Solid real-time strategy games are hard to find these days as the genre is not as diverse as it once was. Oxide Games and Stardock Entertainment sought to claim a top seat with the sci-fi RTS Ashes of the Singularity. The original's aim was to push the limits on hardware usage by being one of the first games to use the Vulkan API as well as requiring a minimum of 2GB GPU memory.
Needless to say from a visual and technical standpoint, Ashes was impressive, everything about the aesthetic and performance of the game was well executed (if you have the rig for it). The project started off in Steam’s early access program and had somewhat of a rough development, but after some more time and improvements, the game began to find its equilibrium. After Which Ashes became very popular with players, selling over 100,000 units within six months and the game itself only had a minor budget with only 4 developers and 2 artists working on the game.
Now Stardock is creating Escalation, a standalone expansion to the game that will contain the entire base game plus the new content. It’s very similar to what they did with Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity and Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion. The original game will still continue receiving updates and DLC, but Escalation will evolve to be more sophisticated.
Escalation will attempt to not only refine the base game, but also expand and add depth to its core systems. The introduction of new units, structures and other options will give players more choices on and off the battlefield. Stardock themselves say that the escalation is for the ”Power Users” in essence, the expansion is for the advanced players and veterans of the game.
New Structures Defences and Units
Both the Substrate and the PHC factions are receiving multiple new structures and defenses to play around with, which adds to the depth of strategy. Buildings can now be upgraded into more powerful variants such as all the new PHC Advanced Sky Factory and Substrate Aviary that build advanced aircraft.
The Substrate have had an economic makeover that now allows them to no longer waste resources. They now have unlimited storage, so they can gather infinite amounts of Metal and Radioactives for when they need them, which is handy for substrate players. The Substrate have also acquired new units such as the Masochist, which becomes more deadly as it is damaged, or the Caregiver which is a late game unit that prevents enemy orbital abilities from targeting the army it is a part of.
The PCH have also gained multiple new units to play with including the new giant Hera tank, the hit and run Instigator and the large gunship Marauder. The new units on both sides allow for more tactics to be deployed by players but one significant change to both sides in the new turret system.
The new turret additions plan to allow players to better defend territory and harass the enemy lines. It seems Stardock are implementing Supreme Commander style gameplay elements to a game that has already been heavily compared to the beloved RTS. The turret additions allow for far more anti-aircraft defense as well as new options for ground control.
Strategic Zoom and Orbital Abilities
The added strategic zoom function gives players the tool to zoom out to a new strategic map that shows a holographic display of the entire battlefield. This in turn should give players better control of large armies across the map and help keep better track of enemy movements. It’s a feature that many players have asked for and should now appease those late game giant army grumbles.
A major addition are the new orbital abilities that allow players to use a multitude of different situational abilities to improve the chances of winning with their armies. The Substrate have acquired things like the Serpentine Turret, which you can drop down anywhere you have vision of, including behind enemy lines.
The PHC on the other hand, have gained abilities that buff production or call down turrets for emergency situations. The new abilities once again reinforce the idea of more tactical depth and situational playstyle choice for players. The new orbital abilities coupled with the new turrets and units should provide some much needed diversity to playstyles towards the late game’s antics.
Map sizes are getting even bigger with Escalation, with the largest map in the expansion totaling 96km to that of the base games biggest map of 72km. Bigger maps are all well and good, but they don’t really offer much new, so that's where the new worlds come in.
Escalation features new terrain environment’s to fight over including all new crystal worlds and lava worlds, with all types featuring a dynamic weather system that will include passing storms and clouds. From a gameplay stand point however, the biggest news comes in the form of multi-tier terrain.
New multi-tier terrain will mean players can take the high ground advantage against their foes. The terrain might keep you from being able to get to your enemy, or might provide excellent places to bombard your enemy from. It’ll become about using the map terrain to your tactical advantage in both offensive and defensive situations.
Game Options and Campaign
The main story of Ashes of the Singularity will continue in the expansion with 12 new missions to play through. The 12 missions are divided into two campaigns, one for each faction. The Substrate campaign will chronicle the events of the Imminent Crisis from Haalee’s perspective and explainn why she gave birth to the Substrate.
The PHC campaign documents the internal rebellion within as they fight against the Substrate and how the rebellions threaten to destroy everything. Alongside the new campaigns are the new game options, which will allow players to configure the worlds they want to play on. There are 9 new map option sliders in both multiplayer and single player games.
These options will allow you to customize the map you want to play by fighting on worlds without the atmosphere to support aircraft, increasing resource production, granting bonuses to entrenched armies, and more. It gives players the tools to create some interesting multiplayer matchups with unique map settings that will potential change the way you play.
As it stands both versions of Ashes of the Singularity will receive content updates and fixes for some time to come. Not much detail is known about what shape that will take in the future, however it could be said with a varying degree of certainty that more maps, story missions and new units will be on the way at some point.
Players won’t be waiting too long for all the new content as it's slated to release this winter. For early adopters who are unhappy paying twice for the base game, they need not worry. Stardock have stated that ”We are going to give early adopters of Ashes of the Singularity a “season pass” to Escalation that will last until the end of 2017. That contains all the new content created for Escalation that they'll get for free (provided they register with us, as we need to know when they got the game in order to give them the DLC).”
Ashes of the Singularity Escalation could be the right thing at the right time for the game. The new options, units and multitude of additions will satisfy players new and old. It looks from the outset that the game is heading in the right direction for both sets of players.
Most Anticipated Feature – New Units
Seriously though, the Masochist, a unit that gets stronger as it dies, that sounds like fun - I’ll take twelve.