-Playing type elements of having say, 3 Rebel factions vs 3 Loyalist factions in a desperate struggle to take control over a strange galaxy.
The in-game Map Designer is also worth a mention, although it takes a fair bit of trial and error to get something you're happy with, and even then playing your own creations can sometimes backfire or surprise you in ways you never thought possible.
The only downside is the lack of manipulation you have on Planets and Stars. The "Map Designer" is basically a Map Generator.
If you've ever wanted to take on several hundred space pirate homeworlds in the one solar system then Sins is for you!
But in all seriousness, the Map Designer does a pretty good job once you learn how it works and ways you can create interesting maps just by changing sliders and numbers.
If you're really serious about designing your own Solar System or Galaxy then Ironclad have supplied everyone with their GalaxyForge editor which is used to create the many included Single and Multiplayer premade maps.
My Pros & Cons shortlist;
+ One of a kind space-based RTS gameplay
+ Useful and informative dialogue boxes, hovering over icons has been given great attention to detail.
+ Massive tech tree
+ Awesome scale of real time space battles and large scale empire building.
+ Fine control over placement of your buildings, or for riskier, faster matches, an "Auto place" feature for Buildings which is also a +
+ Interesting and unique items, ships, power-ups, upgrades
+ The graphics scale really well across many many different types of systems, but the close up details can be a bit disappointing even at Ultra settings.
+ Inclusion of both a Map Designer & GalaxyForge editor.
- Fairly steep learning curve and long match times
- Units (mainly Capital Ships) of the same type have to be upgraded individually, on a small scale this is less important then on a larger one.
- No minimap
- Left Planet, Structure and Unit tree can't be hidden. Capturing more than 10-20 planets adds much more time navigating and cuts any efficiency of the tree at all.
- Some tasks would be better left automated, such as the 2 scout ships that you start with should have their exploration ability Autocast set to on, not off. Also Metal and Crystal mines could be auto-built after you have captured a planet and have the resources to spare
- At regular speed it takes far too long to reach higher tech levels in a single match
- Can be boring in stages of early travel or exploration. Once you've seen the same variations of desert, ice, volcanic, terran and asteroids over and over, the excitement wears down over time (tens to hundreds of hours for me)
- Not just a con of Sins, but most RTS games really need the ability to 'mute' a certain Unit or Building you are queuing up and and creating 50 or 100+ of the same Units and the game wants to announce the successful creation of every single one.
Special Effects: 9/10