Ashes of the Singularity
A lot of what has transpired within the RTS video game genre can be boiled down to games such as the Dawn of War franchise. The original Dawn of War (2004) featured up to nine, highly diverse (with all of the expansions) factions, tons of units, and full-scale base building. With phenomenal mods such as the Ultimate Apocalypse Mod, Dawn of War added three additional factions, for a total of twelve, titans, and tons of additional units and enhancements. Games such as these didn’t scrimp on content, they laid it on thick and let us gamers lap up all of that gaming goodness. All of that diversity offered nearly unlimited replay value, and me and my gaming friends are still playing it.
Then you had Dawn of War II, which like many other RTS titles during the late 90s, seemed to be transitioning to a more action-heavy bent which largely eschewed base building. It featured fewer factions (even with its expansions) a lower unit count and unit variety, and no way to adjust its hyped-up game speed. Apparently, this general movement was taken to assuage those gamers with increasingly shorter attention spans—that is to say: Less preparation, less brain usage, and more building units quickly in order to toss them at your foes.
When the original Supreme Commander came out back in 2007, I didn’t really realize at that time that I was playing one of the last grand-scale RTS titles which focused on strategy and preparation, at least for a long time to come. Stardock’s Sins of a Solar Empire was perhaps the last gasp of the old era of RTS titles of this sort, and swam amidst a sea of cutesy little MOBA and Action RPGs, as well as fast-twitch-style RTSs that favored hotkey memorization and super-fast build orders. Games of this era seemed to be more concerned about perfecting builds and the pulling off the quickest rush in order to win in the least time possible, as opposed to playing a game strategically and taking your time to enjoy its lore and ambiance.
So when I heard that Stardock was making what was billed by many to be the spiritual successor to Supreme Commander, along with some Sins of a Solar Empire thrown in, I was intrigued, although since I’d already been let down by both Homeworld: Deserts of Karak and Act of Aggression, I was in more of a wait-and-see mode. So how does this new game, titled Ashes of the Singularity, stack up against its mighty forebears? Well, first let’s see what it’s all about…
Ashes of the Singularity is set in the year 2178, where humans have transcended into nearly god-like beings and call themselves the Post-Human Coalition. They are locked in a race for resources against their AI-based mortal enemies, the Substrate, whom wish to eradicate them. These resources, mainly radioactives and medals, are spread out over vast worlds which the two factions must fight over in order to control and therefore build themselves up with.
Narrative aside, Ashes boasts to be able to field thousands of units across sprawling fields of war by utilizing all of a gaming PC’s cores. In fact in order to be able to play its grand-scale type of warfare, it is recommended that gamers choose the DirectX 12 (Windows 10) option when firing it up. Even with my GTX 970 Gaming 4G video card, I have to admit I was a little intimidated by the gaming world’s “first native 64-bit” strategy title. Luckily, however, there is a handy benchmark processor for gamers to utilize. This allows you to adjust your video settings to be appropriate to your gaming PC’s attributes (or lack thereof).
Once you have hopefully figured out if you have what it takes to play this beast of a game, you can try out its convenient tutorial, which pretty much hand-holds you through its core gameplay mechanics. Normally, I’m a pretty non-hand-holdy type of guy, but for a game of this scale I was more than happy to play its informative and thankfully brief tutorial.
From there I jumped into a game and quickly got thrashed. I’d assumed that Ashes was a title which was similar to the aforementioned Deserts of Karak or Act of Aggression, where pumping out tons of units and hurling them towards your enemies would win the day. While there is certainly an element of that here (as there is in most strategy games), numerical superiority wasn’t what mattered the most. Figuring out which types of units that an opponent is producing the most and then fielding unit types that most effectively counter those, will really go a long way in terms of gaining the upper hand.
Although there are only fifteen units on each side, there are enough differences between the two sides to make for some very intriguing strategical match-ups. From tier I tanks and anti-aircraft batteries, to larger cruisers, and finally, fear-inducing dreadnoughts which can literally plow through whole swaths of lesser units, I found the ebb and flow of Ashes’ combat to be much more conducive to careful planning and execution, rather than hotkey mashing and rushing. And even though it doesn’t have an adjustable game speed toggle (why don’t any RTSs have that anymore?), the game moves at a moderate, un-hurried pace.
The visuals of Ashes of a Singularity are simply sunning, especially considering that it is capable of fielding so many highly detailed units on a battlefield at one time. The weapon effects are also very well done, with guided missiles streaking through the air, leaving smoke trails, and lasers slicing their way between phalanxes of armored hover ships.
The only drawbacks that I could think of for a game of such immense scale is that the terrains leave a little to be desired. There’s just not a lot of differing types of geology to be seen. There also aren’t any bodies of water on the planets, and it would have been nice to see some naval units along with maritime engagements, such as was featured in Supreme Commander. And lastly, Ashes would greatly benefit by adding another faction or two to the mix in order to offer more replay value, but perhaps that is why they’re not charging a full retail price for the game. Also, maybe we’ll see some of these factors added to the base game at a future stage in the form of DLCs. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
In all, I found Ashes of the Singularity to be a definite turn in the right direction for the RTS genre. It is much more of a methodical, thinking man’s game, which rewards patience and planning over button mashing and rushing. Hopefully, as they release more content for it we’ll see something that approximates being a worthy air to Supreme Commander, but until then, I’ll enjoy playing Ashes based on its own sturdy merits. Its ascension has begun and I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads to.
Ashes of the Singularity has some truly jaw-dropping graphics for gamers to enjoy. We recommend playing it on a higher end gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to see how great they really are:
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