It’s been noted elsewhere that I have a bit of a knack for picking out video games that my sister will enjoy. Honestly, it’s not that hard; she likes games that star remorseless murderers with firm butts. Fyre tries to reciprocate, bless her flame-wreathed little soul, and that’s how I came to own a copy of Sins of a Solar Empire, which is the most infuriating game I’ve played in probably the last five years.
I should have loved this game. I cannot front: I find the design appealing, the graphics are handsome, and the course of play is stimulating. There’s a lot that Sins gets just right, which makes it a damned shame that the few problems it has are total bunny-boilers for me.
The most egregious problem isn’t with the design of the game, really. Sins is a large-scale space-themed 4X game. A single match on a big map with lots of planets can take upwards of 20 hours to complete. The developer pushed out mandatory patches on what seems to be a weekly schedule, and every patch invalidates all save files from previous versions of the game. The upshot of this is that you would need to play Sins as your 9-5 job in order to ever actually finish a game of it before your save file got nuked by a patch. I take another stab at Sins probably once every three months or so, which means there’s basically no long-term play chances for me, and I’m just not capable of enjoying the really huge scale that it’s capable of.
Second, the game is hard. Like, hard as hell. Don’t go thinking “L2P, strat noob LOL!” I know from strategy; I can at least finish a game of Civilization. “Easy” in Civilization means you can get the hang of the game, experiment with new strategies, or just goof off and have some fun. “Easy” in Sins means your empire will be rapidly and repeatedly raped in the ass with a dildo shaped like a marauding fleet of space frigates. It’s terrifying to me that there are three or four difficulties harder than “Easy”. What’s “Normal” like? Does the computer literally punch you in the face while you try to play the game?
Finally, Sins has one of the weirdest team mechanics I’ve ever encountered. At the start of play, you can assign various players to teams, and those on the same team are not forged into an indestructible alliance but rather have a maxed-out diplomatic friendship. However, it’s then the responsibility of the player to maintain these fragile, fragile friendships in order to actually keep their team together. I don’t think I’ve ever played another game where I had to continually maintain my own team status with a constant stream of money, materials, and the murder of my teammates’ enemies. Making it even worse, the various AI teammates don’t bother with this at all, so I always end up with one teammate asking me to go to war with the other one because their relations have broken down, which means I’m going to wind up losing one or the other (or probably both) from the team. Most brutally, even if you kill everyone who isn’t on your team, the game doesn’t end. That’s right: there can be only one, Highlander. Having wiped out the bad guys and made the star system safe for democracy, you and your allies settle down for a brief, friendly arms race followed by an orgy of double-dealing, behind-the-back handshake alliances, and general treachery and war crimes.
I would really, really like to like this game, but I’m starting to think I’m just not hardcore enough for it. I don’t think I have the time to spend mastering it or subsequently playing it through to completion, and I think I may actually lack the stomach for the “keep your enemies closer” style of diplomacy it offers. Maybe if there was a story or a campaign to work towards – there isn’t, just a collection of scenarios to play – I’d feel more compelled to work at it, but as it is I felt like Sins was beating me up for trying to play and just doesn’t offer enough in return.