Gameranx reviewed Stardock’s massive-scale real-time strategy game this past Spring. It was positively received by Stephen Daly who praised the game’s strong computer opponent AI and the general depth but was also critical of the game’s relative light story and the challenge of managing a planet wide world with limited zoom out capability.
Stardock aims to address these short-comings with the first expansion pack to the game called Escalation. Scheduled for release on November 3, Escalation nearly doubles to the total unit count, updates the visuals, adds new environments and two new campaigns.
However, what may interest strategy purists the most isn’t the new eye candy but the new strategic view option. Stardock’s CEO, Brad Wardell, discussed the initial resistance to have strategic zoom.
“When we designed Ashes of the Singularity, we really wanted to keep the player’s eye relatively close to the ground,” said Wardell. “But as time went on, it became clear that our desire to keep the player immersed in the world was detracting from the game’s strategic depth. Players during the beta asked for strategic zoom but we didn’t want the game to turn into a ‘sea of icons’.”
To solve this issue, Stardock turned towards its most popular RTS, Sins of a Solar Empire as a guide.
“In Sins of a Solar Empire, the world abstracts itself as you zoom out. There is no zoom limit. The way units, buildings and even entire star systems become more abstracted as you zoom out. We decided to take that approach with Escalation so that as you zoom out, we display the units, armies, regions of the world differently the further you zoom out. ”
Zoomed in, players can see individual units. As they begin to zoom out, unit icons begin to be displayed based on the unit class. As the player zooms out further, individual units are merged together into an army giving the player an idea of their strength in a region. As they further zoom out the map changes to a height map allowing them to see still the terrain details while allowing players to focus on their world-wide conquest.
“As a practical matter, once we added the new ‘Huge’ sized maps and increased the total number of players to nearly 16, we had to do this. At Huge map in Escalation is about 100km in length. That’s greater distant from San Francisco to San Jose. The idea that the player would be microing individual units at that level was ludicrious. Ashes of the Singularity is a massive scale RTS. Sometimes, you just gotta decide what type of game you want to be and focus on that.”
Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation has a November 3 release date. It will be $39.99 new and $19.99 for those who have the base game.
Its home page is www.ashesofthesingularity.com