Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation
Sins of a Solar Empire wasn’t just a super-cool title, it was a game that absorbed a large portion of my life. Sins single-handedly reinvented the RTS wheel by offering gamers a real time experience which featured a seriously effective strategic zoom component. Zooming all the way out made it possible to manage one of three burgeoning space empires from a more galactic perspective. Conversely, one could zoom all the way back in and behold space battles much closer up, as well as opportunities for micromanagement. It was really a gaming phenomenon that hasn’t been duplicated since (come on Sins 2!).
Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock, the same company that created Sins, wanted to recreate some of that mystical, grand-scale RTS goodness with (another killer title alert) Ashes of the Singularity. The original Ashes debuted some seven months ago, and although it received high praise with regards to its capability to conduct massive battles, it was critiqued (rather harshly) for its lackluster campaign as well as its generic, ho-hum environments.
Having followed Mr. Wardell and company for many years now, when he says that he listens to his fans out there, it’s not just lip service. Stardock is a highly responsive and adaptive enterprise, and so sure enough, we have the stand alone follow up to Ashes, this one titled Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation. Escalation features a much more fleshed out campaign, allowing you to get a better idea of the game’s backstory, and shores up many of the nagging issues which plagued the original entry.
Escalation tells the tale of the Post Human Coalition AKA PHC, who have evolved to the point to where they can control matter through neural nets over vast distances. As they began to set out and harvest materials on distant planets, a new threat emerges in the AI controlled Substrate. The two sides are soon locked in an epic struggle for dominance and territorial control, and you the player take the role of a humble servant within the PHC. Escalation’s campaign is head and shoulders above the original game’s offering, story-wise, and does a great deal to immerse players in its highly developed universe.
Gameplay-wise, Escalation sports many new features that also enhance the core gaming experience. One of the main complaints about the original Ashes was that there weren’t enough defensive structures for players to build in order to protect their bases. Since I am much more of a turtler myself, I tended to agree with this sentiment, as instead of being able to independently build up a huge assault force, I always had to field a defensive force which stuck close to home. Escalation takes care of that by offering new defensive structures which are even upgradable. This allows more defensive-minded players to build up their bases and likewise protect them from early rushes more effectively.
There are a total of nine new units to play with, including a brand new strategic bomber and a unit that heals nearby friendlies. The new units are a nice addition, but Escalation also went the extra mile by re-designing old units, making them much more distinctive looking than they previously were. Admittedly, when you are zoomed out past a certain level, you still can’t really distinguish many of the units from one another. But the added stylistic touches do come in handy when you’re engaged in smaller scale conflicts.
There are also new ambush units for each faction which can be teleported across the map for bushwhacking parties. This adds an element of surprise and can turn the tables of any pitched battle, especially ones that are deadlocked. Thankfully, Escalation also bumps up the game’s map sizes, which many (including myself) thought were a little too small before. The new maps are a welcome addition, and suit the grand scale that the game strives for. But they’re not just bigger—they’re much more detailed as well, and feature more in the way of varying levels of elevation, as well as terrain types.
In Escalation, you really get the sense that you are engaging in massive battles across sprawling alien planets, which not only look fantastic, but are much easier to manage this time around. One thing that really helps the increased sense of scale is the new strategic zoom (yes!). Well, new at least within this series. Stardock went back into their tool chest and borrowed this excellent feature from their Sins franchise, and it works so well in Escalation that I seriously wonder why it wasn’t included in the original Ashes.
In all, Escalation not only increased the scale of the original game, it gives everything a once-over cosmetically as well. From the retooled units, gussied up new environments, new effects, and bolstered defenses, Escalation is a must have for any fan of strategy games, and lovers of science fiction in particular. It impressed me so much that I’d seriously consider it a dark horse contender for strategy or RTS game of the year.
Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation offers some excellent visuals. However, you have to have an equally fast gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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