Wot I Think: Ashes of the Singularity Singleplayer

Ashes of the Singularity [official site] was released last week after months in early access, promising huge Supreme Commander-style battles and furious tactical decision-making. But is it simply walking in the giant robot footsteps of its predecessors? Brendan tells us wot he thinks.

One of the lines of Ashes’ marketing goes: “win the battle with strategy, not speed”. I am here to tell you: that is nonsense. This is about as speed-clicky an RTS as you can get. There are parts of its design that will (theoretically) make you consider your approach more thoughtfully. But make no mistake, this is as traditional as shepherd’s pie. Even an AI opponent on the Normal setting will be pumping out tens of actions every second, so have your murder tendons ready. You will need to be fast.

Ashes has been pitching itself for the past year as a spiritual successor to Total Annihilation. In many ways, it fits this description, and maybe too well. As an artificial intelligence you are part of the Post-Human Coalition, fighting an enemy known as “splinters” – supposedly drones without autonomous thought. It’s a silly setup but it’s all that is really required. The game has a story mode called ‘Ascendancy Wars’ (more on this later), a skirmish mode against (other) AIs and the usual multiplayer options.

There are also a few extra ‘scenarios’. King of the Hill is a defensive scrap for survival against waves and waves of increasingly difficult armies. Overlord is a 3 v 1 match up, pitting you and two lesser-brained robofriends against a nasty AI enemy with some of your unit options made unavailable.

As far as the minute-to-minute war machine goes, all is present. You capture waypoints blessed with metal or radioactive deposits, then plop down metal extractors or radioactive sucker-uppers to eat the material and add it to your income (later you can build an energy-enhancing construct on these waypoints to increase your uptake). Factories pump out small units – speedy scouts, rocket-launching “archers”, cheap “brutes”, medical repair bots and so on.

Meanwhile, armories and sky factories add bombers, fighters, anti-aircraft tanks, powerful “sniper” units and wonderful, wonderful artillery. These latter tanks launch a gorgeous volley of rockets at enemies, even if they are out of sight. They can do this because the edge of the game’s “shroud” will glimmer with red if any enemy units are close to your own. Eventually you’ll be able to make tier 3 vehicles and “dreadnoughts” – huge capital floaters that can be upgraded the more they fight.

This “upgrading” feature isn’t limited to the big guns, however. A third resource, called Quantum, can be supped from the earth with another building. This allows you to upgrade the health, firepower and radar range of your entire force, as well as increase the storage capacity for the other resources. It’s also a kind of battle cash you can use to summon orbital abilities – things like revealing terrain, unleashing a plasma storm, dropping an engineer or a squad of bots far from HQ.

I was pleasantly surprised (miffed) when an enemy AI smashed my swarm of 25 bombers with a single blast of the destructive orbital strike, just as they were about to raid a little metal farm it had built. This AI went on to win the game by collecting enough Turinium – something gathered by holding power stations. The other way it could have won is by flattening my central “nexus” – my home base. I got off easy.

This all looks wonderful and seeing artillery shells arc through the sky isn’t the only time you’ll smile at the scale and grandeur of your army’s skirmishes. Queuing bots so that they march out of your factories to form unstoppable columns is just as interesting as it has always been. But this is the thing – it is just as interesting. Not more.

Ashes is deep in the shadow of its great loves and entrenched in a way that makes it, well, sort of tired. There is nothing very novel about huge numbers of troops – we have been able to command such forces for decades. And while units like the Artemis artillery and the more advanced Dreadnoughts are fun to steamroll around with, some of the units are so bland they don’t even stand out against the snowy, cratered ground. And they all look more or less the same, there’s very little distinct about the design or operation of each toy. Some vehicles of the Substrate (the second faction) are fun, like the dreadnought that looks like a giant brain in a pod. But most of them are identikit alien wobblecraft.

You can highlight a bunch of troops and click a command to form an “army”. This is one of the things the game emphasises. The idea behind composing armies is that each swarm will be the sum of its innards. So an army with a lot of heavy, slow dreadnoughts will be slower but pack more punch. An army with a lot of scouts will see its overall speed increased, meaning it (theoretically) pays not to ignore the lightweight speedy guys, like you would in so many RTS games. But this “sum-of-its-parts” mechanic (the devs call them ‘meta-units’) is never really all that obvious. You can stack a battalion with medics and notice some survivability but apart from that I never really became consciously aware of any increase in speed or range.

This might be because there was no viable way to measure any differences apart from making a purposefully distinct group. And in the heat of battle, you don’t have time to or resources to experiment. A lot of armies end up being such a mish-mash that you stop caring about composition and simply go for pushing hard with big numbers. Getting the next batch of metal extractors is, as always, more important than tinkering with your troops.

The most I thought about the make up of my forces was how best to complement ground troops with bombers, and how many fighters should come along for the ride. But how is this any different from the way you simply group things in other strategy games? In the end, it feels no different at all.

I can forgive any RTS that holds tradition in high esteem but there are other things that irk me about Ashes. In the Ascendancy Wars – the story mode – there are 11 planets that make up the threads of a sci-fi tale. They swivel between being annoyingly hand-holdy and boot-to-the-balls debilitating. At first the desire seems to be to introduce the player to the different concepts one by one – ground units, resource capturing, the tech tree. For the first three missions everything seems fine. Then the fourth mission shows up and punches you in the kidney. “This isn’t a tutorial,” it seems to say, “this is your gruesome death.”

This infuriating mission tasks you with holding out against waves of various enemy units with very little in the way of available resources. So far, so good. Then ten minutes into the mission, the tutor bot pops up and says: “oh yes, by the way, there are dozens of aircraft coming to blow you up. I guess you should have this.” At which point he grants you – at the very last minute – the option to build AA-guns and AA vehicles, none of which you can build fast enough because the airplanes are basically already on top of you, bombing your engineers to death.

It is intensely frustrating to have to repeat what is essentially a tutorial mission half a dozen times. The result is a straitjacketing scene in which you have to wait for some videogame Clippy to pop up and bless you with an ability, one which you ALREADY KNOW, right from the start, is necessary to survive. I’ve seen a lot of players complain about the difficulty of this mission, so I know I’m not alone. It can be overcome, but it’s such a spike it makes your teeth grind.

Compare this to Planetary Annihilation, which also sought to revive the grand scale, spirit and pace of Total Annihilation and SupCom. PA had its problems (it was a rushed and the devs sold a follow-up game by tweaking some things and then simply adding the sub-name “Titans”). But at least it approached the revival of its inspirations not only with a dash of originality, allowing you to invade and swarm over multiple, spherical planets, but also with a lot of its own visual character.

It was just as tough-as-nails as this outing can be, but it brought so much more to the table. I can’t in good faith recommend Ashes when the true inheritor of Total Annihilation’s twisted and burnt crown already exists in the form of Uber Entertainment’s interplanetary wreck session.

I’m making this sound worse than it is. For anyone yearning to see tanks flooding in and out of canyons in a way that brings them right back to 1997, you may well have what you want. But if the veil of nostalgia doesn’t tempt you, you’re not going to be convinced.

Overall, Ashes isn’t bad, it’s just very plain. Gorgeous, but plain. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before and done better. And I certainly don’t think it has the spark that made Company of Heroes so excellent, despite what the developer may suggest (even if you can make a “veteran” of your biggest tank). You can win the battle here with speed, and maybe a little strategy. But, being entirely honest, I wouldn’t recommend battling at all, in singleplayer at least.

Ashes of the Singularity is available now. We’ll have a close look at the multiplayer side of the game next week.

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  1. LittleJP says:

    Pretty well sums up my opinion. Rather bland, and I’m having more fun going back to Supreme Commander: FA, rather than wasting my money further by getting PA:Titans

    • SomeDuder says:

      I honestly only wanted an updated Supreme Commander that can handle today’s 64-bit processors and utilize the gigantic amounts of memory on offer.

      This is not it.

    • Ripperoo1 says:

      I can honestly say that Ashes has a way to go :(. I really want to like this game, but it just isn’t there yet!!
      I own a lot of RTS games including Ashes, Planetary Annihilation, “Titans”, SC and some other titles and PA for me is at this stage much better. I completed the single player of ashes and I was a bit disappointed for a game that was hyped this much. As Brendan mentioned some of the missions you replay and reload saved games and AutoSaves until you are blue. Just a note, sometimes its better just to restart the hole mission!!
      The enemy Dreadnoughts are insanely strong, if you don’t have a Dreadnought of your own you better hope you have an army size of 200+ and a lot of Dreadnought killers and even with this army you will be able to destroy your enemy at the cost of your hole army!! But don’t think your Dreadnoughts are anything as strong as the enemy, they will be wiped out by the most mediocre of armies.
      Towers are useless, once again unbalanced as the enemy’s towers can last quite a while if you attack them but your defences are mere bugs they need to wipe from the windshield on their way to kill you.
      You will never have enough resources not even if you own each node on the map. The only time you will have full resources is when you have reached your army cap and nothing builds anymore.
      The thing that bugged me the most was when I create an army or join forces to an existing army the AI goes totally insane. Your units start moving around probably to join up with the slowest strongest unit but if you ordered your army to attack a certain enemy you will see your army turning around and running from the battle. Also in this state your units refuse to obey your commands even if you position the army right next to where the bulk of the units are.
      I do like the graphics of the game and I do believe with some major improvements the game can become enjoyable to the point of SC, PA Titans … At this stage I will not advise anybody to buy this game above SC or PA Titans.

  2. GiantPotato says:

    That’s too bad about the speed. Can the whole thing be slowed down in single-player like in SupCom?

    • Tiger Teeth says:

      Yes it can. Minimum (above pause) is x0.1, I think? That’s just off the top of my head.

    • Neutrino says:

      When it came out SupCom certainly pushed the limits of the hardware that was available, but after 8 years of development and hardware advances it runs beautifully now. Imo it’s easily the best scifi RTS around and is still being actively developed by the community.

      Community website: link to faforever.com
      Match Casts: link to youtube.com

  3. AceJohnny says:

    Honestly, I don’t mind a modern graphical refresh of TA/SupCom, so I may give it a try. Sounds like the meta-unit mechanic is similar to Kohan’s core mechanic, which the devs had mentioned. Does it live up to that?

    Anyow, I’ve got another round waiting for me on Forge Alliance Forever, the community-maintained SupCom Forged Alliance “mod”. Brb

  4. Jane Doe says:

    Kinda reminds me of X Rebirth. All we wanted was a multicore version of X3TC, but look at what we got. In this case, all we need is a multicore patch for Supreme Commander Forged Alliance. Instead, first we got the dumbed down SupCom 2, then the rushed Planetary Annihilation, and now this.

    It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

    • SomeDuder says:

      Yes, exactly. It’s like the people who make these games just don’t GET what makes a particular game so popular. Which is especially baffling in Egosoft’s case, since they are the studio that brought us X2.

  5. draginol says:

    Brad here (from Stardock).

    Thanks for taking the time to review it.

    The 4th mission in the campaign can be pretty difficult. Since the press build, we did go back and update it to make it easier based on feedback.

    The 4th campaign mission is a “hold this position” mission where the enemy is attacking in bigger and bigger waves. Many players try to win this mission by building up their own counter-army but the most effective strategy is to turtle in on that one by building static defenses which are much tougher to take down.

    That said, we definitely saw that a number of people found that mission overwhelming.

    As for the pacing of the game. I don’t really know what to say to that. The APM requirements on this game are no where near what they are for say StarCraft or Company of Heroes.

    I think a lot of the sense of feeling “rushed” comes, again, from mission 4 from the campaign which, I should point out, is not the meat of the game.

    The campaign is the gravy, not the meat of the game. The meat of it is the sandbox mode. In our last RTS, Sins of a Solar Empire, we didn’t even include a campaign. It may have been a mistake to include one here in the sense that it has given some people the assumption that the campaign is the game as opposed to the single player skirmishes (which features dozens of maps with a highly intelligent AI).

    One last point, the speed of the game can be altered with the + and – keys and even paused with orders given.

    • Ex Lion Tamer says:

      I appreciate you showing up here to point out that this is a Stardock game, which means I won’t be buying it. It would be fantastic if you could decouple support for a traditionalist branch of game design from support for some of the worst views in our community. I mean that seriously – you’re a major developer/publisher in this space, and it’s a shame that you still align yourself with that nonsense.

      I know one lost sale doesn’t make a difference, but I haven’t and won’t buy a Stardock-published game while that remains the case.

      • Thurgret says:

        That business in 2010? Because it’s pretty tiresome to see people demonising Mr Wardell when he really doesn’t appear to have done anything wrong, and it concluded, apparently, with him receiving an apology. I’m unaware of any other Stardock-related issues (okay, Elemental was shonky, but that’s not related to ethics, and I’ve found the follow-ups to Elemental amply entertaining).

        • Ex Lion Tamer says:

          I don’t know the particulars there and I suspect only the two parties involved do. Not mentioned in my comment precisely because it isn’t the basis for my concern. What irks me is what is clear, public, and indisputable – that Wardell has aligned himself time and again with noxious GamerGate nonsense.

          • draginol says:

            If there is something I have done to you then I apologize. But I really have no idea what you think I’ve actually done to deserve your ire.

          • Ex Lion Tamer says:

            No need or basis for an apology to me. I think you’re a smart guy who believes plenty of good, constructive things about this industry and puts his money where his mouth is; before I knew about, say, your vendetta against Quinn or enthusiasm for Nero, I knew you as the anti-DRM guy who made/supported some really good games.

            As I say (far) below, I commented in reply to you in good faith. I like what I’ve seen of Ashes and I like previous games you’ve made/supported. We’re both US-ers of wildly different political stripes; I’m not asking you to change that, nor do I expect devs/publishers (or my friends for that matter) to hew to an ideological litmus test of my devising. All I would ask is a clear and ongoing rejection of the ugliest of viewpoints and tactics that go beyond standard ideological/political difference.

            I said “irks” in the comment I made above that you replied to – “disappoints” may have been a better word. I really believe you are and can be a better dude than some of what I’ve seen from you these last few years.

          • Ex Lion Tamer says:

            For what it’s worth, I tried to reply in some detail but RPS auto-moderation ate it (I suspect mentioning a couple key figures you’ve interacted with on each side – by name – is what did it).

            The shortened version: you certainly don’t owe me an apology. I just was asking you in good faith to reconsider some of the people/positions you support, because I like a lot of the things you/Stardock stand for otherwise.

          • draginol says:

            (I’m not that familiar with this editing system so hopefully this shows up right)

            I don’t know what positions I hold that you object to. In previous comment threads here, I’ve seen my views completely warped. I saw someone claim I like Glenn Beck for instance (I’ve never even watched his show). I’ve seen people argue that I or Stardock mistreat employees or that that we support misogyny or something. We employ a very diverse staff of men and women of all races and orientations. One of the main programmers of Ashes of the Singularity is a woman (on a very small team), as well as the UI artist, *all* of the marketing assets, websites, press releases, etc. So your issue with me may have more to do with what people have told you rather than anything I’ve actually done or not done.

          • Ex Lion Tamer says:

            Nope! No second-hand stuff (that’s not my style), just things I’ve seen you tweet/write over the years that make your GG allegiance clear.

            I get (or assume) that you have strongly-held political beliefs that align with elements of their principles – I don’t object to that. My long moderated comment had a section about my comfort with political difference. I just don’t feel comfortable with you using your platform to provide them cover/encouragement. I have no question about your right to do it, or to continue to make/publish games – I’m just not a fan. I appreciate the values implicit in what you said about your company. I would just like to see you be less accomodating to the GG forces that are largely hostile to those values in practice.

          • GiantPotato says:

            Hmm. I’ve always liked Stardock for being very supportive of the modding scene and for being one of the only developers that takes AI design seriously. Single-player is a dying hobby without that, especially for the RTS genre.

          • aepervius says:

            “with noxious GamerGate nonsense” maybe because you are buying into that gamersgate is only obnoxious nonsense ?

            Once one start to put a whole very diverse group of people under a single 3 letter disparaging throw away, one is probably prejudiced just saying. e.g. people throwing away in the same sack all feminist because one is absurd and telling nonsense , people throwing away in the same sack all moslem because a few are terrorist, people throwing away all gamersgater as obnoxious nonsense for similar perceived reason…

          • PancakeWizard says:

            “I don’t know the particulars there”

            Clearly. Head firmly up arse.

        • draginol says:

          BTW, I may have messed up my response and it may show up at the bottom of the thread. I don’t know how to delete it and put it here. It says it’s waiting moderation so I don’t know where it’ll show up. :)

          • SomeDuder says:

            No idea why you are arguing with actual crazy people that have access to the Internet tho, in a terribly broken comment section of a videogame “blog”, too.

          • Ex Lion Tamer says:

            This actually might be the first time someone’s called me a crazy person…here I thought I was being all civil and s***. I assume my prize is that I get to wear your skin as I run screaming down a major thoroughfare, SomeDuder.

      • Thurgret says:

        Also, you’re missing out on Start 8.

      • Doomlord says:

        Happy to say that I’ll buy it based on it being by Stardock alone, practically. Great company with a great developer on board. Whining about social justice crap is tired though par for the course here at RPS.

        • Ex Lion Tamer says:

          I do enjoy that such supposed anti-censorship maximalists are so bothered by a politely-worded comment to the head of a significant indie developer/publisher.

          • Pharos says:

            By all means act aloof if it gives you pleasure, but let’s not kid ourselves over who derailed the comment thread to talk about their feelings on a hashtag that hasn’t been relevant for a year.

          • Ex Lion Tamer says:

            That’s an interesting definition of “derailed.” The head of the developer/publisher of the game in question came to the comments to promote his game by responding to the WIT; I shared my particular objection to the game with him. I guess if you think all corporate self-promotion on our site should go unchallenged, regardless of source and views, that’s your business. Definitely not my perspective.

          • Pharos says:

            That’s an interesting definition of challenge.

            I didn’t see any criticism, constructive or otherwise, of the game, only you making some very dubious complaints about his personal politics, which he didn’t bring up anyway. What GamerGate is or is not, is or is not a member, and who does or does not support it, is unlikely to be a major contributing factor to any part of the game.

            So yeah, derailed.

          • Ex Lion Tamer says:

            I’ll give the two of us minor credit for letting this devolve into semantics instead of Godwinning, at least.

            I happen to think his active use of his platform to trumpet those views and attack enemies of GamerGate is relevant information to my purchasing decision, which is what I told him. Not sure why that should be off-limits, given that he is a CEO promoting a product on a site that I’ve read regularly for eight years. I read the WIT (and the comments) out of genuine interest in the game; I (again genuinely) was disappointed that it was a Stardock joint. I expressed that in good faith; I tried to make clear that I would love to support some of the work they do. I understand that it can be difficult at times to distinguish between knee-jerk rants in the comments and honest sentiment, but I can assure you (from a position of some authority on myself) that I’m jn the latter camp. If your position is that no developer/publisher should ever be subject to public criticism for their objectionable views/allegiances on a site they don’t own, I clearly have to disagree.

          • aepervius says:

            See my comment above. Once you start putting whole slice of people solely under “obnoxious nonsense” then you have definitively left the challenge part and went into the rant part. In fact i would hold that when people see nonsensical politic as a threat to gaming , this is the perfect example : rather than criticize or discuss the gamer on its own merit, you “challenge” somebody on possible “support” through tweet about a group you simply dismiss as a whole as “obnoxious nonsense”.

            One person showed me a true picture trully representing the situation. There is a pie chart showing “strident” yelling fanatic in two groups and rational reasonable people, and they were minority. In both groups. But once pitted against each other the perception of each group was that the other groups was solely composed of those strident or obnoxious personalities, and thus the discourse stopped being about the groups respective points but rather about the obnoxiousness of those personality.

            Your opinion IMO definitively the lack of nuance I am speaking of. You dismiss gamersgate as a whole as nonsense without even trying to understand why people suddenly took off. Hint . such volatile temper rage usually are the sign of underlying symptom going on from year. It probably even started before dorritosgate. Just like idiot in gamersgae dismiss whole slate of people opposing them because some of them doxxed others and advocated calling work of those folk etc…. Then there is the nonsense that “opponent” of gamersgate knowingly or not were fed by a troll for shit and giggle and simply assigned the blame to gamersgate because , hey.

          • Doomlord says:

            Not “Bothered” per se, just tired of the idiocy of it all. You’re welcome to feel angsty about anything you want but the simple fact is that most people don’t need you mixing your social anxiety into their hobby, that is meant to be a fun escape. Translation: We’re happy that you’re a liberal progressive enlightened elite but maybe just keep it to yourself in the future. Thanks.

          • NemesisZidar says:

            I dont see any problem with him/her telling the CEO of Stardock whatever he wants.
            He/She uses the comment section which exists for that purpose.
            Just because a member of the Stardock team is promoting the game through the comment here and i agree with Ex Lion on that point, doesnt make that person invulnerable to criticism. In fact, i think especially that persons comment should be looked at very close and in detail.

            Im sorry, my english isnt that good and i dont really understand much of why he/she doesnt like the position of the staff from Stardock. What i can say is, that he went a understandable, solid and grounded way to approach the comment and only voiced his viewpoint.
            Which i think is overly fair and a problem with todays gaming is less that people care about ethics and politics in the industry, but that people on the internet think that they can only praise others but as soon as someone criticises a comment, product, behaviour (etc) they jump at that person.

            What is important and what often so called “elitists” know, is that criticising is a good process of testing the value and truth of something. Did you think science is foolproof? Do you think physics really work the way they work because someone tells you? Do you think they are objective? They are not, they are bound to rules of humanity and the perception we have and so can be false and have mistakes. To criticise something tries to find out whether something is true or stays solid as a point.

            In short, criticising the behaviour of a person or a comment is a way to test. When people only all the time tell others that its so good what they do, they never have a critical viewpoint, are never self reflected and never get better.
            Its the same with early access. Criticise it and ignorant people jump at these persons trying to tell that all is good because its Alpha (or beta). But critical viewpoints are the most valuable viewpoints, as they search for something to improve. A person pointing out issues with a product or person encourages to make that better, a statement only saying that its good and fine has basically not much to no worth.

            I think these GG topics and gaming ethics topics and the stuff that happened yesterday (?) with Baldurs Gate and its reviews about SJW are not really helping the gaming industry. Im not directly against it, but im against people trying to set them at positions where they thin kthey are ethically correct or trying to defend a group of people they didnt even understand in the first place, using words they have no idea what they mean (one example would be racism, basically no person in this industry using it ever had the idea that racism only is a thing because they think races exist while they are not, but try to make it a topic of them being so well placed with having a (i quote here the original sentence of the CEO: “We employ a very diverse staff of men and women of all races and orientations”), He basically has no idea about anything of that. Him even saying that he has a diverse staff is the exact opposite of what we need. Basically its making my work much harder (im a Social Worker and Social Scientist), because what we want is to have no differences in the chances of people. Encouraging that differences exist due to skin colour and gender make it harder to convince that there arent real differences at all, which makes it harder to get a social equality going where everyone gets the same chances.) Long bracket i know.

            TLDR: Ex Lions intensions are good and valid, he has strong points and a good approach and seems to hit the nail. I dont care which reasons a person has to not buy a product. But i think his/her reasons are as valid and ok as other reasons. When i decide to not buy something from Nestle because they suppress people with their water monopol in deserted areas, then thats my decision based on ethics. When i decide to not support a studio because a person there has a specific political stance i see as dangerous or dont want to support, then its as good as a reason.

    • malkav11 says:

      For me the campaign is the meat, in the sense that I have less than zero interest in multiplayer or the multiplayer-with-bots that constitutes sandbox maps. When I buy an RTS, it’s for the campaign. If that’s not the central emphasis of the singleplayer, well, Ashes probably isn’t for me. I know Sins certainly wasn’t.

      • draginol says:

        That’s the key thing here though:

        The sandbox isn’t MP with bots. While you could, just like in Sins, theoretically play the main maps (which are big) in multiplayer (just like you could in Sins), I doubt many people will try to.

        That said, of course, if the campaign is the meat of the game for you, this is probably not a game you’d necessarily get the value you deserve out of. It’s not that the campaign is bad, it’s just that it’s maybe 10 hours and imo, 10 hours isn’t worth $40 to $50.

        • malkav11 says:

          Is there some way the gameplay of skirmish mode differs from the multiplayer mechanics? Because if it’s just that human players wouldn’t have the attention span to tackle maps of that size/games of that length, then skirmishes are close enough to multiplayer for my purposes. Because ultimately, once I’ve fiddled with the units and seen how the factions match up, that’s my interest gone unless there’s narrative and scripted permutations on the gameplay to be had. I don’t begrudge people who get a lot of enjoyment out of mastery of systems and subtle variations in strategy, etc, but I’m looking for high-level variety and story, and skirmishes just don’t do that for long.

          • draginol says:

            Yea, probably the best way of putting it is if you didn’t like say Sins of a Solar Empire you probably won’t like Ashes skirmish either.

            That said, given how much people have expressed an interest in the story, we are happy to expand on that further.

            I’m not sure how technical you are but picture the development of a campaign as being like an iceberg. Nearly all the real work is putting together the underlying campaign system (the scripting, camera control APIs, triggers, UI, etc.). That part was all done.

            So in the future, we can do much more sophisticated story-based campaigns. We just (wrongly) assumed that people didn’t care about that.

        • kertain says:

          Howdy Brad I created an account here to comment on your post, not sure if you will see this or not.

          I have been playing RTS for years now and although I like Sins I would like it more if it had a good meaty campaign.
          I am planning on picking up Ashes but would be much more excited about it if it had a campaign.
          I really enjoy the StarCraft I and II campaigns, the old C&C (Red alert!) and Supcom campaigns and wish more modern RTS would do that.

          My 2c

      • PancakeWizard says:

        I’m tempted to agree with you, but then I remember it’s not unusual for skirmish mode to be the main part of an RTS, a campaigns are nearly always ‘training mode’ by spoon-feeding you unit types a bit at a time. I realise there are plenty that focus with good story in their campaigns, but skirmish mode is always where the games end up, surely?

        • malkav11 says:

          There is certainly an assumption among many people who make (and indeed, who play) RTSes that the point of the game is multiplayer and that the purpose of a campaign is primarily to act as a tutorial for the multiplayer mode, and perhaps secondarily to expose people to the setting of the game. I can’t speak as to whether this is actually what most consumers are looking for or not, but I think it does these games a disservice because ultimately campaigns are almost inevitably terrible tutorials for multiplayer. Scripted missions against bots don’t do much to replicate the multiplayer experience even if they manage to avoid common omissions like not letting you play one or more of the game factions in the campaign, locking off units or mechanics from the campaign mode, preventing the AI from expanding like a real player would, etc. But the flip side is that if they -think- they’re training you for multiplayer, that means they have to have the same balance, the same general mechanics, and all these other restrictions on the possibility space in the name of presenting something at least superficially similar to the multiplayer experience, and that does a disservice to people like me who aren’t there for multiplayer and don’t have any desire to replicate that experience.

          I think the correct approach to the RTS campaign is the one taken by games like Starcraft II and Dawn of War II, which offer dramatically different campaign gameplay compared to multiplayer – SCII with campaign specific units and upgrade mechanics as well as a variety of wildly creative scenarios, DOWII with a sort of squad ARPG take.

          You are probably correct that in most cases the skirmish/multiplayer modes are what have the most replay value, since once you’ve experienced a campaign mode you’ve probably little incentive to repeat it all that often. But that only holds true if those modes have play value for you, and they don’t for me. I play campaigns and then I move on to another game.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ericusson says:

      Don’t know about the Gamersgate issue but these last years Stardock has really step up their game from an obscure pre-indie editor to some really nice games below the AAA productions ( below in terms of investment).

      A the while keeping on editing titles like Stardew Valley or Starboard which they did not cut despite the long development time (and which I really liked my 2 hours try a few months ago).
      They make effort on communication, production, pricing, and mostly support for their games. So even if some of their titles just pass me over, I am quite happy to see them step up and contribute to titles that get more and more ambitious.

      • PancakeWizard says:

        ” below the AAA productions ( below in terms of investment)”

        The term your looking for is AA.

    • Ragnar says:

      I’m one of the many people who play RTS games for the campaign. I have no interest in the multiplayer, and I need the campaign to hold my interest. Sandbox skirmish grows old quickly.

      I think the multiplayer/skirmish folks are more vocal, and certainly more likely to spend tons of time with a game if they take to it, but I think there are just as many singleplayer gamers. Among my group of friends, 80% of us only play RTS games for the campaign.

  6. Tiger Teeth says:

    I agree with basically everything about this review, but this section

    And while units like the Artemis artillery and the more advanced Dreadnoughts are fun to steamroll around with, some of the units are so bland they don’t even stand out against the snowy, cratered ground. And they all look more or less the same, there’s very little distinct about the design or operation of each toy.

    Is complete nonsense. I haven’t had an opportunity to play around with the Substrate units yet, but for the PHC at least each of the units has its own clearly defined role. Some of them overlap (unless I’m missing something, there’s a not a whole lot of use in the Archer or the Hermes if you can build an Artemis/Pan, respectively), but they still fill a role as early/cheap options in their niches.

    The Brute is your basic tank unit- in the MMO sense. They’re cheap, numerous, and they can take a lot more damage than they put out- they’re there to draw fire from more important targets.

    The Archer is the artillery option at frigate level, and functions as the Brute’s reciprocal- fragile, but strong and long-ranged.

    The Hermes is the cheap scouting option- useful for early probing, but also as a radar provider for bigger armies later on.

    The Medic is exactly what it says on the tin- it’s not amazing at its job, but it makes a noticeable difference (and too strong active tanking in a game can be a balancing nightmare, so).

    The Zeus is a frigate-hosing cruiser; the lightning gun it uses has a chaining effect, and hits entire swathes of enemies in a single burst. As a direct upgrade to the Brute it’s something lacking- actually, it’s downright fragile for a unit that has to get so close to the enemy to fight.

    The Artemis is the Archer’s big sister, doing much the same thing but better- more rockets, longer range. As an area effect weapon it’s effective against large armies, but more those made up of cruisers and dreadnoughts than frigates (the wiki says it doesn’t do anything to frigates, but I don’t think that’s right).

    The Nemesis is a dedicated anti-dread cruiser, though it can be fairly effective against cruisers too. It’s actually a really good anti-dread platform- armies without them or dreads of their own will struggle to do anything against a dread, but four or five of these will take one out in no time at all.

    The Apollo is the anti-air/anti-drone cruiser- it’s the only unit that can even target drones, in fact.

    All of these have a distinct visual design and I haven’t had any trouble telling them apart at moderate/far zoom levels. Well, once in a while I’ll mistake a Hermes for an Archer, but that’s it.

    The dreads seem a bit less distinct to me- the Cronus and the Prometheus have very clear niches as the long-range and anti-dread option, but the Hyperion is… what? The tooltip suggests it’s supposed to be tanky, but while you can buy auto-healing and healer drone upgrades for it there’s nothing really on the hull itself that sells the concept. Its armament loadout doesn’t have much of a clear identity either- it’s a grab bag.

    I guess, sure, they’re all boxy floaty tank things that shoot weapons at curvy floaty tank things, and if you were looking for something a bit more avant-garde in your unit design I can see why it would disappoint you. But the spread seems quite varied and tightly designed to me.

    Oh, and you can get AA turrets in time for those bombers, but you have to be very fast and have engineers ready to go as soon as you get the warning.

    (The rest of the campaign was much easier, imo)

    • Znea says:

      I feel Supcom also suffered from the units not having any real character to them for the most part, especially the Aeon, everything felt floaty, and not there. Total Annihilation managed quite a large stable of units while maintaining distinct visual aspects to all.

      TA also didn’t have any silly limitations on which units could shoot at what. If want to tell by bombers to attack your fighters, who are you to stop them from trying.

      • Neutrino says:

        With SupCom Forged Alliance (not Supcom II) the depth is definitely there. It’s just that there is a bit of a learning curve to get over before you start to fully appreciate the differences between some of the units and the situations they are useful in.

        This is why it still has a very active community to this day. Watch some of these competitive match casts by the legendary caster Gyle and his commentary will highlight the depth of play involved.

        link to youtube.com

    • MartialDoctor says:

      Completely agree with you.

      Substrate has a very interesting mix of units. You should try them out. They play different from PHC.

  7. Thurgret says:

    Ashes of the Singularity would, to my mind, benefit hugely from moving away from the dependency on having to do lots of stuff quickly, especially early game. I refer primarily to the multiplayer, since that’s what I play RTSes for, and multiplayer matches here are, frustratingly, generally resolved within the first 10 minutes – at a point where one player has a clear advantage and the remainder of the game is them rolling over the other. I’ve only had one game which didn’t go like that, and I’ve played, I think, fifteen 1v1s. I am admittedly rubbish at it, and I’m not likely to improve much more, because I’m just unable to draw much entertainment from it, especially when I keep getting matched against people much higher-ranked than me.

    I’m not bad at RTSes. Not great, but I do decently with most. It’s just here, and the focus on the frantically-paced early game that I’m not sure I want to learn – and it really does feel frantic. I’ve been playing Company of Heroes 2 with a friend or two lately, and it feels positively sedate by comparison.

    I’m a big fan of the Wargame series, which some people – not many, just some – insist hinges on a successful early game (I disagree – you just need to not blunder, rather than to do anything decisive, early game), and which features a strong focus on the ‘macro’ game with some concentration on lower level stuff if fighting flares up at a particular point on a line or where high value units are involved.

    I sort of hoped to find that here, I guess, but instead it comes down to a strong, frantic early game, which generally decides the game, then in the unlikely event that the early game has been a stalemate, the less frantic successful direction of large blobs mid-late game, wherein, while I understand that individual units have roles, the intricacies of force composition and deployment cease to matter.

    • MartialDoctor says:

      I do agree with you on the first half of your argument. It is very decisive in a 1v1 at the beginning. I wouldn’t mind changes to affect that and I wouldn’t be surprised if, given some time, the devs do that.
      However, I strongly disagree with you about meta-unit composition in late game. Learning how to create successful meta-units to counter what the enemy will through at you is very important. If you just throw units around, you will be beaten by someone who thinks it through and understands the strategy to it. I’ve seen this happen on multiple occasions.

  8. Mr_Blastman says:

    I wish folks still played vanilla SupCom online. FA can suck my nuts, it ruined SupCom. Vanilla was wonderful while it lasted (six months)… if only a community for it still existed.

    • Znea says:

      I tried to go back to Vanilla after FA, but I couldn’t get over the UI improvements that FA added. Was there an option to play using only Vanilla stuff, but with the FA interface?

  9. Gordon Shock says:

    Meanwhile I am still waiting for a successor to Sins of a Solar Empire.

    Somebody on another site proclaimed that Ashes felt a bit like a planet bound SOASE.

    Any truth to that claim?

    • nairb121 says:

      “Sins of a Supreme Commander”

    • GiantPotato says:

      Ironclad is still around and hasn’t announced anything in the last year, so I’m sure Sins 2 is rattling around somewhere.

    • MartialDoctor says:

      I was a big fan of Sins of a Solar Empire. I would say there are similarities between this and Sins but there are differences too.
      First off, the games are much quicker in Ashes than in Sins which, to me, is actually a good thing. Sins games could take quite a long time to play out.
      Secondly, I’d say Sins is more complicated than Ashes. It has a higher learner curve as there is more to it. That doesn’t mean there is less strategy in Ashes; it’s just not as complex.
      If you liked Sins, I’d be surprised if you didn’t like Ashes. My only complaint now is that Ashes seems to be a bit more geared to offensive play than to defensive play and turtling. I may be wrong in that but I have yet to see a really good player turtle much.
      I’m not complaining much, though, as I like how the game gets right into the thick of battle in the beginning.

  10. draginol says:

    What, specifically, do you think I do that involves me using my platform to support GG? To clear: I absolutely support ethical behavior in gaming journalism and that there is a real problem.

    If you had been through the absolutely deplorable reporting I received at the hands of agenda driven games media, I think you would appreciate that there are problems in the games media.

    But I don’t support anyone attacking anyone regardless of their beliefs. People are entitled to their opinion. That’s why I don’t like it when people try to boycott game sites. I don’t like corporations or groups trying exert pressure on media organizations.

    When we try to economically punish people for their politics, we walk a dangerous line imo. I saw someone here in another thread claim that I “fire liberals” which is a typical misrepresentation of the analogy I often give: If we, as a society, are going to start trying to economically punish individuals (whether that be the CEO of Mozilla or down to little ole me) because we don’t like their opinions where does it end? Should people start being fired from their jobs because they’re a Republican or a Democrat (and by the way, make no mistake ones politics is not a protected class, people think it would be illegal to do that, it’s not, any employment attorney can explain the harsh truths on that).

    Personally, I would never hire or fire anyone based on their politics. Hell, the Ashes campaign was mostly coded by a (his words) “Proud SJW”. Even though he and I argue politics, we are still friends.

    • Ex Lion Tamer says:

      I suspect both of our moderated comments just posted (mine is now buried mid-thread above). This should be a fun exercise in guessing which word(s) trigger the auto-mod (although I definitely understand why RPS does that).

      Honestly, I share some of your reservations about large-scale economic boycotts; I’ve had plenty of arguments with people lately about the best mechanism to respond to, say, North Carolina’s new law. In this case, I have no interest in organizing/calling for a widespread boycott of products you develop/publish – I just cannot morally handle the idea of my own small incremental contribution to your platform, given how you’ve used it in the past few years. You’ve, as I said above, given approval, encouragement, and cover to a disturbing scorched-earth online group that disproportionately targets outspoken women in the games industry. You personally seem to delight in going after Qui-n (*apologies, guessing that may be an auto-mod trigger). As you did just now, you employ the “ethics in gaming journalism” smokescreen for what is really a political crusade.

      As I also said above, I am perfectly comfortable with major political/ideological differences, just not with all tactical applications of them. While I think you’re arguing past me a bit here, I appreciate you engaging.

      To repeat myself, I knew you by reputation in a positive way long before the GG business began. I remembered your position on DRM/piracy. I have copies of Sins and GCII in my library from back then. I’d love to add Ashes. I saw you earlier tonight demonstrate restraint by making a GG-adjacent complaint about someone who had blocked you reviewing Ashes…without naming them, which prevents a dogpile. I appreciate that, and I hope it’s a sign that you are learning ways to disagree sharply but responsibly. I (and I’m sure many others that fall more on my side, including RPS I suspect) would love to join forces on condemning bad industry practices without putting small devs or individual writers or lower-level employees in the crosshairs, as much as we will disagree inevitably on tons of other things.

      • FriendlyFire says:

        Do you see what you just did? You put words into his mouth. You’ve straight up decided that because he agrees with parts of the movement, he must agree with all of it.

        This is why we can’t have nice things. This is why the anti-GG brigade is regularly seen as laughably disconnected from reality.

        • Ex Lion Tamer says:

          I actually would appreciate you pointing out a single instance where I’ve done that.

          • Premium User Badge

            Nauallis says:

            Are you a troll or just stupid?

          • Ex Lion Tamer says:

            Feel free to twitter-search his handle and Qui-n by name and scroll back to the beginning to see how long he’s been at it, to take just one example. Unlike you lot, I don’t make this stuff up. I stick to what I actually see someone say and do.

          • draginol says:

            I don’t know if you’re aware but the only time I’ve interacted with Q has been AFTER she has sicced her mob on me. I have no use for her mainly because she has maliciously and without cause sent her followers after me — even before ggate.

          • Ex Lion Tamer says:

            I would love to know how you defend your attacks against her in Sept/Oct of 2014 before anything you mentioned happened.

      • draginol says:

        “I would love to know how you defend your attacks against her in Sept/Oct of 2014 before anything you mentioned happened.”

        That’s easy:

        First, I didn’t. I don’t think I even corresponded with her at all that year. My only comment on her was in an interview for The Escapist where I explicitly stated that “I feel bad for her” and that “no one deserves to go through what she has”.

        Second, the first time she sent a mob at me was in Summer 2013 when we acquired the Star Control IP, long before her difficulties showed up. Her history of bad online behavior began long before 2014.

  11. Caiman says:

    I like RTS games, but I’d pay good money for an easy one! I mean, I usually get half a dozen missions in, if I’m lucky, and then get steamrollered by the AI because I’m not fast enough. I usually find I’m enjoying them immensely up to that point, but it seems everyone else wants advanced AI opponents. I’m just not as fast as I used to be with my mouse anymore, but I still want to kill some time having fun building stuff and blowing other shit up.

  12. Unsheep says:

    The old-school nature of this game is actually what drew me to it, I haven’t been interested in modern RTS games like StarCraft 2 and Planetary Annihilation.

    Also, Planetary Annihilation is an online multiplayer-focused game. Ashes of the Singularity is offered as an offline game (on GOG) and has plenty of single-player content. So to me the two games make for a poor comparison.

    For my taste Ashes does what it does really well, I don’t need it to be ‘the most original and innovative game ever’, its a cool RTS game.

  13. Komutan says:

    I don’t agree that this game is very speed-clicky.

    Among other well known RTS titles, I can think of only the Wargame series which requires less APM than this game.

    • Phinor says:

      I’d actually say Wargame series requires a lot more APM than Ashes. At least to play competently, no idea what high level of play requires. In fact once you learn the basics, Ashes feels really relaxing compared to most RTS games as long as you utilize auto build and other basic features. I have to say I haven’t tried the ascendancy campaign yet but I did hear plenty about mission 4 before they issued a patch specifically for mission 4.

      It feels a bit bare bones though, much like Gal Civ 3 was on release. There’s a good core game but it needs a bit more content and variety without becoming too complex. There’s big plans for future Ashes content so we’ll see. For me it’s not yet Supreme Commander killer but it is on the right path and has secured a spot in our LAN parties already.

  14. UncleLou says:

    A lack of walls (as far as I know) means I am out. Yes, I am serious.

    Also, we had RTS games with great terraforming tools 16 (!) years ago, still waiting for one since. :-/

    • Arona Daal says:

      Terraforming…. Try Zero-K.You can lift and lower Terrain in that one.

      Zero-k , beside Supcom Fa, comes closest to be a TA Successor.
      Also best UI ever
      ,want your army to form a giant Smiley while marching into the enemy Base? No Problem.

      Btw, its based on the free Spring engine, which actually also has a pure TA remake,but cant remember the Name.

  15. Riaktion says:

    So, is this the RTS with no Micro Management? Can I build a force and order them to do whatever it is I want them to do and they will just look after themselves and fight intelligently (picking targets that makes sense for them to pick etc)?

    I know Sup Com does this really, Company of Heroes to a degree… in a nutshell I don’t enjoy micro at all.. so… yeah, how is the micro in this one? Anyone have any thoughts?

    • MartialDoctor says:

      The game has very little micro, it is true. You focus more on overall strategy and development.
      The AI will pick targets for you in general. You can pick specific targets (like buildings or large targets, like dreadnoughts) but you don’t do much in terms of selecting targets for your armies (meta-units).

      • Riaktion says:

        Well that sounds promising, the less micro the better IMHO, that’s why I tend to play RTS on Easy :)

  16. heyhellhi says:

    the fact that Brendan Caldwell recommended Planetary Annihilation, aka the game that killed kickstarting video games because Uber ripped off its customers so much that its games are full of negative reviews, they had to make a “new” version to escape them, Uber had a failed kickstarter because they screwed over fans, and doesn’t mention this in his review over Ashes of the Singularity, is again proof of what I continue to say about RPS’ really shitty writers with a lack of knowledge of games themselves, how to research and even write. Just have Alice, Pippa, and Tim Stone write from now on, okay? I’ve been saying this all along. These are your only good writers. That Dark Souls 3 review was so pompous, self-fart sniffing tripe that tried to be some sort of deep artful and thoughtful piece that if you tried to hand it to any university professor, they’d not only give you back your cum-stained self masturbatory paper an F-, but they’d also tell you to leave the class and never come back.

    Again, only let Pippa, Alice and Tim write things. The rest of you are subpar beyond belief and so full of yourselves. They on the other hand, have fun with what they’re writing… because guess what? They’re video games. It’s supposed to be fun.

    • bill says:

      From just above the comment box:

      We encourage you to disagree with us. However, we will not tolerate spitefulness or rudeness.

  17. MartialDoctor says:

    There is, actually, a lot more to this game then Brendan realized. Meta-unit composition is much more important than this review let on to. Learning unit counters and the best combination of units to form meta-unit is imperative.
    The game is very much a strategy game and there is much more strategy involved than just “building up massive amounts of units and sending them.” If you simply do that, you will be slammed by any of the tougher AIs or any good player.
    You must learn how to expand well, protect yourself from air attacks, sneak attacks, etc. You must balance expansion, unit creation, and economy upgrades. Learning when, and where, to build defenses… I could go on but you probably get the picture.
    There is speed involved in that you must be quick thinking and reacting. However, it is still very much a strategy game, just not a slow paced one. It is not a micro intense speed game like Starcraft or Dawn of War II.

  18. bill says:

    It might be because I’ve only seen screenshots, but this game looks about 10 years old to me. I assume it must look much better at high res and in motion, because people keep talking about it looking great and it looks like something from the 90s in screenshots.

  19. KD7BCH says:

    Game is missing many RTS advancements made with SC/FA. The only thing this has going for it is DX12. Multi-threading is great. And in 2018 when you either complete the product or license it to another developer who will build a more fleshed out RTS then great.