Ascendancy review

Space is huge, it is actually impossible for us to grasp it’s size. Even playing Ascendancy on the most dense planetary setting come nowhere near the real thing. But once you get into the world your race populates the world will feel huge. A world where the meek inherits nothing but death. Strength is measured by space dominance, population and technological advances.

Ascendancy is a true classic in the turn based strategy genre, almost as mandatory for seasoned veterans as Civilization. I used to play it casually back in the mid 90s, but it entered my life too late to draw me away from speeding with my car or kissing my girlfriend. Now some fifteen years later I get the chance to once more populate planets, and use both military power and diplomatic cunning to spread my species across the world of Ascendancy.

img_3034To be able to review the game fully I took some help of a dear friend, and avid strategy player. He got hooked to the small screen within five minutes while I booted up an old PC to play the original. Just reading the original manual was a blast, and it set the mood much better than the introduction screens for the iOS port. Another thing that makes a big impact on the gameplay is the lack of screen estate on the iPhone. The original feels big just playing around in the planeraty building view. On the small screen it feels cramped, and the vastness of space gets lost somewhat. Other than that the iOS version offers the full experience of one of the real highlights of the genre.

Getting into the game is initially quite hard, as most menus and commands are quite hard to grasp. A question mark is always available to help out, and it is sorely needed. And that is even when someone like me who has experience with the gameplay. To someone completely new to the game the learning curve is quite steep. I recommend newcomers to simply play to learn first before starting a “real” game.

img_3161In Ascendancy you get to set the parameters for the game world. Number of planets, mood of the different races, difficulty and number of races. All races have their own speciality that affect how you play the game. If you get into the game you won’t have to buy another strategy game for quite some time. My friend still plays it, and keeps that old PC around despite his wife trying to throw it out.

The touch interface takes some getting used to, and at times it doesn’t register taps. This could have been an issue, but as this is a turn based strategy game nothing is lost if you miss a tap. Even if the original manual boasted about it being an space action game there is little action to be found. That is if you don’t count the immersion you get when it comes to planning, and building planets and spaceships.

I would really have liked to have scenarios or a proper campaign in Ascendancy. This is the biggest flaw to the entire game in my opinion. I want to be able to compare my skills to others on the same setup, but that is not possible. There is no online functionality at all. I can see a future with an online MMO based upon the Ascendancy universe, and I hope the developers can see that future too.

Presentation is functional for the type of strategy game at hand. There is no wow factor to be seen, and at times the graphics feel dated. Sure it is fun to pan around the 3d view of the universe, but it isn’t all that easy to use for navigation. There are no animations to the planetary structures, and the graphics feel devoid of life and movement.

img_3162Each species have their own rather cool ambient electronic track. This plays whenever you visit a screen for the species at hand. Overall the game music is atmospheric, and soothing. I would have liked to be able to play my own music as well, but it keeps fading out.

Ascendancy is a true classic turn based strategy game. Expanding your empire, researching new cool inventions, and building prosperous planets is fun and addictive. The replay value is immense even though there is a complete lack of online functionality. Recommended for any strategy gamer with hours to spend, and $7.99 to invest. Now if The Logic Factory could port one of my favourite strategy games ever to iOS: The Tone Rebellion.

Final Rating


Ascendancy $7.99 Universal binary
Version: 2.08
Seller: Logic Factory International Publishing Limited

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  • Darchen Jurusli

    A wonderful review to be sure, for a wonderful game!

  • Anthony Taylor

    I love it despite my feeling that the other races are ridiculously dumb, in the article it says we can select the level of difficulty..i haven’t seen where.

    What i do love about the game is a sense of building tension as i fumble through the early phase of exploration wondering when i will get whacked.

  • Nathan Martin

    @Anthony Taylor:
    There is no ‘level of difficulty’ in the traditional sense; but adding more species, reducing the star density, and worsening the ‘Diplomatic Atmosphere’ accomplishes a similar effect. Difficulty in this game is about two factors: Density of opponents, and the degree of initiative those opponents will exercise to attack the player. 

    Additionally, you can cycle through the ‘number of species’ until the RNG picks some of the more difficult set of opponents for you (Chamachies/Minions/Dubtaks/Chronamysts).

  • Michael Bromery

    Actually, what the level of difficulty translates is to level of aggression. Change that and that actually changes the overall difficulty. Peaceful makes it so that enemies are slow to attack and stick with a relatively slow progression. Aggressive means that they are likely to war with you quickly upon meeting them. They also get bonuses to their progression. Normal is in-between, but enemies may turn aggressive if they see you hanging around too long in their systems.