A number of people online have asked me what I thought about the text of the GameSpot review. Maybe the reviewer didn’t have an axe to grind but rather just had legitimate criticisms of the game.
As previously mentioned, we had contacted Gamespot privately upon learning who the reviewer for Ashes was with our concerns that this reviewer might have an axe to grind (he used to give our titles high scores and then blocked me on social media and subsequently gave GalCiv III: Mercenaries a 4 in an error filled review). We didn't ask Gamespot to change their reviewer. Only to make sure he wasn't allowing his personal politics influence his review.
Needless to say, when his 4/10 Ashes review was published, it would appear our concerns were well founded. And for those not familiar with the review system of Gamespot, 4/10 isn't "below average". It means "poor" as in only a handful of titles each year get that score.
So are his criticisms legitimate? The answer, is no. This isn’t a matter of “he just doesn’t like it” but more a matter that he clearly has little familiarity with the game and, frankly, doesn’t understand the genre.
As unprofessional or distasteful as some may find me responding to a review (and in 22 years with dozens of released games I've never felt compelled to do this) I'm going to do so here. Why? If only to put a spotlight on this and to make sure that if your publication is going to review one of our products, please ensure your editorial guidelines are followed and that your reviewers aren't using your venue to punish developers they have a problem with on social media.
Let’s cut to the case of his review:
You have three main resources to manage--metal, radiactives[sic], and turinium.
There are four resources: Metal, radioactives, Turinium and Quanta. Quanta being the most important one.
The first two are for constructing ships, but if you collect enough turinium you win the game. Because turinium is necessary for victory, Ashes of the Singularity encourages hapless and aggressive rushing.
By that argument, Company of Heroes is about hapless, aggressive rushing. Which is, of course, nonsense. In practice, the player that does hapless, aggressive rushing would be crushed by the player who spends quanta, the resource you apparently weren’t aware of, to insert forces behind your lines.
Your starting area will only have a couple resource nodes, and you can't stockpile resources as you can in most other strategy games.
Yes you can. Not only do you store resources but you can research tech to increase your storage.
So, playing cautiously isn't an option. You have to expand--and fast.
Which, again, is factually wrong.
This exacerbates some of Ashes of the Singularity's other problems. As I churned out endless streams of robotic warriors, I noticed that they all looked similar, especially when I pulled the camera all the way out and the battlefield melted together in the mélange of war machines. Pressing to gain more and more ground kept me from developing any familiarity with my units, which is unfortunate given you only have about a dozen unique types to work with. Each frigate looks indistinguishable from the last, making it hard to keep track of which units you have and which ones you still need.
This criticism could be applied to every game that lets you zoom out. Yes, if you zoom out far enough everything looks like little tiny ants. Ashes has more than “a dozen” units. As for units looking similar, this speaks more to unfamiliarity with the game. The 3 main frigates: Archer, Brute, Medic look nothing alike.
You have the ability to organize your legions into "armies," which are supposed to be super-charged control groups. And this works, but only to a point. Forming armies reduced the need to constantly micromanage units, allowing me to focus on the larger plan: pinching off enemy supplies, flanking with the brutality of my dreadnoughts, and dropping strategic weapons of mass destruction. But Ashes of the Singularity still left me with scant few options to conduct my campaign.
Probably because you didn’t know or understand quanta. Which also means you never constructed any of the orbitals in the game. This would be akin to someone in StarCraft never harvesting vespene gas and therefore claiming the entire game is about spamming out Marines.
Remember this for the rest of this review. Imagine how StarCraft would play if the player never used Vespene gas and the ramifications of that.
It's hard not to draw comparisons to earlier massive-scope strategy games, namely Supreme Commander. The parallels between the two run deep and cover everything from their approach to resource collection to their emphasis on massive battles. But, despite being a decade old, Supreme Commander still wears the crown. Rather than rest on the spectacle of massive battles alone, it crucially wove finer pieces into its formula to make those bouts interesting.
Fair enough. You like Supremee Commander more which you link to as being an 8.7. That’s fine. It wears the crown then. What does not seizing the crown count as? 8.5 for Ashes? 8? You have set a criteria here.
Ashes of the Singularity doesn't have these flourishes; what you see is what you get.
Except clearly, you didn’t see the primary player resource: Quanta. The resource so important that it’s literally displayed inside your player box next to your avatar and necessary to use any of the player abilities that would be required to win the game above easy.
Maps are consistently dry and lack character. With the exception of modest changes in elevation, there aren't many features that lend themselves to strategic use.
Absolutely incorrect. There are hills, mountains, plateaus, ravines, etc. And if that is insufficient then you have to hold that doubly true against Supreme Commander. One need only look at screenshots from the Steam page to confirm this.
There are no towering mountains to hide your forces during an ambush,
There are, literally, towering mountains to hide your forces. Because the game has true line of sight (as in, a mountain blocks the view of what’s behind it), it is a common player tactic to hide their forces behind towering mountains in order to ambush the enemy. The AI actually is programmed to do just that.
no rare or unique resources to exploit,
Are we still talking about a real-time strategy game?
nor any obstacles to slow down foes.
Except you mean the ones you build which slow down your foes by half when a battle is engaged? But let’s assume you mean something like swamps or mud. What RTS are we being compared to here? Neither StarCraft nor SupCom have any such thing either.
Every unit and building works the same regardless of placement on the map,
Compared to what game? What are we being compared to? What RTS ever would do this? You just gave Homeworld: DOK a 9 and Acts of Aggression a 7. What standard are we being held to?
and as you build out a network of resource nodes, you'll see the same desolate brown textures again and again.
I guess if you only played one game on a desert map I suppose. What about on a Terran map or alien world map or an ice world? You could level this same complaint at any game.
Instead of providing an intricate network of systems to work with, Ashes of the Singularity cuts itself down, leaving only the most basic elements of the genre intact. You have a handful of units
Roughly same number as StarCraft does.
, three resources,
Four resources – two more than StarCraft or SupCom. And lest you think I am criticizing either of those classics, I am not of the opinion that more resources is better. I’m just pointing out how ridiculous this argument is.
and a basic goal.
Yes. Win. Either through Annihilation or Victory points which is like every other game in the genre.
At no point can you leverage anything beyond those basic pieces in a meaningful way.
Clearly if you couldn’t be bothered to use the primary player resource, Quanta.
Without more resources,
More resources? What RTS has more resources? StarCraft has 2. Command & Conquer has 1. Supreme Commander has 2. We have 4 (of which you only discovered 3).
You mean like spending quanta to insert an engineer behind enemy lines to build a factory or spending quanta to temporarily boost a region’s resource production so that you can fast build a Dreadnought or spend quanta to increase your radar range or spend quanta to place a Carving turret to take out a key enemy unit or spend quanta to get visibility on an enemy force that is hiding behind a mountain so that your artillery can hit them. You mean like those things?
or a charming aesthetic to help carry the experience, Ashes of the Singularity struggles to hold your attention.
I am not sure what charming means in this context.
And ends giving us a 4 out of 10. SupCom got an 8.7. Planetary Annihilation 1.0 got a 7. On the same site he gave Acts of Aggression a 7, Homeworld: DOK a 9. The point being he has established a range and in this review listed criteria. I'm not going to argue whether Ashes is great or not. For me, personally, I think it is objectively awesome. But I am, naturally, biased for my game.
My team and I spent 3 years on this game. There were many long weekends, extended periods away from our families (I spent 2 months out in Maryland away from my wife and young children). And we are proud of the game we have made. I bring this up because all too often, amateur reviewers don’t take their responsibility seriously. As an independent game developer, I don’t expect perfect reviews but I do expect a fair review.
I know that our games won’t get the editorial scrutiny of an EA or Activision game. The kinds of errors in this absurd review would never have been allowed to see the light of day. But is it really too much to ask that you spend a little time to get to know about our game before you permanently diminish the perception of it?
Your colleagues at IGN, PC Gamer, PC GamesN, and Gaming Trend all liked it. That in itself doesn’t make them right and you wrong. But at least their pros and cons were based on things that were actually part of (or not part of) the game.