So I have played a fairly good number of ranked games, am something like rank 5 or 6 now, and have noticed a somewhat worrisome tendency among the vast majority of people I have played against. In a word, they are playing an entirely different game than I am (not literally, of course); my opponents are usually strictly trying to out eco me without seeming to give a thought to territory adjacency or combat (beyond mass production and just quick teching). In the (roughly) 30 games I have played there have been about 8 to 10 where my opponent and I are just clearly at very different skill/knowledge levels with the game, so I'll throw those out, but many of the remaining 20 games or so I got the distinct impression that my opponent was doing very minimal and uncoordinated territory expansion and just generally trying to play Sim City in and around their base.
So, some qualifications here: 1. This sort of thing happens in all RTSs. I distinctly remember it in FA, and a little bit in COH (I played one guy who never left his base area and refused to do anything but fortify it, and when I gently told him he needed to expand to have any hope of winning the game, he replied "I DEFEND BASE"). However, I'd say I have only played maybe 3 or 4 games where it actually seemed like my opponent was reasonably evenly matched and understood the importance of expansion. My experience with RTSs tells me this is kinda low.
2: To a certain extent, it is good that the game allows for variation in play-style and it is good that the game includes certain ways to get more income out of less territory! Yet, in the mid-ranks, my experience bears out that it's not so much a different way of playing the game so much as an inability or unwillingness to do most anything that doesn't involve building tons of stuff or pumping tons of stuff out.
So, obviously, this is my subjective experience, and I'm sure some or perhaps many will disagree about my observations here. But, assuming you buy my story, why does this happen? I think this game, even more than something like FA, comes off as a real time empire manager and appeals to people who like power eco and really don't care for the other aspects of the game. Arguably, part of this problem comes down to people/ "the user," but I think there is another problem here. While I think Ashes is great in most respects it has one fundamental problem: it lacks a cohesive vision for what it is trying to be. By trying to be 1 part FA, 1 part COH, and 1 part SoSE, the game if flooded with fans of all all those games, but the problem is is that many of those players are trying using Ashes as way to replay those old favorites and, frankly, part of this is the design of Ashes.
By being many RTS at once, but not really fleshing out its own identity, the player base gets fragmented and multiplayer becomes less fun (more inclusive, sure, but less fun). By giving people so many building options and so few combat options, the game design is, more so than FA or COH, encouraging the kind of dubious play decision I described here.
I still play this game and think it is a good deal of fun, but devs, I implore you: before you go and add a bunch more stuff to the game, expansion or what have you, you have to decide what the game wants to be.
I have read Frogboy describe the great aspects of Ashes, and one of the things he mentioned was that the game belongs to the community. Certainly, that is a great thing in ways, but it overlooks the problems with democracy (which can end up as a tyranny of the majority). If the game is given over too much to the community it will become uncohesive and a tyranny of the majority. More than anything going forward this game needs a vision, a sense of identity, or what it is trying to be, rather what combinations of things people like from old games.