Are you the kind of RTS player that loves grand strategy and epic battles, sending forth hundreds of units to clash together in a spectacular fashion? At first glance, Ashes of the Singularity looks and feels similar to Supreme Commander, but it incorporates several mechanics which makes the combat more intricate and the flow more streamlined. It borrows design elements and mechanics from existing RTS titles, but the combination of them provides a whole new experience.
The maps are divided into territory nodes that, when captured, will provide income of one of the two resources (Metal and Radioactives) or Victory Points. This resource system works so well because it provides ongoing points of contention and requires the players to be aggressive and proactive. Players must carefully allocate their units throughout key areas and outmanoeuvre their opponent on the battlefield. Territory nodes are quick to capture and will be cut off if not connected to the base, this makes scouting and map awareness vital.
The units in Ashes of the Singularity are all intertwined in an elaborate hard counter system and are broken up into four unit types: Frigates, Cruisers, Dreadnaughts and Air Units. The hard counter system creates a delicate ongoing interaction between players, monitoring the opponent’s army composition and adapting their own to compensate is essential for success. This is just part of the immense strategy; managing the economy and fulfilling production takes up most of the players focus. Each unit type requires different proportions of Metal and Radioactives, so army compositions need to be altered as the territory shifts. Bombers should be produced if there’s an excess of Radioactives, or Cruisers should be replaced with Frigates if Radioactives are cut off.
The scale is too big for micro to be meaningful, and since production is a pay as you go system, there’s very little actions per minute required. This comes as great news for a lot of people, modern RTS games can be quite stressful and off-putting for casual players. The accessibility for players new to the genre is one of the most crippling downside of RTS, games like Starcraft II really aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Ashes of the Singularity is a simple and intuitive concept, yet the constant decision making and opportunity cost creates a large skill ceiling and has enough complexity for it to be quite satisfying.
The game is currently only in pre-beta as Early Access on Steam, so it’s missing a lot of content, polish and optimisation. Despite this, the underlying gameplay is fun and offers enough depth to keep it compelling, even against the AI. Stardock takes great pride in their AI design, which create a fair and fun challenge without having to resort to the AI cheating like in most RTS games. To top it off, Ashes of the Singularity sure is pretty; despite the current placeholders, the visuals, sound effects, music and scale are awesome to witness.
It’s vital that a game without voice acting nails the soundtrack, otherwise it can just feel bland. In Ashes of the Singularity, the units are all just robots, so there are no unit responses aside from the odd beeps and boops. Fortunately the music rocks; featuring works from Richard Gibbs, the Composer of Battlestar Galactica. As you would expect, the musical score certainly has the Sci-Fi and epic feel to it, which blends together with the game exceptionally well.
Ashes of the Singularity feels like it’s had a clear design direction and understanding of RTS mechanics right from the start, something that recent RTS games seem to be lacking. I’m excited to see how it shapes up as it moves on into beta and later a full release. I’ve certainly had a great time with it so far, but the current build is rough so I’d advise against buying into the early access unless you’re a diehard fan of the genre with a powerful PC.