Legacy Review: Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation16 Oct 2017 2
Legacy Review: Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation
Released 31 Mar 2016
In a setting where the human race advanced to unimaginable heights, Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation takes us to a new world of intergalactic strategy. Set in the far future, humans have developed capabilities to control large automatic armies from the comfort of planets light-years away; those that can achieve such feats are known as the Post-Humans. The game takes place upon many planets and moons within our universe, and they are home to the kind of large-scale battles that Supreme Commander first brought to us a decade ago.
In the story, you play as a Post-Human general sent to take control of planets that have rebelled against the humans. Upon recapturing them from human splinter cells, you quickly come across vessels of unknown origin: The Substrate, a robotic swarm like race that quickly becomes the major player of the series instalment. Singularity has 4 campaigns to play through, each with their own interesting chapters and twists and scenarios that keeps every mission more interesting and unique than the last.
Getting into the battlefield feels like a treat, as the supply line mechanic and the impassable terrain make eventual battles feel satisfying when you implement a good approach. Each map has different zones that need capturing so you can expand the player's resources. The base you spawn with has thin white lines stretching off into the distance - these are the supply routes that traverse resources from one zone to the next, till they eventually reach your base. Therefore, the game enforces a good defensive strategy and response time to ensure you keep the map resources flowing, otherwise your supply lines can be broken which restrict your ability to advance. As for the terrain, some maps have impassable terrain, other than for aircraft and units that can land on top of them, which is important for quick map raids and defensive positions. With map design and resource connections implemented in this way, every part of the map is important to watch out for and maintain.
In multiplayer and Skirmish, Ashes of the Singularity takes us back to a time where King of the Hill and map objectives were key components to winning a game. Even though it’s extremely crucial to hold onto the radiation resources, across the map there are around 3 map objective points, that when held, provide a ticking point scoring into an overall winning progress bar, which increase and decrease as the match rolls on. This mode encourages a long and huge build up and can easily last an hour if it devolves into a back and forth objective hold. However, this is a toggleable game mode and does not need to be played -- those that want to quickly jump in and out, the standard total annihilation is available to play.
Meanwhile, the combat flattens the map mechanics with their "rock, paper, scissors" style unit combat, where they serve the specific purpose to do damage to the type of unit they counter. Each unit in the game is separated into distinct unit classes: Frigate, Cruiser, Juggernaut, Light and Heavy Aircraft. Frigates tend to be weak and small units that favour numbers over might, and they can also serve as support vehicles, acting as scouts or providing combat enhancements such as shield and health replenishment units. The Cruisers are the main bulk of your army, and the most unique: they can be swarming vehicles, artillery, anti-frigate, anti-cruiser, anti-air etc. These units can be expensive to build in the early game, but become more frequent as territory is taken and controlled. Dreadnoughts are the largest regular ships in the game: massive ships that dish out lots of damage and counter other dreadnoughts or lay huge damage out to cruiser and frigates.
Juggernauts are the super units of the game: like Dawn of War III's race-specific Titans that can reap so much havoc on the battlefield, these units dish out a lot of damage and have huge defensive stats. These tend to appear late in the game, when a large army is already out -- building one of these whilst other unit productions are in queue will seriously punish production across all buildings due to the streamlined economy. Finally, we have the aircraft which are grouped into aerial scouts, light and heavy fighters, and light and heavy bombers. These units are necessary to any army as they provide aerial support -- bombers are extremely effective against frigates and for air raiding, whilst the fighters are the best mobile anti-air for both factions.
As briefly mentioned, the economy is a streamlined model that encourages active spending, due to the supply limit and the positive/ negative surpluses. When building armies, it is important to constantly expand the game to gather more metals and radiation. Radiation is the most important economic gain on any map, and will be the focal points of any combat: as the game progresses, the gathering of radiation is what streamlines cruiser, aircraft and juggernaut construction. As these are the most important units in any army, controlling these zones are the biggest priority in any match you play.
Ashes also has one of the most interesting takes on Technology in a RTS in recent memory. Unlike other examples, Ashes operates its technology by building a faction-unique resource building. As you build these you gain bonus yields to technology every time the resource ticks, and they are then spent on population upgrades, flat-out health or damage upgrades, or faction abilities. They can also be spent on other technology buildings, capable of making orbital scans, using super weapons, or deploying turrets, all depending on the constructions you have made on the map.
Despite so much choice and thinking, the game is let down by its UI. With the unique way of doing technology comes a significant risk of managing the locations of the handy tools, and the main UI has 3 buttons: production tab, technology tab, and ability tab. In the latter is where you get to issue the special support and offence abilities, and after playing around with different skirmishes for around 10 hours, I'm still not familiar to their way of managing the tabs, which I feel is down to how alien it feels in the genre.
Another area of fault for the UI is down to key bindings. The game does not let you know the default key bindings for many of the functions of the game, and pressing the Escape key in a game will show the list of present controls for cycling through items, tabs, and idle workers. Unlike other RTS, I feel the specifically key-bound unit hotkeys make the game feel much more responsive, rather than tab cycling or clicking individual units.
Despite the one issue I have with the game, Stardock has one of the friendliest customer relations games I can think of in a long time. Their DLC pricing is very nice, they come with quite a lot of map choices and a few challenges, and release big units (such as new juggernauts) every few months for free. This is very important, as the juggernauts completely enhance the combat, which in turn allows us to wage war on an even bigger scale.
Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation is a huge and intense strategy game with enjoyable maps and unit strategy. With all the different unit types, technologies available and styles of each faction, the player will need some playtime to understand how the game works, which may be overwhelming at first. However, within time the game feels extremely fun strategically, and constant warfare scales as time goes on. The game costs £29.99, but is often on sale for £14.99 for those that want to bargain a huge RTS.