When Ashes of the Singularity came to market in March of 2016, it established a pretty strong showing as a massive-scale real-time strategy that, while not quite on the level as a game like Supreme Commander, brought its own super vast level of strategic fun to players everywhere. Ashes only suffered from a few setbacks in its original release, such as a pretty lackluster story and some boring environments, but Oxide games has returned with a new standalone expansion in the form of Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation. With new environments, units, buildings, strategic abilities, multiplayer options, and interface options, Escalation does exactly what the title implies on numerous fronts, although there are some unfortunate spots it just can’t help but retread.
There was probably an amicable way to solve this. Oh well. Time to die.
Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation takes players back to the far future where humans have evolved to reach a sort of ascension. These post-humans have the ability to form a neural link with constructs on planets from vast distances away. It also allowed them to create AIs that could do the same. Unfortunately, as the Post-Human Coalition begins to colonize planets in the depths of space, a mysterious force known as the Substrate begins to lash out, oppose them in vast planetary battles, and practically kill post-humans via their neural links.
Following a hefty conflict with the Substrate, players find themselves in the role of a servant to one of the most powerful AIs in the galaxy, known simply as Haalee, who has observed a great threat on the way and goes renegade in hopes of stopping it. The additions to the single player campaign come in the Memories and Escalation campaigns. Memories retreads experiences from various parts of Hallie’s existence alongside the Post Human Coalition. Escalation follows Haalee’s escape from the PHC to attempt to prepare for the aforementioned mysterious force that threatens to engulf the galaxy.
It's a little sad when the robotic characters have more emotion than the human ones.
Both campaigns have a bit more to them than the previous drab experience the original Ashes offered. The missions are interesting and almost none follow a simple “beat the other guy” format. You’ll be working to infiltrate enemy bases or bolster your defenses as you hold out for an escape, but just like the original single player, there are few of them and the experience is over far too soon. It doesn’t help that while there are some decent actors delivering the flavor for the story, quite a few of them, particularly some of the Post-Humans feel a bit phoned in for their parts of their delivery.
The big draw is still the multiplayer and skirmish modes in Escalation. Map variety wasn’t that great previously, but Escalation brings a couple new environments in the form of Crystal and Lava worlds and some vast new maps. The huge maps can host up to fourteen players in a single game and show Escalation in its absolute grandest form. Whether you’re playing against human players or AI, the newly sized maps will see an incredible amount of detail going on at the same time as you either work solo or with a time to win the day in massive multiplayer campaigns.
Small arms are paramount, but Dreadnaughts are still the most powerful force in the field.
That said, gameplay takes a pretty strong upturn in Escalation. Quite a few new options come to your arsenal. Ashes has always been about fielding a massive mixture of cannon fodder, specialized units, and massive capital ships with some fast moving smaller forces to run sorties as you attempt to run your enemies over with the better strength of numbers and specialties in your main forces. This time around, heavy aircraft bring an extra tier to the sky like the medium-size cruisers to the light frigates on the ground. They pack a hefty punch and add a solid bonus to strafing runs on enemy forces and bases. These angry birds make it more fun and important than ever to field a decent air force in the game.
You’re going to need that extra firepower too because bases got a substantial upgrade with improvable defenses. Nearly every turret and defense can now be upgraded to a second level and the difference between a level one and level two turret can be the difference between being able to ward off a small poking force and mowing down a small army in no time. Orbital abilities got a substantial buff too. Where you could once only deploy instant abilities for the most part, new additions include the ability to drop special turrets anywhere on the exposed map with enough resources. When you’ve got the enemy on the ropes, dropping a turret near their main base structure can make short time in cutting their main structure to ribbons. That or you can drop a timely turret in the middle of a force advancing on one of your resource outposts to buy precious time and protect your supply line till you can deliver a proper force there. These droppable turrets add a new strategic edge to Escalation that’s much appreciated
You may want to throw every unit you've got into an all-out offense, but leaving your base or supply lines exposed can ruin you.
There are quite a few new ground and support units too, though few of them have the impact of the new aircraft and orbital digs. There’s a unit that can new Harvester unit that’s pretty great because it can siphon resources off an enemy supply point, but Escalation is still mostly about putting together massive armies for brutal and chaotic fights. For this fact, the new ground units sort of get lost in the fog of it all. Not to mention, control is still a little iffy. Ashes features a nice little hotkey that makes your selected armies form up in a tight little formations. The problem is that on narrow paths, these units will jitter and shuffle slowly to get through and try to keep rank at the same time. It’s frustrating to say the least when you’re trying to go on the attack in a hurry.
One of the best changes to come to the game is the new Strategic Zoom function. You could always zoom in and out extensively in Ashes, but Escalation takes this to a level on par with Supreme Commander. You can now jump out to a distant grid like map of the region to see just about everything in a snapshot. From your bases to the very composition of your armies, everything is ridiculously easy to read and you can zoom back to a spot you need to be in a practical instant. The Strategic Zoom is easily the most versatile and fantastic function to come to Ashes as it makes quick base and army management easier than ever.
Graphics & Performance
Minimum: OS: 64-bit Windows 10 / 8.1 / 7 Processor: Quad-core Intel / AMD Processor Memory: 6 GB RAM Graphics: 2 GB GDDR5 NVidia GeForce 660 / AMD R7 360 or better DirectX: Version 11 Network: Broadband Internet connection Storage: 27 GB available space Sound Card: DirectX Compatible Sound Card Additional Notes: 1920x1080 Display Resolution or Higher Recommended: OS: 64-bit Windows 10 Processor: Intel Core i5 or Equivalent Memory: 16 GB RAM Graphics: 4 GB GDDR5 NVidia GTX 970 / AMD R9 390 or better DirectX: Version 12 Network: Broadband Internet connection Storage: 30 GB available space Sound Card: DirectX Compatible Sound Card Additional Notes: 1920x1080 Display Resolution or Higher
Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation does a good job in the detail of its units and buildings. Get up close and personal and you’ll see details on each moving part that is both interesting and appealing to look at. Each ship and building have their own personal touch that make them just a little bit cool and varied against each other type. The scenery itself isn’t extravagantly unique. The map designs serve up some terrain and a theme based on what type of planet you’re working with and they do their job adequately, but it’s not that much to rave and rant about. The lava worlds are probably the most visually interesting for their cracked and varied design with the chasms and rivers of magma running in between.
Strategic View lets you easily get a look at the whole battlefield situation in a jiffy.
Performance-wise, if you’ve played the original Ashes of the Singularity, you’ve got nothing to fear here. Escalation plays just fine off its core components. For as much chaos as you might see on the screen at any given time, the game handles everything going on incredibly well. The closest you might come to seeing a frame rate drop is in being extremely close to the action. Zooming out and moving between scenery is practically crystal clear. For everything that goes on in each and every battle, Escalation is a game that handles its moving parts extremely well.
Ashes of the Singularity was a real-time strategy that didn’t really play with kid gloves in its gameplay. Escalation takes that a step further. This is a game made for the veterans or, at the very least, those who are experienced in what it takes to succeed in this type of game. If you don’t come out of the gate with a game plan and ready to swing for the fences, you’ve almost certainly already lost. Despite the difficulty curve catering to the RTS faithful, Escalation gives players plenty of tools to learn its tricks with. There’s a decent tutorial and the first missions in each campaign cater to a sense of education and adaptation. Even if you’re not an RTS master, take a good look at those first few missions and Escalation will happily teach you what’s most important.
ASHES OF THE SINGULARITY VERDICT
Escalation capitalizes on the highs and stumbles on the same lows of what made the original Ashes of the Singularity good. Between the new aircraft, cool new orbitals, and fantastic design of the Strategic Zoom function, there’s a lot here to love for any fan of the mass real-time strategy. It’s a shame that the story still can’t always keep up with the stellar additions to the gameplay and that some of the new ground units get swept up in the sheer way that the game is built, but Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation is still one of the coolest, most smooth, and vast real-time strategies out there. Even if the single player doesn’t grab your attention, there’s enough in the multiplayer and AI battles to keep players invested for a good, long time.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Just when things are looking their darkest, using up that surplus of resources to hit the enemy with an orbital strike and drop a turret inside their ranks is a tide-turning joy.
Aircraft, support, and defense additions are great
Strategic Zoom is a perfect enhancement to unit control
Vast and large maps make for some fantastic multiplayer and AI skirmishes
Orbitals are more fun than ever
Story still not that great
Some ground units feel extraneous in the grand scheme