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Before you start a new game, you can select several options that will alter its course. The universe size ranging from very sparse to very dense and the number of species will both affect duration and difficulty. With a choice of five to seven species at start among a total of 21, Ascendancy will provide you with enough randomness to ensure you that a game will never be the same; but if it is the case, you would be so lucky that you should buy a lottery ticket right away! Yet, you are not finished with the options as you must also choose the galactic atmosphere between peaceful to hostile conditions passing through neutral status.
The choice of the species is interesting as each species has a special ability you will discover only once you started a new game. Of course, you are free to start the game with one species, read its special ability and restart until you find the species which you think has the best ability to win over the others. I didn't try this and rather, I picked up a species without even reading the description and started up the game. I'll find out about the others when I start another game, and this is how the designers intended the game to be played with.
Before I go into the details, I surely would not forget to talk about the Tutorial. If you are playing Ascendancy for the first time, I can only recommend that you spend half an hour with the Tutorial. Divided into seven chapters that describe various screens and resources management, the Tutorial is an easy way to quickly learn how to control the game. The texts are clear and are always displayed with short animations.
Your empire only starts with one planet, your homeworld, which you can see on the Galactic screen next to your flag. Starting from your homeworld are several star lanes which provide the only way to travel in space from one star to another. For the moment, however, you don't have the necessary technology to build starships and colonize other worlds. First, you must build factories, increase your population and start research. The planet is filled with colored squares of five colors. The red improves industries, the green helps prosperity and the blue boosts research. White squares are normal without any special effects on structures while the black squares allow only one structure, the tunnels. Building structures is an easy task but requires four elements: time, space, technology level and free population. At the beginning there are only two population units. One is working (shown by the red working figure) and the other is free (represented by a yellow standing figure), this means you can build one structure. However, you can't build anywhere you like and you must choose a place contiguous to another structure.
The planet's output is determined by three elements: Industry, Research and Prosperity. The industry will accelerate building times and thus will increase your productivity. Your population needs space and specific structures to grow, and you must ensure you always have free population to continue further development on a planet. But there is no development without research, and you must continuously support research to make new discoveries and improve your capacities.
As soon as you complete your first laboratory, you must choose a topic for the research. This is done in the research screen where topics are displayed in a Research Tree. As inventions may lead to other discoveries and sometimes, only a combination of different technologies can unveil unexplored ways, the various topics are linked together representing their interdependencies. If you click on a topic, you will see what this research will lead to. This tree has a three-dimensional representation and you can rotate it to the left or to the right, and move up and down to see the topics. If you get tired of choosing topics or managing the different planets, you can select the self-management option for the planets of your choice and the research. It is especially useful when the number of planets becomes too important.
Like the structures, it will take time before the research is done, but there is another way to improve your knowledge. Some planets you will explore have ruins on their surface, and if you establish a colony there, you will be able to dig out archelogical sites in which you will find new discoveries.
Once you acquired the knowledge of building shipyards and ships, you will start designing your fleet. In the beginning, you won't have enough technology to create a very powerful vessel, but at least you will be able to colonize worlds and maybe find archeological sites. There are five ship components: Generators, Engines, Weapons, Shields and Specials. The generators are the most important elements of the ship as they provide power to all the others. The performances of the various components depend heavily on the state of advancement of your research, and you will have huge armed vessels only if you maintain constant efforts for research.
Throughout the game as you will meet new species, war will be inevitable even if you are the most pacific being in the universe. Because of strategic plans, or because you become too dangerous for one or several species, you will be forced to attack other colonies or protect yours. The protection of your colonies goes through a variety of orbital and surface shields and other defensive weapons such as the missile bases. If you have no ships in the vicinity when you are attacked, you can only increase shields or try using cloaking devices to avoid invaders on the planet. The best method is still to have one or several ships around to impress your opponent and provide a strong resistance to the attack. With the adequate technology level, you will have the choice of different sizes from small to enormous for your ships. The size will limit the number of components you can fit inside it and your choice of components must be judicious as some of them are expensive to build, consume a lot of energy or have short ranges for example.
You can only build a number of ships equal to the number of systems you control with the exception of the home system that allows two ships. If you want to build a new generation of ships using your latest technology and you can't because you own too many of them, there is only one way: abandon the ship. I did it several times with small ships used to colonize nearby star systems as I didn't have any orbital docks to refit them on my homeworld.
If one of your ships encounters an enemy vessel, you can use your weapons and special components on board. Click on your ship and select which weapon you want to use, then select the target. When a planet or a ship is hit by your weapon, you will see realistic explosions and hear various sound effects.
Sometimes, the same species that declared war to you, will offer you peace after some time. You can even try to make them your allies in the future to help you in your war against another species. The diplomacy plays an important role in Ascendancy, but I think there is not enough diversity in the dialogues. You can only exchange star lanes knowledge, trade research, declare war or ask for an alliance and only when a species becomes an ally, will you be able to ask them to fight with you.
The special ability of your species can be an important element of your victory and you must learn how to use this advantage. One species, for example, has the special ability to convince species to make peace while another can build normal structures on black squares.
The soundtrack of Ascendancy is really good without being too repetitive and giving headaches after only 10 minutes. Its quality is excellent, although there is no audio coming out from the CD. Of course, as we were playing with a Gravis UltraSound, that might explain much of it.
Ascendancy features all throughout the game splendid high-resolution SVGA graphics with 256 colors. From the introduction to the various screens, you will play with textured planets that actually look real, magnificient 3D starships, orbital and surface structures highly detailed, etc.
486 DX-33 MHz or higher,
Min 8Mb memory,
MS-DOS 5.0 or later,
Hard drive required with 15Mb free,
Double speed CD-ROM drive or faster,
SVGA video graphic card,
Microsoft mouse and 100% compatibles.
Creative Labs Sound Blaster family or 100% compatibles; Pro Audio Spectrum; Ensoniq Soundscape; Gravis UltraSound; Roland RAP-10.
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