Top Ten 2020

This post is a part of my Top 10 Games I played in 2020 list that I said I was breaking up into smaller parts to avoid having a single huge post all at once. Note that the games in this list weren’t necessarily new releases in 2020. To qualify for this list, it just had to be a game that I played in 2020. This post features games I rank as the #10 and #9 games I enjoyed playing most in 2020.

#10 Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation

I got Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation for free as a giveaway on Humble Bundle. I spent about 64 hours total playing the game, and left the following review for “Escalation” on Steam:

I played through the entire campaign. All four of them. After this many hours in the game I still can’t tell most of the time what anything is just by looking at it, or even by its name. The designs and names are just too generic. Which one is a Hera? Which one is an Athena? Which one is a Cronus? What do they do? What are their strengths?

I’m attacking a bunch of buildings… which one is the anti-aircraft one again? Which one is going to destroy my dreadnaught? I have to zoom in really close to see it clearly, and even then I can’t always tell what it is.

I can’t imagine playing this game competitively, in real-time.

I have to pause or slow the game speed down frequently to select things and hover my mouse over their pictures so I can read the tooltips to be reminded which units they are, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. I never had that problem in other RTS games such as Warcraft, Starcraft, or C&C/Red Alert games. Come to think of it, it seems to be a Stardock thing, because Sins of a Solar Empire had similar flaws with generic units that were hard to tell apart or know at a glance or just by their name what they were good for.

Name any unit in any of those other games and I would probably have a pretty good idea of what it looks like and what it is used for. Or conversely, show me a picture of any unit or building in those other games and I could probably tell you what it’s used for and what its name is.

But in Ashes of the Singularity – Escalation, the units are just generic sci-fi flying/floating machines without many standout features. Many of the buildings looks almost the same or have a very similar silhouette. And the names of things rarely help by being descriptive, at least if you’re playing as the PHC (humans). The Substrate (sentient AI) race does tend to have slightly more descriptive names for things. The Martyr is the cheap cannon fodder. The Sky Cleaner is used for anti-air. The Masochist does more damage the more damage it takes. Most ground units are built in the Assembly. The air units are built in the Aviary. But out of the ~15 ground units, ~6 air units and the 20+ buildings that the Substrate can build, the ones I named above are the only ones that come to mind as having somewhat descriptive names. Many of the PHC units seem to be named after characters from Greek mythology.

There are other issues that are annoying or confusing. For example, the game allows you to group units together into armies, which will cause them to generally stay in formation and support each other. But for some reason it won’t allow you to make armies of just flying units.

One thing that’s really neat is that you can build a bunch of factories and set them up to automatically keep spitting out units as fast as they can build them. And at the same time, when you have an army selected, you can queue more units to be added to that army (as long as there’s at least one non-frigate ground unit in the army). And if you queue up a unit to reinforce an army, it automatically gets added to one of the factories’ build queues, which then just goes right back to spitting out the auto-build queue you set up previously.

But sometimes it seems to break. Sometimes only the factories that are auto-building will reinforce my armies, while any factories that are just sitting idle remain idle. And if I try disabling the auto-build of all my factories, sometimes some of my factories still sit idle while the others have a huge queue of units being built one after the other, instead of having all my factories divide the work evenly between them so that more units can be building concurrently.

The game could be a lot better. It’s brought down by a bunch of little annoyances like that. But even despite these flaws, I enjoyed playing through the campaign.

I’d recommend it if you can get it discounted or free, like I did. I’m not sure I’d be happy with it if I had paid full price for it.

#9 Total War: Shogun 2

I got Total War: Shogun 2 for free during a steam giveaway near the beginning of the lockdowns that began occurring nearly worldwide in the Spring of 2020. I left the following review for “Shogun 2” on Steam:

I got this game during the Steam giveaway during the coronavirus lockdown. I’ve never played a Total War game before, so this is my first and only experience with the franchise thus far.

At the time of writing this, my playtime is at 48.5 hours. I played a few short tutorial battles, of which I won 2 and lost on the 3rd. I also played maybe as many as 10 turns in a single-player campaign, and then I played one co-op campaign through to completion (we won). That’s my entire experience with the game.

The TL;DR version is that I enjoyed my time with the game, but I think I’m probably done with it. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. And it takes so long to play that I think I’d rather spend that time with other games.

The RTS segments of the game (the battles) have really awful camera controls. And unit management during battles leaves me wanting. And there were a few relatively minor bugs during multiplayer that made it harder to play. Bugs such as my co-op partner getting attacked, but the game would sometimes ask me if I wanted to fight or run, etc., before asking my co-op partner what he wanted to do. Or if one of us gave temporary control of some of our units to the other player during battles, and then we both tried to assign the units under our control to groups, we’d somehow end up controlling the other person’s units along with our own. Which meant that only one of us could group our units and the other had to just mouse select them individually. Unit management was already troublesome enough, but this bug made it even more difficult to manage large armies in the heat of the battle.

There were a lot of little things like that in the game that detracted from the experience. I felt it had the potential to be a lot more enjoyable if the controls were better and the bugs weren’t there to make things worse. But as I said, I still enjoyed my time with it.

If the game was only the RTS segments, it would be pretty lackluster, in my opinion. But the strategy/map part of the game seems fairly deep. I felt like it wasn’t until relatively shortly before the end of the campaign that I was just starting to understand various aspects of the game and coming up with new strategies I’d have liked to try out… if only it didn’t take so long to progress through the game.

Admittedly, now that I’m more familiar with the game and how it works, I’d probably go through the turns faster than I did when I first started. So who knows, maybe I’ll try doing a single-player campaign some day. But as of right now I think it’s likely I’ll just move on.