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Ashes of the Singularity Review

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Gameplay:

Without any doubt, the gameplay is the most important aspect of this game, to the point that the decision to use a low-level API and develop the Nitrous Engine was to allow more complex gameplay, by way of more and more units than other games can support.

While the ability to build great military strength is definitely present, the gameplay also features several issues. The two most significant and memorable for me are the situation with the keybinds and the Army system. The primary issue with the keybinds is that you cannot change them, or even view them until you enter a match. When you do view them, an image just comes up labeling everything on a picture of a keyboard, so you have to look around the image and follow the line to the description. Every key but two are fine and I would not change them. These two keys are for pausing the game and pulling up a larger view of the map.

In an RTS, it makes sense to me that Pause would be a feature people would take advantage of somewhat frequently. It allows for the best control over the units and factories after all, so ergonomically it should be set to a key that is easy to reach, use, and obvious. Instead of any of those keys, Pause Break is used. I am quite certain the most times I press that key is when I clean my keyboard. It is out of the way, on the other side of the keyboard from where my left hand rests, and I cannot say I have ever encountered a game (or any application) that actually uses it, until now. I get that it says Pause right on it, but by that logic we should have to hit Enter to go through doors in other games, Tab to purchase potions, and Control to do anything. The function keys would be right out too, but then they are not used here either, even for quick saving.

(Something else about the keybinds is that Print Screen is marked for taking screenshots, which I have seen in some games as a means to have the engine capture the image. I do not think that is happening here because I have not found any screenshots it should have taken. If it is not actually taking screenshots but indicating you can use the key to put one in the clipboard to then paste into an image editor, then I do not believe it should be marked in-game, as that is an OS function, not a game function.)

 

There are some other issues that are related to keybinds, but are more concerned with how groups and armies work. Putting units into a group or army is somewhat easy, but there is no function for removing them, or at least none I could find. If Control adds them to the group, something like Control-Shift or Alt should remove them, but no. Instead it can be necessary to remove the group and recreate it with only the desired units. Hardly an ideal solution, but it can be necessary.

I want to inject here that the developers have plans for making several improvements and additions to the game, so the issues I discuss above and below may be addressed in due time.

The largest complaint I have with the game is the Army system, which is different from unit groups. When you form an army, the units become linked together such that they will all carry out orders together, like a Meta unit (as the guide describes it) and you can order new units be built and added to them. Those three points I just mentioned (forming, ordering, and adding to an army) all have issues with them.

You can only form an army if there is a Cruiser or Dreadnaught in them, so the smaller Frigates and aircraft are stuck with just groups. The problem here is that without being in an army, you cannot order new units without going to a factory, waiting for construction to complete, and then manually adding them to the group. We have a system that simplifies this, yet it appears to be arbitrarily restricted to just Cruiser and larger units.

 

 

Continuing with the group of Frigates here, you want to form an army and you order the construction of a Cruiser. When it is completed you select the Frigates and the Cruiser, form the army, and immediately regret this decision. Armies function by having the other units move around and follow a leader unit. In this case, the Cruiser because it is the largest, and if a Dreadnaught were added to the army, it would take this spot. The problem is that if the Frigates are already deployed where you want them, and that Cruiser is just out of the factory, the Frigates will leave their position and travel to the Cruiser. You can give the army the move command to where the Frigates were, but they will still continue to the Cruiser, until they meet in the middle, and then return to where they just were. If you want to keep the Frigates from moving, you have to wait to form the army until after the Cruiser reaches them. This can happen whenever you form an army, and is not dependent on there being Frigates in it. It is just based on the position of the leader unit and the position of the other units. The leader unit is automatically selected, but if you have a Dreadnaught in the army, it will always be the leader.

Now you have the army and have it positioned where you want it, and decide to build it up some more. Because it is an army, you can just select it and hit some buttons to order more units to it. Again you will find a reason to regret this decision because those units will be built at whatever factory the game decides, including those at the other side of the map. If that means the units have to wander through enemy territory, alone, that is exactly what will happen.

 

 

I said earlier that aircraft cannot form armies, and for one reason, I can understand that. Because the aircraft are constantly flying around in circles when not directed somewhere, if you made an army, they would be confused by what unit to follow. Another air unit would also be flying around, so the others would want to follow, and it could get messy. One easy solution (that I know at least one RTS has employed) is that when the aircraft are stopped somewhere, they vertically land and take off when needed. Instead, if you want an army, which makes it easier to add units to the group of aircraft, you need to build a Cruiser and form an army on that. If that Cruiser is also in a group, then disbanding the army will cause the aircraft to enter the group, making it much easier to select just them to fly off somewhere. This is hardly a good idea and an annoying necessity. (Yes, in theory you could just manually select the aircraft, but remember they are flying in circles, so you will have to select an area full of units, and possibly grab land units you did not mean to, but now cannot un-select, so this is not a practical solution.)

That is a lot of words about some things I do not like about the game, so how about we look at some I do like. For example, the actual RTS gameplay I do enjoy. The ability to create large collections of units to invade an area and crush or be crushed by my enemies is fun to me, and this game does it well and has a fair variety of units for achieving this. Personally I kept to the artillery units, because of their long range, but I am sure other players have other preferences.

The economy is a little different from some games, as the metal and resources are streamed in. This means that you constantly have an income of these, and if the income is not being completely used, it will be stored for later. There is a limit to how much can be stored, which is important to watch out for. If you start building a lot, so you are using more resources than you are taking in, you want to avoid running out of the buffer. This will slow down production everywhere, so strategically pause production to keep this from happening. Normally I do not enjoy this kind of micromanagement, but it is an understandable aspect on a pretty decent system. It forces you to be aware of what you are doing and keep it under control, lest you actually weaken your position by over extending.

Something else I like that is pretty neat is how you can cancel queued orders to a unit. As is the norm, you can build up a queue of orders by holding Shift, but what is neat is that if you want to cancel an order in the middle of the queue, you can keep holding Shift and Right-Click that order. It will not disrupt the other orders.

 

 

I also like how effective exploiting the terrain can be, though it felt somewhat underutilized at times. One of the campaign missions practically requires you to take advantage of placing artillery units on the top of cliffs, because from there they can attack distant enemies, but cannot be attacked. The thing is that other missions and the skirmish maps do not always have similar terrain features. I do recommend in Skirmishes that you enable having terrain viewable. Unfortunately this reveals strategic resources as well, but it is so helpful to just know the land around you. I wish there were an option to maintain a fog over the terrain of strategic details, but still let me know where the mountains, hills, and cliffs are.

I think I should wrap this section up soon, and checking my notes I just spotted one more criticism I think is worth mentioning. You cannot load a game from within a match; you have to quit back to the main screen to do this, or from the campaign mission selection screen.

While most of this section addressed some issues I have with the gameplay, it is still fairly fun. Those issues, especially the Army system ones, are hard to ignore, but it is possible to work around them. Still, it can be quite enjoyable to set up a base and outposts that are secure enough that you can ready forces to attack and expand.




  1. Ashes of the Singularity Review - Introduction
  2. Ashes of the Singularity Review - Graphics
  3. Ashes of the Singularity Review - Story
  4. Ashes of the Singularity Review - Gameplay
  5. Ashes of the Singularity Review - Additional Gameplay Media
  6. Ashes of the Singularity Review - Conclusion
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