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Old 02-09-2010, 10:37 AM   #1
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[PC] - Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity Review

Title: Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity
Platform: PC
Platform Reviewed: PC
Developer: Ironclad Games
Publisher: Stardock
MSRP: $39.99
Writer: Brandon 'brandonjclark' Clark

For a company which started out making user-interface enhancements to the Windows desktop computing experience with products such as WindowBlinds, Stardock has come a long, long way. You’re more likely considered a fool to believe that any company trying to break into this industry would succeed rather than hemorrhage money, but Stardock has, in spades. Nevertheless, this review is not about Stardock as a publisher or their meteoric rise from a Windows customization shop to a large-scale digital-distribution house, but rather their latest release in the Sins of a Solar Empire series, developed by Ironclad Games. Without further ado, I give you..

Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity Review

Trinity, as it will be further known throughout this review, builds upon the success of the Sins series by packaging the original Sins with both micro-expansions; Entrenchment, which throws in a couple more units per race and some basic interface enhancements as well as Diplomacy, which adds a new tech tree and more units. Together in one box or digital download, it’s a hell of a lot of game for a Johan-approved* low price of $39.99. This makes it all too easy to recommend as the original plus its expansions offer the best RT4X gameplay ever devised, period.

For those unfamiliar with the RT4X genre, of which many people consider Stardock the father of, Wikipedia defines the four core game modes as Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate. Simplified, Trinity is a real-time strategy game in space ala Homeworld with Risk-like dominion goals mixed with light economic management and some basic diplomacy arcs. It’s as if you took almost all of the things that a core PC gamer loves and threw it into a Magic Bullet Blender and spread it out over thin, tasty crackers. I challenge you to find a genre which defines PC gaming better than RT4X.

Technically speaking, the Sins of a Solar Empire series, and therefore Trinity, is a marvel of game design. Running on the Ironclad Games-developed Iron engine and created using the publicly released Forge Tools, Trinity could be considered a microcosm of Stardock’s entire design angle. With extremely low system requirements and SR-71-fast load times, this game will amaze you as it runs happily along without nary a complaint or bug. Read: This game is polished.


Sadly, and there is always a sadly, graphics do suffer a bit from this efficient design theory. Trinity is hardly on par with regular-RTS games such as Supreme Commander or Command and Conquer 3, with its biggest graphic flaw being low-resolution textures. (see images below) They are clean and functional, but nothing to write home about. I don’t know if the team at Ironclad are inexperienced with texture creation, but I do know that you can zoom in the camera to see little space cars zooming around the planets’ sub-orbital highway system and then pan out far enough to see the galaxy in a single mouse-wheel scroll. This large-scale zooming (think Supreme Commander, but even larger) is optimized to run at a smooth as silk frame rate on even the lowest computer specs. Still, you’ll probably wish the graphics were little better but you almost get the feeling that this was a good as they could get given the speed(when zooming) and scale with which the game engine has to deal with. Not all is bad, however. The spaceships designs are good, albeit limited and far too similar to the games three races, but this will most-likely not bother you, as the game really doesn’t need amazing graphics.

The sounds in Trinity, surprisingly, are one of the game’s best attributes. Your cruisers and fighters will pew pew their targets and your Dreadnoughts will strike planets with a thunderous boom so satisfying that it will be hard not to hold future RT4X games against this standard of sound effects. The games’ space opera soundtrack, which kicks in or slows down more or less with the amount of action on screen, will keep you entertained throughout almost every skirmish. It’s actually very hard to find a flaw with the sound in an RT4X game given its importance in the genre(low), but I do wish there was the option to import your own music or monitor a music folder on your computer, as you’ll find out why later in this review. Overall though, Trinity’s sounds are more than you’d expect from a game in this genre.

There is no single player campaign mode, and although this might bother some looking to be guided along, I was rather pleased to see it Skirmish, therefore, is where it’s at. If you choose quick start you’ll begin your skirmishes with a small fleet, a planet under your control and some asteroids with harvesting mines already built and producing at least one of the two physical resources in the game, metal or crystal. The third resource, credit, comes from tax on your planets’ population. From there, the game is all about building a destructive Starfleet and/or enough diplomatic speaker towers to take over the next planet and eventually consume its resources for your cause. An in-depth skill tree with over 100 unique skills per race will allow you to shape your strategy any way you see fit. Want to take it slow and earn the trust of another planet? Maximize your Diplomacy skills and watch your supply lines double their potential. Would you rather just shred any enemy who opposes you? Focus on the military skill upgrades and you’ll be destroying planets with exacting efficiency.


Conquering planets, however, does take time. Directly bombarding a planet and destroying its people in order to “colonize” it will only force you to wait for the planet to “rebuild” itself. You could try the diplomacy angle and thereby keep the planet’s people alive for your future tax laws, but this takes even more time than direct attack as you’ll find the planet’s indigenous people exceptionally resilient to your words. If Stardock sped up the Diplomacy arc I might have used it more, because you can only imagine millions of people screaming on a planet so many times.

The game ends when you’ve conquered all planets on the map. The length of the missions must be mentioned though, as they’re determined by the amount of planets in your map which can be controlled. Most missions take just around 45 minutes to complete, but some multiplayer games with forty or more planets have been known to take over a month given your play time per day and the competitiveness of your opponent! This is where adding a feature to play your own music really could’ve helped to break the eventual monotony of the soundtrack. Thankfully, both the single-player and multiplayer games allow for pausing and fast-forwarding of missions, greatly reducing what would otherwise be nauseating periods of time between waiting for skills upgrades to complete and moving your fleet across the traverse.

Oh, and there’s one more thing... the pirates. Pirates, which can be disabled (thankfully) in single and multiplayer skirmishes, are a pain in the ass. In every game they’re not disabled, they will launch every ten minutes or so and attack whoever hasn’t paid them off. And these aren’t your run of the mill pirates. They have almost the same traits as the human race, TEC, and usually attack in forces much larger than what you’re dealing with. Towards the end of the game, after you’ve finished off your opponent, I found that one of the most satisfying moments the presented itself as you could now focus on hunting down the pirates and make them pay for the damage they caused.

As I briefly touched on earlier, the games comes with three races to choose from; the humans known as TEC, the human-like and spiritual Advent, and, SURPRISE, the humanoid but alien Vasari. Sadly, even the NPC pirates in the game are just scalawag humans. Was the story, which is more or less non-existent, so set in stone that they could not include some varied choices? If anything strikes you negatively about Sins, it’s the lack of diversity, and I don’t mean the old wooden Civil War ship either (thank you Ron Burgandy). The races, and their fleet designs, are just too damn similar for my tastes. Again, this might have to do with efficiency restraints on the game engine, but it mostly feels like a lack of creativity.


Commanding your fleet, waging War/Diplomacy, dealing with the ever-constant Pirate threat, Skill training and Resource management are the meat and potatoes of the game, and they’re some of the best prepared meat and potatoes you’ll ever enjoy. I’m not sure how Ironclad managed to finely tune such well-balanced proportions, because even though you’re served such a high amount adversity, you never feel helpless. There is a small learning curve and the basic tutorial missions are actually of great help, so once you have the hang of the excellent interface (a testament to Stardock’s user-interface experience) you’ll be conquering planets and guarding wormholes with the best of them. Like many PC games, Trinity already has a substantial community so you’ll never have a problem finding a multiplayer game either using the built-in IroncladOnline which includes stat tracking, player ranking and matchmaking services.

Each of Trinity’s three included games also includes mod support, with a nice management section accessed through the main menu for configuring and enabling them. The game also ships with a map designer, so you can create your own map to conquer by yourself or with a friend. This greatly adds to the replay ability of the game, although it didn’t really need it as the amount of included missions and multiplayer had already made it one lengthy investment.

In summary, Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity is the definitive version of the series, as it contains the original and all of the micro-expansions. If you’re going to get your feet wet into the RT4X genre, this is the best game to do it with.

Score: 4 out of 5


The Good
  • Slick interface makes managing large amounts of tasks actually fun
  • The sounds of the fleet battles are top notch
  • The best RT4X game, ever. Yes, even better than Galactic Civilizations!
The Bad
  • Long missions can turn some people off
  • Graphics could be better (?)
The Ugly
  • The Vasari portraits are hideous!
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Old 02-09-2010, 10:38 AM   #2
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System Requirements:
Minimum:
• Windows 7 / XP SP3 / Vista SP1
• 1.8 GHz Processor
• 512 MB Available System Memory (1 GB for Windows 7 / Vista)
• 128 MB 3D Video Card (GeForce 6600 / Radeon 9600)
• 2 GB Available Hard Disk Space
• DirectX 9.0c
• Broadband Internet Connection for Internet Multiplayer
• Impulse client for download / install / updates
Recommended:
• 2.2 GHz Dual-Core Processor
• 1 GB Available System Memory (2 GB for Windows 7 / Vista)
• 256 MB 3D Video Card (GeForce 7800 / Radeon X1600 or Better)
* Impulse must be installed in order to download and update software.
Impulse Requirements
• Requires: Windows XP (32-bit), Windows Vista, or Windows 7
• Microsoft .NET Framework Version 2.0
• 1GHz Processor
• 50 MB Available System Memory
• 100 MB Available Hard Drive Space

Screenshots
(Courtesy of Stardock)







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Old 02-09-2010, 10:53 AM   #3
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Dominion is out?! *rushes off to download*
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Old 02-09-2010, 10:54 AM   #4
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Dominion is out?! *rushes off to download*
Came out today, boyeee.
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Old 02-09-2010, 10:57 AM   #5
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May have the name wrong there modeps hehe... At least on the website the latest expansion is called "Diplomacy", not "Dominion" (that's what I get for not being on top of this stuff)
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Old 02-09-2010, 11:08 AM   #6
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May have the name wrong there modeps hehe... At least on the website the latest expansion is called "Diplomacy", not "Dominion" (that's what I get for not being on top of this stuff)
That's what I meant. I even just news posted about it. What's Dominion? Diplomacy just came out today along side Trinity.

(ps: I didn't review, so I have no idea what I'm talking about)
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Old 02-09-2010, 11:26 AM   #7
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Haha, I even made that mistake in the first paragraph of the review. Doh!
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Old 02-09-2010, 11:27 AM   #8
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Good job Brandon!

What are the specs of the PC you used?
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Old 02-09-2010, 11:53 AM   #9
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AMD Phenom II X4 940 Deneb
8GB DDR2-1066MHZ Kingston Hyper-X
ATI Radeon Sapphire 4870 1GB DDR5
Windows 7 x64 Ultimate

*This spec obviously ran silk smooth

AMD Athlon X2 2.2Ghz
4GB DDR2 800MHZ Corsair Dominator
ATI Radeon Gigabyte 4350 512MB shared VRAM
Windows 7 x64 Ultimate

*This spec also ran silky smooth... I'm telling ya, the game just runs wonderfully!
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Old 02-09-2010, 12:44 PM   #10
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But the pirates are essential to the game. You want the pirates to attack your planets because your fleet of cruisers can level up while destroying them. Once you get a level 7 or so battleship there's no stopping you.
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Old 02-09-2010, 01:09 PM   #11
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Haha, I even made that mistake in the first paragraph of the review. Doh!
That's where I got it from lol. But yes, on topic and not mistakes... Bought and paid for... Just gotta play some now. See you guys after a match... In two weeks.
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Old 02-09-2010, 02:11 PM   #12
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I love Sins and have Entrenchment but couldn't give a damn about diplomacy (kill em all and let the Universal AI sort it out). Is there anything at all in the new expansion for me?
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Old 02-09-2010, 02:20 PM   #13
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Sins modding forums: http://forums.sinsofasolarempire.com/forum/443

They've got multiple full conversion mods there (including both Star Wars with 4 factions, CIS/Republic/Empire/Alliance and Star Trek with 5 factions, Federation/Klingon/Dominion/Romulan/Borg) along with high-res graphics mods and other diversification mods.

Almost all the mods add their own music packs, so there is certainly a way to change the music playlist, just may take some tinkering.
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Old 02-09-2010, 04:45 PM   #14
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Is there anything at all in the new expansion for me?
Here's an official list of new features.
  • Faction Status: New relations status screen lets the player see what each faction thinks of one another and why
  • New Pacts: Factions can establish various technology and resource pacts with one another, giving a substantial boost to themselves and an ally
  • Issue Missions: Players can now create and issue missions to other factions and even the Pirates, adding a whole new dimension to competitive play
  • Envoy Cruisers: New envoy cruisers give factions unique abilties that can lead to better relations with other empires
  • New Technologies: 30+ technologies to research on the new Diplomacy tree
  • Deadlier Pirates: Pirates are more fearsome than ever as they collect bounty awards on their targets
  • New Victory Options: Win through new Diplomatic or Allied victory conditions
  • New Maps: Explore and conquer several new maps
*Let me also say that the final micro-expansion, Diplomacy, makes this a very difficult game.

Sweet, sweet difficulty.
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Old 02-10-2010, 06:16 AM   #15
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At first glance I was wondering how on Earth modeps was writing a review for such a niche PC game. Thanks for this brandonjclark. I've always had passive interest in the Sins series, but never actually purchased the game. I should check it out...
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Old 02-10-2010, 06:33 AM   #16
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At first glance I was wondering how on Earth modeps was writing a review for such a niche PC game. Thanks for this brandonjclark. I've always had passive interest in the Sins series, but never actually purchased the game. I should check it out...
What the hell are you saying yutt?
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Old 02-10-2010, 07:20 AM   #17
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When Mr. Modeps asked me to review it I was shocked, but also agreed quickly because I've played the SINS series quite a bit, probably over 200 hours total.

Thanks to everyone who read the review, it was my first!
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Old 02-10-2010, 08:40 AM   #18
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What the hell are you saying yutt?
Only that it seemed out of the norm. I think it is fair to say most strategy gamers tend to be more PC-centric.
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Old 02-10-2010, 08:52 AM   #19
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Only that it seemed out of the norm. I think it is fair to say most strategy gamers tend to be more PC-centric.
I'll cut you!*


*(I haven't played a strategy game in years)
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Old 02-10-2010, 12:51 PM   #20
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Just a small comment, if you are really that interested in listening to your own music, couldnt you turn off the ingame music and just run itunes in the background with a custom playlist?
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