One of the most impressive graphical features in Sins of a Solar Empire
is the zoom level. If you thought the zoom extents in Supreme Commander
were impressive, think again.
The zoom will take you from ship close-ups all the way out to the level of being able to view several star systems on the screen at once. This ability to zoom from metres to light years is achieved flawlessly and without pause, and is a testament to the power of the graphics engine.
As the zoom level moves out, ships are replaced by icons, and once you get to the planetary view, the structures and ships at a planet are represented by pips around the planet. Enemy ships are represented by red pips, so between the pips and the Empire Tree on the left of the screen, you're never left in the dark as to what's happening on each planet.
Most of the time we found we were playing with the game zoomed out so that we could survey the surroundings a little better. The game does an excellent job of letting you know what’s going on even when you're zoomed all the way in, but the simple fact is that it's never going to be a decent replacement for human eyes on the battlefield. Staying zoomed out gives you an extra safety net between victory and defeat – check out the zoomed in and zoomed out screenshots below to see what we mean.
The screen zoomed all the way out (left) and all the way in (right)
Ironclad's intention from the beginning was to make sure that the graphics engine for Sins of a Solar Empire
would run on systems up to four years old. Even at their highest settings, the graphics are not going to tax any recent systems.
There are three main areas of detail to change, and four levels of settings for each detail. The areas of detail apply to planet, ship and building detail; ship and building extras; and ship and building bump mapping. Each area of detail can be set at low, medium, high or highest detail.
To be honest, there's not a huge amount of difference between the lowest levels of detail and the highest. The detail is only really noticeable up close and since you'll spend most of your time zoomed out to view the gravity well, you probably wouldn't notice the difference.
Details on very high (far left), high (left), medium (right) and low (far right), click to enlarge.
There are graphical options to toggle various extras such as asteroids, dust clouds and bloom and these would probably have more of an effect on lower-spec systems as they are visible at all levels of zoom.
One disappointing area where the graphics engine fails to deliver is with special effects, especially in battles. Explosions are lacklustre and debris produced is meagre and looks the same regardless of the size or type of ship. Even the effect of ships moving along phase lanes leaves you wanting more.
In catering for lower spec machines, Ironclad has simply catered to a lower common denominator rather than produce an engine that can scale graphics effects depending on the system spec. As such, any decent system built within the last couple of years should be able to cope with all the settings turned up to highest without breaking much of a sweat.