Ashes of the Singularity Review0 Comments
Reviewed on: PC
Also available on:
Developer: Oxide Games, Stardock Entertainment
Publisher: Stardock Entertainment
It’s important to start this review off with a confession: Strategy games, particularly of the real time strategy (RTS) variety have become passe to me. Why do I hold this opinion? Just like many of you, once upon a time I was enthralled by the big name releases in the genre such as the Command & Conquer series. However, as time wore on, so did my patience — and so did that of other gamers. While titles in the genre are still definitely coming out, they rarely have a solid amount of hype behind them to get interest beyond the pre-existing core audience. Starcraft 2 may be the lone modern example of an RTS becoming a widespread success. Something about the genre just grew stale for me, and it caused me to never look back. Then Ashes of the Singularity entered my life.
First off, it’s important to note what style of RTS Ashes of the Singularity is. This is a strategy focused on the big picture, with confrontations on a grand scale culminating ultimately on winning the war, not a single battle. If you’ve ever played Supreme Commander, then the gameplay should be familiar. Of course, if you’re someone like me who has played little of any RTS goodness in the past few years, then the comparison is likely useless. The gameplay isn’t simply focused on building up a really strong army really fast and then immediately rushing the enemy. Some other titles in the genre can really be broken down this way, if the player is good enough. That’s not how this one works. Yes, a goal is to certainly amass an army from a single starter base and engineer, but each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses to focus on.
You might build a ton of Brutes (effectively fodder tanks that are produced in clusters) only to find them taken out with ease by basically any flying unit, as well as long range tanks. The rock-paper-scissors approach to unit design is smart and ensures that players must consider exactly what they’re building rather than just building wildly. By the end, a base should feature different factories, as each produces its own unit types. Generally, preparing a good mix of unit types is best, though not always. For example, during the campaign mode you’ll basically be facing one or two specific “types” of attacks and can plan accordingly. It also helps that this mode actually gives direct hints as to what the developers intend to be built next for the greatest chance of survival.
Another key facet of gameplay is how resources are generated/utilized. There’s a constant streaming economy of resources once you have capped a few resource veins on the battlefield. As these continue to draw metal and other resources for you, they can be used for building new units. Unlike some other games of the genre, however, building does not stop because you use up all your current resources. Manufacturing continues and simply feeds off resources as they come in. Sure, this might not be the ideal way to handle things, but it keeps factories pumping even as enemies might be blowing up unsecured resource locations. With that said, it’s also possible to “lose” resources by simply stockpiling too many compared to your current resource maximum. This is a double-edged sword which becomes more manageable as players become accustomed to the system.
It’s important to delve more into the campaign mode, as it is one of the main additions to Ashes of the Singularity as part of its evolution from Steam Early Access title to official launch. Titled “Ascendancy Wars,” the mode is touted as a single-player introduction to all that the game has to offer. Right now, only Episode 1 is available, and this includes ten different stages. With that said, the first few stages are so incredibly simple that they could hardly be considered particularly involved levels. The main reason for this is that Ascendancy Wars, while specified as a campaign mode, is currently much more of a long form tutorial than anything else — despite the fact that there is also a tutorial accessible from the main menu that’s pretty good at getting your feet wet. The main difference is that Episode 1 is more involved and gives better battle scenarios to try one’s hand at. There’s a storyline included as well, but beyond being super brief, it’s also an incredibly rote sci-fi tale that leaves a lot to be desired. The less said of it the better, honestly.
The weird thing about this extended tutorial is that Ascendancy Wars has some super unexpected difficulty spikes throughout it. In fact, the fourth chapter is now being rebalanced due to a tremendous amount of complaints from the community. Prior to that, missions had been so entirely hand-holding in their implementation that it was an outrageous shift. The biggest problem with the few challenging levels in Episode 1 is that they turn the game into a puzzler. As they currently stand, you’re meant to follow out the template laid by the developers. If you fail to do what they have in mind, then it’s unlikely that you’ll survive at all (unless you’re outrageously persistent). This also isn’t particularly reflective of the full Ashes of the Singularity experience, as you’re almost always free to pursue whatever tactics you wish in the skirmish and multiplayer modes.
Skirmish lets players have basically any kind of battle they desire. It includes options for AI difficulty (currently not present in Ascendancy Wars), a multitude of maps to play on, and is generally a better way for someone to explore what Ashes of the Singularity has to offer. Once you feel you’ve got the mechanics down and can hold your own is when it’s finally time to jump into some online multiplayer. As of right now, the community is quite large due to both Early Access veterans and new players hitting up each other for matches. Your best bet to get in a good game is on Friday, which is the day the community has designated as multiplayer night. Please note that this all relates to the Steam release. Although the game is available on GOG, Stardock did not make use of GOG Galaxy’s ability for cross-platform multiplayer. As such, GOG players have a much smaller pool of prospective players to play with.
One caveat to this whole experience is that the game was not designed to be friendly to a wide variety of PC gamers. Aside from the 6GB of RAM minimum, there’s also a requirement for the graphics card to have 2GBs of GDDR 5 memory. These aren’t particularly low-end requirements, to say the least! Why does this game require so much power to run effectively? Simple, the developers did not want to compromise in any way. This really comes to light when running the DirectX 12 build as you can have huge armies on screen at once, all firing at one another in a gorgeous display. Although the graphics are not the very best in the world, they still look darn impressive as you command troops throughout innumerable battles. Units look distinct from each other and battles become quite colorful. The only downside is that backgrounds themselves are so completely drab compared with the action taking place on them.
A great-looking battle would feel a bit disappointing without epic audio to go with it. Luckily, Ashes of the Singularity also delivers in this department. Zoom into a hectic battle underway and you’ll suddenly hear each laser and rocket firing with increasing fidelity. It’s even possible to be kept aware of what's going on between your bases by simply listening for your AI attendant’s verbal updates and other key sound effects. Finally, the soundtrack itself is quite the sweeping score that makes players feel pretty awesome when they do well, and is surprisingly tense. It also never becomes overwhelming enough to distract players from their strategy. The voice acting during Ascendancy Wars is of acceptable quality, but there’s not all that much of it to really even focus on.
It’s obvious that Ashes of the Singularity isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. Unlike some companies, Stardock have confirmed that they are continuing to iterate on their game post-launch. Among other additions and tweaks will be the continuation of Ascendancy Wars in future episodes. Hopefully that’ll become more of an open-ended exploration of gameplay rather than a super long tutorial. Even with my gripes, however, I found the overall experience utterly entertaining. The systems at play and inner workings of each unit were quickly memorized and I found myself enjoying matches against both AI and other players alike. The gorgeous graphics and excellent sound design only eased me further into continuing to play. Each and every battle feels fresh and new, which is a necessary factor for a strategy title’s longevity. The RTS genre had lost me years ago, but now it appears that Ashes of the Singularity is bringing me right back in.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.
A great RTS with room to grow