Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation – A Retrospective

In the vast expanse of the distant future, humanity embarks on a transformative journey towards becoming a posthuman species, seamlessly merging elements of biological life with artificial intelligence. This visionary quest, however, is met with opposition in the form of brutal attacks on human worlds. What unfolds is a relentless and unforgiving battle for dominance and survival. Welcome to the world of Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation.

In an era where real-time strategy games have become increasingly scarce, Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation emerges as a rare gem in a modern gaming landscape dominated by different genres. Paying homage to the classic 1997 RTS title, Total Annihilation, and its 2007 semi-sequel, Supreme Commander, this game brings back the essence of those classics. It emphasizes the creation of massive armies over micro-management and hotkey-driven tactics, reminiscent of games like StarCraft II.

Resource management in Ashes of the Singularity is streamlined. You’ll occasionally need to direct your workers to construct new mineral and gas extractors on resource nodes, but beyond that, you’re free to build colossal formations comprised of countless tanks, nimble mechs, reinforced frigates, and formidable dreadnoughts. These awe-inspiring war machines are capable of unleashing colossal devastation across the battlefield. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock even more units, including aircraft and artillery, further expanding your strategic possibilities.

This game initially offers a refreshing experience, successfully reintroducing a style of RTS gameplay that had been dormant for a decade or more. The joy of amassing a massive army and launching attacks without fretting over hotkeys or intricate formations is undeniable. The sheer scale of the game ensures that battles are a visual spectacle, making it immensely enjoyable to watch your forces clash with the enemy. However, as you delve deeper into the game, some notable issues begin to surface.

One of the first challenges you’ll encounter is the all-too-familiar problem of poor pathfinding. Sending your formidable army to an enemy base only to see it split into multiple groups, each choosing a convoluted and inefficient route rather than waiting for the preceding unit to move, can be incredibly frustrating. Equally exasperating is the game’s habit of concealing your most potent units behind weaker ones. While this may sound like a clever strategy, it goes against the game’s fundamental design. Your weaker units are exceptionally vulnerable and can be easily wiped out in droves. To counter this, it’s essential to use dreadnoughts and frigates as shields to absorb enemy fire while your less resilient units unleash their massed firepower. However, the game seems to resist this tactic, often causing your supposedly immobile dreadnoughts to inexplicably retreat behind flimsy screens of lesser units, rendering this formation entirely useless.

The issue of ‘glass cannons’ has long been a concern in Total Annihilation-style RTS games, but in Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation, it appears to be more pronounced than in its predecessors.

Additionally, the game retains several outdated RTS issues that should have been consigned to the annals of history. In the single-player campaign, the AI’s blatant cheating is particularly frustrating. For instance, even after securing 90% of the resource nodes on the map, the enemy base can seemingly produce a vast army, complete with multiple dreadnoughts, faster than you can. Furthermore, the single-player campaign suffers from cringe-worthy dialogue and indifferent voice acting, which significantly diminishes the overall experience. While it’s true that Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation may not have had the same budget as a title like StarCraft II, the disparity in polish and professionalism is often painfully apparent.

It’s regrettable because Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation does have moments of genuine fun, and with its numerous lengthy campaigns (including content from the old expansion Escalation, now integrated into the base game), a skirmish mode, and multiplayer options, it undeniably offers a considerable amount of content. Nevertheless, it remains an homage to games that, quite frankly, still deliver a more enjoyable gaming experience. If you’re interested, you can find this game on Steam.

In conclusion, Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation represents a valiant attempt to revive the glory days of classic real-time strategy games, particularly the beloved “Total Annihilation” series. Its ambition to let players control vast armies and experience epic, large-scale battles is commendable. Yet, the game is held back by the weight of its own nostalgia, succumbing to the same issues that plagued RTS titles of the past. While it offers glimpses of excitement and fun, it ultimately falls short of the timeless classics it seeks to pay homage to. So, if you’re a fan of real-time strategy games and wish to indulge in a nostalgic journey, “Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation” might still be worth a look.

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