Ascendancy is a truly unique and groundbreaking game. However, it never received the popularity and praise it should have, because it lacked one thing: an adequate computer AI. The lack of challenge unfortunately made it quite boring for experienced players. This overshadowed all the great features and potential Ascendancy had to offer. Thankfully, an AI patch was released which will make the computer much smarter and tougher, and will make this game really shine like it was supposed to from the beginning. You can download this from the extras section.
The game itself is a space strategy game that bears a slight resemblance to the Master of Orion series. However, all the visual/genre similarities are superficial so it would be unfair to call it a MoO clone. You start the game by choosing your race, enemies and galaxy layout. There is a vast selection of races to choose from, each one possessing a unique set of characteristics and a special ability. The race design is very original so playing the game with another race will be a whole new experience. When you have chosen a race, you may also choose a number of opponents, how big you wish the galaxy to be and the overall hostility of other races.
The actual gameplay will involve both micro- and macromanagement. There is an option for automatic micromanagement, but it is questionable whether you wish to turn this on since in the un-patched version, the computer can barely maintain its own colonies. You will have to take care of colonization, defend your systems and planets, research, build facilities and practise diplomacy. Research is probably one of the most advanced features of Ascendancy. The research tree is simply immense. There are countless ways in which you can choose to develop, and each path will lead you to different technologies and discoveries. To make it even more interesting, the tree is also influenced by technologies you can steal from your rivals, and it can be rotated in three dimensions in order to give you a better idea of how you evolved.
Another interesting feature is the building of ships. At the beginning, you will have small ships with only a few slots on which you can place different ship components, but with time you will get bigger ship designs that will allow you to use some creativity in designing. Each ship will have to contain some components such as the engine and generator, but the rest is completely customizable. You may build a slow ship with lots of shielding and powerful weapons, a fast one with light weapons, unarmed scout ships packed with different sensors - it's entirely up to you. This aspect is a lot of fun, but should be used wisely as you will need a fleet with different types of ships in order to successfully protect your territory.
Diplomacy and planet management are pretty straightforward. Each planet has a different set of squares that allow different types of buildings (including facilities for growth, habitation, production and research) to be built on them. However, different species will have different features, so some will reproduce quickly but will lack research capabilities while others will produce quickly but reproduce slowly. You should plan your colonies according to these features in order to maximize your efficiency. Lastly, by using diplomacy you can negotiate peace treaties, exchange maps or knowledge, and initiate warfare. This aspect should not be neglected since some species’ features offer advanced diplomatic skills which will allow you to manipulate your rivals.
As for the graphics and sounds, this is an area in which Ascendancy excels as well. They are easy on the eyes and very attractive. Every species has a few portraits, and buildings and ship components also look extremely neat. The main view is straightforward and easy to navigate, so learning the game navigation will take little time. Music is simply amazing and adds a lot to the overall atmosphere. All in all, you will certainly not be disappointed by this game.
Beginners may try the un-patched version, but experienced players of space strategy games should definitely use the AI patch to make the game more exciting and interesting! The game worked flawlessly in DOSBox. I also managed to get it started on Windows XP, but the sound was choppy so I recommend DOSBox for those with processors faster than 1 GHz.