Idle hands, they say, are the devils playthings. If that’s true then anyone who plays Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion will amongst the most virtuous of all gamers – simply because from the moment they jump into Ironclad Games new expansion to its epic space RTS they’ll be too busy managing their economies and fleets in to do anything else – and in the heart of battle that sometimes includes think.
While the Sins of a Solar Empire games don’t sport the finely tuned RTS play or pure immediacy of a StarCraft II or the more complex micro level nuanced management of games like Civilisation V or SimCity, their blend of RTS combat and world management has always occupied comfortable ground between the two. Just as importantly their approach as you zoom in and out of their fully 3D space environment building and battling with your Empires space fleets is visually impressive and totally demanding. Rebellion builds upon that with new units and a fair degree of polish so whether you’re a novice or an old fan you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied. Curious new bloods will be captivated by learning to juggle the intricacies of resource and economic management while directing fleets into battle, while hoary veterans do all of that instinctively, but still find themselves deeply occupied on the micro level, focusing on effectively using their starships weapons systems or creating fleets of new units like Corvettes or impressively powerful Titan’s in the fastest time scales in order to obliterate opponents. But don’t let all this talk of management fool you, there’s a real thrill to Rebellions real time battles, especially when you zoom in to watch the often impressive visual cacophony of lasers as droves of spaceships broad side each other or master the intricacies of its RTS rock, paper, scissors mechanics – and can use them to whip other players right back to their home worlds and bombard them.
Because Rebellion is a multiplayer only offering (there’s no campaign) and balance is paramount Ironclad has really just divided the original games three factions –the human TEC, techno-human Advent and alien Vasari – into Loyalist and Rebel strands in Rebellion, but each comes with their own variations of tech trees and play styles that correspond to their ethos. That said the lack of a campaign means all that doesn’t quite carry the weight it might otherwise have and while Rebellions high quality tutorials are a pleasant surprise, few things please true RTS fans than a smart campaign: newbie’s will be forced to master Rebellions nuances in Skirmish mode before throwing themselves to the online wolves. That failing largely outweighs the fact that you do get all the gameplay additions from Sins other expansions, with units like Starbases and various victory conditions, and while this is the best multiplayer version of Sins it feels a touch thin compared to what it could potentially have been – more like a very generous multiplayer patch than a full expansion in many ways. We’d have simply hoped for more from a franchise that is so grandiose in every other respect.