Ascendancy

 · 6 mins read

Ascendancy review

Ascendancy is a 4x strategy game developed by The Logic Factory in 1995. The game feels like an authentic space opera and it’s an unique game.

Ascendancy


Strong points

  • Planet production design is simple but effective: square divided planet with just 3 resources types. You can read more here.
  • The only empire wide resource is science, which is directly added from every planet. No money nor other resources to worry about means less economy handling (no unkeep) and more exploration and warfare.
  • Galaxy max size is truly huge (many more systems than in Master of Orion).
  • There is free movement in the solar system, which is distinct to the usual. It’s turn based at system level.
  • Free ship design: you can freely setup your ships, the only limit is the ship hull size. Just don’t forget those engines :D
  • Awesome tech tree:
    • It’s big and it’s got lots of interesting things that aren’t just “computer upgrades” or weapons.
    • It’s presented in a helix, it’s visually very nice.
  • Alien species design:
    • Lots of species.
    • Every alien looks truly unique. No human, no humanoid, no animal-like, no grey alien. I dislike those in Starwars and Master of Orion.
    • Every species have a well defined story background, space ship art and a special unique skill.
    • No race picks to ruin species design. This also means no totally overpowered customized species.
  • Game art it’s dated but beautiful.
  • The soundtrack is really epic, best OST I ever heard in a space themed game.

Ascendancy


Flaws

There are various design flaws affecting gameplay:

  • Too much planet micromanagement:
    • You should build every single building for every (good) planet to be efficient: there is an self-managed mode you can freely activate but the game doesn’t do it properly.
    • Upgrading buildings: when you unlock better buildings by teching, you must manually upgrade them, one on one.
  • Bad AI:
    • It’s a single player game but in vanilla there is no challenge as the player can easily steamroll the enemies.
    • AI don’t build efficiently, so they’re always behind on production/teching. Also, it won’t upgrade old buildings.
    • Unarmed AI ships try to flee endlessly, away of solar system center, when menaced. CPU won’t get tired (do you remember Wargame film?).
  • Bugs. There are few bugs and you should use a patched binary instead of vanilla.
  • Species balance issues: many species’ skills are just worthless. Good ideas in paper, but not in real gameplay. Other skills, by the other hand, are too good.
  • Overall game pace balance issue: game is fun on start, but after 1000 game days, you got too much colonies and ships to babysit unless you go full self-managed.
  • Little star system variety so there is no other reason to explore than just to find other cornucopia planets. Also, there are no random events, no secondary quests, nothing.

Note there is an antagonizer patch, meant to improve the challenge by buffing AI and making it hostile to player. But that patch won’t effectively solve the “intelligence” issue. There is also a bugfix patch (without “antagonizing”), don’t confuse them.

Ascendancy


Why to play?

Immersion. As soon as you start the game, you feel immersed in a space opera like no other game.

Ascendancy


Media

This is the awesome OST:


How to acquire

Ascendancy was released to PC (MSDOS) in the 90’s. There was also a modern port, for iOS, to play the game on the iPad. I’m unsure if it’s still sold on the Apple iTunes store.

Ascendancy


Version / Platform

The game I review is the original release for MSDOS. You can play it with antagonizer or the bugfix patch.

Ascendancy


Future

The developer, The Logic Factory, has been mostly inactive for 20+ years. They started to develop a sequel, Ascendancy 2, but it was canceled long ago. After that, Ascendancy was released for ios. And now developer seems gone.

Ascendancy


Games like Ascendancy

There are other great 4x space games, similar to Ascendancy, worth to play:

  • Master of Orion 1 or 2: Both games are for sure the best on the genre, gameplay wise, and totally recommended.
  • Endless space: a good modern 4x. It’s similar to MOO 2 and it has some interesting alien species and a plot to uncover. It has a sequel.
  • Stars!: Popular old school multiplayer Windows 3.1 game. Featured mining, fuel management and terraforming as core aspects.
  • Space Empires IV: nice to switch off MOO, not too impressive but I liked it.
  • Galactic Civilizations 2: other well known saga and popular among the genre.

Just to expand the list, feel free to this Steam 4x games:

  • Distant Worlds
  • Star Ruler
  • Sword of the Stars
  • Stardrive

Ascendancy


Conclusion

Ascendancy it’s a flawed game with many interesting ideas that, remade right and with few automation improvements, could be truly awesome.

Anyways, it’s still worth to spend some time and I still play it.

Ascendancy


Appendix

Planet

  • You can build surface and orbital buildings. The planet surface and orbit is divided in squares. The surface is limited by planet size.
  • There are only 3 per-planet resources: industry, science and fertility (population growth). There 3 special square types to get bonus resources (red, blue and green). White squares don’t give any bonus. Black squares don’t support normal buildings unless terraformed (change to white).
  • Most surface buildings are built to increase resources. You can also build surface defenses and increase planetary population capacity.
  • In the planet orbit, you can build orbital defenses, shipyards/docks and build/refit ships.

Ascendancy