I've been playing Ashes for about a week. Overall, I think the game is promising, and I very much like the vision of creating a game involving large-scale battles where strategy matters more than clicks per second. Once upon a time I was good at Warcraft II, but that was a long time ago and I'm not getting any younger! I agree with much of the feedback that has already been given here by other users, although I have only sampled a few of the more recent posts.
First a word about hardware requirements / performance. I have a Core i7 4770k, non-overclocked. Initially I attempted to play using a GeFroce GTX 650, despite the warnings in the thread specifically asking about that. I can confirm that the experience was unpleasant, as advertised. However, I benchmarked in the neighborhood of 15 FPS with the Low profile. I know some gamers subscribe to a "60+ FPS or GTFO" philosophy, but IMO a game like this (i.e., not a first-person shooter) should still be playable at 15 FPS. My feeling though was that UI was not really responsive, and perhaps the input processing is tied too closely to the rendering. Ultimately I solved my problem with a new GTX 970, but I would like to see a game that (after optimization, of course) is still a great game to play with less expensive hardware, even if it doesn't look as nice.
I like the concept of armies. This seems to be a nice solution to things like units not attacking together due to speed differences, etc. Some of the consequences of grouping units in an army are annoying, however. Frequently when I want an army to make a simple move, they spend a large amount of time running in circles before actually going anywhere. This seems especially true if they need to move through a narrow area. The way they change from one formation to another simply seems inefficient, especially if a move could be accomplished straight ahead without changing formation. Another case is if I have a bunch of units spread out and I want them to form into an army at a particular point as quickly as possible... if I form them into an army first, they seem to prioritize grouping up over getting to where I want them to go, even if it means running backwards to meet stragglers. Other times, I really want units to advance as quickly as possible (acting un-army like), but I don't want to have to break the armies to do so. Maybe something like a "rapid advance" command is what I'm looking for, that could be queued in such a way that I could tell armies essentially "run as fast as you can to point A, hold there until everyone arrives, then advance in formation to B".
There also seems to be some buggy/unfinished behavior in the way that commands are issued (and some things that are probably not bugs, but that I just don't like):
- Sometimes I select a group and right click to tell them to move, and nothing happens. I might right click two or three more times in the same spot until it registers a move. I think it's possible that I'm not holding the mouse still enough, and it's registering as a map-drag instead of a command to the unit. If that's the case, some adjustments could be helpful.
- The command is not accepted (and there is no negative feedback) when right clicking to tell units to move to an area they can't get to. Using G -> left click is accepted, and the units go as close as they can get.
- Air units can be commanded with G -> click to go to a location that is inaccessible to ground units, but using right-click to tell them to move there does not work (see above).
- When using number keys to select groups that are not currently on the screen, there isn't enough feedback about which group was selected. Sometimes I hit a key, expect a group to be selected, and it's not. I don't know if I hit the wrong key (probably) or if there is some other problem.
- If I press a command requiring a destination to be clicked (mouse cursor changes slightly), and then change my mind before doing anything, I get "stuck". I can click and drag the mouse without completing the command (and select different units), but number hotkeys don't work. I would prefer that hitting a number key clear the pending command and change the group selection, and that any click from that state finish the command rather than a click-drag selection being possible.
- Also with a pending command, a left click on the mini strategic map moves it instead of registering as a command location (unlike right clicking). If I wanted to use the mini-map to pan before issuing the command, I would click the mini map before hitting the hotkey.
- Group selection and command input with the strategic map made large seems like it is incomplete, and generally futile. It would be nice to make this more usable.
- I haven't figured out a good way to add existing units/armies to an existing number group.
- If you add units to multiple number groups, then combine them into an army, one of the number groups will select and control all of the units. But the remaining number groups will only select the original units that were in that group, and commands issued to that group are acknowledged with positive feedback, but ignored.
- When an air unit is selected, the build menus for frigates, cruisers, and aircraft all appear, but don't seem to do anything.
- The idle factory icon appears to the left of the idle engineer icon, but F1 (engineers) is to the left of F2 (factories).
I also like that group numbers are displayed on the strategic map, but sometimes I have members from a group in two significantly different locations and it would be nice to be able to see that. It would also be nice to be able to more easily identify groups (and maybe even armies) on the main screen without having to have health bars on.
So far, I have only played single player games against the AI - some one-on-one, and a few with multiple opponents. I certainly do intend to play multiplayer, I just haven't done so yet. But I do have some feedback about the AI. So far, I can easily beat Easy, I usually beat Normal, I sometimes beat Challenging, and I once beat Tough. For pretty much all of those, I feel like the AI is strong early, and weak later. The AI seems to expand at a breakneck pace, taking over territory like crazy - much faster than I am able to manage. This is one of those things where I could probably keep up better if I could multitask and click faster. It would be nice if you could tell a group of units to go explore/expand autonomously (within reason).
Early on, the AI is ruthless. Leave a territory undefended, and you will lose it. This makes sense, of course, but could probably be toned down a bit for the easier AIs, in favor of making them stronger in other ways.
If you get the upper hand, however, the AI seems to just turtle up. Once I've won the battle over the middle of a map and cut off some resources, I can pretty much sit outside the AI base and pick off any units that try to get out. But if I invade or scan the base, I might find 4 dreadnoughts sitting there waiting. That might be a reasonable defensive strategy if VP is turned off, but with VP on that's the same as surrendering.
The AI also seems to deal poorly with bombers. It builds enough defensive structures to shoot down invasion attempts, but regularly advances armies of ground units without anti-air and lets them get obliterated, wave after wave.
One other bug to mention... in my match history, it always shows opponent as Beginner AI instead of the AI I actually played against.
The last specific thing I have is regarding rendering... on the Extreme preset, I like the glowing projectiles, but they disappear quickly when zooming out. The smoke trails are a bit harder to see.
Overall I like what I see, although I don't yet get the feeling of grand scale that I was anticipating. It might be better if the maps were larger with resources and other map features slightly more spread out, with more room to maneuver. It might also be helpful if it was easier to defend conquered territory against early rushes, requiring a larger build up of units before engaging in battle. But I'm not really sure. I do look forward to updates.