DOS Boot: Ascendancy had brilliant worlds and a dunce of an AI

ascendancy_5

DOS Boot is just Brock digging into old DOS/Windows games and talking half-remembering cool and bizarre experiences that are only available on abandon-ware sites at this point. Weekends should be for having fun and by god, we’re going to have some wholesome gosh dang fun on RPS Weekends.

My introduction to the 4x genre (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) came through a lesser known game from 1995. Made by an incredibly small team, the game slipped through the cracks as the mid-90s got flooded by 4x games. The one I wound up with, perhaps just by luck of the draw, was Ascendancy. And if you’re trying to compete with comparable titles like the Master of Orion series, and are doing so on a budget, you’d better have some unique, attention grabbing gameplay elements. I’ll let the Wikipedia entry show you just how much of a splash Ascendancy made: “Several reviewers praised the game for having great graphics, being entertaining, and being fun to play.” Being entertaining and being fun to play. Whoops.

Ascendancy follows all the of the basic paths you might expect. You pick one of 21 different alien races and start on a single planet. You build up a population, your factories, and research labs that start down one of the longest research trees I’ve ever seen. Eventually, you build a starship and begin zooming around the galaxy, where you’ll encounter new life and new civilizations. You can take paths of diplomacy or begin destroying or enslaving entire worlds, while doing battle in a 3D rotating view of each star cluster.

Ascendancy always deserved better, because the bones of the game were strong. The universe was diverse beyond all measure and each planet was a new surprise, but the micromanagement of your empire (which expands quickly) becomes a living Hell. The same AI that couldn’t manage your colonies couldn’t manage any of the other civilizations you were in competition with either. Even on the most antagonistic settings, it was almost impossible not to win. I had to artificially hold off victory conditions if I wanted to keep exploring the universe.

Also, the game had incredibly loud click sound effects for every single selection you made, and these sounds could not be disabled. If you watch any of the Let’s Play videos embedded below, you may want to just pre-mute.

The game was ported to iPhone and iPad back in 2012 and was well received. The original team took this opportunity to include numerous updates and fixes, including improved UI and group ship movement orders. This was also laying the groundwork for The Logic Factory to do a sequel. Unfortunately, Ascendancy just straight up disappeared from the store and there have been no updates on why / where / possibility of a sequel since 2014. The official site is offline and the domain name is for sale. So. This is probably the end of the line. Bummersauce.

17 Comments

  1. left1000 says:

    So when I was a kid, I got computer gaming world magazine. A demo for this came in it. It appeared to be the full game limited to oh, the first 50turns or so. I played that like dozens of times over, never bought the game, because I was a kid.

    Fond memories though.

  2. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I loved Ascendancy so much. It avoided so much tedium by having its time advancement system effectively be “fast forward until the next decision I need to make.”

    The Archaeoxenological Digs could contain any tech from the tree, so I had one game where the second best weapon in the game unlocked about 150 days in, so I unleashed a fleet of the biggest hulls I could build (size Small), armoured like cardboard and wrapping paper, with feeble engines that struggled to make it across a system in less than a couple of weeks, filled to bursting with primitive power reactors, all to deliver just one singularity projector into battle and utterly obliterate the enemy. That galaxy learned to fear my Battle Bees.

    • Azhrarn says:

      Agreed, I spent so much time on Ascendancy. :)
      The various species had pretty unique looks too, which was quite different from all the roughly humanoid species in Master of Orion and Orion 2.
      Also, trying to find the optimal range for the Myrmidonic Carbonizer (potentially the most potent weapon in the game, but very harsh build-up and fall-off damage, rendering it nearly useless unless you were at exactly the right distance to the target).

    • Apologised says:

      There was also a design error where the component selector in the Ship Design screen would always remember the last item you selected ACROSS GAME SAVES IF NEEDS BE. So, sometimes you’d start a new game and there still waiting was an end game piece of tech.

      So you could make ONE ridiculous earth murdership or whatever, but that was it.
      Unless you wanted to abuse cross-loading saves or something, and as Brock has already pointed out, this game was easy enough as is.

  3. Wahooka says:

    Loved Ascendancy
    Loved the art, and how most races had their own music that was indicative of their outlook. However, balance-wise the game had some issues. Some races were just too powerful and when you discover the wave scatterer (passive shield) you can build ships that just can’t be destroyed or run out of energy . It was great fun though!
    Used to love playing minions and govorom (borgs and druids).
    What were your favorite races?

  4. Vinraith says:

    My favorite space 4X of its day (suck it MOO). Far more unique, involving, and expansive than any strategy game I’d played prior (and most I’ve played since). There was a latter day “aggressor” patch for the AI that made it a bit stronger but, really, it’s never a problem that was overcome. It’s a crying shame, I think I’d still be playing it if it weren’t for that.

  5. Sarvok says:

    Despite the issues with game balance, AI and micromanagement, stuff that never really bothered me as a kid, Ascendancy was one of my favourite strategy games that I sank countless hours into. Been almost 10 years since I last played it, might have to change that and start up another game soon.

  6. Someoldguy says:

    Loved playing it despite the weak AI.

  7. c-Row says:

    After my Amiga 1200 started to fry several PSUs I had finally scraped together the money to switch to an early Pentium PC. With Warcraft II, Dark Forces and Command & Conquer released the same year I would have been spoilt for choice, yet it was Ascendancy I bought first after having played it at a friend’s, and I still have fond memories of it these days.

  8. Ejia says:

    This sounds pretty great, and if I had discovered it back then it may have been my space 4X of choice. As it is, I tried the glut of shareware titles and finally settled on Space Empires.

  9. RanDomino says:

    I played this in the mid-2000s! I don’t remember much except that I wished that it had been the universal ancestor of space 4x’s instead of MOO. The 3D map was really well done.

  10. popej says:

    I played quite a bit of this. It was great but I remember Civ 2 overshadowing it at the time

    Somewhat similar, did anyone play Supremacy? link to gamesnostalgia.com

    Apparently it was called Overlord in the US. Not to be confused with the evil minion herding game.

  11. Gomisan says:

    I still have my original CD somewhere close at hand, though its been many years since I actually tried to install and play the game. I remember it quite fondly, though, yes, I do also remember that it was lacking a bit in some departments.

    If I’d known there was an iPad version I probably would have picked it up, it seems like it might have been a pretty good fit for the platform.

    Ahh the nostalgia

  12. Admore says:

    It was a fun, interesting game and extremely well-done game. A true stunner for its time in terms of looks. Yes, you always won.

    I was in Austin at the time, and I met the folks from Logic Factory at a couple of events and they were nice. I hope they’re doing well at whatever they’re doing. I wish they were still making games like Ascendancy.

  13. Apocalypse says:

    There was an mod to make the AI somewhat better. :)

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