Tribes Ascend Impressions
The Tribes series was undoubted one of my favorite FPS franchises when I was younger. I spent countless hours playing both Tribes 1 and 2 back in their hayday, and like many Tribes fans I was saddened when I saw what happened to the series after this point. It was probably for this reason that when I was accepted into the closed beta for Tribes Ascend months and months ago when it was very exclusive, that I just filed the email into my saved box and forgot about it while I focused on playing through my backlog of other games on Steam that I had picked up through the holiday sale season.
At this stage Tribes Ascend is still technically in "closed beta", but for all intents and purposes anyone can get a key to play the beta by liking them on Facebook, or buy visiting any number of gaming websites. It wasn't until last week when some fellow Inquisition members got into the beta and nagging me that Tribes Ascend might not quite be the debacle I was expecting. Having finally cleared most of the games in my backlog, I decided to fish out the email I filed away months ago and go take a look.
For those who don't know, Tribes is a first-person shooter series of games that take place in a futuristic setting, where two teams play pretty intense matches typcially of capture the flag. There's a lot of things that sets Tribes apart from a lot of the other FPS games out there, primarily the focus on air-based combat through the use of jetpacks combined with a physics system that allows players to "ski" across the large open landscapes and down hills at very high speeds. This creates a very unique dynamic that really sets the combat apart from a lot of the other stuff out there. Tribes Ascend seems to have retained this aspect of the game very well from the original two games.
Aside from all of this, there is something that sets Tribes Ascend apart from not just the previous titles as well as the other games out there, and that is the pricing model for the game. Hi-Rez Studios seems to have opted for a free-to-play model for the game that almost exactly mirrors that of League of Legends. Much like LoL, you can opt to spend real money if you want and be able to unlock some classes faster, but you could also not buy money and unlock them anyways just by playing over time.
That's right, I said classes. Older Tribes players might remember being able to choose between playing a Light, Medium, or Heavy armor type from the original games, and to a degree these exist in Tribes Ascend. There are in total as of the time I am writing this, 12 classes that feature a variety of different preset builds that span across the 3 different armor types that seem to be geared towards offering a specific type of utility to the team. Some of the lighter classes that have less life but faster speed are geared towards trying to grab the flag or long range sniping, while the opposite end of the spectrum has the slow moving heavy armor classes that can take a lot of damage but lack mobility making them good defenders.
For better or worse, one point of controversy is the fact that you can't customize your classes loadout like you could in the older games (at least in the current version of the beta). At first I was a bit apprehensive about this because I did like to be able to fiddle with my kits to find the optimal loadout for my playstyle. The counter arguement is that this often led to a lot of people just taking the same optimal loadout and not having the diversity. While I am still torn on this I can understand both sides of the debate, and whether or not this changes by the end of the beta, it hasn't detracted too much from the fun I've been having so far.
Game matches can hold up to 32 people per match (16 vs.16) which isn't too shabby. At the conclusion of each match, experience points and tokens are awarded based on a variety of factors which seem to in part related to your performance and the length of the match. Tokens are a currency you accumulate on your account that can be spent on unlocking the other classes. The game only gives you 2 medium classes to play with when you first start playing, the rest have to be unlocked via tokens or gold, which is the currency you get for spending real money. Obtaining the cheapest heavy armor and light armor classes are not overly expensive, but many of the more advanced classes beyond this can be quite pricey in terms of tokens and will require you do play a fair amount to grind out what you need.
Experience points serves 2 purposes. The first being that they go toward ranking your account up much like you would have in Battlefield or CoD. At the present time, there is no real reward for ranking up except bragging rights as it really only acts a symbol of how long you have been playing. Your rank does seem to be factored in to determining who the match making throws you in with, so that newer people will be more likely to fight other newer people.
The second aspect of experience is that it's stored up on a per class basis to be spent unlocking passive talents in a tree much like you would see in an MMO. Unlike other talent trees, you are not forced to only pick one path. Tribes Ascend will let you unlock everything in the tree assuming you play that class extensively enough. The talents themselves however are not earth shattering or game changing to the point where someone with less invested won't be able to beat someone with more, player skill still trumps all. In most cases the bonuses add a only few percentage points to certain aspects of your class such as a few more ammo, life, % run speed, or energy used for the jet pack. At the very bottom of each classes tree you can unlock perks that once available can be used on any class you own.
As far as the game modes go, both Capture the Flag and Deathmatch are fun in their own rights. Capture the Flag is a very team oriented game where a team can work together on a variety of fronts to help win the match aside from actually grabbing the flag. Setting up a good defense and defenders are critical, while others may opt to sneak into the bowels of the enemy base compound and try to sabatoge the enemy by destroying the generator powering all of their turrets. This is the mode where the various classes really have a chance to shine because each is really tailored to have its own niche in this mode.
Deathmatch is a completely different beast all together, but one that I found myself liking a lot more than I thought. Basically the two teams of 16 each are dumped into a large landscape with the sole purpose of fighting each other. The bad news about this mode is that a lot of the niche classes you would use in CTF seem initially to be a lot less viable, and as a result you'll see a lot of people playing the basic soldier and ranger classes most of the time. The good news is that this mode is pure mayhem and really puts you into the center of a massive dog fight with people flying and chasing each other while trying to out maneuver their prey. To mix things up there is a single flag that gives the team carrying it double kill credit on each kill. It makes for some intense moments if you are the guy with the flag as everyone starts coming after you, and some funny moments when the flag falls on the ground and the mad scramble to grab it ensues. Shooting the flag with an explosive weapon sends it bouncing around like a hot potato and it makes for quite the brawl.
Overall Tribes Ascend has a lot of potential from what I've seen at this preliminary beta stage. There is still a lot of missing parts in the beta, but the core gameplay is solid. I'd definitely recommend checking the game out if you are looking for something to play or are a fan of the older games. If you end up liking the game and think it's something you will want to play, you will be happy to hear that everything you earn and unlock during the beta will carry over to the release version, so no wipe is planned. It's fun and it's free, so you have nothing to lose really. If you decide to play it and want to come find me, add me to your friend list as "Paragus" and maybe I'll see you on the battlefield. You can also catch me streaming my gameplay live from time to time on my channel below.
Co-Leader of Inquisition