The complex balance
Every planet that can be colonized in the game has logistical and tactical slots. Most structures that the player builds take up a certain number of these slots. This is important because in order to, say, develop your empire-related technologies, you need an increasing number of empire-technology research centers. It’s perfectly possible for one planet to contain several such centers, but then it won’t have room to build a trade port or a ship technology research station, or the actual shipyards used to build these ships.
Thus, you need more planets – but there’s a caveat. Not only must you beat a planet’s defenders, but if you simply haphazardly colonize every planet you see then you’ll quickly begin to run out of money, because planets need to be developed to the point where they no longer lose money. Moreover, front line planets often find themselves to be the targets of raids by siege frigates and their ilk, which will make short work of any planet not properly defended and fortified. Thus, not only must your new planet be developed to the point where it’s not losing you money, you must also spend a fortune fortifying it, or keep a fleet stationed around it – and thus this fleet isn’t harassing the enemy or capturing new planets for you.
That’s not to say that fleets should be simply sent out just to keep them busy, since they are extremely valuable and between the physical cost of the ships (especially capital ships), lengthy build times, and the time to move it into place, taking a risk with a fleet shouldn’t be haphazard. Scouting is of vital importance, particularly in multiplayer matches. What may seem like a chase of a weaker enemy fleet into another system can quickly turn into a rout, if he’s planned an ambush there. It is the need to balance these risks – “Can I destroy that Battleship before his help starts turning the tide”, with the rewards the offer, like a planet that may be surrounded by lucrative crystal asteroids – that is the real test of skill in a game. The more players involved, the greater the stakes.
Matches may be long but they’re worth it, there’s something to do in almost every moment. Whether you’re desperately trying to sell metal to buy rare crystal on the black market (at a hideous cost), paying off pirates, deciding on research, or focusing on upgrading your planets, the need for the player’s attention never stops and the tasks are never repetitive.
Sins of a Solar Empire is as unconventional as an RTS title can get, with battles that are epic marathons, plenty of opportunity for treachery, a deep yet simple economic model and a satisfying research tree. The developers took big risks in many areas of design, and while not all of them may have paid off, Sins is undeniably unique and just plain good.