Game Info:

Ashes of the Singularity
Developed By: Oxide Games, Stardock Entertainment
Published By: Stardock Entertainment
Release Date: March 31, 2016
Available On: PC (Windows 10 required for DirectX 12 support)
ESRB Rating: N/A
Genre: Real Time Strategy
Mode: 1-6 Players
MSRP: $49.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you Stardock for sending us this game to review!

Made by much of the same team that created the excellent Sins of a Solar Empire, Stardock is back once again with a cutting edge Real Time Strategy (RTS) game, Ashes of the Singularity.  Here, rather than epic 3D space battles, we have a much more traditional RTS game.  It not only has some of the most detailed units I have seen, but with a literally unlimited unit count, it can lead to some truly epic battles.

Humanity has evolved beyond the mere physical form, and for the last one hundred years, has had their consciousness uploaded into technology, where their minds control entire armies by themselves.  In order to power their continued growth, expansion out into the universe looking for Turinium is required.  This is the basic resource building block that allows constant progress for the post human race.  The campaign then takes you through a story where you discover your enemy, humans who have rejected the PHC (Post-Human Coalition) government, and superintelligent AIs called the Substrate.  The Substrate is the ultimate enemy and the second faction type in Ashes of the Singularity.

The main focus of the game was originally the skirmish mode, along with multiplayer of the same.  Skirmish is the basic free play mode of all RTS games – you choose one or more opponents and team members, choose their AI level (or gather your friends), choose your map, and assert your dominance and skill over your opponents. This usually involves gathering resources, creating defenses, and building large armies faster than your opponents in order to utterly crush them.  It's the tried and true game mode since the very first PC RTS games from the 1990s, like Warcraft and Command & Conquer.

The campaign mode that has been included was originally not intended to be in the final product.  But, over the years, Stardock has proven to listen very intently to their fans, and decided to provide one.  Only the first episode of eleven levels has been released at the time of this writing.  More episodes are promised, and feedback from the community will be incorporated as the game grows.  They have also promised a third faction, as there are currently only two.  If Sins is any indication, there will be many patches, and likely one or more full blown expansion packs in the future.  I expect the available content to grow substantially in the future.

Ashes of the Singularity

Strong Points: Excellent graphics, especially on units; thousands can be on screen at once, and there is no unit limit; amazing attention to detail; well balanced races, each with their own strengths; Really smart AI
Weak Points: Terrain could have a bit more detail; drastic difficulty spikes in the campaign; campaign is currently short; no voice acting on conversations during a mission
Moral Warnings: Inter-robotic violence; Post Humans have transcended beyond a physical form in to the singularity, and can be killed when militarily defeated

Ashes is one of the highest profile classic style RTS to be released in several years.  It brings things to the table that few others do, and these are massive army counts, incredibly detailed battle animations, and cutting edge technology.  With virtually unlimited potential unit counts only limited by your ability to generate quantum and build them, some truly epic battles are possible.  While the zoomable range is fairly wide, I would actually prefer it if we could zoom out even more.  Of course this would likely come at a performance cost, but it would still be useful.  Instead of this, there is a strategy view that is quickly accessible via a keystroke.  So navigating even large maps is rarely a problem.

Each unit has its own animations, and each animation is what actually happens in battle.  If you see a tiny drone flying around, that unit does exactly what it looks like it's doing – if it is shooting lasers, and it hits or misses the target, what you see is what actually happened.  The same goes for the large dreadnaughts, and their many lasers, cannons, and various other devastating weapons.  They are rendered accurately with a ton of detail, and with independent AI for each and every component.  It can certainly be a strain on both CPU and GPU, but in my experience, it's really well optimized and really something to behold on a higher end system like mine.

This game is one of the first DirectX 12 games, which takes advantage of most the major new API features.  These include Parallel rendering, Asynchronous Compute and Explicit Multi-GPU support. Rather than rely on traditional GPU drivers which abstract away most of the rendering path details, DirectX 12 exposes the entire rendering pipeline to the game developer, and allows them nearly free reign in deciding how to best take advantage of the hardware.  One of the many benefits of this is to allow tens of thousands of draw call counts, and to drastically reduce the CPU requirements needed to do so.  

NVIDIA has always had a very highly optimized DirectX 11 GPU architecture and accompanying driver.  Online benchmarks and player reports suggest that NVIDIA GPUs don't really benefit from the lower level rendering power of DirectX 12 in this title.  But if you have an AMD GPU like I do, then not only do you benefit, but the improvements are massive.  We often see between a 20% and 50% performance improvement between drivers.  The game runs fine on DirectX 11, especially for NVIDIA owners, but AMD owners running GPUs in the 7000 series or later using Windows 10 should most definitely enable DirectX 12.

Ashes of the Singularity
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 94%
Violence - 8/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Ashes is also the first (and perhaps only as of this writing) game to enable use of Explicit Multi-GPU.  What this means is that the game renderer will take advantage of any two GPUs in the system, typically AMD + AMD or NVIDIA + NVIDIA.  And while that will continue to be the case for most titles, Ashes actually supports AMD + NVIDIA configurations, and online benchmarks show that it works really well.  This game is a remarkable technological showpiece, and has generated quite the amount of press and discussion as a result.  If you have a high end PC gaming system, I recommend Ashes of the Singularity for that reason alone. 

Back to the game, the story is fairly interesting, though unfortunately, there is no voice acting in the campaign itself outside of cut scenes, just text boxes that interrupt your gameplay with conversations with your enemies and friends. Sometimes they also include useful tips.  Thankfully, I did not notice any foul language, and the only violence is when forces blow each other up.  There is no gore or blood of any kind, unless you have a soft spot for robot or vehicle parts.

The music doesn't have a ton of variety, though it is mostly pleasant background music that seems to loop naturally.  It's mostly ambient, and sets the mood appropriately.  The sound effects for each unit is excellent, and when you zoom in, you can really hear the flurry of battle, and it will work your subwoofers nicely. As you zoom out, sounds from smaller units get quieter, and only the loudest explosions make it to your ears, alerting you to what is going on.  It's a neat effect, and a nice touch of extra detail.

Ashes of the Singularity is a very high quality title in the classic RTS genre, and one of the few releases in recent memory.  Other than Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, I can't think of any other major RTS releases in the last few years.  While I can't compare the two since I didn't review Homeworld, I highly recommend Ashes of the Singularity, despite a few difficulty spikes in the campaign, especially on level four and the final mission.  The AI is very competent and useful (and only 'cheats' above normal difficulty), and the graphics are excellent, even if the terrain could use a bit more in a few places.  I also did experience a crash a small number of times, but they were not repeatable, and autosaves meant that I didn't lose too much progress.

There seems to be a very active community, which has been quite helpful when I needed it.  Even the developers themselves discuss the game actively, and share their development roadmap with the Steam community.  If you are interested in RTS games, and appreciate the game evolving over time, then I suggest you give Ashes of the Singularity a good, hard look.  I highly recommend it!


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Jason Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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