The thing I've been enjoying the most about Escalation is the ability to arrange a custom game to cater to what I'd like to do at that particular moment. Some people (and believe me when I say I am not one of them) are so good at the game that they want the opportunity to practice specific skills or challenge themselves in more unconventional ways.
Crust Metal Density and Core Radioactivity
So, here's the thing about me and Ashes since the beginning: my economical management sucks. And every time I think I'm producing enough resources to turn myself loose and start amping up my army building, I feel my blood pressure start to spike when I hear Haalee whispering (yelling) in my ear: "You need more metal," or "You need more radioactives."
In the beginning, when I was still a n00b (ok, you can stop laughing now, I know I'm stilla n00b), I seldom ever had any issues with logistics. I would normally have more than enough to keep up with my "growing" army and didn't have to listen to Haalee yell at me about needing more logistics.
Of course, I have to remember that by setting these options for myself, I am giving my opponent the same advantage, but it still makes for an exciting game by allowing for tons of units to be produced quickly. Alternatively, some people like to be a little more leisurely about the way they play, so taking down the Quantum Coherence to low or very low will both elongate the game and make it more difficult for you to rush (or be rushed!) early on.
Mantle Thickness and Neutral Defenders
Mantle Thickness determines how quickly your units are able to capture a region. For me, this affects me at two particular points in the game: in the beginning when I send out my Engineer to go capture a region before the defenders spawn, and later-game when I am trying to snag regions before my opponents discover me.
The higher the mantle thickness, the longer it takes for your units to claim an area. If you want to be able to take regions quickly and then move along to conquer more, setting the mantle thickness to low will speed up the process! But, remember -- whatever good this does for you, it also does for your opponent.
Neutral Defenders also have their own setting now, too. Before, you only had the choice of "on" or "off", but now you can add a little bit of variety to the game by setting the defenders to light, heavy, or random. I have enjoyed the "random" setting in particular because it forces me to be prepared no matter what region I am attempting to conquer. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised because there isn't a single one to be found, and other times I'm actually glad I sent a small army because they have a pretty solid little force built up.
Atmosphere and Orbital Coverage
There are three words I fear when playing RTS games, and it's usually what I would hear screamed across my voice IP channel of choice when playing Starcraft with my buddies:
This one is brand new! Admittedly, I haven't played with this setting very much yet. The Entrenchment option allows you to give your units a defensive advantage when fighting in territories that belong to you. This sounds great... until you remember that your opponents get the bonus on their home turf, too.
Either way, I found that I more often that defending against my enemies is more difficult than attacking them. To that end, setting the Entrenchment Bonus to Low (90% normal damage) or High (60% normal damage) has allowed me to gain a bit of an edge when I’m being attacked by more than one opponent at the same time.
The best thing about the new map options in Escalation are that you can set the pace and tone of your game any way you like. By allowing for adjustment of more than just the levels of difficulty, Escalation is a game that veteran RTS players can really sink their teeth into.