For the last few weeks I have been hurtling through the air and shooting stuff. No I'm not the infamous "Mississippi Jet Pack Killer" but an ardent fan of Hi-Rez's revival of the classic Tribes series. I've been flying, skiing, rocket-shelling, and bitch-tactic snipering people - and I freaking love it. Made up as we are of old PC curmudgeons, there's little surprise that MMORPG.com is digging Tribes: Ascend. It's that perfect mixture of fast-paced, death match goodness that defines online gaming on our favourite Windows-powered rigs. Expansive maps, vehicles, and an excellent class system: it is the perfect storm of mouse and keyboard smugness, and I'm at the centre of it all, grinning like a man satisfied by his own power supply's blow-offs.
During the downtime between shooting things in the face and jumping skyward though, I have gotten to some thinking - which is handy otherwise this article might be titled "quiet time" - looking at Hi-Rez's resume as developers, hustling amongst the two credits of Global Agenda and this latest frag-fest is the arousal-inducing title "Tribes Universe."
MAKE SPECULATION DRIVE ACTIVE!
While delayed due to Ascend, the Georgia-based studio is beavering away on their next IP. Now, I don't know anything, I am what the French call "Les Facts" but I do have an imagination and a word processor, so let's all settle in for a moment and listen to the man on his soap box.
Global Agenda, for its faults, proved that the MMOFPS genre has legs, and a face that can be shot, and Hi-Rez have also proven that they have the chops to lead the charge. My biggest wish is that the developer takes the Tribes license, and in the Blizzard tradition, transforms it into something that will have us all glued to our monitors denying the existence of the physical world.
Now don't get all kicky and shouty when I invoke World of Warcraft - regardless of your thoughts on the behemoth, you cannot argue that its transformation from RTS to MMORPG was unexpected, but expertly handled. I want the same for Tribes Universe.
Call me a crazy-faced bitch of a man, but I have a desire for the Georgian studio to think outside of the box. Tribes is a game made up of four standalone instalments, as well as a wealth of lore from the Starsiege and Earthsiege universe. Now we could have a slightly online bolts-on version of Ascend, or we could have something that will allow us to dance atop a futuristic lamp post at midnight of News Year's Eve - which one do you want more?
Thankfully from what little Hi-Rez have revealed so far, Tribes Universe doesn't appear to be taking an FPS shaped peg and jamming into an RPG-shaped hole, because that wouldn't be all that fun. Global Agenda was a halfway house between two genres, and while it worked on its own level, I am hoping that this latest online-'em-up will head in a different direction, while learning from the successes of the aforementioned.
In an interview with a less brilliant MMO-centric website than ours, CEO of Hi-Rez, Erez Goren described how "TU is not a traditional MMO. All character progression is designed to give more options in gameplay: levels are more for reputation, and the skill system is much more similar to a game like EVE."
It is common knowledge that shooting things, and RPG-style dice rolls don't lead to excited combat: did you play Vampire: Bloodlines? Thankfully, TU seems to be taking a different route. A big problem with MMOFPS games is the difference in player ability, and the disadvantages given to them by a conventional progression system - if the developers can find a way to navigate that tricky obstacle, they will have something truly special.
The idea of an EVE skill system sounds like a better compromise. Like Dust 514, accumulating over time, you can unlock new things, abilities, and all of the claptrap, while not being outclassed by a 14 year old boy who's only other time commitment is masturbation.
So with the tricky idea of levelling out of the way - let's get to the gritty stuff. Like Planetside, Tribes Universe should feel just as it titles invokes - universal. I want enormous land masses, cities, towns, settlements, space ports, flotillas, and everything in between. Add in some bots, and open it up via F2P, and you could have a world bustling with activity. The problem with MMOs these days is that they aren't ambitious enough - The Old Republic for example is less galactic, and more a series of zones linked by teleports: I want Hi-Rez to make me believe the massive scale of these conflicts.
And they should be massive. If you were unaware of the Tribes lore, be prepared to be informed. The game's setting takes place in the distant future, the setting has malevolent AI in the form of Prometheus, clone-like Cybrids, Humans, and everything in between. Adding to that are a number of factions, ancient enemies, and natural allies. There is a wealth of plot already strung along by the original Earthsiege mech games, and the Tribes sequels. Come on guys, it could be great.
What I am really driving at here, is that Tribes Universe has the potential to be awesomely brilliant, and brilliantly awesome. With Ascend already dolling out the Deathmatch goodness, an MMOFPS could be the perfect evolution. Throw in a few innovative ideas like guild-owned territory, space ships, and intergalactic empires, and well I might just fill my pants.
But then again, this is just my dreams, hopes, and wants. Will it at all be like that? Will Hi-Rez go against their proven record and instead make a Duke Nukem Forever of a game? I don't think that's even possible. Tribes Universe might not be around for a good while, but I still can't help getting excited. Ascend was like Christmas, and now it’s January and I can't wait for their next Holiday-season visit. Only 365 more sleeps.