Ashes of the Singularity31st March, 2016
Copy provided by publisher.
Ashes of the Singularity wants to be so much and yet, something that brings me a bit of sorrow, manages to be so little. A Supreme Commander style RTS set on a huge scale, it certainly manages this, but a game that allows for strategic thinking and no reliance on the fast-clicking nature that comes with other strategy titles? You may as well look somewhere else.
Released out of early access just over a month ago, Ashes of the Singularity was technically the fourth, behind Rise of the Tomb Raider, Gears of War Ultimate and Hitman, game to offer DirectX 12 support; though you could argue that it was the first if you consider that it was available via Early Access since last October. Needless to say that I’ve not particularly been able to notice a great deal of difference, having played it on the max settings using both DX11 and 12, the only noticeable thing is a slight performance boost. It may seem a little petty for me to say this as well, but capturing screenshots and footage was almost impossible with this game, with me having to rely on the print-screen key and alt-tabbing, something I always forgot to do in the heat of battle.
I shouldn’t be too surprised, however, with Ashes of the Singularity being one of the most visually stunning, and equally busy, games you are ever likely to play. With no word of a lie, at any one time you could be watching thousands upon thousands of units at any one time, creating an outstanding light show of units fighting, explosions and a variety of orbital abilities and attacks that will be used by you, others and the AI. This is a game that shows a scale that no game since Supreme Commander, released nine years ago, has managed.
It’s a testament to the work of Oxide Games that Ashes can look so outstandingly beautiful and play so well. Combined with these stunning visuals is some excellent sound design, from the sound of lasers blasting by, creating a reverberating explosion that you can calm down by listening to the slow drone of your tanks as you zoom in on your next grand army, slowing moving towards the battlefield. Working with this is a strong, though highly forgetful, musical score that complements the action when needed and just provides background noise the rest of the time.
While the grand scale of Ashes of the Singularity offers something astounding to watch, and even get lost in every now and then, you’ll soon come to tire of what is an ultimately shallow experience. The maps, there are many featured in both skirmish and the campaign, ultimately turn out to be much of the same. Barren, featureless, worlds are littered by giant chasms, towering hills and deep craters that, while looking nice, offer little tactical nuance.
At least this is the case in the single player mode, particularly the campaign. In the bland story you take the role of the post humans, fighting against a more aggressive AI known as the substrate. With eleven missions, one quarter of missions acting as babies first tutorials, to then aggressively raise the difficulty to an almost insurmountable level (the vast majority of players complained about this).
This isn’t to say that playing solo doesn’t have its moments. The skirmish is always a good way to settle down for a good long fight, changing the settings to whatever you want them as, allowing for an extra long game that’s bound to leave you with countless huge battles to feast your eyes on, and prepare yourself for the real main dish of Ashes, multiplayer.
Playing online is by far the best way to enjoy Ashes of the Singularity because it blends well with what the game wants to be, a slower paced, thinking man’s strategy game. While never completely achieving this goal, due to the land-grab nature of the game – resources are gained through capturing power nodes, which link to metal and radiation deposits – which means the faster units are essential for quick strikes and captures and while the maps are too big to allow for rushes that end the game, sending out groups of fast units to simply capture land is an effective and useful strategy against unsuspecting enemies.
It’s when you come up against like-minded people who want to develop, expand slowly and play the game as it’s meant to be played that you get to experience it at its best. Ashes of the Singularity features an option to group your units into a specific army which, in theory, allows for a synergy between your units that make an army powerful as the units complement each other. How this differs from regular grouping, as some would argue it does, goes beyond me as I rarely noticed any difference to simply selecting everything and sending it forward, aside from the fact that the units will move together at the pace of the slowest unit – the giant dreadnoughts that are simply floating fortresses.
The dreadnoughts also offer Ashes’ other big feature, leveling your units and selecting upgrades that affect how the particular unit will aid your wars. One dreadnought can become a sort of healer, offering support to the rest of the army, while another can gain extra firepower, making it the core of your fleet and the ultimate wrecking machine.
Even with this feature, shallow is sadly all I can think to call Ashes of the singularity. It purports to be the strategy for those who want to think about the battle and not rely on who’s fastest, but when the campaign punishes you with a quick strike within seconds then you already know that there are mixed signals being sent by the developers.
By far the deepest I managed to get with Ashes, in any form of tactical or strategic thinking, is in the decision of what level of aerial support to bring along with any one army and where to put my long ranged artillery for maximum effectiveness, in either blocking off a pass into my territory or in attacking enemy territory. This isn’t exactly revolutionary, when it’s in every strategy title your likely to come across.
Ashes of the Singularity reminds me very much of a stereotypical supermodel. It tries so hard to look fantastic and there’s no doubt that somebody, somewhere, will get great enjoyment out of it. But behind that luxurious, fantastic, exterior lies a plain, barren, wasteland that may not be boring, but isn’t really exciting either. Ashes is a perfectly functional, beautiful looking but ultimately dull RTS that is worth picking up on an offer, but won’t ever command a premium spot in any collection.
Ashes of the Singularity is a beautiful game, but that's sadly the best that can be said. It's just shallow. It will offer some enjoyment, but the game just doesn't hit what it wants to be and stumbles too much along the way with even the basics, even punishing you for doing what the developers tell you to do.
- One of the most aesthetically stunning strategy games to come out in recent times, offering some outstandingly destructive battles as you can literally watch thousands of units clash in a symphony of destruction.
- The campaign is punishingly boring and even ramps up the difficulty to an almost insurmountable level. Long term tactical thinking and a slow steady development, the purported goal of the game, is undermined by the campaign and even the units themselves.