Ashes of the Singularity is not the first RTS game I’ve played, but it’s the first time I’ve played an RTS in a few years, at least. Sure, I might own Starcraft II, but there hasn’t been anything new in the RTS genre since, well, really since it was invented as a game genre in the first place.
Ashes of the Singularity, or Ashes as I’ll refer to the game moving forward, really made a name for itself as being one of the very first DirectX 12 titles on the market. Since then other games have come out, but Ashes was one of the first, and they also provided one of the first DirectX 12 benchmarks, too. Was it enough, though?
Once you dig into Ashes, you realize that, for the most part, it’s the same game play you’re accustomed to in an RTS. There are a few way in which Ashes tries to make the game play unique, though, and the first of that is the concept of turning a random group of units into a single unit, an Army. This mechanic is really helpful on a couple of levels. The first reason this mechanic is helpful is because, as you progress in your gameplay, it doesn’t take long before there are too many units on the battle field to try to control individually, and having them all grouped as a single unit, even though they might be 50 or more, is really helpful when trying to move around the map or in a battle. The second reason this is helpful is that, once formed into an army, and if well balanced, they can sort of go on auto-pilot. You can tell the army where to move to, and where to attack, and provided there are no bottle necks on the map, the army will move as one cohesive unit, whereas when not an army, the faster units will blaze ahead of the rest and you end up trickling in, getting obliterated one unit at a time, instead of a good battle.
Base expansion is the second area where Ashes tries to introduce a new spin on a common mechanic in the RTS genre. Instead of being able to expand wherever the player would like to, there has to be a connection of power generators and Terrenium from the expansion base location all the way back to the main base. This forces the expansion to be sprawling, as it is very easy to start at one point on the map, and the follow the expansion lines across the entire map and slowly win a match based purely on map control gained as a result of expansion. If, for some reason, the expansion bases are overrun, and there is a gap in between one base and the main base, the resources generated are null, and don’t count towards overall resource generation. It’s interesting and forces you, as the player, to constantly have to keep in touch with your entire operation, not just the forward base where you’re amassing your army.
The largest unit in the game is also the most powerful, and that is the might dreadnaught. With 3 different classes, these behemoths are both a time and resource investment. That investment isn’t a complete waste, though, because as long as you keep it alive, and keep it fighting, it will level up, becoming more and more powerful, and often can be the difference in a large battle. As it levels up, there are three options to choose, an instant heal, an offensive, or a utility/defensive ability. As the match progresses, you can choose which skill to take, and turn the already powerful dreadnaught into the most powerful unit on the battlefield.
On to the things Ashes gets right. First and foremost, it gets the pacing of the game right. From start to finish there is a calm yet frantic feel that is great. Trying to make sure there is a balance between production of buildings/units, expanding fast enough to keep up with growth needed to survive or succeed in a match, and the pace at which the battles can go is quite fun.
The scale of the battle is something else, too. With large armies, units tiny and large, the scale and scope of a good battle can be massive, and extremely satisfying. In this game, units are fodder to be thrown at the enemy that can turn any battle into a war of attrition, with the army that can build enough units fast enough and cheap enough often being the winner. This is a game where the largest units are huge, and the smallest units are fodder to be thrown into the fray, and there is never a shortage of any unit, large or small. When the larger battles take place, you have to zoom out quite a bit in order to appreciate just how large of a scale these battles really are. The chaos and destruction that accompany these battles is extremely fun and satisfying to watch unfold.
There are just enough of each unit type to keep the game fresh, but not so many that you run into a situation where you only use 20% of what’s available to use. With a hand full of each kind of unit, light, medium, air and heavy, it’s easy to have a good balance of everything to cover all of the basis’ needed for any particular mission or opponent.
One of the issues this game faces is also what I mentioned as one of its strong points, and that’s the pacing. On the one hand, its fast and frantic, and on the other hand it’s as slow as molasses. It’s easy to outpace your income in unit production, slowing down production significantly, and the units themselves move very slow. Moving from one area of the map to another can take a long time, which feel out of place in a regard when compared to the overall pace the game puts off. At times the slow/fast pace of the game was frustrating. It’s something that I don’t know how they can balance without it starting to feel like Starcraft II.
The other big miss is on its initial claim to fame, DX12. When I tried to load the game in DX12 and play it, it would crash on me randomly, under different circumstances, which was unfortunate. I even did a driver update for my GTX 970s so that I could make sure they were fully up to date. But, at the end of the day, game play in DX12 simply wasn’t stable enough. The benchmark, on the other hand, was fine, at least.
Overall, should you pick up Ashes of the Singularity? If you can get it on Steam Sale, which the next one will be for Winter, then yes, absolutely. If it’s at its normal price of $39.99, then I feel like this is a game that an avid RTS fan would enjoy. In my time with the game, I’ve enjoyed returning to the RTS genre, and feel like overall it’s a good game, but it’s not great and it doesn’t exactly stand out to me among the crowd. I can honestly say, however, that I’ll continue to play the game off and on when the need for RTS hits.