This is a guest review by Ludovic
At last, the heavily armed starbase, Sanctity, exploded in a shower of debris and flames under the heavy bombing from my Ogrov missile cruisers. Destroying this mighty Advent-spawned beast, had been far from a cakewalk however.
The last vanguard against my invasion of asteroid colony Sakharov, I had thought destroying it would have meant the end of the Hands of Illus, the faction of the twisted Advent that laid ownership of the Talitha system, but I was wrong...
Half of my fleet lay broken in the gravity well, all thanks to the infernal weaponry aboard the Sanctity. Even the fleet's flagship, a mighty Marza dreadnought met its match in the siege.
Now an Advent fleet was pouring out of the Hands' capital, Anhui, intent on smashing my force once and for all. The Hands probably began to reposition and produces this force when I was struggling against the Sanctity.
Even in death, the starbase's crew was still taunting me, having sacrificed themselves to ultimately deny me victory over Sakharov.
Still... the end of Advent domination in this system is at hand.
Even if I am foced to leave Sakharov under this Advent onslaught, it will only to return stronger. For the ultimate end of the Hands of Illus didn't begin with the destruction of the Sanctity, but when a Traders' starbase was established next to the wormhole of the Hamina sector, permiting my fleet to invade the neighboring planet of Kaseda. And now, with a planet under my control and a second starbase of my own at Kaseda, and the Hands retaining only their own capital world and a crippled asteroid colony, it was only a matter of time until my fleet would be large enough to finally spearhead an assault on Anhui, driving out the Hands out of the Talitha system once and for all.
It was only a matter of time...
Sins of a Solar Empire is a game that pretty much took the world of PC gaming by surprise when it was released last year in 2008. A 4x game set as a RTS rather than turn-based, most people would have thought it simply too niche to ever truly succeed. Yet, not only has it succeeded but it has racked awards after awards ever since. Now, one year after, we see the release of the first micro-expansion for the game, Entrenchment. So, if you wonder if it is worth the small cost, then read on to find why it is.
As standard Sins of a Solar Empire fare so far, Entrenchment has little in the way of story beside what was given in small blurbs in the manual and elsewhere (where mentions of all sides deploying massive starbases as the war drags on most fronts, as each sides tries to consolidates their positions on their holdings), lacking a single-player campaign like the original game. However, as was the case with Sins, the length of the average skirmish usually makes up for the lack of any campaigns.
Generally, the gameplay remains the same than Sins of a Solar Empire. You start with a planet, then build up a fleet to get other planets under you mantle as you proceed to build up your empire, fending off attacks from opposing players whilst invading them in return to increase the size of your empire. Where Entrenchment does shine, however, is in what it adds to this gameplay, beginning with the new "Defense" tech tree for all races.
This tree, which includes the original researches for orbital defense platforms and strike craft hangars now adds a whole slew of new defensives options.
From new upgrades to pre-existing defensive structures, such as the capacity for TEC gauss turrets to be upgraded with short-range rocket barrages ontop of their gauss cannons, to fully new defensives measures, the new defense tech tree is there more than just for show.
Fans of the games' different races will also be pleased to hear that the game's different factions also all get their own personal flavor in how these new technologies and upgrades are applied, such as with the new defensive mines that all three factions can now field, each in their own unique ways(for TEC, they are purchased as a new tactical structure surrounding their world. As the advent, they are field from strikecraft hangars or transports. The vasari, on their own side, get their very own mine-layer ship that can deploy them everywhere they wishes to).
However, the real meat of the expansion is in the new defensive starbases. These contraptions, about the size of a full-blown moon when compared with your planets, are the core of all Entrenchment is about. Other defensive structures can delay a fleet long enough for help to come, but a properly equipped starbase can literally cripple a fleet on its own and force if to retreat... if it doesn't wipe it out completely.
That is not to say they are invulnerable, however, as any properly outfitted fleet can be the end of a starbase, especially thanks to the new "anti-structure" cruisers, such as the TEC's Ogrov torpedo cruiser, a cruiser-sized weapon platform firing structure-mashing torpedoes the size of a fullblown frigate from a distance that outrange most defensive orbital weapons.
However, most starbase will still be a though foe to tackle for the unprepared. With armor and health that put most capital ships to shame, they are very difficult to get rid of. And not only that, but these defensive stations can also be upgraded to get even tougher armor or weaponry, most fleets will have a hard time to put one down.
And these upgrades is where the starbase truly shines, as ultimately their use will is defined by how their owner decides to customizes them thanks to the sheer amount of different upgrade you wishes to give them, each races having some capacities unique to themselves.
Need to build a fleet of ships on some far-away world? Then upgrade the local starbase with production hangars that will permit them to produces frigates and cruisers. When upgrade to the latest production facilities, they will even do that job faster than any frigate construction yards orbiting a planet. And with the ability to deploy a starbase anywhere you want (even on non-colonizable sectors) thanks to the new construction cruisers, such a starbase can be placed close to enemy sectors to become the starting point of an invasion fleet.
Or, if you /really/ want to defend a sector, such as your capital planet, you can place a starbase there and upgrade it with new weaponry, armor, and a strikecraft hangar that, once fully upgraded, can almost fills any planet's needs for defense fighters and bombers.
Then, come the specialties uniques to all races, such as the Advent's capacity to turn their starbase into a culture node, or the Vasari's starbases' mobility, which permits to chase the enemy fleet across a gravity well, denying him of the advantage of merely moving out of weapon's range, starbase can become inherent to a strategy.
That is not to say they are the answer to everything. They remain first and foremost a defensive structure, locked down within a single sector. And a costly defensive measure at that.
The price of most starbases, even without any upgrades, makes capital ships looks affordable in comparison. And their upgrade alones carry a most hefty of cost to get, requiring anyone thinking of building starbases to have an excellent economy prior to undertaking the endeavor. Still, for what they cost, their use if more than worth it.
Being a micro-expansion, Entrenchment doesn't bring that much in the graphics department. Still, one has to admit the new starbases are quite something to look at, from the Imposing TEC starbases, to the mobile "moons" of the Vasari without forgetting the sleek and elegant Advent bases. All of them are good looking in their own way, adding to the visual designs and aesthetics of their respective races. I, for one, did love seeing the concept art behind them, from concept artist IgnusDei ( http://ignusdei.deviantart.com/ to go and see some of the pieces he did for Sins of a Solar Empire, along with some other pieces of art ).
All in all, Entrenchment is a very nice expansion. Though at first sight the content it adds might seems minimal, in practices it can literally change the flow and strategies of a game thanks to the new massive Starbase, the heroes of this expansion. Entrenchment truly does deserve its name, for it literally manages to bring the experiences of trench and siege warfare to the interstellar level.
It would be a shame for fans of Sins of a Solar Empire to pass by this one without buying it, when there are so many other so-called micro-expansions that asks you to pay even more money for less content than what Entrenchment brings you.