When I heard the folks responsible for my beloved sci-fi RTS Sins of a Solar Empire were at it again with another massive RTS in Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation, I had to check the game out. While the original game launched earlier in 2016, Escalation came later that year as an upgraded, standalone expansion that adds lots of things to the game. Now that the definitive version is out, I dove right into this gargantuan strategy game.
Ashes of the Singularity
Developer: Oxide Games
Release Date: November 10th, 2016
Price: $39.99 (Review Copy Received)
Ashes of the Singularity is the game Microsoft literally used to show off DirectX 12, as it was the first game released to support it. The game is a sight to behold, most especially if you have a rig that can handle max settings.
The game has the potential to show tens of thousands of units on screen at the same time – while also featuring a crazy number of light sources (each smoke cloud or projectile has its own light source). All of the animations, simulations, light sources, and more are rendered at any distance.
Each ship has its own turrets that all fire individually, and line of sight is a direct factor in gameplay as well. Say you’re trying to down an enemy capital ship – if they have a bunch of smaller frigates blocking your line of sight, they’ll eat the collateral damage before their leader does.
Ashes is such a ridiculously technically apt game I’ve even recommended friends with high-end rigs buy it just to run the benchmark for tests. The engine Oxide Games have built runs beautifully and makes the game a true joy to play.
One of the things Ashes doesn’t do well visually is identify its various ships and units well. I found myself constantly re-reading tooltips while trying to build well-balanced armies. I kept envisioning if they had better audio cues, more striking coloring, something to make them stand out more.
There are four resources in the game: metal, radiocatives, Quanta, and Turinium. While metal and radioactives are needed to supply your burgeoning war machine, Quanta grants you access to upgrades and orbital abilities.
Turinium is gathered over time via control points and eventually leads to an overall victory, regardless of the other resources. The game has a big focus on capturing these Turinium points, without control and a direct line to your home base, you won’t get resources from expansions.
This is a catch 22 in that you’re forced to expand and capture more Turinium generators than the other players, or wipe them out via military expansion. Either way, you need to capture more Turinium nodes to expand your economy, otherwise you’ll fall behind in production.
I was ok with focusing on expansion and building massive armies to slug at each other as that’s usually my style in strategy games – however if you crave a more twitch-y, micromanaged approach you might not enjoy Ashes. The overall feeling of conquering planets for your faction is fun.
The meta units your armies become comprised of help you handle the massive scale the battles evolve into. Instead of controlling smaller groups of units, you’ll control separate armies and queue up actions accordingly. I’ll admit this was a little weird at first, but eventually it became really fun. I will say that sometimes meta units or armies would randomly disband, or feel a bit unwieldy.
This expansion goes bigger and bolder with an increase to 16 players, more units, structures, and maps, UI tweaks, and more. It’s basically the solid, polished base of the original game cranked up to 11, and it’s a blast for slow-burner, massive scale RTS fans.
The game has an ethereal soundtrack that compliments its post-human storyline. I’d say the soundtrack is superb, however it’s sometimes lost in the chaos of explosions, lasers, and what have you. Tracks range from choral, heavily science-fiction inspired pieces to enticing battle themes.
The sound effects themselves are quite good, pending how close you get to the action. You’ll hear the roaring explosions come after your bombers make a pass over your enemies, or possibly a wide barrage of lasers and projectiles as two armies collide.
It’s all quite excellent as it coalesces together, making a cavalcade of destructive noises that you won’t really hear in many other strategy games. The music nicely fits the game’s massive scale, to put it simply. My favorite tracks are usually the exploratory, ambient tunes which expand your imagination.
There is so much thought put into the post-human story in Ashes of the Singularity it’s overwhelming. The original game featured two episodes focusing on a war between the Post-Human Coalition and the Substrate.
Escalation is basically the third episode, focusing on the runaway AI Haalee and her Substrate. Without giving too much away of the story, much of the game’s technologies are based on theoretical quantum abilities like quantum communication, and manipulating atoms on distant planets.
Post-humans entered a cloud-like matrix of consciousness, enabling them to expand their computational brainpower by acquiring more Turinium. Coming from this, Turinium is basically the main currency for both the THC and the Substrate, and one they directly battle over.
While the story itself is fascinating to a sci-fi aficionado like myself, the actual in-game story is presented via planet-based missions smattered with bits of dialogue. You’ll encounter other post-humans, and chase after enemies together.
Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation is everything that made the base game so great, but expanded upon and refined into an even better game. The user interface changes are great, the new units, structures, and upgrades are welcome, and overall the game is a lot of fun to play.
If you’re looking for a mashup of Supreme Commander and Sins of a Solar Empire, I’d say look no further. There are many systems, both technical and from a gameplay perspective, which all bring this massive strategy game together and make you a true commander of armies.
Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation was reviewed on PC using a digital copy provided by Stardock. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 9
- Ridiculous scale and size.
- Impressive, if not astounding visuals.
- Rock solid performance.
- Good AI
- The resource mechanics sort of force you to expand aggressively.
- Meta-units sometimes randomly disband, or are sometimes unwieldy to command.
- Units and buildings are sometimes easy to confuse.
- You’ll need a moderate to high-end rig to run this game well. Anything less is simply out of the question.