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

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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.

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Brock Wilbur

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