Let me start with a small preamble: I hate RTS games. Rock, paper, scissors, and “satisfy the micromanager with an overpowered spell/ability” has been the rule since, oh, roughly WarCraft II. Quite frankly it’s a little stale, and by stale I mean a lush, moist chocolate chip muffin left in the middle of a swamp or jungle where the heat and humidity are sure to rot anything not living into a moldy mass in about five minutes. That’s probably the long way of saying “I suck at RTS and am bitter about it”, but at least it gets the point of my biases across and I’ve held that as true in my writing ever since my English 101 class (thank you, Garrett Epp).
Despite brief flings with Age of Empires II, StarCraft, WarCraft III, and Homeworld: Cataclysm, all of which usually ended about a week after I went online and found myself discreetly asking the pharmacist about “burning sensations down there”, I continue to subject myself to the RTS genre. It’s like I’m one of those girls who always finds the boyfriend who’s quick to anger and has mastered the bitchslap. And I’m sorry (not really) if you find that politically incorrect but before you hastily write an email to my editor (ie, me) complaining, I suggest you spend the energy fighting my political incorrectness on fighting the women who find such behavior attractive and the men who treat them as such.
Right, now, this was a game review. Sins of a Solar Empire is an RTS game, true, but it’s almost closer related to the divine Europa Universalis series than it is to anything else. You never worry about having the right amount of economy drones mining resource nodes 1, 2, and 3, because that’s actually done for you. Rather, the concern is merely trying to acquire more resource nodes, while at the same time fighting off pirates, neutrals, your enemy, trying to balance technology and production and diplomacy… yeah.
In a move that is sure to induce the ADHD-afflicted who refuse to take their Ritalin into slitting their wrists (remember: down the river, not across the road), the combat is surprisingly simple. While you can
manage the cooldowns and probably do so better than the computer, the fact of the matter is that during most battles your time is better spent managing your empire than worrying about whether or not your battleship has stolen aggro from the right amount of ships.
Now oddly enough, for a game in which the average match seems to last around 3 hours, time is the resource of most importance. Not the player’s time, as in most RTS titles, but how he manages the time of his fleets. Guessing the enemy’s intentions incorrectly or launching an attack on a system at an inopportune time is a recipe for disaster. He may jump in just as your fleet has engaged the neutrals, or perhaps attack a system of yours while you’re busy elsewhere. Splitting the fleet is a prudent choice to cover several choke points, but a split fleet is vulnerable, and fleets are almost useless without a capital ship at their heart – and supporting more capital ships requires more research.