Looking to expand your Solar Empire? X-Play has the review of the expansion pack 'Entrenchment' for the PC game 'Sins of the Solar Empire'.
- Small changes and modifications make effective defense a real possibility
- New starbases are immense and gratifying to wield
- Small changes are just that
- Still no single-player campaign to draw you in
Sins of a Solar Empire: Entrenchment Review
An expansion for a real-time strategy game that doesn’t include a single new faction? “Blasphemy!” many would say. RTS titles get expansions and those expansions deliver new players into the mix. That’s the rule, and deviation is rare, but Sins of a Solar Empire broke the entire RTS mold in many ways last year, delivering expansive gameplay of the sort that only Supreme Commander comes close to offering, then going even further by mixing in a strong dose of inter-stellar 4X conquesting action of the sort seen in Galactic Civilizations II to create a new genre called RT4X. So, it should be no surprise that developer Ironclad Games is breaking the mold again by delivering the leanest of expansion packs, indeed missing any fresh-faced aliens to fend off, yet still including just enough newness for it to possibly be worth your time and money.
Why Entrench when You can Explore?
The original Sins did follow one established RTS aspect: resource gathering. But, it did handle things a little differently by forcing you to fling your forces out into the great unknown of the galaxy in search of verdant planets to conquer and desolate asteroids to mine. There are three resources, crystal, metal, and plain ‘ol money. If you didn’t spread out fast and start with the empire building, you were going to be short on at least one of those three, resulting in you getting left behind in the great arms race. Spreading out meant building up highly mobile fleets that flowed quickly from one system to the next, often resulting in poorly defended backwater worlds that repeatedly changed hands throughout the course of a game.
In other words: the game was almost entirely about offense. Entrenchment adds a taste of much-needed defense to the mix, enabling you to actually build defensive structures that can effectively stop an enemy invasion – or at least slow it down long enough for you to bring a small fleet of defenders in to squash your uppity opponents. To this end the various stationary turrets, which were effective early in games but quickly sank to obsolescence in longer-running ones, can now be upgraded with powerful missiles and lasers and the like, giving them the extra punch they need to be effective against the larger ships that start becoming more prevalent as games get longer.
Also new are space mines, either able to be built directly around your territory or dropped by some of your ships. These mines at a minimum will greatly slow down any invading force, and can even wipe out a modest sized fleet all by themselves should any would-be oppressor fail to detect them (only scout ships can) and wade right into the midst of them. Beyond that there are a few new units that mix in here and there for each faction, but nothing makes quite an impact like the new starbases.
That’s No Moon
The biggest addition to the game, both literally and figuratively, is the creation of the starbase. These giant structures drastically change the face of battle, serving as customizable weapons platforms that may lack mobility but have plenty to offer in the way of firepower. These are typically built by special construction ships that serve only to deploy the massive things, and while your first instinct is to place them in stationary orbit outside of your homeworld, sometimes they’re far more valuable hovering in the middle of nowhere – like in the gravity well of a massive star at the center of the map.
As in Sins, the only way to travel from one system to another is by jumping on pre-defined routes that weave everything together into a giant web. On most maps (of which there are dozens here, plus randomly-generated ones) there are choke points you can’t easily avoid on the way from one side of the galaxy to the other. Since your starbases can be deployed just about wherever you like, if you can manage to launch one into one of those choke points it can be tasked with decimating opposing fleets before they get anywhere near you. One properly configured base can completely destroy a good-sized fleet, at a minimum thoroughly softening it up long before it gets to your homeworld, making your survival prospects that much stronger.
Like the larger cruiser and capital ships, these bases can be upgraded to suit your style or needs, but these upgrades are far more expensive, contrasting the (relatively) low-cost of the bases themselves. It’s like buying an entry model of an expensive import brand: it may not cost much to get your foot in the door, but add on a sunroof and leather interior and suddenly that down-payment of yours isn’t going to cut it.
That’s All, Folks
Entrenchment does add a few other, minor changes, like a new “quick start” mode that drops you in there with a colonized planet and a few ships at your disposal, and some re-organized elements in the tech tree. But, really this “micro-expansion” is just about adding those few new defensive abilities, abilities that really do spice up the game. Even if you are a purely offensive player and don’t see yourself ever making use of them, if you get this expansion your opponents (AI or otherwise) most certainly will, thereby making your task more challenging and, hopefully, more fun. For $10, serious fans of the original who are still playing regularly, or those who are itching to pick it up again, won’t want to miss this. But, if you’ve grown tired with the game and need something a little more meaty if you’re going to get back into it (like maybe a campaign), save your pennies; two more tiny enhancements are promised in the coming months, all three of which will then be bundled together to form one, proper expansion -- maybe even with a new faction!
Article Written By: Tim Stevens
Producer: Mike Benson