Ashes of the Singularity is an RTS, developed by Stardock Entertainment, for people who seek to command massive armies and obliterate everything in sight with powerful weapons. It is a heavy dose of nostalgia for those who want to relive the glory days of games like Total Annihilation and Dark Reign. The noticeable boost in graphics and visual effects, however, makes the game stand out in this modern era.
Every skirmish starts the same, with players beginning to build up their base and use scouting units to plot out the map. One of the interesting things that AotS does is the way it handles economy. As the player collects resources, they begin to hoard a stockpile of metal, radioactive and quantum materials. If the base is producing too many units or engineers are building too many things, the stockpile can quickly deplete to nothing and put all of your essential builds to an agonizing crawl. This kind of economy promotes players to aggressively expand their bases in order to fuel their ambitious plans for domination.
The two playable armies, the Post-Human Coalition, or the PHC's, and the Substrate, have their own unique units and gameplay quirks. The PHC’s focus on developing harder hitting units while the Substrate focus on developing swarms and energy shields. Each unit of the two races has a unique look and set of effects, creating a spectacle of lights and explosions when battles occur.
The stand-out units are the Dreadnoughts. Each army can purchase these hulking battleships, armed to the teeth with missiles and plasma cannons. With a number of variations to choose from, players have to pick the ship they feel has the most use for upcoming battles. Some Dreadnoughts focus on staying fielded as long as possible and others just want to destroy the deadliest threats in the area quickly. The most unique element about them is that they level up. As the ships destroy everything in sight, the player can choose to upgrade them with a host of new abilities to further customize their force.
I would have enjoyed the units much more if each of them could have had the ability to level up. It would have promoted a risk-reward system. My force may not survive a skirmish, but if there’s a chance they do, I know that they can to be upgraded and become more effective on the field.
The quantum abilities are a very unique mechanic. Ranging from the ability to scout an area without the need of units or obliterate an area with an orbital strike, these new abilities keep players on the edge of their seat. As long you have a clear area of vision and enough resources, these abilities can be used at any time to turn the tide of battle. To balance this mechanic the abilities increase in value each time one is used, making you think very carefully about when you want to unleash them.
A complaint I have with AotS, however, is that there is no use to retreating from a battle. When a battle occurs the two combating forces are essentially locked in to the fight and only one will come out alive. Running away doesn’t speed up units, nor does it give them the ability to shoot their pursuers who are quickly picking them off. The retreating units just become canon fodder. It’s odd that you must commit to every instance of combat as it makes the game feel unbalanced.
The initial campaign of AotS also feels like it was poorly executed. It first introduces the player to tutorial missions such as moving units, forming armies and simple builds. The problem is that it suddenly expects the player to master all of these elements and more by Chapter 4, rising the difficulty level substantially. The campaign just doesn’t feel fun. I always felt like I was an underdog in every situation because I didn’t know the game's script and what it was sending my way until it was too late.
The story itself isn’t really an engaging narrative either. Essentially the premise is that humanity has evolved into spacenoid-like creatures reminiscent of Mobile Suit Gundam and are destroying planets to obtain more knowledge. Enter the Substrate, who wants to stop humanity's plans and wipe out their species. There’s nothing else of note.
Having my first experience of RTS multiplayer was very interesting, however. I’m by no means an expert at strategy games but I still managed to have quite a bit of fun entering lobbies and having a virtual chess match with an opponent. The tactics other players were able to use blew mine out the water and it compelled me to adapt their moves into my later games. I never seized victory, but like a fighting game, this genre takes a lot of practice and patience to master.
Ashes of the Singularity is a good RTS that brought me back to my childhood days of PC gaming. The campaign is definitely the biggest disappointment because of its jump in difficulty and lackluster story, but that doesn't deter from the fact that there is a lot of fun to be had in creating epic space battles on or offline.